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The Radical Notion that Children are People


I have no beef with people who choose to be childfree. I mean, there are enough people in the world that having people willingly abstain from breeding is probably a better choice than creating more consumers for diminishing resources. I get it. I really do.

When I was thinking about having a baby, I examined my motives in a typically rigorous fashion and concluded that I could come up with no really good reason to justify having a child. (Well, I had one: my husband had almost died when we’d only been married for four months. But that’s another story.)

Carry on my husband’s family name? Archaic. Because my DNA is so awesome it shouldn’t go to waste? Please.

In the end, I just threw up my hands and said, “I don’t have a good reason. I just want to have a baby.” And so I did. Rather more quickly than I was expecting.

What I find bothersome — no, offensive — is the blithe statement, “I’m not going to have children because I hate kids.”

Before I became a parent, I just thought that was an unnecessarily harsh way to justify your choice, and possibly overly defensive. After I became a parent, I found it personally offensive.

My experience with babies until I had my own was confined to a few babysitting gigs as a teenager and perhaps a couple of interactions with my friends’ kids when I was in my twenties. My feelings towards babies could have been best described as PROFOUNDLY UNCOMFORTABLE. But I was never a person to say that I hated kids.

Conversely, when I had a child, I did not automatically love all children or even find them tolerable. There are kids that I like and some that I dislike. This has been true since my daughter’s earliest days of preschool. Because all of those little people have personalities, and even if you’re an adult, some personalities just don’t mesh.

After my daughter was born, hearing people say they hated kids got my hackles up immediately, and it took me a while to figure out why.

It’s because my daughter is a person, and hearing someone say they hate a whole group of people who aren’t like them because of their behavior and appearance generally has an “-ism” after it: racism, sexism, ageism, ableism. None of which are good things either in theory or practice.

If you say, “I hate kids,” but take out “kids” and put in a different collective noun, such as “women,” “homosexuals,” or “people of color,” you sound like a bigot. Any intelligent person would be within their rights to call you out on that. But for some reason it’s okay to say that you hate kids, all kids, any kids, and that includes my kid. Because your choice to not have a baby makes this a reasonable explanation. And I don’t really think it is.

You don’t have to justify or explain your decision not to have children. I realize that lots of people wait for that followup explanation, “I don’t want kids because…” but honestly, it’s nobody’s business. “Because I don’t want any” is perfectly reasonable. I know that’s not the case all the time, but you do not have to come up with the nuclear option of “I hate kids” to justify yourself.

Just because I’m a parent doesn’t mean I find that misbehaving toddler in the restaurant any more pleasant to endure than the childfree person does. I might be able to understand why the kid is having a tantrum a little better, but it doesn’t change my wish for the parent to remove the child until they’re under control.

My immediate response to “I hate kids” is “Screw you, you don’t even know my kid. My kid is awesome.” Because my child is a person, and she is her own person, and you don’t have the right to judge her any more than you have the right to judge someone else based on their appearance. Dislike my daughter if you must, but dislike her as an individual. Because that’s what she is. That’s who she is.


image courtesy of eve+line,

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  1. My reaction to people who say they hate kids falls along the lines of relief that they admit it and take measures to prevent becoming a parent. So many people who do have kids, act as if they hate them by being grossly negligent or outright abusive. For that reason, a childless person who is careful to avoid becoming a parent because they don’t like kids is someone I see as doing it right. Even if they articulate it in an unnecessarily harsh way.

    • my point is that it isn’t necessary to articulate it so harshly — if you don’t want to have kids, then don’t. if you don’t want to tell people why — or even if there isn’t a why, you just don’t want to — then you don’t have to guillotine the conversation with a word like “hate”. nobody is owed an explanation for this decision except for the person making it, and the people that person chooses to involve in it. typically, when I’m having a conversation with a person that tells me they hate kids, I feel cut off from fully communicating with them. I feel as if I should police my dialogue and not mention my daughter, which is difficult, as she is the largest part of my life. and I also feel as if I can’t be friends with them, because they aren’t bothering to get to know my kid before they tar her with the same “I hate kids” brush, and being friends with me is kind of a package deal.

  2. I my experience, people that say, “I hate kids.” usually mean “I don’t want to have children for a reason that people tell me isn’t good enough.” They find in easier to say they hate children then get in to long discussions about not wanting to give things up, make changes, or go into medical background.

    • yes, that is what I was getting at — you don’t have to tell a person a damn thing about your decision to have or not have a child. and to say “I am not having children because I don’t want to.” is enough reason in itself. no justification necessary. it’s (the hypothetical) your reason, so it’s good enough. just please don’t bring hate into the conversation. to me, hate is tremendously personal, and is reserved for actual hateful individuals. not broad classes of people.

      • Coming from the other side, I often say I dislike children. (I try not to use the word “hate” for the reasons stated). And it is for the reasons Daisy stated. If I say “I don’t want children” it devolves into a long “but you’d make a great mother” or “your own are different” discussion that I am not interested in having. “I dislike children” puts people off enough that I don’t get to the point in a conversation where I can no longer be civil about their attempts to decide my life for me.

        • If someone asks you why you don’t have kids, just say, “because I don’t want them.” If they try to convince you, say, “Can we switch topics? I’ve already given my reason.” and then refuse to engage on the topic further.
          That is really not hard. You can even apply it to other topics.

  3. Kids are absolutely people, and absolutely deserve to be treated with respect. But they have a bit more in common with one another than the set of “all women,” “all black people,” or “all gay people.” Mostly, the fact that they are still learning. How to deal with their emotions, what other people need, the consequences of their actions… Kids are less in control of themselves, less predictable, more self-centered.Yes, even mine. It takes time to learn these skills. The underlying brain development takes time too.

    I think “I hate kids,” mostly means, “I don’t deal well with ‘unpredictable’ and ‘uncontrolled’ behavior.” Which I get. I think “hate” is too strong a word, it’s a little hypocritical since after all we were all kids once, and even the “adult” who is saying that probably doesn’t behave in a perfectly “adult” way all the time. But I understand why someone might dislike being around kids, and that “hate” is just an emphatic way of saying “dislike.” There is certainly more justification behind the sentiment than there ever could be behind “I hate/dislike women.” There is nothing that all women have in common which could justify a universal dislike. But kids, while definitely people, are universally and by definition people who still have a lot to learn, and some adults have a harder time than others being patient with that process.

    Personally I love kids. I love that the world is new to them. I love seeing things through their eyes and sharing their wonder. I love their enthusiasm and sincerity. I even like the lack of a fully-developed filter, which makes them say things that are hilariously honest, and makes them more straightfoward to deal with for me. “Learns a lot every day,” is the flip side of “has a lot to learn,” and basically I love being around people who are learning so much so fast and who are not yet cynical and prejudiced. But to say “I love kids,” is also to acknowledge that there are some qualities inherent in being a kid, shared by all of them. I would never say “I love women,” or “I love black people,” any more than I would say that I hate them, but I DO love kids.

    • your points are valid, I am just more careful with language, probably, than a lot of folks. I don’t use words like “love” or “hate” casually, because they are deeply personal concepts for me, not to be thrown around lightly. for the record, I wouldn’t say “I love x disenfranchised minority group” any more than I would say “I love kids” because both those groups contain people. I tend to like individual people. Regardless of age.

      • There are definitely some kids I like less than others, but even for them, I still like the “kidness” of them. You know? I like that I can blow their little minds with a fractal generator on my phone or get them to laugh at a really stupid joke or at least get them to come out and say how they feel about me rather than silently judging. I cut them some slack, knowing that if they do something horrible to me, it’s actually quite brave of them to do given how vulnerable they are. I like the worst kid I’ve ever met orders of magnitude more than I like the worst adult I’ve ever met.

        But other people don’t see “kidness” as a net positive. I disagree with them, but I agree that all kids do have “kidness.” Maybe if I say it enough times that will become a real word, and then what people can say is “I hate kidness.” That, I think, would be more accurate and less insulting.

  4. I like kids, in the sense that they do have certain characteristics, like the learning, developing stuff. Child development is real. For those very same reasons people can legitimately dislike children, and I’m very happy about every person who comes to the conclusion that they should not procreate and then stick to that.
    But I totally agree with Cassandra about the words “love and hate”. I don’t “love” all children (there are occasionally even some I individually dislike). I love my kids and a few selected other ones I’m close to. So to say that you “hate” kids might be a response to people bothering you with the kids question for ages, but it’s not a justified response, because it causes splash damage. It’s not the kids’ fault.

  5. “I hate kids” has an “-ism” that fits it, but we’re not used to using it for children: “ageism.”

    Dismissing or hating people just because of their age is so frustrating–and with children, I think it’s partly a holdover from when kids weren’t considered real people until they hit adulthood and partly a response to people who’ve felt pressured to set aside a life with which they’re perfectly happy and have children.

  6. Kids are one of the few classes of humanity it’s really still okay to treat as sub-human.

    We can still beat them (in most places) and treat them like possessions (in almost all places) and speak about them as objects, and as a single unified mass (“I hate kids,” “Kids need rules,” “Kids need two parents,”) and deny them their civil or other rights, and no one blinks an eye.

    Okay, almost no one.

    I think this is starting to change, but the resistance against it is pretty strong.

  7. I have never and would never say that I hate kids. As this article states, children are people, and the frequency with which I see children around me being treated dismissively disturbs me.
    However, there are people in my life who tell others that I hate children. No matter how many times I correct them, they continue to explain my lack of desire to have children as “Oh, she hates kids.” Has anyone else had this problem? It has gotten to the point where people act afraid to invite me to an event that children will be at and they tell their kids to stop “bothering” me when I play with them. Why do some folks seem to think that you must hate children if you don’t wish to have any, even when you try to tell them otherwise?

  8. I totally agree with this article! It *is* bigotry to say you hate or dislike kids. It’s interesting that you connect this with people who don’t want to have their own kids being pressured to explain why. I think you’re right about this, and it aboslutely sucks that people can’t just take the statement “I don’t want to have kids” as a complete sentence.
    I think a lot of people don’t know enough about kids to know how to interact with them (this would include me, and I’m only marginally better since having my own kid). But being awkward around kids isn’t an excuse to refuse to try to learn a bit how to deal with the kids that will inevitably enter your life. We all have to learn to interact respectfully with our fellow humans, even if they have a strong foreign accent, or use a wheelchair, or are fat, or are old, or are young.

    • Well, it took me a while and a lot of therapy for me to think of my own “No.” as a complete sentence, so it’s not surprising to me that other people feel as if they have to justify theirs, in whatever situation. Kids are just different, and we should be able to embrace difference in all its forms.

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