I had one of those conversations again recently. It's the conversation that people who choose to be childless have with people who can't wrap their heads around the idea that it's valid choice.
It goes like this:
Well Meaning Stranger: So, how many kids do you have?
Me: I don't have any kids.
WMS: (Sad face) Oh, I'm sorry.
Me: That's okay. I made the choice a long time ago not to have children.
WMS: (Alarmed, then sad face) Oh. Well. That's okay.
At this point, what is my response supposed to be? "Thank you. I totally needed for you to validate my choice not to reproduce. Your opinion is everything to me. I'm so glad you understand."
And that's the issue. Well-meaning people who believe it's our duty as humans to reproduce think that my not having children is somehow a bad thing. There must be something wrong with me if I don't have the urge to make small people and raise them in my image.
Sometimes the response is different. Sometimes people are almost too agreeable to the idea, even though they have children themselves. They say dumb things like "Oh, you're so smart! I wish I'd never had kids! They're a pain in the neck (or something)"
To which I say, "I wish you'd never had kids either."
Making my point even stronger. Some of us carry a good parent gene and some of us don't. Since there's no definitive test to ensure that you carry the good parent gene, I chose not to take chances. Good moms don't exactly run in my family, so why would I be selfish enough to have kids just because it is expected of me? I've lived happily with my decision and have never regretted it. And that's not to say I don't like children. I find them fascinating. They're funny, interesting and endlessly entertaining. I have many nieces and nephews who I love with all my heart. There's not a dud in the bunch. It very well could be because I'm not raising them. They have parents who fight the good fight and spend the time and energy to raise good people. I admire their courage and devotion.
But, as much as I think children are fun and special - please don't make me talk to toddlers on the telephone. I don't know anyone, childless or not, who enjoys trying to have a conversation on the phone with a child who cannot form words or even understand what is being said. I have a friend with grandchildren who insists that I chat on the phone with her grandchildren when they are around. I have never met these kids. My friend and I have not lived close by each other for years. But nevertheless, she puts toddlers on the phone:
Friend: Oh, here comes little Beanie. Say hi to Aunt Julie.
Me: Oh, that's okay, just give Beanie a hug for me.
Beanie: Huuuhhhhh. Aahhhhh. Bbbbbbbb.
Me: Oh. Hi Beanie. How are you? [There is nothing fun about this]
Me: Good! Okay, Beanie, put Grandma back on the phone.
Beanie: Ooooooooo. Tthhhhhfffffttt.
Me: Please, Beanie - give the phone to Grandma.
Grandma [whispering to Beanie]: Say "I love you, Aunt Julie!" Go on.
Me: GIVE THE PHONE BACK TO GRANDMA!!! [Loud enough so Grandma can hear me].
Friend: Oh, isn't she/he cute?
Me: Yeah. I gotta go.
Now - this conversation is uncomfortable on more than one level. 1. The child doesn't know what he/she is doing; 2. That's ten minutes the child and I will never get back; and 3. Grandma just told Beanie to tell a complete stranger that he/she loves her. Am I the only one disturbed by this?
So - for all the hardworking people raising good and strong children, I salute you. The world needs good and strong people and you're doing a bang-up job. To all the parents who neglect, abuse and otherwise damage your children - shame on you. We live in a society that offers choices. Think long and hard before making the decision to bring a person into the world. It's easy enough to create a life - but a long-term responsibility to raise a good human being. Be smart and kind enough to know your limitations and make the right decision.
And please, keep 'em off the phone until they're able to form a sentence. Please.