This blog post is about certain demographics of guardians/parents. I understand that parenthood comes in a multitude of shapes and sizes. This is also coming from the perspective of a white, cisgendered, heterosexual woman who primarily socializes with other white, cisgendered, heterosexual people. A lot of these situations may not apply to every demographic. I also write this as someone about to become a parent.
You know what I really dislike? When people say “You’ll understand once you have a child”. This comes in various forms:
“You can’t understand. You’re not a parent.”
“Once you have children, you’ll see what I mean.”
“It’s a parent thing. You wouldn’t get it.”
“You can’t possibly have an opinion; you’re not a parent/you don’t have kids.”
Fuck. That. Noise.
These kinds of phrases frustrate me. They set up an unreasonable power dynamic that neither party can really live up to. The frustration part stems from how dismissive these statements are to people who either choose to be child-free or cannot have children for whatever reasons. There is a whole landscape of people who do not have children. Unfortunately, I find that when guardians/parents of children utter a phrase similar to the ones above, it comes from a place of assuming that anyone who doesn’t have kids is selfish and incapable of empathy. This kind of attitude is built on the notion that being a guardian/parent is a far more important job than any other job. This isn’t saying that being a guardian/parent isn’t hard, because it is. I’m simply stating that it is one of many difficult life paths a person can engage with.
When entering this defensive space, it seems as if many guardians/parents are under the impression that they are a highly sought after specialist. It’s like they’re saying, “You wouldn’t get it; you’re not a physicist for the Large Hadron Collider”. Which is true. I’m not a physicist. I didn’t go to school for physics. I don’t read physics journals or books. My knowledge of physics doesn’t extend past the theoretical physics class I took in high school. It had no math. If I physicist tells me I won’t be able to understand, I’m going to trust them on that. Also, not a bunch of physicists just walking around. A fair amount, sure. But, from what I can tell, being a guardian/parent is not like being a physicist. There’s no test. You don’t have to read books. You can, but you don’t have to. Most high schools don’t even teach sex ed. Also, guardians/parents are literally everywhere you go. There’s nothing specialized about it. Guardians/parents might as well say “You wouldn’t get it; you aren’t wearing pants.” Well, currently, no. I’m not wearing pants. Maybe I’m wearing shorts or a kilt or a dress. Maybe I’ve never worn pants, will never will pants, or cannot wear pants due to other restrictions or situations in my life. Guess what? I’ve seen people wear pants. I have family members who wear pants. I have friends who wear pants. I may have even walked around the store with a pair of pants in my cart before putting them back on the rack. I even tried sewing a pair of pants. I’ve taken pants off of other people in consenting situations. Truthfully, the chances of me having pants adjacent hijinks in my life are pretty high. I think I have the capability to talk about pants with you. Just because you’re wearing pants doesn’t make you superior to me or mean you have access to some secret sartorial knowledge that took decades to hone. No, you made the choice to put on pants one day and now you’re mad at me because I’m wearing a bathing suit.
Now, I know that being a guardian/parent is harder than wearing pants. It’s also less complex than physics, although I’m sure there could be a lyric or literary argument as to how they are the same or how finding the Higgs-Boson is easier than raising a child. I get all that. Poetic semantics aside, when someone says “You’re not a parent”, what they’re really saying is, “I’m struggling with being a guardian/parent and I need to be angry at someone who I think has it easier”. That’s where this power dynamic comes into play: I’m a guardian/parent and my life is hard so I’m immediately more important.”
Except that people without children don’t always have it easy. Maybe they can’t have children because they’re partner doesn’t want them or won’t allow them to have children. Maybe their life situation isn’t ideal for a child. Maybe they can’t physically have children. Maybe they don’t want children. Maybe they spent their whole childhood raising their siblings or cousins because their own parents were crap and decided that was enough child-rearing for one lifetime. Maybe they lost their child. How is their life experience less than the life experience of someone with a child under their supervision? Surprise, surprise, most people are capable of empathy. If not, they can probably logic something out.
Then the argument may turn to, “Well, it’s not that they’re less important. It’s just that they don’t have kids. That’s an experience they just can’t relate to.”
You know, except for the fact that most adults were once kids. And while being a child and raising a child are different things, I would wager that most of us remember the difficulty of growing up. While some people may not have direct access to the guardian/parent perspective, we do have access to the child perspective. An experience I can’t relate to is an experience I have no actual access to. I will never know what it’s like to be LGBTQI* or what it’s like to not be white in America. That is something I could never speak to. But I was a kid. I can speak to that. I would agree that tones and attitudes could use a little shaping during a debate. I would never say, “I think it’s disgusting when parents put their kids on leashes. They should be ashamed.” I would say, “My mom put me on a wrist leash and I remember hating it. It made me feel like a freak.” Guardians/parents can take that anecdote or leave it.
Also, as a mildly snarky snide note to anyone who thinks that your guardian/parent friends will start taking them more seriously once you have kids… they won’t. It’s a continuous game of one-upsmanship. First it was, “When you have kids, you’ll understand”. Then it’s, “You think newborns are tough? Try toddlers.” Then it’s, “Elementary school kids are the WORST. I miss having sweet toddlers.” Then it’s, “Don’t even start complaining to me until your kids hits puberty.” Then it’s, “You have it easy. 12 is the best age. Teenagers are horrible.” Then they complain that they’re adult children never want to call them or visit and we’re ALL SO ASTONISHED AS TO WHY.
I get it. Wearing pants is a singular experience. Sometimes they don’t fit right and this one pair shrunk in the wash because you didn’t pay attention to the label. Then, all your friends go and buy jeans or leggins and pretend like they’re the same as pants. But they’re not because jeans are denim, leggings are polyester, and pants are usually made from more delicate fabrics. Also, some people give you dirty looks because your pants are too loud or too wrinkled or have these really big meatball stains on them and you’re like, “There’s nothing I can do about that right at this moment, unless you want me to just strip here in the middle of the store and start ironing”. But really, you don’t care about ironing because that’s not who you are. You’re more concerned about keeping them from fraying at the seams or splitting down the side. These pants have to last the long haul and that’s your responsibility. Maybe you bought these pants at the store. Maybe you sewed them yourself. You want that acknowledged, but everyone keeps acting like these pants aren’t work. They’re fucking work even though you love them and would never choose another pair of pants or even regret not wearing the skirt. Guess what? Everyone gets it. We respect and love you for wearing those pants day in and out. So when you ask us, “What should I do about these pants? Are they too bright? Should I put a patch here?”, we’ll probably give you an answer. If you don’t like our answer then… why did you ask? Did you just want sympathy? You should be clearer next time. If you didn’t ask, there might be a reason we brought it up. Maybe you keep brushing your leg against our and we’re allergic to the fabric. Maybe we think it would make you happier if the pants were hemmed up because your dad used to hem his pants and he really liked how it looked. If that was the wrong advice or unwelcome, we’re sorry. You just seem really upset about your pants. We just wanted to help. Also, body bubble. Wool makes us itchy so stop brushing your knee against ours. We’re not going to apologize for expressing discomfort at something directly affecting us. We’re wearing dresses; we’re not idiots. We are having a barbeque tomorrow and we want you to come. We’ll do our best to accommodate your pants, but you may want to bring a lint roller. We have cats.