Don’t be That Parent: Sad, Empty Lives of the Childless Edition
I’ve never thought of myself as the kind of person who judges the choices of others. This is, in fact, because I don’t actively, consciously choose to do so.
Thus begins the appallingly entitled “I Think People Without Kids Have Empty Lives and I’m Not Sorry About It.” by Sarah Larson at the tragically problematic article mill Thought Catalog. Attentive Skepchick Network readers will notice that this is not the first time that Thought Catalog has entered our crosshairs as they have a history of poor publishing decisions, with little to no editorial oversight. In fact, according to Jezebel last August 53 bloggers asked for their contributions to be removed from the site after their unfortunate decision to publish such hits as “When It’s OK To Hit A Woman” and “”Hey, Ladies! Short Hair Is Rape,” (not linking… use Google if you must). So lets just say that I was not particularly surprised to see this dreadful article was their handiwork when it wandered onto my social media shooting range (thanks to old school buddy and bizarre short story writer Julie Innis for the sharing.)
Ms. Larson, after assuring us that she’s not the type of person to judge others (really for true she isn’t), especially not about incredibly important decisions as to whether or not to have and raise children, makes the following mind boggling, tin eared statement.
I never thought of myself as the kind of person who judges other people’s choices. But after spending enough of my life with kids and without, I can’t deny what I really feel: It’s a perfectly fine choice to never become a parent, but there is absolutely no chance that your life will be as full or meaningful, or that you will learn as many essential truths about existence, as you would if you had kids.
There is no possible way that both of the two assertions in the above quote can both be held to be true. It absolutely begs the question, if you cannot have as full or meaningful life without breeding some spawn (or adopting someone else’s I suppose,) then it is absolutely not a “perfectly fine choice” to not do so. Ms. Larson’s entire premise, based on years of experience as a parent and non-parent, is based on that judgement.
Much that follows is largely uncontroversial. There are absolutely areas of human experience that can only be accessed by going through the process of raising children. There is no denying that fairly simple premise and if that were the extent of her analysis then we would not be having this conversation about it. The Girl and I have spawned three Hellions and I can personally attest that we have had myriad experiences that our childless friends can only read about on Facebook. Also their houses are invariably cleaner. But then Thought Catalog wouldn’t have published the piece because it wouldn’t have been edgy enough. You know what’s edgy? Racism!
I’m not saying you can’t have a happy life without kids. Of course you can. You can be happy making all kinds of choices, because people are adaptable and have a remarkable ability to make the best of things. You can also be happy as a racist, but that doesn’t make you an especially great person. I’m not saying that kid-free people are bad like being racist is bad. I’m simply illustrating the point that happiness does not equate to living a great life. My actual point is this: I don’t think people are somehow bad or wrong for not having kids – I just think it’s really, deeply sad. I feel tremendously sad for them.
You hear that childless people? Sarah feels so very sad for you. So… so… sad. Why would you want her to be sad? She goes on from the sad place that the existence of childless people have brought her to detail all of the ways that raising children is the only possible way that one can truly act in a “selfless” manner, implying that the only truly altruistic acts are those we make in raising children that we don’t enjoy very much at all, like cleaning poop and puke and driving to piano lessons and understanding Minecraft. But at the same time she asserts that children don’t have to have 100% of your focus. Even if you have a dazzling social life or a high powered job or perhaps a crippling substance abuse problem (ok I added that one) she adds…
When you don’t have kids, the hierarchy of your priorities is constantly shifting, with all the things you care about – friends, career, romantic partners, etc. – always vying for top spot. Once you become a parent, no matter how the breakdown of your day goes, no matter how you apportion your time, your children are undoubtedly, unquestioningly your absolute top concern. Having that kind of focus makes it easier to put all of the other life shit into order. That’s hugely powerful – and actually makes you more efficient at everything you do.
You hear that parents! Having kids makes you more efficient! As Sarah attests regarding her first pregnancy…
Suddenly, all the plans for how I envisioned my life took on new urgency. Before, I had wanted to create a wonderful life for myself, but now, I was looking at the prospect of creating a life for someone else’s benefit, and it turns out that was like a supernatural fire lit under my ass to get serious about accomplishing everything I had previously thought I had all the time in the world to do.
Which is INCREDIBLY AWESOME FOR SARAH! Let us all give Sarah here a big round of applause. Sincerely, she deserves every kudos we can spare for living her dreams, accomplishing her goals in life, all while still winning Mother of the Year. And if that were the extent of Sarah’s article then fine. But after she kind of meanders through a half hearted final paragraph (I’m not exactly a great essayist myself, but the prose in this entire article was particularly messy,) she ends with this doozy
And on top of all of that, like I said, you get the unique experience of getting to learn so much about what it means to be human, what it means to love, what it means to truly commit to someone, and the incredibly liberating, tragically indescribable perspective that comes from creating another person.
And therein lies the narcissism underlying this entire article. Ms. Larson feels that she is “creating” another person! She’s not just a Mom, but some sort of mystic superhero, gifted with cosmic insight into the inner workings of the cosmos through her absolutely unique perspective as a parent. Which is such an absolute load of horseshit I’m surprised it doesn’t have mushrooms growing on it. Her entire premise, the whole reason that childless people give her the sads and make her think of how happy racists might be is based on her baseless assertion that her own experience is some sort of universal constant that applies to every one in every situation in life. Which is simply… the word I want to use here is delusional, but I’m trying to avoid ableist language choices, at least in areas where I have the leisure to edit, so lets just go with “significantly divorced from reality.”
Lets just quickly run down all of the persons or couples that might take issue with Sarah’s contention that their childless lives are sad, empty or somehow less than…
- Single people: Well it takes two to tango so they say. If you can’t manage to find “the right guy/gal/other” to match gametes and or credit ratings with then I’m afraid the ultimate in human experience will be forever out of your grasp.
- LGBT couples: It’s still an open question as to whether LGBT couple will even legally be allowed to adopt children, and even lesbian couples have problems with their own traditionally conceived spawns
- Infertile couples: This hits home a bit. Not personally mind you, if it had not been for my Incredibly Painful Procedure we would still be able to make the babies with ruthless German efficiency. But both of my sister in-laws had trouble conceiving and required a little medical help to join the mommy club. Some folks will never be able to have their own biological children, my Uncle Joe and Aunt Beth adopted their entire family of three and from the looks of things couldn’t be happier. But for a lot of folks childlessness is hardly their first choice. Thanks for pouring salt all over those wounds.
- Speaking of wounds, let’s spend a moment talking about parents who have lost children. If you have ever heard of Rebecca Hensler’s Grief Beyond Belief organization, or been a member of their Facebook Group, you would know that some of the most heartbreaking stories are those of parents who have lost children to accident, disease or other misfortune. I hesitate to imagine what one of those parents might feel about the fact that the ultimate in human experience has been snatched away from them.
- Older couples: Maybe you finally found the love of your life. But you are both pushing 40-50 and despite the advances in medical technology the new millenium brings us it’s still a risky proposition to start a family smack dab in middle age. Too bad!
- People who don’t like children: I know, I know there must be something fundamentally flawed in people who don’t like the idea of tiny persons sharing their domicile, possibly running around at crotch height swinging blunt weapons.
- People who don’t want children yet: Why are you putting off this miraculous experience! Dive in and start soaking up the magic!
- Regular Parents: The idea that parenthood is a sublime magical learning experience is a wonderful sentiment to share on your Mother’s Day card. But by insisting that parenthood is the pinnacle of human experience, Ms. Larson sets up parents to feel like failures when their day to day life doesn’t live up to that lofty expectation. It’s like the lactivist moms who insist you’ve missed out on bonding with your baby if you can’t breastfeed and also imply that you might be endangering their development if you dare use formula. The truth is that parenthood is a messy complicated business. Some folks will handle it with aplomb, making every step look easy. On the other hand some of us will find the entire process maddening, difficult and downright depressing, while at the same time loving our kids just as much as Super Dad.
I know at least one person or couple who fit into each of the above categories. I’m sure that most of our readers do as well. I know it might seem odd for a parenting blog to spill so much digital ink defending those who decide, for whatever reason, that they don’t want to join our club. But that’s the flip side of good secular, skeptical, science based parenting. We encourage parents to listen to the experts when it comes to medicine, to discipline, to nutrition, to education for their children. Well in the case of whether or not to have children at all, the foremost expert is YOU. If going childless is what you have decided is the best way for you to maximize your flourishing as a human being, then who am I to second guess that. I cannot imagine possessing the presumption to judge someone for that decision. Well, actually I can. It looks like, Ms. Sarah Larson and she should be fucking ashamed of herself.
Featured Image Credit: Blotz Photo Arts
Gifs from Giphy
Well, you didn’t leave your readers much room for comment 😉
Somehow, in all those “Being a parent is the greatest thing ever and you’re such a loser if you don’t have kids” articles, the part that features suspiciously little is, well, the kids. It’s like they’re just a means to an end and not really people.
As a parent I always aplaud all people who look at themselves and their lives and decide that kids are not for them. Because kids are not goldfish. You cannot flush them down the toilet if things go Wahoonie-shaped.
Of course not… the plumbing bills would be crippling!
It’s the blind narcissism that’s the funniest part. She reminds me of a guy I knew in college, two years behind me, who once went on at great length about how he pitied people who had never dropped acid, because, you know, they just didn’t understand ANYTHING. The horror.
With the world population at 7 billion and rising, adding lives is incredibly irresponsible. Given the present trends in climate, economics, and various kinds of fanaticism, the world today’s toddlers will grow old in (or die young in) will not be a pleasant one. It’s great that she’s fulfilled.
Not really. It’s what we’re here for. It’s life’s purpose. Feel free not to, but I’ll be happily raising a family over here.
It’s a purpose in life, surely.
I don’t think you can say it what “we” as in “all people” are here for. Is it the Pope’s purpose in life? I’d argue not. It surely wasn’t Jane Austen’s purpose in life, either. Or William Blake’s. Or Queen Elizabeth’s, for that matter.
And there are many other people who have children *and* have other pursuits in their lives. Many of us, though we love our children, don’t see them as the meaning of our lives — they have their own lives, after all. Our lives are our own; their lives are their own. Why should it be the responsibility of our children to give meaning to our lives?
I don’t mean individually. I mean that it is the purpose of life to propagate. Some people make babies, some people care for others, some people merely participate in our social structures which help people have children, and some people decide to drop out and do none of these. I should have been clearer that I was responding to the allegation that “adding lives is incredibly irresponsible”.
Well, I agree Peter the Mediocre sounds like kind of a jerk in that comment; but I also think people can be childless and still have lives with meaning and purpose. While I have a child, she’s not the purpose of my life — she has her own purpose. And I have (many) friends and colleagues who are childless and who have lives filled with meaning that have, really, nothing to do with kids. They’re artists, for instance, or scientists, or they’re happily working in their restaurants in the Ozarks.
I don’t mean to say you can’t center your life around your kids. You can. I’m just saying not everyone needs to do that, or does.
I also *really* don’t think that the purpose of life is to propagate. That is awfully reductive. I mean, wow. If that’s the purpose of life, why do we do anything other than fuck? What’s with this making of demi-glace, for instance, or why all these TV shows? Why are we studying narwhales?
I absolutely agree that you can be childless and have a life with meaning and purpose, but at the same time, life’s purpose, life’s goal, is the continuation of life. MY purposes and goals may be different, but the reason I am here is because my ancestors reproduced, and the reason the human race will be here in the future is that we will reproduce. The other things are things we can fill our time with because of intelligence and leisure time, and they are FANTASTIC, they are GREAT, we should KEEP DOING THEM, but life’s purpose is reproduction. Individuals can certainly have different purposes, think of ants, where drones can’t reproduce, so their purpose can’t be said to be reproduction directly, but their purpose is to do things which facilitate the continuation of the hive. Similarly, there is meaning and purpose in such varied things as teaching, inventing, improving the lives of others in a million ways.
When I say that life’s purpose is to reproduce, or to continue, what I mean is that I feel that society should subsidize child-rearing and care, to some extent, so that everyone who wants to have kids can have at least one. Some people ask why they should help other people have kids, to which I say, because it is necessary, and the purpose of society. That’s kind of what I mean. It is not the JOB of people to have kids. Everyone should make the choices which are best for them and any potential offspring they might have, and for some people that’s not having any!
Hopefully that clarifies some?