Childfree 101: "You Should Try Being a Parent"

[Content Note: Reproductive policing; parenting privilege; discussion of threats and harassment. Please note that I am hardly the first person to write about this concept. Blogs like STFU, Parents have been documenting and deconstructing this for ages. This post is about my personal experiences with the dynamic.]

In my private life, I don't talk a whole lot about the bad parts of doing this job. There are a few trusted friends I have to whom I can talk, who help me process the effects of getting rape and death threats, of being the target of unrelenting hatred, as a routine part of my every day.

It isn't something I share with a whole lot of people in my life for a bunch of reasons, not least of which is that people simply don't know how to react—and to confess such intimate ugliness only to have the subject be changed, or to get an uncomfortable joke or empty platitude in response, is actually worse than having kept it to myself in the first place.

But the absolute worst of all the common responses I get, when I talk even in vague terms about the difficulties of my job, is this: "You should try being a parent!"

It usually goes something like this: How're things on the blog these days? Oh, the same. Good days and bad days. Ha ha you should try being a parent!

This response does not come from people who don't know that "bad days" at my job means adding emails to a file where I collect all the violent threats I get against my life, emails that may come with a threat accompanied by my home address or a picture of my house. They know what a "bad day" for me really is.

And yet comes the admonishment that, however bad it is, I should try being a parent.

I shouldn't have to reflexively issue this caveat, but I know that I do: I understand that parenting can be extraordinarily difficult.

In fact, despite the fact that people who choose not to parent are often spoken to as though we have no idea how hard parenting is, one of the many reasons I choose not to parent is because I do understand how extraordinarily difficult it can be.

And it is not to demean that hard work at all to say: Please stop telling me that my lived experience is nothing compared to parenting.

This construct, which sets parenting and work as competing objectives, doesn't seem particularly helpful for working parents, either—although it is almost always working parents who tell me that I should try parenting.

And I understand why it is that, to a working parent, parenting might easily take absolute precedence over work.

But my work is fundamentally incompatible with parenting—both because the demands on my time are too great and because I would not subject my theoretical children to the safety risks that my work demands. Many of the threats that arrive in my inbox make threats not just against me, but against my family.

screen cap of a threat reading: 'Hey Melissa, I think I'm going to find your info and pay you a visit. I hope you don't have any children, because they aren't safe either.'

Iain can make an informed decision about how much of his own safety he is willing to risk on my behalf; a child could not meaningfully consent to risk hir safety for my work.

Admonishing me that I "should try being a parent" not only elides these realities of my work, but implicitly polices my choice not to parent, suggesting that nothing I do has any value compared to parenting.

I absolutely respect that parenting is, for many parents, their most important and valued accomplishment. (I also respect that, for many parents, it isn't. And I really, really think that's okay.) But universalizing that priority, implying that parenting alone could only ever be anyone's most important and valued accomplishment, is a shitty thing to say to someone who has chosen, for any reason, not to parent.

My job doesn't have to be of the sort that puts my safety at risk in order for it to not be demeaned by people asserting their own priorities onto my life.

But the fact that it is makes the admonishment to try parenting even more curious. If parenting is truly comparable to, and even worse than, living under a constant stream of threats against one's life, why would I want to try it?

But of course the point is not that I should want to try it. Not really. The point is to remind me that my life is petty and empty and devoid of meaningful value, and my problems aren't real, because I am not a parent.

Which is a pretty contemptible instinct, in any context.

[Commenting Note: Please note that I am fully aware that this is not a thing that not all parents do to people who are not parents. If your instinct is to argue "not all parents!" don't. If the shoe doesn't fit, just don't wear it.]

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