Friday, February 18, 2011

Agreeable Disagreement -- Fighting Bingo with Bingo

(I wrote this one for the childfree audience, so that's the "we" and "us" I mention.)

I have an idea I’ve not tried yet, but it seems promising, and I wonder if anyone else has had success doing something similar. It’s this: agree completely with pronatalist reactions and use those same arguments to support the idea of NOT having children. Let their own arguments show how sensible it is to be childfree. I’m having trouble keeping sarcasm out of my answers, but maybe that’s unavoidable. This approach also kind of assumes you’re debating with someone in a rational, open-minded conversation, which is often not really the case.

Some examples:
1. “You’re being selfish and immature.”
Response: You’re absolutely right. I am in no position to be a good provider or role model to a poor, innocent, vulnerable little angel. Parenthood takes a lot of self-sacrifice, and people who are not prepared to be selfless or are not mature enough should definitely not have children. Thank goodness I didn’t make the mistake of having children in my condition.

2. “You’re one of those people who hates children.”
Response: Unfortunately, you are correct. I think something is deeply wrong with me, something wrong with the way that I’m wired. Perhaps I need a lot of therapy to figure out where that malfunction comes from. Until I can cure myself of this deformity, I should probably not be near any children. Everyone should keep their kids as far away from me as possible, out of earshot, never even mention your kids to me, until I get this straightened out. Or, if that’s not possible, let me have my own spaces devoid of children. Thanks for reminding me that it’s entirely possible for someone who hates children to become a parent anyway. Thank goodness I haven’t made that mistake.

3. “Someday you’ll regret it if you don’t have a child.”
Response: I could not agree more. I think you’ve just touched on a really profound bit of wisdom, there – it is possible to look back on a reproductive decision and feel deep regret about it. I shouldn’t be hasty and rush into something without looking realistically at my life.  It’s a really good idea for me to take a detailed look at all the possible futures before doing something monumental like deciding whether or not to have a child. The wrong decision could be totally devastating for me.

4. “Once you hold one in your arms you’ll feel differently.”
Response: You are so right. I keep forgetting that people with different experiences than mine may have something wise to contribute to my understanding of myself and my life. I see I can be just as happy or even happier if I had made a very different reproductive choice. And you are totally correct that once you have a child your life will be completely different and your old life will be a distant memory.

5. “You’ll need someone to take care of you when you’re old.”
Response: Yes, sir, absolutely. Having children is most definitely an economic decision that redistributes resources, redirects labor, and creates whole new social obligations. I have to think about my later years and make the best investment decisions now so I can have the most comfortable retirement possible. I better think long and hard about how I invest my time, energy, and money right now, because making a bad financial decision today could spell disaster in twenty or thirty years. Thanks for reminding me I need to invest my salary wisely in things that are most guaranteed to pay off later.

6. “Society would collapse if everyone thought like you did.”
Response: I know, and I hate myself for that. The only way I can feel better about being such a non-contributor is to remind myself that at least I won’t pass on my selfishness to any children. We childfree misfits will probably die off because of our own shortsightedness. Thank goodness my monstrous perversity is not contagious – people who have children are fortunately so much in love with parenthood that they are immune to any temptation to live an “alternative lifestyle,” and lucky for them they can’t switch sides anyway even if they wanted to.  Fortunately for society, we can encourage people with children to have as many as they physically can; since parenting is such a joy, they won’t mind picking up the slack for the rest of us.

7. “You’re missing out on the most fulfilling thing you could do.”
Response: Totally true, and it breaks my heart. I am deeply flawed, self-destructive, and in denial. I don’t have the courage or toughness to put myself through what parents go through every day. Parents are my heroes. I can only look on in awe at the things they can do and wish somehow I could risk so much to achieve so much. They’re like the people who climb Everest without oxygen tanks. Thank goodness those rare, special people are out there to inspire the rest of us in our lesser everyday lives. I can only hope to find a fraction of that fulfillment some other way. My fear and weakness are quite disgusting, really. Maybe I don’t deserve to be happy, so I really don’t deserve the ecstasy that comes with being a parent. I haven’t earned it, and I’m not sure I ever will. I’ll try to carry on as best I can with a second-rate life. Please think of the less fortunate, like me, around tax time or when it’s time to promote people at the company. Throw me a bone, I have nothing else going on in my life.

8. “You’re only thinking of the negatives and don’t see the positives.”
 Response: You got me. It’s true. I have let myself be so overwhelmed by 1) all the complaints I hear from parents, 2) all the things I see are hard about having children, and 3) all the ways that children drain people of their energy, that I haven’t left room in my heart to believe them when they backpedal and say how much it’s all worth it. I’ve let myself be taken over by logic, self-reflection, and critical thinking, when really I should have more blind faith that the good parts outweigh the bad. I need to listen to the truth underneath all the chatter. There’s some more good wisdom here: you have to be skeptical about what people say about having children – the true ratio of positive to negative may be largely unspoken, so you have to read between the lines sometimes.

9. “You get to experience a whole new kind of love.”
Response: So true, so true. I hate that I have been missing out on that. I’m spending all this time with friends and family, developing as an individual, that I completely missed out on that special love. I’ve gone without this unique bond for so long, and I’ve become so self-sufficient in my life, I think I’ve spoiled my chance at creating that relationship. I have this irrational fear that the relationship with my children will compete with my other relationships, but that clearly would not be the case, since the more kinds of love you can experience the better, right?  You’re so right about how important it is to have love in your life and not to do anything to endanger that possibility. Love should be protected, encouraged, and nurtured, and I should let nothing stand in the way of that. Good thing I don't have kids, then.

10. “If your mother thought the same way you did, you wouldn’t be here.”
Response:  Absolutely rock-solid logic.  Nonexistence is really tricky that way, isn’t it? You have reminded me that it’s pointless for me to try to predict how I’m going to feel about someone who currently does not exist. It’s impossible to say how the existence or nonexistence of someone else is clearly going to make my life better or worse. The concrete is much better than the abstract. Thanks for reminding me to look at my own experience within my own family for guidance about parenting. I can now look at what I know about my mother’s life in order to decide whether or not I should really do what she did. And, there are good words of warning here: sometimes parents can raise rotten, ungrateful, selfish, and immature children who fail to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Luckily, if I don’t have a child, I won’t be adding any more of those useless “childfree” people to the population.

I’m not saying that pronatalist reactions are fair and accurate, but chances are the people who want to argue with you are not really interested in debating the accuracy of anyone’s view. It can be very disarming to accept other people’s reactions and run with them to show them where those arguments lead.  We can thank them for the ways that their wisdom supports our choices. This could be a great achievement for CF people – so many of the arguments, both the good ones and the bad ones, support the choice to be childfree that even the most fanatical pro-parenting people agree with us!

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