We hear a lot about the Mommy Wars. But there's another cultural throwdown going on in the parenting sphere, and that's the back-and-forth between parents and non-parents. This increasingly acrimonious debate gets summed-up in lists of ill-informed assumptions and casually dished-out stereotypes. Both sides fall back increasingly on the old "You just don't know what it's like to be us!," with blog posts like:
- 5 Things Parents Need to Stop Saying to Non-Parents
- 17 Untruths People Believe About Non-Parents
- What Is the Deal With the Child-Free Group Hating Children?
- STFU, Childless People
- Smug Parents
The assumptions we throw at each other are unfair and often hurtful.
Some parents, dealing with the grueling 24/7 reality of raising children, dwell on how the childless just can't understand them. That sense of belonging to a special, misunderstood group can make anyone who's struggling feel a little better. Most of us fall prey to that kind of temptation now and then.
Yet, speaking as one of the childless, the non-parents, the "non-breeders," the truth is: Just because some of us really don't know what it's like to be parents, that doesn't make us completely ignorant. Or inferior.
A few days ago, when a friend of mine thought that Prince William hadn't strapped his new baby into the car correctly (not being familiar with the newest models of car seat), someone retorted to her, "You must not have children." As a matter of fact, my friend has two children. But that's actually beside the point. You don't have to be a parent to understand a car seat—or do the sniff test on a dirty diaper, or tell bedtime stories until your voice gives out, or take half an hour to disentangle yourself from a sleeping baby, or wipe runny noses, or clean up spit-up, or bathe a wiggly toddler, or comfort a crying child, or answer 26 "But whys" in a row. Plenty of non-parents are doing it every day. Between years of church nursery duty, babysitting, caring for young cousins and neighbors, and now my taking care of my godchildren, I've probably changed more diapers than some parents have.
Still, the "non-parents know nothing" stereotype persists. Sometimes, we childless people in the family-centered evangelical church get the brunt of it. Mind you, I'm glad that churches spend so much time and effort encouraging and helping families. They need the support, and their children need the guidance. But when the focus on children and families is incessant—for instance, on some of those difficult Mother's Days—the childless Christian can feel left out and isolated, which is especially painful if your childlessness is not by choice.
Yet, many churches rightly help create situations where the childless can love and be there for children (always bearing in mind, of course, that precautions should be taken). Baby dedications, when the entire congregation promises to support children and their families, are a great start. And it goes on from there, with nursery workers and Sunday school teachers and youth choir directors, many of whom play an important role in children's lives without having children of their own.
It behooves parents to avoid saying "Childless people just doesn't understand anything about children" when a childless person might be cleaning up their baby's vomit in the nursery as they speak. And if you know that childless person in the pew next to you loves your child, you might think twice before you repeat the old lie that non-parents just don't know what real love is.
That childless aunt or godparent or neighbor may not get what you're going through—but he or she just might have something special to offer your child, nonetheless. And you and your child have something to offer him or her. To share your family with a childless person who loves children, as my friend Laura has done for me, is one of the most generous and loving things you can do.
My seven-year-old goddaughter got on the phone the other day to inform me that I needed to drive the two hours to her house and pull her loose tooth. There's a history behind this request. Earlier this summer—with great squeamishness on both our parts—I pulled her previous loose tooth. For days she'd refused to let anyone touch it, until her mother left her with me for a few minutes, and I proposed, "Let's surprise Mommy when she comes back!" Laura returned to find the two of us shaken but triumphant, with a bloody gap in her daughter's mouth and the tooth clutched tightly in a coffee shop napkin.
That wasn't the end of it, either. As both my goddaughters were staying with me that night, I got to play Tooth Fairy for the first time. After much anxious pacing and several false starts, my nerves were shot by the time I managed to ease the little bundle out from under her pillow—but it was all worth it when she found her money the next morning.
I've had many such moments over the past few years—moments that, as a single and childless woman, I had sometimes feared I might never have. It's been one of my greatest joys to learn that the childless life doesn't have to be a child-free one. Though I'm not and never will be as significant a figure in their lives as their parents, my three godchildren and I have something special that's all our own. Like the Kenny Chesney song I used to sing to my younger goddaughter when she was a baby, until her country-music-hating mother threatened to fumigate the house. Or the fact that her big sister believes I'm the only person on the planet who knows how to extricate a tooth properly.
You don't necessarily have to shanghai every single person within a 40-mile radius into going to all your kid's birthday parties, a la Lorelai on Gilmore Girls. But if you know your childless friends love children, then time with your kids is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. It's a constructive and healing way to deal with that division between parents and non-parents—a helpful example for a culture that seems determined to exacerbate divisions, instead of transcending them. It's a practical way that we can live out the truth of Psalm 68:6: "God sets the solitary in families."
The other night I was in the bathroom when my older goddaughter called to give me an update on her tooth. Then her little brother had to get on the line and recite for me all the new words he'd learned. Then his sister had to get back on to read me some jokes from her new joke book.
I stood there in the bathroom, with my bath water getting cold, and I had to laugh. How many times have I heard parents say that they never get a chance to go to the bathroom by themselves? I don't fully know what that's like, and I may never know, but I thank God and my best friend that I got to have a taste of it.
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