It is widely assumed that, if you don't want to have children, you must hate kids and the people who gave birth to them. Not true — some of my best friends are parents! Seriously, while a very small percentage of no-kidders could live quite happily on a planet where all reproduction was banned, Matt and I are just not like that. We enjoy children and their parents — as long as both are reasonably well-behaved.
There's a term that you may have heard bandied about by no-kidders — “breeders.” Merriam-Webster says that “to breed” means “to produce offspring by hatching or gestation.” So if you're a parent (and didn't adopt or grow your kid in a test tube), you are technically a breeder — originally, there was nothing inherently negative about this word. But as “we” (that includes both child-free and the good parents out there) became more and more disgusted by those who bred irresponsibly, we searched for a way to single out the ones who should never have been allowed to reproduce in the first place. No we've co-opted this term and made it our own.
However, I didn't always think of “breeder” a bad word. Ironically, the first time I was introduced to this term was by an organizing client of mine who had three kids and considered herself a “breeder” — she wore the label as a badge of pride. At the time, we lived in Midtown Atlanta, which had three very proud self-defined populations — you were either gay, a breeder, or a DINK. These taxonomical distinctions were thrown around in public and private forums, with no malice intended — so of course, it confused me terribly the first time someone took offense when I used the term “breeder” in a friendly way to describe those who had reproduced! I came to realize that most parents consider “breeder” a derogatory term — and to be fair, most no-kidders use it with no small amount of implied criticism and condescension. The suggestion is that the breeder's only purpose in life is to pump out babies (and now that they're born, there is very little being done by that individual to raise them properly) — the idea being that a cow or chicken exhibits better parenting skills than most human breeders. That's why child-free folks like me draw a very clear line drawn between “breeders” and “parents.” Now I reserve it entirely for insulting moos, deadbeat dads, and sproggenfrau!
Some of the more resentful no-kidders like to set themselves apart from all of reproductive society by using this term in a very “us vs. them” manner — and I have a problem with this. I believe that the indiscriminate application of that label and automatic maligning of EVERYONE who chooses to have children is not only unfair, it hurts our child-free “cause” (if you want to call it that). The best way to actively turn even those who support your decision against you is to spew scattergun negativity without any logic or compassion — besides, the only way to hold the moral high ground and maintain a sense of superiority is to be better than those you attack! I like to think that most of my cohorts recognize that there are good parents and bad parents — I'm happy to support folks who are doing their best to raise respectful and respectable members of society, but the rest of you had better watch out! The “breeders” (I'll leave out the quotation marks from now on) are the ones who had children for entirely selfish or misguided reasons, and seem to go out of their way to make life miserable for the rest of us — including the good parents! You'll often see no-kidder forums refer to good parents as “PNB” (parent-not-breeder), and the crappy ones as “BNP” (breeder-not-parent). I hate acronyms (KWIM?) — so I'll just keep using the term breeder as my way of expressing disgust with sub-par parenting skills.
It's usually pretty easy to spot a breeder. The woman who bitch-slaps her kid in the middle of Wal-Mart qualifies, as does the yuppie mom who treats junior as a lifestyle accessory — and those of you with a British sense of humor will recognize the lovely “third world” family from Monty Python's “The Meaning Of Life” whose religious beliefs cause them to birth so many children that they can't afford to feed them any longer and have to sell them all off for medical experiements. Poor parenting knows no socio-economic boundaries — you can find breeders living in trailer parks, running Fortune 500 companies, and even teaching Sunday school at your church. Here are some other examples of the species “breeder,” genus “crappy-parentius” in the wild:
Don't misunderstand me — I know that there are lots of good parents out there. I happen to be blessed with at least a half-dozen amongst my closest buds (and this is a photo of one of them, my friend Marlene and her first). I applaud those who have their children for the right reasons and treat parenting like the full-time job it is — putting 100% of their effort into raising happy, healthy, confident, well-behaved kids.
It's really not hard to tell a good parent from a breeder — you can see the difference almost immediately. Good moms and dads have fun with their children — truly savoring their company, instead of viewing parenthood as a burden to bear. Good parents actually spend quality time with their offspring and listen to what they say — treating them (God forbid) like independent humans, rather than biological extensions of themselves. Good parents understand that discipline means correcting bad behavior before it starts — not waiting until the kid is out of control to spank him. As a result, good parents' children are delightful to be around — intelligent, polite, witty, entertaining, and quite often surprisingly mature for their age.
Most of all, these good parents recognize that, while this child may be the center of their own universe, not everyone feels that way about other people's offspring. They don't take offense at this fact — they merely accept that their child is one of billions of humans on this planet, and no more or less deserving of respect than anyone else in the room. They don't “inflict” their kids on other people, the way that breeders do. Good parents know when it is appropriate to bring their kid along and when it's best to leave him at home. They keep their little people under control in public — and they don't fill every second of every conversation with a discussion of their child's bowel movements or preschool antics. It's simply wonderful.
That there are several factors at work here. First, good parents have kids for the right reasons. They want to bring someone into existence who might positively impact the world around them one day. They feel that they have something of value to share with a child, and they parent from a place of giving. They want to leave a lasting legacy for more than selfish reasons — and they see their child as a way of contributing to the larger society.
Breeders, on the other hand, tend to have kids for all the wrong reasons. They do it because they felt guilty for not giving mom and dad a grandchild, because life sucks and they think that a baby will make things better (yeah right!), because they're trying to save a doomed marriage (the worst reason of all), because that's what you're “supposed” to do (even if you don't want kids and aren't good parent material) — or (God help us all) because they “accidentally” got pregnant and said, “Why not?” Regardless of the specific situation, they haven't made a conscious choice to have a child — they simply failed to make the choice NOT to. Passive, haphazard, and unthinking behavior doesn't impress me — especially when another life is at stake.
The second thing that separates the PNB's from the BNP's (dammit! I gave in to the acronyms!) is that good parents have cultivated another life outside of the world of children. They enjoy other friends and interests entirely unrelated to their offspring, and they aren't using their kids as a crutch to prop up a part of their life that is sagging. Good parents were generally pretty happy and fulfilled before giving birth, and don't expect kids to be their only source of joy — unlike many breeders who think that a child will suddenly make an otherwise miserable existence bearable (boy, are they in for a surprise!) Good parents don't use a kid to “complete” themselves.
And the third common denominator amongst good parents is that they have achieved a sense of balance when it comes to how they raise their kids. Breeders, on the other hand, tend to go overboard in one direction or another regarding their children. I've developed five classifications of out-of-whack breeder (it is, of course, important that we label things correctly around here) — they are:
Before you put on your offended hat and say, “She's being so mean,” stop and think for a second — there isn't a good parent out there who wouldn't agree that this is not the way to raise a child. If you find yourself getting all huffy and defensive, it's quite likely that you see some of your own behaviors reflected back at you, and you are projecting a bit of guilt. I know that parenting is a tough job and no one does it perfectly — we all screw up even our best efforts in life, and that's called being human. But what matters is your overall score card — good parents who make mistakes are still good parents, but a breeder who occasionally gets a few things right is still a crappy parent. Good parents, yay! Breeders, boo!