Life as a non-parent in a parent-centred world

There’s an article doing the rounds on Facebook called ‘Seven Things Women Without Children Want Moms to Know’. It’s a decent article, I’ve seen a few times in the past year, and I’d recommend any parent to read it to open their understanding of what it’s like for those of us who live without children.

I’m a non-parent, and after reading it, I felt I had a few things to add. These are just my perspectives and I don’t claim to speak for all non-parents.

Let me choose

Sometimes I want to be around children, sometimes I don’t. Let me choose, and let me change my mind.

In the ‘Seven Things.’ blog, one participant said:

“I’ve rarely been invited to dinner parties at homes with people with kids. Or to life festivities: confirmations, holiday celebrations, graduations, etc. I’d like to be invited. Please let me decide if I want to come or not.”

It’s that last sentence I want to focus on. The blog titles the point ‘Don’t Exclude Me’, but for me it’s not about exclusion, it’s about letting the decision be mine. There are times when I have absolutely loved going to a friend’s babyshower; there are other times when I have dreaded the thought of going to a 3 year old’s birthday party. Some days I want to be around children, other days I don’t, for a multitude of reasons. Let that decision be mine. Don’t assume I don’t want to be there. Equally don’t be offended if I don’t come – I’m not rejecting you or your child.

Have grace for when I change my mind

This goes hand in hand with the above point. How I feel about not being a parent, it’s – complicated. It’s not like how I feel about, let’s say, bananas.

I hate bananas. Always have. Can’t stand them. Don’t want them in my food, don’t want them offered me, don’t want to have to smell them, would be quite happy if the Prime Minister issued a new law banning them from existence. He’d get my vote, guaranteed. Anyone who knows me, knows not to serve me bananas, or even suggest it as an option. This is a static state of affairs.

Not so with being a non-parent. Most of the time, I’m pretty ok with it. I’m 38, been married for 15 years – I’ve had quite a bit of time to get used to it. And I like my life; it’s all good. But then there are days when it’s not so good. When I feel the weight of what I’m missing out on. When I feel very much ‘not-normal’, that I don’t fit in and never will because everyone else is graduating to the next level of adulting and I’ll never get there. I feel left out, left behind, and afraid I’ll never have the same level of friendships again because we’re ‘different’.

Not being a parent is not a static state of affairs – it’s full of complicated emotions, that often make no sense whatsoever. So if one day I’m desperate to come over and take your child to the park while the following week I have a little rant about how we never have any adult time together any more – have a little grace for me for being inconsistent. You can’t simply sort non-parents into two categories of being ok with it or not – it doesn’t work that way.

[Related post – Tonight I am a little sad]

Don’t assume my knowledge level

I don’t have any children of my own – but I’ve not lived 38 years in a child free bubble! I have siblings, my mother was a child-minder, the first time one of my friends became a mother I was 17, I have 9 nephews and nieces… I do understand! I’ve changed nappies, bottle fed babies, been up in the middle of the night to take someone to the toilet; I’ve chaperoned birthday parties, herded kids into the car after a day out, kissed scraped knees and trodden on many small toys littered across the floor. I’m not child ignorant.

At the same time – I don’t live the same life as a parent. My calendar is not structured around school terms or extra-curricular activities. I haven’t memorised all the soft-play venues and child-friendly activities in the area and – most importantly – I don’t have in depth knowledge of your child’s particular needs, quirks, eating habits or routine.

Think of it like this – in a general knowledge round on ‘children’ I’d probably get a fairly decent score. But I’m not going to make ‘parenting Johnny Smith’ my specialist topic on Mastermind.

So don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot who couldn’t possibly understand what being a parent is like, while also don’t assume that I’ll automatically pick the right meeting place or time or know not to pick up your child if he’s having a tantrum. If I tell you to pick the venue for our meeting up, it’s because I know you’ll have more restrictions. And if I accidentally make your child cry because I do the wrong thing – be a little forgiving!

Ask me – if it’s appropriate

Here’s where I differ slightly from the ‘Seven Things…’ blog. The non-parents interviewed felt that they didn’t want to be asked why they don’t have kids. And I do get where they’re coming from. After all, if you ask someone ‘do you have kids’ and they reply ‘yes, I have three’ – you’d never follow that up with ‘why?’ Asking the ‘why’ question to someone who doesn’t have children, well it carries the implication that you’re not normal – there has to be a reason why you don’t have children, right?

And that, when you think about it, could be seen as offensive.

But – here’s where I want to talk to other no-parents – let’s face it, it’s not normal. The world was designed for procreation. We’re supposed to reproduce – it’s how our bodies (in the big scheme of humanity) were created. So it’s actually not normal to meet someone who doesn’t have children. Firstly – being not normal is OK – not many people really are normal when we get down to it. Secondly, it’s not worth getting offended by people’s curiosity.

Actually, I welcome people asking me why, as this means they are interested in my life and want to get to know me. It’s part of my story. If you don’t ever ask, then it’s like there’s this big ‘no go’ area of my history, a walled off topic between us – and there’s no need.

But again – there’s a right time to ask and there are plenty of wrong times. When we’ve just met, and we’re asking the getting to know you questions – this is not the right time to ask why I don’t have kids. That question should be asked in the context of when we have established at least some sort of relationship and we’re ready to go deeper in our friendship. It’s not a first meeting, small talk over coffee conversation. I honestly hate it when it gets asked in those moments, because it’s so uncomfortable to answer. I used to say ‘no, just us and the cats’, to bring a little humour into it, cover up be embarrassment on both sides  – until I moved into a building that doesn’t allow pets. (stupid condo board rules, grumble grumble grumble…)

So, what do you say when you ask the question ‘do you have kids’ and they respond ‘no’? It’s a bit awkward, isn’t it? To be honest – I don’t ever ask that question. There’s no need! If someone has children, it invariably will come up in conversation. Have you ever met a parent who hasn’t mentioned something about their child and what they got up to, or about the day which revolved around the routine of getting the kid to school/day care or some funny thing they said…. Even when their children are grown up and flown the nest – they’ll still crop up in conversation eventually. It’s completely unnecessary to ever ask someone ‘do you have kids’. That way, you’ll never meet the awkward moment of them saying ‘no’.

[PS – while we’re on the topic. If you’re silly enough to ignore this advice and ask someone if they have kids, and they respond with ‘no’ – don’t ever, on any occassion, even think about responding with ‘oh, why not, you’d make a great mother’. No. Just no. Don’t do it. Ever. I’m serious.]

Let me know I’m just as valued

Non-parents, as I’ve pointed out above, are intelligent, aware people, who know that life is more complicated for parents. They have more bodies to consider when making arrangements, everything takes more time and there are a multitude of preferences that have to be borne in mind. We get it. So we know that it’s often easier for us to come to you, that the simpler option is for us to make the effort, because, yes, it’s less effort for us.

But.

Please, please, don’t let that be your excuse for never making an effort for us. Because, genuinely, after a while we just begin to feel unvalued, that we’re not worthy of you putting yourself out for us.

I’ll illustrate with a real life example. I had a friend, let’s call her Shirley. Shirley had 4 children of varying ages, some of whom were step-children with other parents involved. So co-ordinating the family in order that all would be there and all able to go out, well, it was complicated. Naturally then, it would usually be that I would make the hour drive to her house in order to see her. And that was fine. There was only me and my husband, so though it was still some distance and still took co-ordinating our schedule, and still was an effort – it was clear that it was less effort than it would be for her.

Then one week we were chatting and she explained how she, her husband, and all four children, were going out at the weekend, driving for three and a half hours to see one of her friends. This friend also had children, so they were ‘equals’ in the stakes of how much effort it was to see each other.

It might be unreasonable, but that hurt like crazy. All I could see was, this other friend, the one with children, she was important enough to Shirley that she would make the effort to get all her kids together and drive for half a day to see her. And I wasn’t. She would never make that effort to come to me, to be in my space, to save me a bit of time, because I wasn’t worth it. I felt unvalued and unloved.

Friendships, relationships – they work best when they are two way. When one person feels like they’re making all the running, it will always wear down a relationship. Even if 90% of the time it’s one way, just showing you’re willing to make the effort to come see me, or to find a babysitter or to choose a non-child friendly restaurant  – just 10% of the time showing me I’m valued and worth it – it will make the difference in our friendship flourishing or not.

If I want you to take away anything from this it’s this – 

being a non-parent in a parent centred world, it can sometimes suck. It helps when parents are aware and sensitive to its sometimes sucky nature.

But in the same way, being a parent sometimes sucks. It’s hard work, not all sunshine and bluebirds. Being a single person in a world of couples sucks; and sometimes being in a relationship when surrounded be single people free from restrictions sucks. Being a cat lover and forced to live in a cat-free building sucks (yes, I’m a little bitter on this point)

The point is – life is hard, and if we focus on our own sucky points in life and what makes us different from other people, then we just make it harder for ourselves. So don’t do it. I don’t generally define myself by my non-parent status, and this blog is in no way a rant about how hard my life is. Let’s just choose to be aware of each other and offer grace and understanding in the sucky times, whatever the source. That’s all.

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5 Responses to Life as a non-parent in a parent-centred world

  1. Kristy says:

    Thanks Milly for sharing this.

  2. Iris says:

    I just loved it!! All my friends are starting to get married and have babies. And here I am, a single person with no hope. Haha So, I really try my best to keep all these friendships (it includes to hang out by myself with couples or couples + babies). My best friend had a baby 2 years ago and since this we never had the opportunity to meet again by ourselves. I try to understand that things have changed now, but God, how I miss it! I love her baby so much, but I miss a lot having a quiet time like we used to have. And I strongly think that any parent needs it sometimes. I am not saying it’s easy. Both sides of a friendship need to try.

  3. Ruth says:

    Even as a mum of a busy three year old I related to this blog! As someone who was single for years I did a lot of the driving around to see people and physically putting in the effort to keep friendships alive. It didn’t always feel fair but at the same time I really appreciated having homes to go too and families to be part of. And like what you said about choosing, sometimes it felt ok to be the only single person amongst the couples and sometimes for my own sanity I had to choose not to be. Life has changed a lot now and naturally life revolves around my toddler and doing activities that include him and are suited to him and I’m really grateful for friends that have adapted to that and have accepted him as part of my package. But at the same time I really value the times I do get when I can just be me and have adult times with a friend. Its all about balance and making the effort to show friends that they are important to you, and adapting your friendship as both your situations change.

  4. Alex says:

    Reblogged this on Just another blog and commented:
    A blog by my friend Milly.

  5. Jenny Hodge (Russell) says:

    Hi Milly, lovely and interesting post, I often worry about offending people without children so this is helpful.
    Hope you’re well.
    Jenny x

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