Thursday, October 13, 2011

What we talk about when we talk about parenthood

Rebecca Odes has written an excellent post on Babble's "Strollerderby" blog about discussing parental ambivalence with non-parents. And I say that not because she agrees with me.

Well OK, that is a big part of the reason. But also because Odes explains the phenomenon really well, and makes several additional good points.

Such as:
Yes, parenthood is hard sometimes. But really, so are a lot of things that bring rewards.  You don’t have to tell a parent about the rewarding part; a parent is living it. But the feelings of joy and fulfillment that come from raising a child are hard to describe or to express. Partially, perhaps, because people feel bad about expressing them,  because everyone knows that non-parents don’t want to hear you get all googly eyed over your kid. People complain when parents complain, but they complain about parents kvelling, too.
It seems like non-parents mostly want parents to just shut up already.
Excellent observation. The XX Factor post I mentioned a few posts ago that criticized mothers' complaints was also put off by their "bizarre baby proselytizing." My impression is that people who don't want to hear you gripe about parenting really really don't want to hear you go on about what a joyful experience it is.

And you know what? I get this. Before I became a parent, I didn't particularly want to go into a lot of conversational detail about either one, either. Any more than I want to hear, say, a runner friend go on and on about his or her pacing and hydration and electrolytes and whatever. At least not more than maybe once.

Which is why, when I talk to my non-parent friends, I tend to discuss other subjects. Which is fine! Because believe it or not, I'm interested in many other subjects, including but not limited to the weather, work, food, books, movies, travel, current events, the economy, politics, fashion, politics, religion, writing, shopping, funny things we saw on the internet.

(And I would rather discuss just about any other subject, really, than what my children are up to lately with a non-parent friend who asks in a sort of polite, perfunctory, obligatory way, as if secretly thinking, "I know her life revolves entirely around them and she probably has no interest in talking about anything else, so here goes ..." Which, by the way, in my observation seems to happen less to fathers than mothers.)

When parents are talking to each other, though, their kids are sort of an natural area of conversational commonality. And if there's a non-parent or two in the room at the time, I don't think parents are required to show only the good parts in order to soothe or cajole or trick them into making the same choice. Or as Odes puts it:
Acknowledging the difficulties should me a way for parents to find support, both personally and culturally.  But even if it’s not, I don’t think parents should have to be their own marketing department.  As far as I’m concerned, my evolutionary imperative does not extend to the species at large.

Right? Most people don't, or at least shouldn't, care whether someone else chooses to have kids or not. (Except maybe because we want lots of workers paying taxes at the point when we're collecting Social Security.) Anybody else, as far as I'm concerned, is free to do whatever they want.
And somehow it usually all works out. My non-parent friends, like my parent friends, seem quite happy with the paths they've taken.


  1. but i, one of your non-parent friends, really AM interested when i ask about your kids. i like kids! i like you! i am interested in your life! i just didn't happen to produce any of my own.

  2. Right, and thanks! I actually didn't mean to suggest that ALL non-parents are non-interested, though I see how it could be read that way. Nor was I thinking of any one person in particular. But I'll confess that the comment was partly inspired by a time involving a mutual friend of mine and my then-husband. She had a lively conversation with him about work and news and this and that, and then turned to me and politely said, "And how are those adorable boys of yours?" as if the other topics were all over my head, so now we must turn to my sole subject area of interest.