Imagining Your Child-Free Life – #3 in Living Child-Free Series

The first two posts in this series address dealing with the expectations of repro-normative society. Perhaps belatedly, this post helps child-free adults cope with the repro-normative parts of their own psyche, imbedded by cultural programming. How do we imagine a life in a society that limits our image of success to a narrow image of a house, spouse, car, and kids? Such an image foregrounds material gain, in the house and car, provides for companionship in the limited focus on spouses, and squishes three important human desires into the notion of reproducing children. After a conversation about this post, I adopt the other dactyl’s framing of these strands in human desire as growth, continuance, and doing good. Growth points toward our need to learn and change, continuance represents the longing to leave something lasting to the world, and doing good reflects a moral aspiration in most adult humans. Churches have long provided an answer to these three desires with chances for spiritual or intellectual growth, often the promise of an afterlife, and a moral dimension either through avoiding certain activities or participating in others. Raising children has been framed in these ways as well, especially as continuance. Yet, many other activities, practices, and ways of living provide fulfillment for those very human inclinations.

To begin imagining your child-free life, first, think about what you do now. Most of us have full lives with maintaining career or job, hobbies, a home, friends, partners when applicable, and other responsibilities. I include apartments and other living spaces as homes – you still must clean, plan meals, and do laundry regardless of the size, number of inhabitants, or arrangement of your home. In western culture, career itself can define a life because of our emphasis on material gain, and because some careers satisfy the three desires outright. Yet, I reject the suggestion that career aspirations should push out other concerns for child-free people. Instead, many types of physical training, spiritual practice, creative endeavors, and community service feed the metaphysical side and satisfy the need to give back and to produce something that endures. As career concerns ebb and flow, more energy may go toward such creative or community work.

For some, who focus on growth concerns, travel becomes the perfect way to cultivate positive movement, instead of settling into too-familiar routines. Of course, travel may not be an option for everyone, but it need not be as expensive or difficult as we believe, and, at least for me, seeing different landscapes, meeting new people, and adapting to unfamiliar cultural norms, provides infinite opportunity for growth, renewal, and engagement. Certain travels involve philanthropic or volunteer prospects as well, pointing toward both continuance and doing good.

While we are provided with a ready script of college, job, marriage, children – this script does not fit all of us. Some people – single, coupled, otherwise partnered – believe they can offer more to the world by remaining child-free and continuing the work they already do and building upon that work as their skill-levels, maturity, available resources, and wisdom burgeon.

Accommodation – #2 in Living Child-Free Series

In the first installment, I suggested acknowledging parents’ choices to reproduce and taking choice into account when addressing both parents and child-free adults. The next step in negotiating repro-normativity connects to choice as well. When friends have children, their lives change considerably due to their decision to reproduce. The less familiar truth is that your life will change as well, and child-free friends need to think about how much they want to accommodate their parent-friends with new life paths.  Of course, the easy parts include oohing and aahing over beautiful little smushy people. Well, that part is easy for me because I truly enjoy babies. Oohing abilities may vary.

Once that stage is over, the more difficult adjustments begin. If you want to invite parents to dinner, forget the casual ease of pre-child plans. Be aware that most middle class American children live on a rigid schedule as contemporary parenting encourages routines to make the child feel safe or to help them sleep. That means they eat at the same time, they bathe shortly thereafter, and they are put to bed after that, usually with book reading, snacks, and other complicated arrangements. Your window for enjoying their parents’ company can be very small. Better that you “just go to their house,” too, because the children are thrown off by difference. Once again, initially these shifts are painless. Visiting  their home is easier than dinner at 4:30 and an almost immediate departure to begin nighttime procedures.  Regardless of the way parent-friends address the scheduling issue, it alters the way the child-free people interact socially, despite the fact that they are not the ones who decided to bring children into the friendship. Suggesting a babysitter to create adult flexibility can also be precarious. Sitters cost money, and some contemporary parents feel as if they already spend too much time away from their children for careers. A sitter suggestion may also be construed as unwillingness to spend time with the whole family.

These types of social accommodations seem unproblematic in the short term, but over time they may become frustrating. After all, the child-free people want to continue friendships, and children make that process exponentially more difficult. Most parents appreciate your sacrifices to spend time with them. However, if you constantly accommodate and never ask for what you need, it may wear on your patience. Don’t be afraid to spend time with your partner and / or your other child-free friends on your own terms, and don’t be afraid to sometimes even ask the parent-friends to do adult things or shift their rigid child-centered routines a bit. They may demur, but you must fulfill your own needs. Constantly shifting your expectations to accommodate friends’ parenting choices creates unevenness in the friendship, and it may never be reciprocated or even noticed.  Parents expect to sacrifice for their children. They have decided to do so. Other people also sacrificing for those children may seem completely ordinary and unworthy of comment to them. Yet, to you it can feel like an ongoing never-repaid favor. Instead of allowing this kind of resentment to enter the friendship, remember to balance accommodation with self-preservation and self-respect.

Living Child-free in a Pro-natalist world

Step one in the waters of the child-free – acknowledge your life path was a decision and theirs was too. Parents do not often acknowledge that they actually chose to have children.  When frustrated, they imply that their life was imposed on them by others.  This issue is tricky because some people, especially some women, are not able to choose, and in fact prevailing cultural currents suggest that having children is the only choice, or at least the right course of action. Thus, it may feel to parents that they didn’t have a choice. However, and this is an important distinction, most of the parents out there gaining sympathy for their reproductive decisions are middle class and white.  They had access to contraception and abortion, and their children are indeed choices.

It might appear laughable to many parents were someone to complain about how child-free people never get to hear children giggling from the bathtub in the evening or that there is no small cute person to stand on a stool to watch or help and then lick the spoon when they bake.  They would be aghast were one to grumble about caring for a dependent non-child person because they had no silky skin and no amazing baby scent.  Yet they feel perfectly comfortable complaining about the effects of their choices, such as lack of sleep or messy houses or weekends lost to childish activities. While pointing out the chosen nature of their lifestyle to the parents themselves can make you less popular, it may slow down the rate of complaint.  More importantly, remembering for yourself that they  indeed chose this direction goes a long way to maintaining your own positive attitude in the face of repro-normativity.

Evaluating Social Media

I’m trying to decide whether to leave Facebook (again).  I shut down my account in early 2011, and I was doing fine without it.  Then a friend started sending messages to an extra account, set up as a joke, as her primary contact for me.  This joke account, which boasts three whole friends, subsequently became useful as a way to feel more connected during an extended trip abroad.  During this adventure, I have posted pictures and had some interaction with the friend who used it for messaging. I’ve been tempted to repurpose the joke account as my real one, add friends, and rebuild my network.  However, the trip ends in three days, and my convenient excuse to use facebook ends.

Why do I frame using this particular form of social media as requiring an excuse? Ah, here begins the complication.  All of the usual reasons to eschew facebook are part of my internal landscape.  It can suck up a good deal of time, depleting productivity. Like all social media, it can become addictive.  Additionally, facebook elicits some of the worst social behaviors from people, and the privacy concerns remain troubling.  But I have more reasons to avoid facebook. Their platform was an important tool for a painful set of interpersonal interactions – a long-ended situation high schoolers would name “drama.” If the medium is the message, then facebook is a bully’s paradise.  

Yet, I have used facebook for positive connection, and I see its value.  My real question becomes whether the positive aspects outweigh the negative, whether the bad feelings are more important than the potential.  

Taking back Personhood

It is time for women to take back personhood.  This amendment should be introduced at the National level.

Personhood Amendment

In order to affirm basic human dignity be it resolved that

Persons may not be forced against their to use their organs or any part of their body to sustain another person or entity.

Women are full persons with the right to determine when, how, and by whom their vital organs or other parts of their body will be used.

Person applies to every born human being regardless of their sex or gender.

 

The week of taking stock

Thus begins the last week of the year, the week between Christmas and New Years Day, a week off for many people, and so it is for me. Except I have a research project I’m still gathering data for, an interview meeting on Wed, and probably a meeting with a graduate student on Thurs.  No matter.  It’s still a light week in terms of work, and the last week in the year.  To some the new year becomes a time for resolutions, a renewed attempt to “do better” than the previous year.  I’m not much for resolutions, but there is an added reason for taking stock; my birthday falls during this week that already signifies both closure and new beginnings. Doubly burdened with evaluative and planning potential, the last week in the year impels me to look back at my progress, identify mistakes and missteps, push toward new goals and/or reinvigorate established ideals.  Usually I do much of this rumination during a long run or series of them; running helps to clear my mind. Sometimes I use tools or rubrics for the evaluation and planning. This time I’m making it visible by showing some of my process here. It begins with the realization that my birthday is coming and the year is ending, a subtle switch in the back of my mind from getting things done to contemplation.

Using a 2008 NYT process by Michael Melcher, I made a list of what I did in 2011. As such lists go, it spans some ground, including items like a whale watching tour aboard a catamaran, maintaining a long run base, starting a new book project, and leadership training, as well as voluntary public speaking when I introduced a colleague who was winning a service award. As usual, travel was a consistent theme with trips to Denver, Hawaii, and Florida, while career growth barely outpaced fitness goals like persistant speed work for dominance on the list.  Ballroom dancing lessons figure prominently, not due to the amount of time we spent at them but because they were symbolically important.

Compared to 2010, this year has been what sports teams call a growth year. No additional marathon, no awards, a slower pace with publications, but dear goddess it was also less filled with dread and pain.

The next step, of course, is to use this list and my analysis of it to plan for next year, set appropriate goals.  While I am working on those steps, maybe I’ll take that offline.  Good luck with your end-of-year evaluation.  Taking stock has its benefits, despite the discomfort.

He Still Doesn’t Get It

A few days ago I posted about my sibling, who for some reason (patriarchy/kyriarchy) believes that I should be required to discuss the topics he chooses with him. He does not believe I am allowed to decide which topics make me comfortable and which do not.

Much of what must have appeared like sibling rivalry to my parents was simply a matter of me feeling like I should be able to direct my own fate and my brother believing that he (as eldest and male) should direct both of our lives.

This week, when I sent a direct, kind response telling my brother that I would not discuss Africa plans with him, but that I would like to build a relationship based on mutual respect as siblings, he sent a long, embittered reply that went from scary to pitiful.  The gist of his message was that if I do not talk about my security plans for my trip with him, I must either a) feel superior or b) be planning something illegal.  These bizarre conjectures ignore a simpler explanation, the truth actually, that I might just prefer not to talk about it with him.  It also suggests that for me to say no to a request from my sibling must always needs be negative.  There is no room for me to make my own decisions in a quiet, non-involved way.  Either I say yes to whatever he asks of me or I have bad intentions.  It’s a nice construction if you are him, and you do not expect women to ever have their own ideas or plans, but it leaves me little room to speak freely in the family.  Luckily, these crisis points only occur every three or so years.

The always obey (for that is the reality) or you must have bad intentions construction reflects a situation I have been in since childhood.  Only now, as I work to address this lifelong bully in firm but kind ways, do I see how insidious his affect on my life has been.  No wonder I fear other people’s anger.  No wonder I avoid rather than engage when people question me.  I spent much of my younger days being told or otherwise instructed that my thoughts and actions were not my own, but were either “for” or “against” my older brother.  Super weird, when I mostly just wanted to be left alone to read books.  I think that may have insulted him the most.  As soon as I could read, books became my preferred playmate and I ceased thinking my brother was the most important person in the world. It must have stung being rejected for an inanimate object, but books do not hit.  They do not chase.  They do not taunt.

I’ll write here what I wish I could write to him (30 years ago preferably) and to my parents but never can. They seem self-evident, but not to bullies.

1. I am my own person. My choices are mine to make.

2. Sometimes my choices have nothing to do with you. Sometimes I make choices for reasons you cannot understand.

3. You are not entitled to a reason for my choices, including my choices about how, when, and about what subjects I communicate with you.  I may want to explain those choices, but I am not required to do so.

4. Just because you want me to be someone or do something, doesn’t make that desire my responsibility.

5. When I do not comply with your wishes, it is not an attack upon your person.

6. When I do not comply with your wishes, it does not mean that my reasons are necessarily negative.

7. I know what is best for me, and you cannot possibly know the complexities of my life unless I choose to share them.

8. I do not spend my life finding ways to hurt your feelings. I actively try to avoid it to be honest.

On Family Members Who Don’t Get It

I’m currently planning a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, one of the many places around the globe for which the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning.  This warning has helped me plan better, and my traveling partner and I are taking security issues seriously.

Unfortunately, my sibling works for the U.S. government in a quasi-military sector that plans security collaboration with the military of Kenya, among other countries in Africa.  This sibling, with whom I have infrequent light contact, is also mildly overbearing (read: has real problems). For some reason he has taken a new interest in my life, specifically in my trip to a part of the world about which, he thinks he is an expert.  Mind you, he may in fact be an expert; I would not take that away from him.  However, I do not wish to partake of his expertise should it be real.

A recent message to me gives orders about contacting him so he can “get me some information.”  My response was as kind as possible, but also did not do as he requested.  I told him thank you for asking about the trip; we are looking forward to it.  It was an attempt to brush him off because I have absolutely no intention of inviting, listening to, or taking his advice.  It’s not that I wish him ill; I just do not need his help with this trip, and I do not wish to increase our lethargic rate of interaction for reasons that do not include actually improving our sibling relationship.

But his next response showed, once again, his true colors.  It orders me “please read again,” as if I did not understand his original request.  Why on earth would a sibling think this was an appropriate way to address his sibling?  Do other siblings give orders in this way?  Do they get the responses they are looking for?  I love the guy, but wow. He knows that I read and critique texts for a living.  I’m pretty sure he knows that I understood.

But part of me thinks, maybe he really doesn’t understand.  Maybe he thinks this is the way other people speak to each other.  He does live in a world of giving and taking orders.  But he interacts with people who do not live in that world all. the. time.  I fear he talks to his partner that way.  I fear he talks to wait staff at restaurants that way.  I fear he talks to our parents that way.  It kinda makes me sad.

For me, the problem becomes how to avoid getting into the fight he clearly wants to have.  I have no intention of attacking him, but it feels rude not to respond at all.  My options are limited. I could try the same tact and thank him again for his interest, while not giving the response he desires.  I could face his rhetorical blunder head on and explain that I have no intention of increasing our interaction level unless it means an increase of sibling-type exchanges.  Maybe ignoring it is the best way.

Of course, the added complexity is his manipulation of our parents.  He will tell them just how rude and hardheaded I am (the hardheaded part is true), and sway them to some belief that I am the problem.  But, I cannot let that concern force my hand.  My relationship with my parents is strong, and he does not actually intend to destroy that relationship, as far as I know.

Yes, I suppose I just have to pretend that three word message never came my way.  It’s hard work doing nothing.

Firing JoePa will not change the rape culture

Don’t get me wrong. He should have been fired; he knew enough about Sandusky’s predilections for children, and had enough (limitless almost) power to get rid of his friend the predator. I wish instead of firing him, that the board had brought in researchers familiar with rape statistics and rape attitudes in big time college men’s sports and begun a cutting edge program to address those attitudes and the statistics that follow in their wake. I wish that they had used Sandusky’s no-longer-deliverable retirement package to hire RAINN and Men Can Stop Rape to come into the residence halls, the frat houses, the classrooms, the locker rooms of Penn State and conduct ongoing, comprehensive education and activism to change the rape culture on their campus. But instead, they fire a venerable old bastard who was already on his way out, and do nothing to alter the power and money that allows old men and young men (and even high school boys) to expect to abuse and hurt other people’s bodies sometimes in return for putting their own bodies under the control of coaches and ESPN, people who will damage them if it earns them a W or couple of bucks.

One of the reasons this case frustrates me is what is not going wrong.  Normally when a powerful man is accused of rape, he and his lawyers and handlers immediately begin a media campaign to undercut his accusers. He or his media gofers explain how it was the victim’s fault for being a temptress —even when the victim is only eleven years old— or how the victim is lying.  See, for example, a concurrent situation with a rape-accused powerful man named Herman Cain.  His defenders suggest that the women who have accused him are lying, describe their money troubles, and create elaborate possible motives for these women.  They are accused of being Democratic operatives trying to jettison the best Republican candidate, or of being bitter about career problems, or the old favorite, maligned as making the accusation for money or fame.  I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting that Cain’s accusers are speaking out because they do not want a predator in the White House or anywhere near it.

But what about Sandusky’s victims?  What do we know about them?  How does that store of data compare to the reams of information we usually get about victims of rape or sexual assault? Have they been accused of dressing salaciously to tempt Sandusky?  Is anyone suggesting that they are trying to get back at him because their football careers did not go as they had wished?  Did anyone ask what that child was thinking, being in the locker room naked with a man 3 times his age?  If so, I have not heard these typical victim-blaming moves.  Thank goodness, for the sakes of those victims, that in this case, they are not being put on trial for the audacity of being victimized.  I hope those young people get justice and a chance to heal.

But why are they spared being blamed for their attackers’ behavior?  Because, of course, the Penn State victims are male.  The outburst of disbelief and horror by the community, the high-level firings, and the lack of victim-blaming all come down to the simple fact that boys are not supposed to be rape or sexual assault victims.  They are not the natural reward for men with power.  Girls are presumed by the rape culture to be there for the raping, and thus, when they actually accuse or try to bring charges, the rape culture pushes back, wondering how they dare humiliate their betters.  Boys, on the other hand, are understood as strong and impenetrable, not created for the sole purpose of sating male desire.

Penn State did one right thing by firing both Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, but it has missed a chance to actually address the problem that has brought their temple of football down, male privilege and the rape culture it engenders.  Shame on them for taking the easy way out.