So, this week, the Mrs wrote this blog :
“If anyone ever tells me I don’t understand because I don’t have kids …”
And there were loads of responses and loads of people read it, and some people agreed with her (not all with children) and some disagreed with her (as far as I can see, all with children), and then I answered some comments on her blog with a long response of my own, which actually, is a blog in itself, and so here we go …
All of this is at the forefront of my thinking right now, because this week I’m about to start work directing Emma Deakin’s new play (her ‘new’ play – her FIRST play, yay Emma!) Expectations, which deals with miscarriage and infertility and while it is about those issues, we’re really hoping (and our intention on working on it) is that it is NOT an ‘issue play’, but rather an engagement, and a discussion, and also funny, physical, lyrical, visual, sonic, aural and all those things we love in Shaky Isles.
We also have a big fundraiser Raising Expectations coming up at the Lyric Theatre on 14th October for both the production and the Miscarriage Association, the night before Babyloss Awareness day.
Emma’s experience of miscarriage, and her choice to find value in that loss, prompted her to write the play, and chemo damaged my fertility and I lost five (pre-chemo) embryos, one after the other, and while I was having cancer treatment Shelley miscarried and never got pregnant again, and so I understand about infertility and miscarriage both from my own pov and from the pov of the partner of the one miscarrying, and it’s HUGE. And rarely talked about. And one of the reasons we – those of us without children – rarely talk about how it is to be child-less/free, to not be parents, to not fit in with the norm which is to be parents, is that often, when we do, parents get upset and tell us how hard it is to be them. How hard it is to have kids, to raise children, that society doesn’t understand them. And I know this because I have been a child and was raised in a family and have siblings with children and nieces and nephews with children and friends with children and I know this is how it feels to be in a family. To feel misunderstood by our world, to feel not heard by our society.
But my other truth is that I think I am listened to a little less when I talk about not having children. Not being a mother. Not being part of the club that MOST PEOPLE are in. And sometimes I think people don’t want to hear it because they feel bad for me, or because they’re not feeling particularly lucky to be raising a child right now and they don’t want someone telling them it is fortunate to be a parent when it feels like damn hard work.
What I think really matters is that we all try to hear each other more. And that’s why plays like Emma’s are important (especially if we pull off our desire of making it vibrant and exciting and entertaining as well as serious and heartfelt), and the fundraiser is vital to help us do that right and to help the Miscarriage Association do their great work, and this discussion is vital too.
It’s vital to talk about who we are and what we have lost and what we grieve. It’s vital because it helps us be whole humans and it helps us help each other.
Which means it is also vital, just as parents would like us non-parents to understand, to sympathise, to empathise, that it also works the other way. Many parents think they understand what it is like to not have children because there was a time in their life where they didn’t have children. That state of being is NOTHING like wanting, trying, painfully trying to have children, and not. Or like losing a child (I haven’t personally, my mother and my sister both have and I have witnessed, first hand, what that does to a person, how damaging it can be.) There is NO equation between the state of being of not-yet-wanting children and (unintentionally)-not-having-children
(And yes, thank you, I’m good now. My babyloss grief has had ten years to abate, and, like any grief, it has abated. It is still there, it still burns sometimes, shockingly so on occasion, but I have a full and brilliant and passionate life that I’m proud to be making day by day. And STILL, I want more care and kindness – all round.)
So, if I read this right (and you’d hope I’d understand my wife of 23 years!!, but hey, relationships are always tricky …), Shelley was saying that she would like those with children to be more empathetic to those without (the without being for many numbers of possible reasons), and those who disagreed with her and responded about their own situations (because it clearly felt personal to them so they mostly responded in the particular not the abstract) were saying they would like those without children to be more empathetic to those with.
All good. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could aim to be more empathetic. (Although, interestingly, there are some studies that suggest empathy is less useful than we would like, that it – as currently practiced – has a little too much of the pity/educative aspect, and there are possibly better potential understandings we could aim for. Regardless …)
This raises several points for me :
1. The people I see complaining about other people’s parenting, other people’s children, other people’s families, from government to religion to friends and family TEND to be other parents (primarily because of point 2 below). So I suspect the bulk of lack-of-empathy is coming from those who DO have more right than those of us without children to comment (if we agree with the assertion that only parents should speak about parenting). So is it OK when those people comment? Those with children, regardless of whether or not we agree with how they are raising their children? I’d guess not, none of us likes to be told how to live our lives, whether from a supposedly informed pov or not. I’d venture to suggest that another LGBT person who is a parent, MIGHT think they have more in common with me, as an LGBT person, than they do with a religious fundamentalist parent, for eg.
2. MOST people are parents. This is a simple truth about our world. The vast majority of people have children. Therefore those of us without children are a minority. And generally (whether we think empathy is a useful emotion or not) it behoves those who are in the majority to acknowledge and try to listen to those in the minority, rather than the other way round – as those of us who live our lives in minorities know only too well.
3. All of us, if we are now adults, have been children. So actually, having been a child, ALL of us do know something about it.
4. “It takes a village to raise a child”. For a start, many villages are not the places of glorious interactivity and intergenerational care we might hope. And if it does take a village to raise a child, then EVERY MEMBER of that village gets a say in the raising. We can’t have it both ways – both wanting the whole village to care for our children, but also minding when the whole village has different views on how best to do this.
5. What is often asked of the non-parents is that we are sym/empathetic about the difficulties of child-raising. The money problems, the exhaustion, the constant concern and worry. What is far less often shared with us are the good bits, the sticky kiss, the hug at bedtime, the sleepy child who has a bad dream and needs reassurance and love from a parent and then the world is all right, because the parent/carer made it so. THOSE are the bits that often enable parents to get through the harder times, the lovely bits of having kids. And those are the bits that non-parents rarely get to experience. So, for non-parents, the experience of being with children, unless (as some of us do) they spend a lot of time with extended family/friends, is often skewed in favour of the difficult, not the pleasurable. If the village is to raise the child, then parents need to welcome the non-parents in to enjoy the good bits as well as deal with the harder stuff.
6. Not being a parent does not mean one is not a carer. Often, not always, the task of caring for elderly relatives falls to the non-parent. Who not only has no-one to look after them in their old age (as if anyone has children for this reason, but I hope you understand the extrapolation I’m trying to make), but also is doing the work of caring for elderly relatives while knowing they won’t get this themselves, what with not having their own children to (maybe) to do it for them. Perhaps we need to be considering that it takes a village to care for our elderly too?
So, in summary, goodness yes, let’s all be empathetic, or whatever form of understanding we can muster to be kinder to each other, but the simple statistical fact is that those of us without children hear more/see more/do more with, for and from those with children than the other way round. That’s the maths. It’s basic. And while it is very true that INDIVIDUALLY parents and those caring for children often feel hurt/put upon/misunderstood, as a group they – you with children – run the world. I’m sure it doesn’t often feel like it, but it’s fact. The majority runs the world. And sometimes, as a minority, we’d really appreciate being listened to too.