I don’t think I’ve ranted this rant before

I’ve been wanting for a while to rant about the so-called child-free movement.

It’s not the notion of not having kids that I’m opposed to–a good thing, since I’m not a parent myself. But when I listen to people who actively label themselves child free, what I hear is not just that they personally don’t want to raise children. What I hear is that they feel they’re entitled to a life in which children never even put in an appearance–a life where they don’t have to see children, or hear children, or get reminded in any way that children exist. A web search, on livejournal or anywhere else, on the term “child free” gives me, at least, the impression of folks who are not simply child free, but actively child hostile. Words like “sniveling brats” (for the kids) and “breeders” (for the parents) get bandied about a lot. Labelling onself “child free” doesn’t seem to be so much about not raising children as about categorically hating children–a very different thing.

Yet I do have friends–reasonable-seeming people, all–who use the term child free in just this way. When I talk to them in person about it, two things always seem come out: first, that their real issue isn’t so much with children as with parents who think the world revolves around children, and who fail to assert parental authority as a result. Second, that they would actually like children just fine, if only said children were perfectly behaved.

I get irritated as much as the next person when someone allows their young child to scream or run about in public places. Parents who don’t work to teach their children that public places demand public behavior are as far out of line as people who insist they ought not have to see children at all. But most parents are not, in my experience, actually like that. Just as most childless people are not in my experience actually child hostile. Yet reading discussions of kid-related issues, especially in mainstream media–you would think the entire world was composed only of the child-obssessed and the child-despising, with nothing in between.

Here’s to middle ground. It’s where most of us live.

But as for the child-free frustration with kids for not being perfectly behaved 24/7? Sorry, but that really is how the world works. Even were every over-indulgent parent on the planet taken away by aliens tomorrow, this would still be something we’d all have to deal with. Even more than adults, children are works in progress. They’re not going to be perfect all the time. And sometimes their parents–also imperfect–won’t figure out the best response to their children’s actions right away. So it might take a few minutes more than it should for that screaming infant to be removed from the restaurant, because Mom thought she could calm the kid down and she couldn’t. Or maybe that toddler will manage to bolt down the grocery aisle, because Dad let go of his hand for 10 seconds to grab a jar of tomato sauce. It happens. And for those of us who are adults–being an adult means having the coping skills to, well, cope when things are less than perfect.

I think that everyone has the right to keep children completely out of their own households, and that no one has the right to keep children completely out of their society. And I think that while no one is obligated to love or even like children, everyone is obligated to treat them with respect: the same basic, human obligation we have to our fellow adults.

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