Advice to a Parent (from a Non-Parent)
Thank you for sharing the news that you are expecting a child! You have chosen to share this news with me, a person who is and will remain child-free for the rest of her life, because you consider me close enough to you to warrant that discussion. We are likely friends because random strangers don’t come up to me and tell me they’re having babies. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter so I don’t see friends-of-friends posting about pregnancy. And furthermore, I don’t find myself in situations where I’d be around random pregnant women or men with pregnant partners, so we are probably on friendly terms. You have likely told me this information over Sunday brunch or date night or dinner at your house while your other child (a toddler) is having a screaming fit in the living room, and because of the lack of social media, I’m probably the last person to know about said pregnancy. But that’s ok — you’re still very kind for telling me.
Anyway. Congratulations! You are with child, either for the first time or again. If it is for the first time, a double congratulations! You have given all that sex you’ve been bragging about having a purpose. I just wish you wouldn’t have told me about it. Not that I’m not proud of you for having it, mind you. I’m not just interested in you having it. For some reason, you and my other female friends have seemed very content to share with me the lurid, explicit details of your sex lives over the years — right down to descriptions of your partners’ genitals. Now, some of you are married to said partners, and I have to go to dinner with you as a couple, knowing that some of them swing to the left a bit and some of them are way too small. This has made our dinner dates very awkward and to that I say…stop doing that. But congratulations on figuring out sex because, as a non-breeder, sex is still about the mechanics and theatricality for me.
If this is your second or third go around on the child-baring ferris wheel, then congratulations are in order still but with less aplomb. You told me before you wanted more children and you accomplished that goal. Well done! You are goal-oriented and fertile! I hope you’re not expecting me to attend another baby shower, right? Oh, please don’t. Those are horrible! I went all out for your first baby. I wore the cute dress and the cardigan. I played the dumb games where I had baby food shoved in my mouth. The whole time I prayed for someone to slip me a flask of something to take the edge off the whole afternoon. The best part of that day was the look on your face when I wheeled in the stroller — the most expensive item on your baby registry. The second best part was the look on the other women’s faces. They bought you diapers and knit caps. I bought you the stroller. Why? BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE CHILDREN. But honestly, baby showers for the childfree are like bachelorette parties for the perpetually single and sober. And furthermore, you have what you need by now: clothes, diapers, knit caps — and yes, even that expensive stroller.
But don’t let my flaunting get you down. This is about you, my child-having friend! You are expecting, either for the first time or for the next. I’m happy for you.
No. Seriously. I am. Why are you so skeptical?
Ok, fine. It’s difficult to be childfree and not sound like an asshole when you congratulate your friends on having babies. If you go to any childfree internet message board, the posts are teeming with assholes congratulating themselves for dunking on their family members or total strangers about their CF (their words) status. “My aunt told me I’d change my mind about having kids,” one 26M from Cincinnati said, “I told her she was wrong called her a FUCKING CUNT!” Jesus, I thought, clicking off the page. Take it easy, dude. I know it’s frustrating and often downright aggravating to hear that you’re going to change your mind about having kids. But throwing out the c-word? For internet points? Get a hobby. Or, better yet, wait a few years. In your twenties, people bugged me a lot about not wanting children. I got “you’ll change your mind” a lot, too. But now that I am mid-30’s, no one cares. Either people assume I can’t have kids or assume it isn’t going to happen. Or I’ve perfected Resting Bitch Face.
Now that we’re done with the congratulatory masturbation, let me establish some firm ground rules about the extend of our friendship vis-a-vis your child. This is probably necessary because 1. you had a kid last time and you expected WAY too much and I under delivered (rather, I delivered exactly as expected according to me) or 2. this is your first kid and I have to set these rules based on another person’s kid (see example 1). In either case, let’s get these rules out of the way:
- I will not change your baby’s diapers. Your baby is a non-stop poop machine for the next 3 or 4 years. Actually, probably 5 years. Maybe 15 years. If you think potty training babies makes them stop pooping themselves, think again. You’re going to be in the car, on a road trip, without a bathroom in sight, and that kid is going to scream, “MOMMA! POTTY! NOW!” and you’re going to go, “Honey, can’t you hold it for–” and then you’re going to realize, no, they didn’t mean they have to go right now, they mean they are going right now. Then you’re going to wish you sprang for the car package with the leather seats because poop doesn’t come out of fabric ever. Poop is for the parents. I’ll be glad to buy you a box of diapers, though. What size? What color? Can I convince you to get washable ones or biodegradables? That kid needs to be changed, though, I’m running away.
- Until they’re old enough to do things on their own, I’m not babysitting. I’m not doing this because I’m heartless. I’m doing this because that child will bonk their head, scrape their knee, stub their toe, or knock out a tooth and you will hate me for it. All of this could have happened as I was holding their hand or eating in the next room. I am not equipped to handle babies. Hell, I’m not equipped to handle myself most of the time. You won’t forgive me if something happens you your kid. In a pinch, I can watch your kid while you take a bath or take a nap or take a pee. As long as you are in the room, I can be there. But I’m not going to be your first contact.
- And duh, but I’m not giving you advice on how to raise your kid. You read the baby books. You subscribe to the Twitter feeds. You attend the classes. You’re now the expert in raising the kid, so please do not come to me with questions about you should approach any of the big 3: religion, education, and discipline. I can only go by my own experiences growing up and I’ll say the following: my parents had too much interest in two of those things and not enough interest in one. If you do the same, it’ll fuck your kid up. But the specifics of either are none of my business. If your spouse is Jewish and your Catholic: I’m without religion, this is none of my business. If you want to go private school and he wants to go public: I went to both, but see my response for number one. And as for spanking? Look, when people say they were spanked and turned out fine, they’re probably not fine. They’re hurting and holding in serious resentment. And yeah, I know there is a difference between “a spanking,” “a whippin’,” and “a swat through a thick diaper,” but you should probably err on the side of caution and not hit your kids. But again, I’m not giving you advice on disciplining your kids, got it?
Reading the above, I sound pretty negative. Having a baby is a joyful time in (your) life. Even if that means I have one fewer set of friends with whom I can do spontaneous activities, your life is now plus one baby! You will be up late, up early, sleeping in your clothes, showering in your clothes, stepping on toys that play the same children’s songs over and over again, eating sour baby food, smelling sour breast milk, and cleaning up vomit on restaurant floors, I will make the following promises to you:
- If you want me there, I will hold your hand through your baby’s delivery. You see, child birth doesn’t bother me. A human vagina is a strong, flexible machine capable of pushing a human being. I’ll be strong for you while you labor, and when you cry out for drugs, I won’t remind you that you insisted upon a natural birth.
- I will help clean your house. You are a tired parent who steps on toys that sing stupid songs. That annoys me too, and I don’t even live there. So when you put your kid to bed, I’ll sweep the floor, put the dishes in the sink, wipe down the counters, put the toys away, and clean up the mess.
- Not if but when your kid throws up in the restaurant, I’ll help you clean it up. That is, I’ll take your kid while you clean up the puke. And I’ll face them away from me. (This actually happened.)
- I’ll read to your kid even though they don’t read yet. Books are important to a kid’s development. I hope you don’t mind Stephen King books. That’s what my mother gave me to read.
- I’ll sing to your kid. My voice is shit, though, and I don’t know many true lullabies. Are Enter Sandman and King Nothing in a soft voice ok?
- I’ll bring you bath products so you can take a break.
- And finally, I will reassure you that your life isn’t over because you had kids. I will remind you of the unfounded pressures on women to be perfect working mothers but also perfect stay-at-home mothers in the eyes of the world. I’ll also remind you of how unfair it is that the United States has some of the worst protections for mothers: no paid maternity leave, no guarantee of a job after maternity leave, no child care — and we’re considered a developed nation. But I’ll remind you of this to show that the pressure you feel is real and serious and that you’re not crazy for wanting to ball up under a heated blanket and binge watch *spins Roll-a-Dex of mom shows* The Bachelor. You can also be a good mom and forget 1. your kid had a talent show 2. you had to chaperone a field trip, or 3. five kids in class have a nut allergy and you brought brownies with walnuts to the school fundraiser for *spins Roll-a-Dex of mom causes* TBA. You’re going to be a good mother, regardless of the dumb mistakes for which you’ll be judged. Don’t sweat it — life goes on.
Now. I’m going to do whatever I want because I don’t have kids.