I’m at breakfast with a friend who I haven’t seen in years. She has a very young child, and is pregnant with her second. We are having a great time catching up, but I notice that her young son is tearing up bits of his quesadilla and throwing them on the ground. My friend makes no effort to ask him to stop, but I figure she’s the parent, so she knows what she’s doing. After we pay the check, she takes her son from the high chair, looks at the giant mess he’s made on and under the table, and says “Whatever, that’s what the staff gets paid for.”
WHAT?! I wanted to shake her. She wasn’t this thoughtless when we were younger, was she? And last I checked, wait staff don’t get paid that much, and I’m sure that they aren’t exactly thrilled to have to carefully pick ground-in carbohydrates out of the carpet. Was this normal? If I weren’t her friend, I would be judging her, and possibly making a loud comment from the next table about how some parents clearly don’t care about the world around them.
But she’s my friend, so I figured she knew something about the situation that I didn’t. Or maybe she was just over it, and I caught her on a bad day. Either way, I kept my mouth shut, but in the years since I’ve thought about how that moment stuck with me, because it helped me recognize that those of us without children don’t understand our friends with kids, and our parent friends don’t get us anymore, either.
This book seeks to replace that lack of knowledge on both sides of the divide.
Not everyone wants to have kids, and not everyone CAN have kids. Looking at the media we consume, that might be hard to believe; nearly every romantic comedy involves someone looking for a partner with whom they can ‘start a family’ (e.g. have kids); dating shows inevitably feature contestants interested in someone who will be a ‘good parent.’ Whole websites are devoted to helping new parents, parents of young children, parents of teens, parents whose adult children still live at home. Only the occasional articles in Time discuss the (clearly fabulous) lives of the childfree: We sleep in all the time! We have money to burn! Our lives are meaningless but that’s okay because we take lots of vacations!
But that doesn’t tell the full story of families today. More and more people are choosing not to have children, and society isn’t entirely sure what to do with us. And frankly, those of us without kids aren’t entirely sure what to do with our friends who have kids either. Sometimes it feels as if pop culture is interested in pitting those with kids against those without. There’s also still a pervasive idea in our culture that women aren’t REALLY women if we don’t have children, so those of us who are women without children can waver between keeping this a secret (as though it were shameful), or speaking so confidently about our choice that we sound almost defensive. And that doesn’t even begin to address the fact that some people desperately want children but can’t have them; these folks are often lumped together with those who choose to not have kids, making the comments we casually say to one another all the more hurtful. It’s like we can’t win.
So, let’s change the game. Instead of throwing insults like punches and making snarky comments on anonymous blogs, what if we seek to understand one another? I know. I know. But stay with me. How about someone (say, me) puts together a guide that helps my childfree friends navigate our changing relationships while also lets parent in on what we are going through in our lives while they are moving in a different direction with theirs? A guide that addresses frivolous and serious topics with equal measures experience, humor, and practicality?
There are parents who believe that you only know what real love is if you have children. This is totally their right, but when they choose to share that sentiment with their childfree or childless friends, that can sound hurtful. There are also childfree adults who think that it’s easy to get a child to stop screaming in the middle of a department store. This is also totally their right, but we all know that’s bullshit. Yet we don’t talk about these things with each other. We don’t sort out how to deal with such divergent worldviews when they start to impact our friendships. I’d like to change that. Not with a self-improvement book that one might find in the personal growth section, but with a fun guide that will have readers with and without kids chuckling.
If you’re a book agent – or know one who might be interested in talking more about this idea – please send me an email through the “Submit a Question” page.