On the societal devaluing of child rearing wisdom and how “baby savvy” dos not equal “baby crazy”
This is my love letter to everyone who loves children or works with them.My call to action for anyone caught in reductive thinking about children or of those who express interest in them. We are more than the labels you put on us and here’s why.
It was not until recently, when a friend called me out on this behavior, that I realized how careful I have become about sharing with anyone, that as an unmarried, childless woman, I have extensive knowledge of children and early childhood development, especially ages 0–3.
This carefulness about the topic has been folded into me over many years, slowly replacing the jubilance and curiosity that once flowed naturally whenever children were brought up in conversation or I saw small children in public and felt inclined to interact. It has since been replaced with qualifiers, strategically chosen answers and the casual nonchalance about important topics that my generation seems so apt to display.
But why? Examining this transformation and withdrawal within myself, I could not help but wonder what external factors have affected my behavior, and more than that — am I the only person engaging in this awkward game of social smoke and mirrors for the sake of not creating discomfort in others or worse — getting branded “baby crazy”?
I have come to expect cic-male romantic partners to be skittish of these topics, in particular. Of any segmented group, theirs seems to expect a script of baby-probing questions to erupt that will *always* eventually reveal the ulterior motive of assessing if they are the ideal mate for child-rearing. They are the quickest to jump to “baby crazy” or “baby fever” as a label so that they can dismiss the import of the topic or the conversation entirely.
For many years, I accepted these labels, often laughing them off, or trying to qualify my experience without actually calling them out on their judgement. I shied from the topics, hiding my interest in children when around heterosexual romantic partners, simply because I was sick of hearing the mockery.
Here lies what I believe is the fundamental misunderstanding about myself and any of us who have worked in childcare extensively or simply have strong natural inclinations to connect with children:
In the modern, urban world, we have separated children so much from the daily lives of most adults who do not themselves *have* children, that interacting with them has become foreign, uncomfortable, and reserved only for parents or people who choose to do domestic labor. And who would choose that willingly?
For those of us who have engaged in this work at any point, or are currently in it, the discoveries are constant, the struggle messy and exhausting, and yet the joy, the beauty of building intimate bonds with tiny humans is unlike anything else in this world. There is also NO WAY you can do that kind of work without immediately getting indoctrinated into library story times, the necessity for waterproof swimming diapers, the favorite lullabies, how to cut the apple slices just right, and the instant, excruciatingly vivid experience of watching them learn.
It’s work. REAL WORK. Substantive work. The work of raising another generation- often done with the knowledge that you spend more hours with a child than their own parents do. As someone who no longer pays the bills by caring for children, I miss them every day. I miss their tenderness and the ways they look at you with pure love or unbridled joy. The last two girls I was with went through a tough transition when I left, the younger throwing tantrums and acting out for a month — because to those little humans, you are a constant in their world, a pillar of how they organize and make sense of everything around themselves.
Over the last several generations, child-rearing has increasingly become the activity of nuclear families, with very little expectation of help from siblings, friends or communities to share the load. In this progression, I notice that many of my friends get scared of holding a baby or could not imagine changing a diaper. I listen to people speak to children and hear them parrot back the same baby talk they see in movies, running out of things to say in a few short sentences. The business of child-rearing has become so thoroughly scrubbed from the experience of adults without children, that when they do decide to procreate, they are often left with huge blind spots. Women who know nothing about their own post-partum care and thus endure grueling re-injuries, fathers who miss out on the incredible beauty of newborns because all they can see is that they “eat, poop and sleep”. Or the countless other ways new parents find themselves isolated, searching for resources. And don’t get me started on the friends around them who are even more clueless on how to help.
I want to support these friends, offer them tools, have intelligent conversations about how to relax around children or at the very least, respect the work of raising them. But how — when bringing up said topics will only brand me further as a baby fanatic, deepening the alienation I already experience?
What this work entails is removing the reductive monogram of “baby crazy”. We have built this label into a catch-all. A fast-acting, gaslighting tool to undervalue and mock anyone, but particularly those with female reproductive parts, for being interested in children. This interest in children, or even a consideration of children in future planning is seen as “old-fashioned”, simplistic, or sometimes just not feminist enough. Otherwise it is assumed there is implicit pressure being applied to the listener simply by revealing an interest.
I will come right out and say that I know I want to have children. I don’t force this on anyone else nor believe everyone should have them. I actually strongly agree with many of the points in the TIME expose on the child-free life (linked at the bottom of this post) that came out several years ago and significantly changed the landscape of the discussion. It is also not a given that those who work with children or love them fiercely, want their own. I know that I will choose a more expensive, potentially wasteful, exhausting lifestyle by having children at some point. It will also change my body and I may never fit into our cultural beauty standards again because if it.
Let’s also be real that if you are biologically capable of getting pregnant, by your mid twenties (if not earlier) you begin to ask yourself if you want them, or when. Because biology and time are a real factor — not as much as society hypes up the “biological clock” (as referenced in the Atlantic article below). They should not be seen as hard rules, but do impose some deadlines and risk factors to consider.
What surprises me so much, is just how little so many cis-males have thought about it, and what a luxury — a privilege- it is to not interact with children or have to make any choices about it. So for those of you just realizing you’ve been riding on this privilege train for a while:
We are not crazy for thinking about children. It’s a CONSTANT question for us (those with uteruses). Hell — I started making big decisions about my reproductive health when I was 17.
We are not crazy for wanting to spend time with them. This is in fact, far more “normal” historically and as a species, than removing children from our adult lives and living in homogeneously segmented age brackets.
We are not crazy for planning loose timelines for children if we want them. The science shows how it effects career trajectory and a whole host of other factors prevalent in modern life, as women gain equality in education and the work force. I would honestly be more surprised if a career driven wom(x)n had NOT created some sort of ideal timeline or made some decisions. We just aren’t necessarily telling you, because it will freak you out.
Please, stop assuming talking about babies means we want you to be our“baby daddy.” Some of us just find children fascinating and want to include them in our lives. If you need to, think about it as a hobby, just like board games or skiing might be.
If you have met someone who knows a lot about children/ is very comfortable with them *count your lucky stars* that if you do have children with that person, they will help you a FUCK TON with those early parenting moments. As someone who’s been with a lot of infants, sometimes I even have my friends who are parents asking me how I would handle certain situations and are often incredibly grateful for the advice.
This knowledge is tribal, is mimetic, is deeply ingrained in how we have inducted people into various stages of life for as long as our species has created rituals or shared wisdom.
And lastly, if you fall into the group I place myself in, of a childless person who knows a lot about/ loves children, it’s time we stop apologizing for this and taking peoples shit because they are uncomfortable and want to throw the burden on us. Call them out. Do the emotional labor of educating them if you feel like, or send them a few resources and ask them to examine their privilege/ discomfort on their own.
We are not here to be reduced to your stereotype of desperate, baby hungry women. Who knows, if you take some time to sit with that discomfort, you might actually learn a lot of really cool shit.
When I got pregnant with my first child, I wondered if I'd failed as a feminist. I was 28 and leading a life I wanted…www.buzzfeed.com
Gaslighting is the attempt of one person to overwrite another person's reality. There's a good chance that you now know…everydayfeminism.com
Attachment parenting advocates are not perfection-driven barefoot women. They are educated and believe parenting is a…www.nytimes.com
If at some point you've had an irrepressible, inexplicable urge to make a baby, you may be interested to know there's a…healthland.time.com