Childfree 101: Can the Pity

[Content Note: Reproductive policing.]

Via my pal Meadowgirl, this is a pretty solid piece about what not to do and say to women who aren't parents. (I'd offer that this is fairly decent advice for what not to do and say to men who aren't parents, too.)

There are lots of reasons that people aren't parents. I have chosen not to parent, a subject about which I've written quite a bit in this space over the years, and many of the feelings expressed by the women interviewed in the linked piece resonate with my experiences.

I've navigated so much of this garbage over the last couple of decades that it rarely bothers me anymore; if some stranger wants to probe my reproductive choices and capabilities like the worst Charlie Rose interview of all time, I feel little more than a middling contempt.

But the one thing that tends to get my hackles up is any expression of pity, which tends to arrive (in my life) in one of two ways:

1. When the subject of children comes up, someone who knows we have pets will say, "Well, at least you've got your furbabies!" as though my pets are consolation prizes for not having children. Which: Just no.

2. If Iain and I elect to spend any holiday (especially Thanksgiving and Christmas) on our own, people express sorrow that we're "alone" on a holiday. This is especially obnoxious when people ask what we did, and I tell them, and then they say, "Oh, if I'd known you were going to be alone, I would've invited you!" Um, thanks? The thing is, if Iain and I had kids, and it was just us and our kids at home, no one would feel sorry for us. In fact, many people would express envy that we didn't have to juggle multiple extended family affairs with distant relatives who are loathsome company. The difference between "That sounds like a lovely low-key holiday" and "OMG I'M SO SORRY YOU WERE ALL ALONE HOW SAD!!!" is literally just that we don't have children. Except: We don't want them, and our family is complete.

(Also? Iain and I are not one person. If we're spending time together, we're not spending time "alone.")

Pity is so aggressively insulting. I don't have children, which is exactly what I wanted. When you pity me for that, you're auditing my choice, assessing it to be wrong via the prism of your own priorities, and then condescendingly expressing your sadness that I've failed to live up to your expectations.

If a person who has chosen not to parent says something that indicates they are living a life without children, the sensitive and decent response is not pity; it's joy that they've gotten exactly what they wanted for themselves.

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