Thursday, March 20, 2014

boundaries, acceptance, & living a child free life

Choices. Life is all about choices. Where to live, what career to pursue, what spiritual/religious path to follow, whom to share your life with, and how you choose to define your family (just to name a few). 
While any choice can leave the door open to outside opinions, none seem to attract the copious amounts of criticism, confusion, & judgement as the topic of whether to have kids. My husband and I have had many heart to heart discussions about having children and have decided to remain child free. It wasn't a decision we made overnight or took lightly, quite the opposite in fact. We know our decision isn't the norm, but it's the right choice for us. What is interesting to me is not only the responses we get when asked if we want children, but the unsolicited advice, comments, and inquiries regarding the subject....

"How long have you been married? 10 years?! Better start having babies!" 
"Why don't you have children yet?" 
"You are so good with kids, why don't you want any?" 
"Oh, I used to hate kids's different when they're your own." 
"It's selfish not to have'll grow up someday and see how important they are." 
"Oh so your dogs are like your babies?"
"Won't you regret not having kids?"

We've heard it all. Whether the comments about what we "should" or "shouldn't" be doing stem from a place of "love," ignorance, envy, pity, condescension, superiority, or are said without any thought whatsoever...none prove to be helpful. In response, I'd like to ask two questions. The first... 

"Where have our healthy boundaries gone?"  

In today's cyber world of facebook/twitter/instagram, we've undoubtedly created a society of "oversharers." While I find pictures of pets and babies as cute as the next facebooker, I believe some things are best left private. I don't often blog about the details of my personal life for just that reason. Some may argue it's their right to share as they please. And I agree. Freedom of speech all the way. But at what cost? We all know that guy or lady (the one you're not really friends with -- you could maybe call them an acquaintance at best), who manages to corner you at the gym or office and overshare details about his/her love life, health, emotional status, (fill in the blank with anything that you don't want to know about). It's awkward, embarrassing, and leaves everyone feeling a bit emotionally disheveled. Often these are the same people that ask awkward/probing/inappropriate questions. Their boundaries are weak (or nonexistent), and it's damaging to everyone they come in contact with. If you are staring blankly at the screen and have no idea what I'm talking about, chances are you need to educate yourself as to what healthy boundaries are...not just for everyone around you, but it's the greatest gift you can give yourself. Some of my favorite boundary setting resources: The Art of Extreme Self Care by Cheryl Richardson and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. For a quick lesson in boundaries, psych central has great tips. 

My second question...
"When did we decide we know what's "best" for others?"

I would find it wildly ignorant to claim to know the "right" way for a stranger/acquaintance/friend/family member to care for a dog simply because I have dogs. I wouldn't think it necessary or appropriate to launch into a ten minute speech citing the pros of adding a dog to someone else's life who doesn't have one. 
Because I have absolutely no idea what it's like to be that person.
I don't know every detail of their living situation, or their mental health, physical health, life history, preferences, time constraints, and economic status. And in this case I'm talking about a dog.
So why, when the stakes are raised to kids, do some people lack the ability to live and let live? Maybe they're nosy. Maybe they have an over-inflated sense of self-righteousness. Maybe they are extremely happy and believe what makes them happy will make others happy. Or maybe it's simply something they've never questioned before. For a while, I don't think I even realized there was a different option. You get married. You have kids. That's just what you do. But part of individuating and becoming an adult is being able to think for yourself. To follow the paths that work best for you. Over the years, I've realized that I want to live a life that is true to myself, full of love, and as open & tolerant as possible. For me, it doesn't feel good to judge others (or myself). It feels unsettling and toxic. I may not always understand other's decisions, but I don't need to.
I accept that other people are different and make different choices.
I don't judge parents for choosing to have kids. 
It's not my choice; I don't need to understand, pry, analyze, criticize, or assert my opinions. 
To me, it feels best to accept our differences with compassion.

I don't always believe there is malicious intent behind the prying for answers...I think often in "small talk" situations, it's just what we, as a culture, chat about. When we first meet people, the top three questions seem to be: 1.What do you do? 2.Are you married/how long have you been married? 3.Do you have kids?  Which by themselves seem harmless enough. It's usually the follow-up questions that are the most intrusive/stereotypical/ridiculous. The, "why nots?" I usually respond with a stock answer of "kids just aren't for us" or "we're happy as a family of two." Which are typically met with puzzled looks. Additional probing/bizarre questions and/or comments usually favorite involving the snap/incorrect assumption of us hating children. I usually politely explain this isn't the case, and that we in fact love kids. Sometimes I'll mention how I used to teach art at a kids camp and absolutely loved it or that in college I volunteered with the special olympics. We truly feel that kids are amazing little creatures who are absolutely fascinating, hilarious, and innately wise. 
But we just don't want any. 
Again with more puzzled looks. Just because I love sailing doesn't mean I want to abandon my current life, move to sea, and live there for the next 18 years. Sometimes the looks are a little less puzzled. Sometimes.

But I'm OK with people not understanding my choice. I don't need others to understand my decision to know it's the right one for me and my husband. But to some couples the invasive questions and lack of appropriate dinner topics are crossing into ultra sensitive territory. We have friends who experienced challenges trying to conceive, several who are in the middle of challenges, and some who have gone through illnesses preventing them from having children. When these couples are faced with any of the questions mentioned above, the effects can be devastating. 

So I'll close with this...the topic of having children is a sensitive one. One that is ultimately between two people. One that outsiders should treat tenderly, with great thought and compassion. 
When a couple is child free, sometimes it's by choice, and sometimes it isn't. 
But either way, (and I say this with the utmost love and the healthiest of boundaries), 
unless your specific opinion or feedback has been requested...

it's none of your business.  


Thanks for reading.
My intent with this post was to share my feelings on living child free and to create an open/safe/loving space for others to do the same. 
I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
Click on the comments link below this post.