Rants For All Occasions
We Don't Hate Parents — We Hate Irresponsible Parents
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.
Parents Versus Breeders
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.
The Wild Breeder In Its Natural Habitat
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:
- the mom who ignores her child's increasingly shrill demands for attention, until the kid has to pitch a fit just to get her to respond — then she whacks him for it
- the parents whose overly-tired-and-cranky child is causing a scene at a restaurant or movie theater — but they refuse to take him out, because they “deserve” to be able to finish their evening (no matter how many other patrons they disturb)
- the dad who claimed he really wanted a child so he could “pass on his family name” when mom got pregnant — but now works 80 hours a week and sees his kid maybe once every three days, if he's lucky
- the parents who buy their kid every conceivable material good on the market, to make up for a lack of attention, emotional support, or “quality” time
- the guy who can't accept that he is aging, wants to be his child's friend instead of a parent, and is more concerned with looking cool to the teenagers in the neighborhood than teaching his kid the difference between right and wrong — he's the one they go to for pot and beer and nudie magazines
- the person who tries to turn their child into a “mini-me” so they can vicariously re-live their own lost youth — forcing their offspring into a pre-formed mold, instead of allowing the kid to be a unique person who might very well disagree with the parent's views and choices
- the man who confuses “reproduction” with “accomplishment”, and sees a child as a credential or status symbol — another notch in the old sperm gun
- the woman who has no meaningful adult relationships and decides that she will have a child (or 14) to fill an emotional hole in her life — something that is “hers” and will always love her, when she probably doesn't even deserve to have a pet
- the couple that has kids so there will be someone around to take care of them in their old age — rather than simply putting a little more money away in their retirement accounts
- the zealot who has 8 or 9 or 23 kids because it is their “religious duty” to go forth and multiply — but these really are more “minions” than children…
Not All Parents Are Miserable, Selfish Bastards
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.
Why Are Some Parents Better Than Others?
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:
- “martyr-breeders” (these people give up everything that used to be important to them, including a career, personal relationships, efforts at self-improvement, mental/physical health, and financial well-being, in order to become a slave to their child's wants — they have a hard time finding a reason to live once the chick leaves the nest, and the kid is sorely disappointed when he discovers that the rest of the world isn't prepared to wait on him hand and foot like mom or dad did — children from these families make really interesting spouses later in life, too)
- “baby-on-board breeders” (these misguided parents truly do believe that they are doing the best for their kids, but they also assume that providing for their children requires them to trample the rights and needs of everyone who gets in their way — they have the mistaken idea that their kids are somehow more important than anyone else, and that's why they cut in front of you in line or run you over with their strollers or sue the school when Johnny doesn't make the football team — it's also why their children grow up with such an obnoxious sense of entitlement, like the world owes them something)
- “NIMBY (not in my back yard) breeders” (these are the ones who worry about everything and grossly overprotect their kids, seeing the world as a place of danger instead of wonder — they don't allow trick-or-treating because that apple might have a razor blade in it, consider all strangers potential molesters, head to the emergency room for every sniffle that could be pneumonia, and disallow both organized sports and sleepovers away from home — they hover and smother, and their children are never permitted to make a mistake, much less learn from one — consequently, they grow up to either be weak and frightened adults, or they turn into bullies in self-defense)
- “can-we-schedule-a-play-date breeders” (these folks are usually severe overachievers in their own lives, so it's no wonder they lack a certain sense of perspective about parenting — they see their kids as external proof of their own success, and by God, that means they have some standards to live up to! — anything less than an A+ is unacceptable, every free minute must be used for self-improvement, and no afternoon is left unscheduled — these children are allowed no breathing room to explore or imagine, no free time to goof off and just be kids — they wander through their formative years with a sense of nagging guilt and a feeling that they just aren't doing “enough” — they also develop ulcers by age 12, then grow up to be as high-strung and exhausted as their parents)
- “cat-in-the-cradle breeders” (this final group of breeders has valiantly held on to the delusion that having kids wouldn't really interrupt daily life, and they would be able to go along doing things pretty much the way they always had — whether they are workaholics or social butterflies, these intrepid folks don't let their children get in the way of what THEY want to do — they are always “too busy” for a game of catch, the school play, scouts, PTA, or a family vacation — and like the song says, when they finally wake up and smell the coffee, it's too late)
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!