Let’s Just Be Empathetic: An Open Letter to Childless & Parents
By Elizabeth.Hawksworth on January 13, 2013
Dear Childless People (and Parents),
Let me start by saying that this letter is not going to make me very popular with anyone. There’s a divide in our culture between childless people and people who are parents. It’s been there for a long time and it’ll probably be there for a while longer. But I’m not writing this to make a sanctimonious point – just to make a point in general.
We need to support our parent friends more.
Sure. They can be annoying. I’ve heard “When are you going to get married and have kids?” more times than I’ve heard “How are you today?” I’ve heard complaints about sick children, dirty diapers, boring long days, and I’ve had jealousy and snark directed towards me because I can sleep in on weekends and don’t have to deal with the kid alarm clocks at 5 AM.
And it is annoying. I’m not making excuses for that. But I think we need to look behind the snark and annoyance to the real issue.
Parents often feel very alone. I was speaking to a very good friend the other day who stated that she didn’t really have anyone to talk to about her feelings regarding her daughter going into daycare. That she was lonely, second-guessing herself, wondering if the choice she was making was the right one. That she felt she was betraying her daughter and that she wasn’t making the best choice for her family.
And she had no one else to talk to about it but me.
I think it must be very hard to be a parent. To slog for hours a day, often only speaking to pre-verbal people, not being able to confide in your partner because he or she works long hours, too, trying to support the family. Is it a choice? Sure it is, but choices are rarely 100% amazing. There are pros and cons. And if we can complain about work and partner problems and our lives, why is it a bad thing that they vent about their feelings?
Parents may appear to lose themselves in raising their children. But raising children is all-encompassing. With the severe judgement parents get for even how they birth their children, they’re judged right out of the gate. Add onto that judgement for not choosing the right food for their baby, not choosing the right way for the baby to sleep, getting side-eyed for tantrums, wondering if they should have homeschooled their child with ADHD . . . it goes on and on.
And most of the time, childless people don’t get it, because we’re not in it. And it seems inconsequential to us, maybe even silly, to obsess over breastmilk or formula. But this is a new life that parents are shaping and it’s important to them.
I have often thought that maybe my parent friends are overreacting and complaining too much. But maybe they feel the same about me. Maybe they don’t want to hear that my job-search is going badly, or that I don’t feel talented enough as a writer. Maybe they can’t relate to any of that, but they listen.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you have children or if you don’t. A real friend is a sounding board for their friends’ vents, no matter what they are. A real friend is there to provide a listening ear and a fresh perspective. And if our parent friends appear to be drifting away from us, maybe it’s because we’re exuding an “I don’t care” attitude towards them. Maybe we need to look at our body language and how we’re responding to their vents.
Parents need to do the same thing – I’m not going to say the problem is all on our side. But I think both sides are moving away from each other when what we need to do is look at what made us friends in the first place. It certainly wasn’t the amount of children we have or don’t have.
If this does sound sanctimonious, I apologize. That’s not my intention. My intention is to remember that the parent who is up in the middle of the night with a screaming baby feels like he or she has no help or anyone to talk to. And if I’m up with a gastritis attack, the least I can do is talk to my friend who’s in the depths of despair right now, too, even if I can’t completely relate to her.
What are friends for, after all, if not to be empathetic?
I hope my parent friends realize that I value them greatly, even though I can’t always understand where they’re coming from. I hope I’ve never given off the idea that I don’t care about their issues – because I do.
I’d like to see more support on both sides. Maybe that’s the answer to this “war”.
Hey, a girl can hope, right?
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