if anyone ever tells me I don’t understand because I don’t have kids, OR I can’t have an opinion about kids because I don’t have them, beware.

In response to a Facebook thread after my status update post Shirley William’s comment on Question Time and free school meals. She said of MP Simon Hughes:

“I think Simon is not a parent, if he was he would have never had made those statements.”

My Facebook status shortly afterwards said:

if anyone ever tells me I don’t understand because I don’t have kids, OR I can’t have an opinion about kids because I don’t have them, beware.

This is in response to various comments made by my Facebook friends.

I love being an aunty, I love being around for all the young people in our lives. For me, it’s more about being told I can’t have an opinion because I am not a parent. Well I can and do have an opinion about everything and will continue to do so. As a friend’s child on Twitter said, she isn’t gay but she has an opinion on equal marriage. Same thing. And often we need the people who are outside of the experience to make the experience a better, more improved one. Of course I don’t know the day-to-day issues with bringing up a child, I never pretend that I do know, BUT I do know when a child is badly behaved. I have watched children do things and watched their parents not say a word, and I have had to try hard to keep quiet. We have two teenage boys living next door (late teens). One is about to go to university, the other is still at school. They are renting the property. Their father has a girlfriend somewhere else, their mother lives half a mile away. They are left in the house alone most of the time, to party, make noise, stand outside on the street with their friends and create chaos. All the childfree and some with children, neighbours have complained. We have confiscated two footballs from our garden, because it was only a matter of time before a window was smashed. The five year old who lives on the other side is a golden child as far as I am concerned compared to these two boys. Yes, a ‘broken home’, but they are not the first and I won’t use it as an excuse for good manners. I was a child, I was well brought up. I can’t speak for all my non parent friends, but whenever I say anything to parents about their kids, I tread very carefully because I don’t want to be told YOU HAVE NO IDEA YOU’RE NOT A PARENT. It is a huge insult. I add that NONE of our friends have ever said that – they are more aware than most. And yes, some people, parents and non-parents, are very heavy handed about kids, but they are probably heavy handed about everything. Every parent has a different experience with their child, every child is different, that’s why there are so many HOW TO books, one size does not fit all. I may not be a parent but I was/am a child. Some people hate old people and are cruel to them, that’s not on, but it exists. I totally get that some people just don’t like kids, just as some people hate cats, which is okay. I am in the loving children camp, but I don’t LIKE all of them and I won’t tolerate bad behaviour or rudeness. Our family and friends let us say what we want to their kids, if they misbehave or look as if they are about to do something which might hurt them, we speak out. Our friends have made it okay for us to do that. I also agree that we don’t know what’s going on with people, with their children and their lives, but we could say that for everyone in every situation, couldn’t we? When my sister died I was so much more aware that other people might be going through the same grief. It’s okay to say that until we experience something we don’t fully understand, BUT it doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to comment. People need to be more aware of other people, truth is, we are not. A sick person becomes more aware that other people may be experiencing the same – just because that sickness does not present itself loud and clear doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (now I’ve gone off at a tangent). Why should feminists get more vocal/involved about kids – surely part of the point is that they have a choice NOT to. Some parents love their kids but don’t like other people’s kids! Those of us without kids are often expected to be around for those with kids, to provide some kind of care as if it’s our job, as if we have all the time in the world. Society provides more for those with kids than those without. I know a writer, v successful, she was starting rehearsals and had no childcare – husband had a full time job, the kind where it is probably hard to take time off. The theatre provided childcare for the entire rehearsal period AND a cab to and from the theatre. I know it’s one case, but hey…come on…I wonder if that theatre would have paid out the same for a disabled person?

I do use the ‘you chose to have children line’, and I will continue to do so. I am sick of hearing parents complaining about their children – did you think it would be easy? Did you think you could carry on with your non-child life style (this is not aimed at anyone I know!), did you think you could put yourself before your child? That’s why so many of us without kids get angry and speak out and then get told off. And when someone tells me that I am ‘lucky’ not to have children, or ‘at least you don’t have to go away during the school holidays,’ I said, it’s not luck, it’s not even a choice (in our case), it’s circumstance. Don’t tell me we’re lucky. I’ve also witnessed many parents living their lives through their children, and it makes me wonder whether children are sometimes used as an excuse for someone not to keep dreaming, trying, reaching for that great ambition/goal. Kids grow up and leave home – eventually. I think some people don’t consider what it means to have a child, the responsibilities it involves – until they have them. Teachers get told to step up, IMO it’s the parent’s responsibility NOT the teachers. I also wonder if deep down some women (I’m talking heterosexual couples now) don’t really trust the fathers enough and want to hold on to their child care, want to take full control…can of worms, but I just had that thought in my child free kitchen. I’ve had mothers/wives ask me to do things for their husbands and children, and I wonder why the father/husband hasn’t asked me himself. Finally, the other thing is this – parents should not assume all people without kids never wanted them or don’t like them. I’m not saying ALL parents think this, but quite a few do. Everyone’s circumstances are different. We must all be more aware of each other. Oh…and finally finally…just because some people are not able to have kids or tried and didn’t succeed, does not mean that they want to take charge of other people’s kids, step in, have a child for a day etc. etc. It doesn’t make up for their childlessness. I’m going to put this on my blog! And now to work!

14 thoughts on “if anyone ever tells me I don’t understand because I don’t have kids, OR I can’t have an opinion about kids because I don’t have them, beware.

  1. You are totally entitled to any opinion you have- noone is the opinion police. But all you have said is that some parents are great, some not (mostly not by the sounds of it); some kids are good and some bad… You also go on to say that parents chose to have their children (which is not always true) and they should accept a more limited set of freedoms based on that choice. You can never guarantee your ability to raise a child well, with adequate resources (whanau, money, clothes, housing, health), for 18 years, so making an informed choice about what to do with a positive pregnancy test is not the simplest thing to do.

    It takes a village to raise a child. Whether you have children of your own, or not, you are contributing in some way to the next generation’s upbringing. It is really, really hard to have limited resources and raise children, and more and more of us fall into the category of ‘limited resources.’ Telling parents that they should just be better all around and not impose any of their mistakes, blind spots or needs on the rest of the world is judgmental at best. If you have a bad day, you grump out and say, lose your job/house/go hungry. If we have a bad day and lose our job our children also lose their house and go hungry, with a more constrained resource set in the first place… The stakes are high. Contribute to your community or don’t; you are welcome to make that choice without treating children as commodities for you to judge the quality of.

    1. That’s not what I’ve said at all. You also don’t know me or my circumstances. The piece is part of a longer Facebook thread as I state quite clearly at the start. It’s about non parents having an opinion on children. If you don’t choose to have a child there are of course other situations to become pregnant, but you haven’t been specific, so I cannot respond. A couple of people have used what I have said to verbalise their own agenda and issues, all of which I welcome. But you miss the point of the piece which is really quite simple.

      1. Harking back to your initial point pre-ramble, then, yes, parents do have a much better understanding of what it takes to be a parent. People who are not parents are entitled to their opinions equally- but that’s no reflection on their level of actual understanding of parenthood and raising children fulltime.

        You are totally entitled to your opinion, yes. But your opinion does lack some finer nuances, which 99.9% of parents realise very quickly- namely, that the behaviour of the child, involvement of whanau, and family situation are a rollercoaster ride. Childless members of society/whanau cannot only expect to be exposed to children and family situations when at their most agreeable and functional, which is what you imply. Ugh.

      2. Hi Zoe

        I have to say great that you are engaging in this conversation – but again you go off at a tangent. Not sure why you are so angry about what I have said. Of course parents have a better understanding, I DIDN’T SAY THEY DON’T. I am saying that as a child free home, as witnesses to other people’s children, as a child myself, as a human, functioning member of society I also have MY understanding and MY opinion. And to suggest that I only want to be around kids when they are on great form, well, I’m not sure where you got that from. I don’t. We have friends and cousins kids round here, sometimes they even stay o/n. Occasionally they tell us things they don’t tell their parents. They are not always well behaved or on good form, I take them as they are, because kids are unpredictable, that much I do know. My sister died over two years ago, and I took on a new responsibility for her three young adult children. I am very clear that I am not their parent, but their aunt, but my responsibilities towards them changed enormously. Yes, they were not babies or even teenagers when their mother died, but this didn’t mean they didn’t need care and attention and support. So please do not tell me things that you clearly have no idea about, just as I have no idea about your life or your situation and would never dream of commenting on things I know nothing about in your day to day world. The point is clear to everyone but you (and one other down below) – perhaps you have your own agenda and my piece has ruffled some feathers. As to ending in ugh…oh please, you are wrong in your assumption.

  2. I think you are fully entitled to your opinion – just as I am entitled to say ‘great to hear your views but unless you are a parent then your opinion on parenting is probably going to be misinformed’ just as my opinion on childlessness without choice is misinformed’ so instead of getting combative over this, maybe throw each other a little empathy. Raising small humans is a challenge – when you talk about behaviour being bad and good you miss the whole range of human behaviour that children are entitled to express whether you approve of it or not and if you think a parent (or any other person) can enforce ‘good’ behaviour simply by exerting their will on a child then you probably haven’t spent a lot of time raising children. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. Good behaviour is a process of a lifetime, nurturing empathy and kindness – is the process of a lifetime, and is the work of a community. Be involved with kids, don’t be involved with kids. But kibitizing just engenders mutual resentment.

    I also disagree with the ‘you chose to’ theme. Children are not a ‘choice’ they are an evolutionary norm required to perpetuate the species. Yes we need less people for the environment so I applaud abstainers. And in the same breath I completely and utterly allow involuntarily childless people to mourn their loss or celebrate their child free status. But we can’t all abstain. Some people need to carry the burden of our future generations and THAT is a community/social responsibility. The children of now will be the taxpayers, contributors and society of the future.

    Also it is really wise to remember that children are not always a choice. Fertility management is not foolproof – as someone who can’t have children should well know. It goes both ways. Abortion is not an option for everyone and female reproductive rights aren’t well protected in most countries.

    I guess all I am really saying is that your right to have an opinion should be protected, just as my right to have an opinion on your opinion is – you can’t in one breath say you have a right to judge parents but then claim no-one has a right to judge your life choices or comment on your life situation or even comment on your opinions. When people ask you to not spend time judging parents it’s simply because if you haven’t come from that space it can lack the necessary empathy or understanding to give your thoughts credibility. Just like I will never ‘get’ childlessness. You will never ‘get’ parenting – 100%. Your opinion is still valuable, it’s just from the outside looking in and that comes with a different understanding. It is what it is.

    1. Thanks for this Sian. I know that ‘raising small humans’ or children as we call them, is a challenge, I live in a world where most people have children, I am happily surrounded by them. I certainly do not miss the ‘whole range of human behaviour that children are entitled to express.’ I was a child, I know about the behaviour of this child, and other children, I am fully aware that there are probably many circumstances going in the lives of parents and their children which I have no idea about, and which may account for behavioural issues. I also know it is healthy for kids to extend their behaviour beyond being perfect children. You talk to me as if I have no idea of anything to do with the whole growing up part of life – of course I do, I had to grow up myself. I am not mourning my loss of not having a child (I left it too late and had a miscarriage, my partner had breast cancer and was infertile as a result of chemo), it’s what it is, I get on, I look forward, I try not to look back, there’s no point. And your saying that having children is an ‘evolutionary norm required to perpetuate the species,’ makes me wonder if you are coming from a very religious background. I have absolutely no problems with any religion, I welcome a good structure and have my own faith, but having a child is one of the most selfish things to do, most people NEVER think about it, they just do it, because their parents have and it’s what society urges them to do, because some people believe that unless you have children you are not a family, to which I say, bollocks. I pay my taxes and NIC, and my pension will come from what I have paid in, not from what anyone else’s children contribute towards. No one else’s child is going to look after me when I am old – there’s no guarantee that children will ever look after their parents. The other point is this – those of us with siblings, (and I am well aware that there are many with one child) who have kids, are not expected to look after ageing parents in the way that those of us without kids, are. I had this before and after my only sibling died, I was ALWAYS more into my parents care than my sister was. And my parents accepted it because she had children to care for. In an ideal world we would all help each other, all look after each other, sadly and unfortunately that doesn’t often happen. I agree that abortion is not an option for everyone, but you need to be specific about this. IF it is for religious reasons, then surely those same religious reasons ask one to abstain from sex until marriage? So if it’s okay to have sex then surely one can extend their bending of their religious rules (or double standards as I call it) to having an abortion? It’s a HUGE area, one I am not prepared to engage in any more on this page because it’s not what I set out to say. I think you’ll find I am highly empathetic, it’s why our family and friends look to us to occasionally help out with their kids, why we offer to look after our family and friends’ kids, why our neighbours ask us to be their emergency people when it comes to their children’s school, why we have loads of young people and children in our lives. No one has asked me not to spend time judging them as parents – I try really hard never to judge anyone because I don’t know everyone’s circumstances. I didn’t say people with kids don’t ‘get’ childlessness. You’re putting words into a piece I didn’t write. My piece is about empathy, empathy and understanding towards those with and those without kids, whether out of choice or circumstance. We have disabled kids in our lives, we have disabled friends in our lives, but you wouldn’t know that, just as I have no idea about your life. I’d rather have dialogue and know where someone is coming from than not – so I am glad of this conversation, but you have totally misread the piece and filled it with your own issues and insecurities. Look to Facebook for the comments that have actually made a difference to people, to one person (in fact the mother of a son) who acted on something I said to her in relation to my piece, and she thanked me for it on her FB page this morning. As I said to a previous response, this piece was first on FB and then I decided to blog it – it all stemmed from a comment made about those without children not being able to understand those with. But you and one other have made it about something else entirely.

  3. so, if I read this right, Shelley is saying that she would like those with children to be more empathetic to those without (the without being for many numbers of possible reasons), and the two responders above are saying they would like those without children to be more empathetic to those with.
    All good. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could aim to be more empathetic. (although, interestingly, there are some studies that suggest empathy is less useful than we would like, that it – as currently practiced – has a little too much of the pity/educative aspect, and there are possibly better potential understandings we could aim for. regardless …)
    This still raises several points for me :
    1. the people I see complaining about other people’s parenting, other people’s children, other people’s families, from government to religion to friends and family TEND to be other parents (primarily because of point 2 below). So I suspect the bulk of lack-of-empathy is coming from those who, according to the responders above, DO have more right than those of us without children to comment. So is it ok when they comment? Those with children, regardless of whether or not we agree with how they are being raised? I’d guess not, none of us likes to be told how to live our lives, whether from a supposedly informed pov or not. I’d venture to suggest that another LGBT person who is a parent, MIGHT think they have more in common with me, as an LGBT person, than they do with a right-wing fundamentalist Christian parent, for eg.
    2. MOST people are parents. This is a simple truth about our world. The vast majority of people have children. Therefore those of us without children are a minority. And generally (whether we think empathy is a useful emotion or not) it behoves those who are in the majority to acknowledge and try to listen to those in the minority, rather than the other way round – as those of us who live our lives in minorities know only too well.
    3. all of us, if we are now adults, have been children. So actually, having been a child, ALL of us do know something about it.
    4. “It takes a village to raise a child”. For a start, many villages are not the places of glorious interactivity and intergenerational care we might hope. And if it does take a village to raise a child, then EVERY MEMBER of that village gets a say in the raising. We can’t have it both ways – both wanting the whole village to care for our children, but also minding when the whole village has different views on how best to do this.
    5. what is often asked of the non-parents is that we are sym/empathetic about the difficulties of child-raising. the money problems, the exhaustion, the constant concern and worry. What is far less often shared with us are the good bits, the sticky kiss, the hug at bedtime, the sleep child who has a bad dream and needs reassurance and love from a parent and then the world is all right, because the parent/carer made it so. THOSE are the bits that often enable parents to get through the harder times. And those are the bits that non-parents rarely get to experience. So, for non-parents, the experience of being with children, unless (as some of us do) they spend a lot of time with extended family/friends, the experience is skewed in favour of the difficult, not the pleasurable. If the village is to raise the child, then parents need to welcome the non-parents in to enjoy the good bits as well as deal with the harder stuff.
    6. not being a parent does not mean one is not a carer. Often, not always, the task of caring for elderly relatives falls to the non-parent. Who not only has no-one to look after them in their old age (as if anyone has children for this reason, but I hope you understand the extrapolation I’m trying to make), but also is doing caring of elderly and knowing they won’t get this themselves. Perhaps we need to be considering that it takes a village to care for our elderly too?

    So, in summary, goodness yes, let’s all be empathetic, or whatever form of understanding we can muster to be kinder to each other, but the simple statistical fact is that those of us without children hear more/see more/do more with, for and from those with children than the other way round. That’s the maths. It’s basic. And while it is very true that INDIVIDUALLY parents and those caring for children often feel hurt/put upon/misunderstood, as a group they – you with children – run the world. I’m sure it doesn’t often feel like it, but it’s fact. The majority runs the world. And sometimes, as a minority, we’d really appreciate being listened to too.

  4. Shelley, I think your undertaking to be there for your sister’s children is enormously important – the trickiest bit of parenting for us has been from the mid teens onwards where independence is being fought for but mistakes are made and, most of all, you need a sense of having a backstop emotionally and sometimes financially while being free to make your own mistakes. I know a family where each child was systematically rejected at the age of 15 – the circumstances varied slightly but there were always rows leading to the child going to live with friends or relatives, an estrangement from their parent lasting a few years and then a reconciliation when they were established as adults. This has left scars that are just as bad as emotional abuse to younger children.

    I think all we can say definitively about people who have not experienced parenthood is that they have not experienced parenthood. But what does that mean, really? There are so many styles and ways of being a parent. I’m not sure what I could say from my experience of parenthood is unique to parenthood, other than my relationship with my sons, and of course that is unique to me and each of them, just as all our relationships are. Maybe what we are talking about is the idea that you cannot understand my life until you have walked a mile in my shoes – but is that saying we really cannot understand another’s life from anything other than our own, very similar, experiences? Maybe that is true for some people but it is equally untrue for others, depending on things like imagination, listening skills and interest.

    1. Thanks for this Pam, I always love to hear what your response is, I have enormous respect for you for many reasons. Writing this on FB and then as a blog has really made me (and others) ponder the parent/child thing. Ultimately, I believe what you say is right – that my experience is totally different to someone else’s – every parent will have a different language/method/style with their children, which is possibly why more parents feel they can tell other parents how to do it – which is probably as frustrating for some parents as having their non child friends make suggestions or have opinions. I think we are all entitled to our opinions, it’s the only way we learn and grown, become empathetic, understanding of each others needs/insecurities, but as I said somewhere in this FB/blog, not every size fits, and you have just said that. With my sister’s kids, a different situation to most, I had a very short time to get to know them in a new way – not as a parent, I must stress that, but the care and nurture and wanting to protect them was immense for me, I’ve never felt that before. I wanted to shield them from everything harmful (they may disagree!). I soon had to learn that I could not do it for them, they had to learn, they had to make mistakes, I had to step away – and ALL my parent friends and indeed my parents, said what I was doing was right – hard as it is. I knew it was harder for parents, I saw my sister’s role as a mother in a new way, I just wish she had been alive for me to talk to her about it. I consulted parents along the way, cousins and friends who had children the same age – because I was very aware that I was possibly being witnessed and the repercussions could be big. I wanted to do it right. But there is no right, there is just different.

  5. Dear Shelley, I only came across your website today…totally by accident, but very glad I did. All I can say is that having been a mostly single parent for 26 years, I’ve been enormously grateful for the support my ‘childless’ friends have given me throughout the years .. ‘childless’ meaning sometimes through choice and sometimes beyond their control. As you say, there is no right way, because each child is different .. but at the basis of every successful human being, IMHO, is a grounded moral compass, the ability to know right from wrong, an ambition for self-improvement and betterment .. but these lessons in life don’t have to come from the parents necessarily; they can also come from friends and relatives of the family and the social environment. As so many successful cases of fostering and adoption have shown, a child is not dependent on thriving and developing simply because of ‘blood’ relations.. a human being just needs compassion, understanding and respect, with a sense of direction and some discipline. All best wishes, Karen

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