As far as breeders go, I like to think I’m pretty tolerable. I don’t preach to my child-free friends about the unparalleled rapture that is (but kind of isn’t) parenthood. I don’t scoff when they call their pets their “babies.” I don’t sneer resentfully as they jet off to tropical, adult-only vacations in fricking February, when it’s not even a school holiday and they have no natural right to be warm and free and happy. (Okay, I do that, but they don’t know it.)
What I definitely don’t do is ask people why they don’t have children. My nonparent friends say they get asked this question all the time — sometimes by relative strangers. No one with a modicum of manners would ask, “Why aren’t you married?” or “Why don’t you earn more money?” Yet childless adults who appear within an egg’s toss of breeding age are often asked to explain why they’re not helping to populate this poor, desolate planet.
The real answer is often complicated, but my put-upon pals like to have a short, simple response at the ready — something that’ll call off the procreative inquisition and let everyone get back to vapid small talk, for the love of god.
I recently suggested to my friend Miranda that when someone asks, “Don’t you want kids?” she should reply, “No, thank you; I just ate.” I figure rude questions invite rude answers. But when she told me her standard response to such prying queries — “I don’t like children” — I surprised both of us by declaring the statement unreasonable.
Not unfair. Not unkind. Unreasonable. It’s a judgy word from someone who not six sentences ago made a child-eating joke.
But Miranda wasn’t joking at all. She insisted that she doesn’t care for kids and that saying so is an honest and effective way to shut down any graceless inquiries about her parental leanings.
Effective? Perhaps. But honest? I don’t buy it.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to dislike children; I dislike my own a fair chunk of the time. To truly abhor kids, though, you’d have to be self-loathing, since we were all children once. And you’d have to be woefully prejudiced — someone who’d be equally comfortable saying “I don’t like women” or “I’m not wild about old people.” I told Miranda that “I don’t like kids” is a cop-out, a lazy-person’s catchall for some deeper reasons.
Her response was not only reasonable. It was sort of brilliant.
“Sure,” she allowed, “I could confess a list of reasons why I don’t have or want children: I don’t like noise. I enjoy traveling. Crying makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like kids’ movies or music. The idea that Hitler also had a mother terrifies me. I prefer fancy dinners out to staying at home with picky eaters. I had bad parents and didn’t learn good lessons about maternity. I’m not keen on gaining weight. I don’t deal well with irrational creatures. My husband and I enjoy being each other’s top priority. Baby shoes are cute, but Kate Spade flats in a size 10 are cuter. Oh, and babies stink.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Not any of it. It made me wish that nonbreeders would make the effort to explain their well-reasoned positions when nosey folks go snooping around their reproductive organs. Rather, it made me wish those nosey folks were worthy of such effort.
“Or,” Miranda continued, “I could just say, ‘I don’t like kids,’ and get on about my business. If I didn’t like brussels sprouts, would I need to list all the reasons why?”
Certainly not. I think it’s obvious why anyone wouldn’t like brussels sprouts. And if you have the nerve to ask me if I want the little buggers, you know very well what I’ll say.
“No, thanks. I just ate.”