html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Surprised again by the obvious.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Surprised again by the obvious.

Tyler (‘cause we’re close like that) linked me and to Jacqueline Passey in the same post. Ms. Passey is admirably certain and clear, although if I were her coach I would suggest just a little more touch. I was surprised by her comment on MR; it made me realize how one-sided my perspective has been. She wrote:
Romantic partners can also be very hurtful and mean and use emotional blackmail if they want kids and you don't.

HAH! That’s funny. I had only ever thought of it from the perspective of the partner who wants kids, and the cruelty of another partner refusing once they were in a committed relationship. Seriously people, if one partner has strong feelings about having kids, you need to be very clear about that before committing to each other.

I know a woman who had a child in her teens and knew that she never wanted another. She gave her child to a family member to raise and got her tubes tied. When I met her, she was engaged to a child psychologist. She broke off the engagement, describing him thusly, “he could spend his entire day working with children and when he got home, if he saw a kid outside, he would go out to play with him.” Normally, my sympathies would be with the dumped person, but really! She got her tubes tied! That is a clear indication that one does not want children. It is very hard to misunderstand ‘got her tubes tied’. When I asked him later, he sheepishly mumbled “Well, it could be reversed…”. Better to end that relationship than to let him hope for years.

Tim and I were talking about this and he mentioned a couple he knows. The woman had said from the beginning that having kids was very important to her; he had been reluctant and after a few years of marriage was stalling for all he was worth. I, naturally, agreed with Tim’s assessment: “He decided to have kids on the day he proposed to her. Now it’s time to live up to that decision.”

Le and I were talking about a different couple. The woman, in her mid thirties, has long been clear about wanting kids. He doesn’t, but they don’t break up. She has started running marathons and doing triathlons. At the finish line for a triathlon, she broke into a rage, tears streaming down her face. She started hitting him, crying and screaming that she was only doing triathlons because she wasn’t doing anything fucking useful with her body. I can totally understand using that anger to finish a triathlon and still having plenty to burn when the race is done.

It’ll be a good exercise for me to go back and look at all those examples from the perspective of the person who doesn't want kids. That I hadn’t even thought of doing that before shows me how biased I am about this stuff.

21 Comments:

Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

My ex-boyfriend knew before we started dating that I did not want to have children. During the year we were dating he changed his mind from "maybe wants kids" to "definitely wants kids". It was a huge source of conflict for us. I resented that a) I'd been clear about how I felt all along, he was the one who changed his mind and b) he apparently loved these hypothetical future children who didn't even exist yet more than he loved me, the real, living, breathing, already-existing woman who lived with him and loved him.

"At the finish line for a triathlon, she broke into a rage, tears streaming down her face. She started hitting him, crying and screaming that she was only doing triathlons because she wasn’t doing anything fucking useful with her body."

That is a good example of the type of abuse that people who want children inflict upon childfree partners. Many people who want children think that they are "normal" and thus are entitled to abuse anyone "abnormal" who does not share their desire for children. My ex never hit me but he certainly screamed at me and verbally abused me a lot over my lack of desire for children.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Wow. That's rough. The feeling of strongly wanting or not wanting kids is so visceral; screaming isn't warranted, but I certainly understand how conflicts over having kids go straight to strong emotion. In fact, despite what commenters have said about knowing the factors involved and balancing options, I think very little of the decision whether to have kids is made at the level of thought.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

she was only doing triathlons because she wasn’t doing anything fucking useful with her body.

Who says feminism failed?

10:13 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

No way, Justus. I don't want her opinion (which I share) to be a referendum on her feminism or the state of feminism in general. Yes, at the basest level, feminism had to combat the idea that women's value lies in childbearing and rearing. Surely we are past that now.

Now, having and raising children is one set of activities among the many that women may choose to undertake. Surely it is up to her to value that role among the others she takes on. She knows what life and work with her body she considers useful. I wouldn't forfeit my roles as engineer, organizer, jock, friend, cook, but I know for sure that I value having children as much as I value any of those. If I believe doing a triathlon is an essentially pointless, selfish activity compared to carrying a pregnancy, I get to decide that. I would be no less feminist for including children among my accomplishments, or even deciding it was my best accomplishment.

10:44 PM  
Blogger capella said...

Being with someone who feels differently than you do can really clarify your desires, particularly when you're young and haven't thought things out concretely. The first time I realized that part of me wanted kids was when I was dating someone who adamantly did not, and it surprised me.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Ananda said...

Before my girlfriend and I got engaged, I knew she wanted a child. I was ambivalent on the grounds that I wasn't sure I was ready for that level of grown-up-hood, but also on the other hand that I was pretty sure I'd regret it a lot ten years later if I didn't have any kids. Plus, I really really really wanted to marry her.

I talked to my mom about it. She matter-of-factly informed me that my father had had similar ambivalence but really really really wanted to marry HER, and while that didn't change his mind from "no kids" to "kids", it was sort of the tipping point. And, more to the point, becoming and being a father made him very happy. So, I thought, that's a useful data point.

My wife and I have been married for just over 4 years and our son turned 2 in April. I can say with perfect objectivity that he's the cutest kid on the planet. I am hard pressed to think of ways my life could be better.

5:23 AM  
Anonymous thelonious_nick said...

"He apparently loved these hypothetical future children who didn't even exist yet more than he loved me, the real, living, breathing, already-existing woman who lived with him and loved him."

"My ex never hit me but he certainly screamed at me and verbally abused me a lot over my lack of desire for children."

Ms. Passey, perhaps I am being intrusive by pointing this out, but based on the information you present here, I question whether your ex-boyfriend was with you for love at all, or because he felt you were a vehicle for providing him with a certain future he envisioned for himself.

I also wonder how happy any children of his could possibly be when they inevitably fail to live up to his vision of how they should be. I have similar misgivings about the triathlon woman.

6:46 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

Surely it is up to her to value that role among the others she takes on.

I suppose that depends on whether or not you think the Second Wave of feminism had any validity at all. The whole point of Greer and Friedan's best sellers was that women can't honestly make those valuations because of society's machinations and pressures. Throughout history women have consistently and voluntarily supported the regimes that oppressed them. A woman's "choice" (generally, any person's "choices") are rarely little more than ratifying that status quo.

I find your particular line of reasoning to be hollow and disingenuous.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Justus, getting me to have kids may well be the status quo in this regime. But (because I live in liberal California and have way educated parents) I can say with absolute assurance that I have never felt any external pressure that compares to the ache in my womb and arms and breasts when I see or hear an infant. My body wants this for me far more than society does. Fortunately, my self also thinks babies are really hard work and lots of fun.

I don't think I am fighting to establish that I am worth more than babymaking. Surely I've proved that by doing impressive things. I've done enough hard things to recognize another and I think having and raising children well is another accomplishment. I would want to do that if it were the only option open to me, and I want to do it with a world of choices open to me. That doesn't make me less feminist.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

“He decided to have kids on the day he proposed to her. Now it’s time to live up to that decision.”

Also, why is it that he decided to have kids on the day he proposed to her? If she knew he *didn't* want kids, why isn't it that *she* agreed *not* to have kids on the day she accepted his proposal?

A person's *desire* to have children does not trump someone else's *right* not to become a parent. Too many people seem to think they have the right to force other people to give them what they want.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

She didn't know he didn't want kids. He never came out and said so.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

Did she ask him?

Even if she said "I want to have kids" and he said nothing that still doesn't morally obligate him to have kids if she did not make it explicitly clear in advance that she expected children to be part of their marriage and was marrying him on the condition that he agreed to this. Keep in mind that people say "I want X" or "I want to do X" about a lot of things, but most people do not get to have or do most of the things that they want (or often even make very much effort in achieving them) so it's hard to take everything someone says about what they want seriously. Even saying that having something is very important to you does not obligate your spouse to provide it.

On the other hand, if he explicitly agreed to have children or married her after she explicitly told him that the marriage would include children, then yes I agree that he should put up. Of course you can't force someone to become a parent, but in this situation if he decides that he'd rather be divorced than a father then I hope her divorce settlement would include some compensation for wasting time on someone who couldn't keep their promises.

(Also, is it possible that his stalling is to put off having kids until he feels ready, not to put off having them at all? Men tend to feel ready for marriage and kids later in life than women do, and many are rather clueless about the biological realities of women's diminishing fertility.)

10:50 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

"Ms. Passey, perhaps I am being intrusive by pointing this out, but based on the information you present here, I question whether your ex-boyfriend was with you for love at all, or because he felt you were a vehicle for providing him with a certain future he envisioned for himself."

Why do you think I left him?

"I also wonder how happy any children of his could possibly be when they inevitably fail to live up to his vision of how they should be."

I also have serious doubts about his ability to be a good father. Perhaps he will grow up more, but I've given up on expecting other people to ever change (especially for the better).

I am actually not 100% committed childfree -- more of a fence-sitter leaning heavily towards childfree -- but I had come to the conclusion that I did not want to have kids with *him*.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't really seem so unreasonable that he might expect you to change your mind about children then, since you're on the fence and all. How would you expect your boyfriend, you love, to react when he finds out you MIGHT change your mind about not wanting kids someday, just not with him?

It doesn't really sound like a one sided, emotional blackmail problem.

Why stay in the relationship yourself if you knew he now definitely wanted children? You must have thought you could change his mind back, right? Why is it unacceptable for him to stay thinking he might change your mind in his favor?

And, the_lonious, don't most parents think pretty highly of their own children? Why do you think this man, you really know nothing about, would end up being a bad father just based on that? Seems like a bit of a leap.

Justin

12:16 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

"It doesn't really seem so unreasonable that he might expect you to change your mind about children then, since you're on the fence and all."

There's a big difference between thinking that I *might* change my mind, *expecting* me to change my mind, and *demanding* that I change my mind.

"How would you expect your boyfriend, you love, to react when he finds out you MIGHT change your mind about not wanting kids someday, just not with him?"

You seem to have missed the part about this being my *ex* boyfriend.

Loving someone doesn't automatically mean you think they'd be a good father.

"Why stay in the relationship yourself if you knew he now definitely wanted children? You must have thought you could change his mind back, right? Why is it unacceptable for him to stay thinking he might change your mind in his favor?"

I didn't stay in the relationship, I left him. This issue was one of the major reasons why.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe loving someone doesn't automatically mean you think he'd be a good father. But, the question was, how did you expect him to take it? I would expect him to be angry, and upset.

And, you did leave him eventually, but, after how long? I don't see that you've said.

Wasn't there some period of time where you were holding on, hoping for improvement? Hoping he would see things your way?

All I'm saying, is knowing as little as I do, I can sympathize with his side of things in this, as with yours. You wanted different things, but you were together.

Of course, like I said, I don't really know anything about either of you.

Justin

2:40 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

"Maybe loving someone doesn't automatically mean you think he'd be a good father. But, the question was, how did you expect him to take it?"

When I was with him I was a lot more childfree and a lot less of a fence-sitter. I didn't figure out until after I left him that I might not be as childfree as I thought. For the duration of our relationship, when I thought about having kids I only thought about that in the context of having them with him. After I left him and considered the question of whether or not to have kids again -- without considering him being involved in the process -- I realized I wasn't necessarily as against it as I'd thought I was. I analyzed that further and realized that some of my not wanting to have kids when I was with him was about not wanting to have kids with *him*. But these realizations did not come until after I left him, so no I have not told him about all this.

"And, you did leave him eventually, but, after how long? I don't see that you've said.

Wasn't there some period of time where you were holding on, hoping for improvement? Hoping he would see things your way?"


As I wrote in previous comments, when we first started dating he was not certain he wanted kids. He went back and forth about the issue a bit while we were dating, and we discussed a variety of options like adoption and whatnot. He said a lot of conflicting things, like he only wanted a woman who wanted kids but also that he really loved me and wanted us to stay together and work things out.

I left him a month after our last major fight about children. His behavior the night before I left was the "last straw" but I'd emotionally had one foot out the door over the kids thing and other issues for a while.

I would have (and should have) left sooner but every time I tried he asked me to stay, and I really didn't want to hurt him.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous jens said...

Thank goodness people are different. Otherwise this debate might settle the childbearing question for ALL women, and we would be stuck with either extinction or rampant overpopulation.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Sean said...

Jens: great point, said wittily.

I suppose that, if I have learned one thing from all this discourse, it would be: In a twenty/thirty-something relationship, the desire for kids should roughly converge. If not, each partner will try to thrust his/her desire on the other (quite naturally I might add, and I'm really surprised that Ms. Passey can't see this, as she - by not wishing to have kids in her long-term relationship - was essentially imposing an opposite result).

Also, that even if this happens to you in a relationship, and it hurts because he/she could have been THE ONE if not for the kid problem: don't become jaded/self-righteous, instead try to realize that "kids" are a fundamental and important issue that neither coercion nor romantic love can do much to resolve.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous DWF said...

I know I'm coming late to this show, but I like your blog. I broke up with someone I thought was THE ONE about 7 years ago, and it was horrible. He adamantly did not want kids, I adamantly did. We were only together 8 months and he did a little tiny bit of leading me on, but the truth was, I did a lot more of leading myself on about it. I finally pushed the subject and we just could not agree so I had to decide to end it, which was hard. It took me more than a year to get over it.

So fast-forward and I have been married for three years. I immediately liked my husband because when I saw his house for the first time he had photos of his nieces and nephews on his refrigerator. We both love kids. And guess what? We may not have any. Five years into our relationship, we find that we really like things the way they are, and just aren't sure we have the energy or truly the desire to have children. And since we're getting to the point where I'll rapidly be too old to conceive, well, that might answer that.

None of this has any bearing on anything; I just thought it was interesting. I definitely married the right person. I think for me the children issue was part of the greater plan of NOT marrying someone who was so obviously wrong in retrospect.

(PS you meet the right one when you least expect, as cliched as that sounds)

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justus is misunderstanding feminism as I see it (and apparently Megan does, too). How are any of a males decisions freer than those of a female? Yes, society will punish you for making choices outside its norms. Males are more culturally empowered to be selfish. But the central idea of feminism is that the choice should be the woman's to value a life path (or paths) and follow it/them - and that society should make room for those choices and honor them. We've made a lot of headway - infrequently are we burned at the stake for wanting to be engineers, for example. But in some matters, the progress has been excruciatingly slow.

NOW: some things, it seems to me, are indemic to the female condition. Biology cannot be denied: have genetic offspring, and you (as the female) are going to be the one carrying those offspring. Where you go from there, how you feel about it, whether you are UP for it -- those are all personal decisions, and over time they may change. Because there is a limited window for making this decision, and it is life-changing, it is fraught with stress and strain.

I'm 38. I have three children, two with neurological disabilities. I work as a lawyer, and I am the family breadwinner. I'm doing the whole balance tango. Let me tell you, I see most "decisions" as illusions because most of what I do is about survival. But I buck society daily on the role I am supposed to play. My daughter did a project on what she wants to be when she grows up. She was 5. She cut out a picture of a pregnant woman and wrote under it that she wanted to be "a boss." (she knows that I supervise people, but the rest of being a lawyer is a little mysterious). I'd say that there have been a few changes in the world, and that being a mother is not IMMEDIATELY a disqualifier for being considered a thinking human any more. Unless, of course, you'd like to brand my decisions as those of the patriarchy.

9:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home