Child Free by Choice (with kids)

Recently a popular article on the benefits of being child free has been recirculating among in my social network. I liked it and began to comment that This! This is exactly why I don’t want to have…. when I realized that I do. I do have them. They’re right down the hall in their crib, toddler bed, and twin sized bed, respectively. There’s a preschool calendar on my fridge and something sticky on my coffee table and whole laundry baskets dedicated to dirty clothes that aren’t even mine.

There are a lot of really good reasons to be child free. Some of these reasons could be characterized as selfish (I’d hate to give up traveling); some are serious considerations (I can hardly afford to pay off my credit card debt–why on earth would I assume I could pay for a child?). Personally, I think all reasons for making this choice are equally valid. The value is in evaluating your needs and knowing yourself.  Here are my reasons for choosing to be child free:

  1. I feel no biological imperative to have children. The prospect of the future marching on without anyone to carry my genetic material forward bothers me not at all. There are 7 billion people on this earth, and I feel with certainty that my genes will not be missed in the coming generations. I’ve inherited some lifelong diseases, and my preference is to not gift them to anyone else.
  2. Parenting culture is intimidating. Guys, the mommy wars are real, and they’re scary as fuck. Literally every single thing you do as a parent has been thoughtfully considered by eleventy-thousand parents before you, and each one of those people did the thing you’re about to do in a different way than you’re about to do it, and your way is WRONG, and you’re probably going to ruin your kid’s life. That’s just science.
  3. Having a child leaves a massive carbon footprint. If you have a child in an industrialized nation, there is literally nothing you can do re-balance your negative impact on the environment. One study found that with each child a US woman births, her carbon legacy is increased by nearly six times.  Sure, the earth is dying anyway, but I’d rather not be any more culpable than I already am. And that butts up against my next point:
  4. It’s not a very nice world we live in. Just this week I had to confront the difficult truth that essentially half the voting population in the United States doesn’t believe sexual assault disqualifies someone from highest office of the land. I read the news with dread and find myself visualizing a terrifying future that I feel little to no control over. One thing I can control is that no biological child of mine will have to fight these fights to come or be hurt by a culture of hate and intolerance.
  5. Finally, I believe I can serve my community better if I don’t have children. I don’t feel called to have a baby, but I absolutely feel called to leverage my strengths to benefit others in my community. Without a child, I can take on riskier jobs, work longer hours and have more emotional energy.

There are lots and lots of reasons people choose to not have children. This is my own list and it’s not better or worse than anyone else’s. No one’s reasons for being child free make them more or less righteous; the important issue is that people are taking the time to consider what’s right for them. (For what it’s worth, I would love to add that having a child would cramp my style as a world traveler, but if I’m being honest with myself I will probably never have enough expendable income to be a world traveler. #thetruthhurts)

Here’s the kicker: Somehow I have kids. Three of them. I can hear nay-sayers and apologists out there already thinking but they’re foster kids, they don’t really count…But they do count. They really, really count. It was when I was reading the recirculating piece about being child free that I first realized that I still identify myself as child free, but also now as a parent. It’s absolutely paradoxical, and I’m sure there are members of both camps who will insist that you can’t have it both ways, but you can, and I do.

I’m still wrestling with it, but here’s how I think this works:

  1. I’m not concerned about sending my genes on to future generations because these children don’t have my genes.
  2. Parenting culture still sucks, but being a parent doesn’t mean you have to buy into it. There are aspects of mommyhood I really enjoy, and there are other parts that I just abstain from.
  3. I don’t feel guilty about the carbon footprint of these children because I didn’t bring them into this world, and as long as they’re with me I can use as many sustainable practices as possible (remind me to tell you guys about our cloth diapering experience).
  4. It’s still not a very nice world we live in, and these children have had a profoundly rough experience of it so far. However, while they are in my home we will navigate their challenges together. I might not be able to protect them from this life, but I can build up their resiliency and health and self-worth before they have to face it again.
  5. Finally, taking care of these precious human being is the greatest act of service I have done so far. I’ve never felt more vocational than when I make it through another hurdle with my babies. Parenting them does drain my emotional energy and leave less of me to give to my community, but these kids are of my community.

There’s a really good chance these children will be leaving our home at some point, and when that happens I might appear to be more child free again, but just as my child free identity was not lost when I became a parent, my identity as a parent will never go away. I’m child free by choice. With kids.

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The most influential resource for me in helping me weigh my feelings and determine to be child free or a parent was Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids? I highly recommend it.

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Image credit: Mommyish.com

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The 14 Reasons My Kid Refused to Nap Today

  1. His shoes were on.
  2. His shoes weren’t on.
  3. His hair hurt.
  4. What if he gets a cavity in his teeth while he’s asleep?
  5. The dogs weren’t napping (they were).
  6. He needed to trim his finger nails.
  7. His laundry basket was too full.
  8. Napping makes him throw up.
  9. He’s allergic to napping.
  10. The mail might come while he’s napping.
  11. He forgot to wash his hands when he went to the bathroom this morning, even though he’s gone to the bathroom several times since then and has remembered to wash his hands those times.
  12. We don’t have any books about napping.
  13. They don’t take naps on Blaze.
  14. What if there’s a volcano?

nap-time-meme

But we all know the real reason: I wanted that nap too badly and he sensed it.

4 Beautiful Small Moments Foster Moms Will Understand

I always forget how difficult it is for people outside our immediate family to see how completely beautiful this life with our foster babies is. A lot of it is our own fault. We don’t call our friends and family to vent about the perfect things. We don’t fill out incident reports for all the times we play at the park without a tantrum. We don’t call in specialists, case managers, home visitors and therapists for the lovely conversations that take place at the breakfast table. So, let me be absolutely, unequivocally, perfectly clear: For every tear in this house, there are a hundred laughs; for every minute of tantruming, there are hours of bliss;  for each ounce of struggle, there are a hundred pounds of worth it.

Here are four beautiful moments from our home this week:

  1. We made a friend at the park. Her name was Maura or Moriah or Maria, and she and Little Man instantly got along. She asked if she could use his bubble wand, and he said “Yes, thank you for asking. It’s kind words to ask permission.” They played happily for an hour, checking in with me and Moriah/Maria/Maura’s mom regularly. Honestly, I was planning their wedding twenty minutes into this interaction.
  2. We made garlic bread. This week I finally gave up on keeping Little Man out of the kitchen while I cook. He’s fascinated with cooking and obsessed with helping, so I finally gave in, even though it makes me crazy to have someone at my elbow while I’m working. He brought his stepping stool to his designated work space at the kitchen counter, and he diligently painted garlic butter on each slice of bread. Little Man watched me like a hawk as I put his bread under the broiler, and then he vigilantly kept an eye on the timer. He was very proud at the table to announce that he had helped make dinner as he brought the tray of garlic bread to the table.
  3. Little Man advocated for himself against a bully, and got adult assistance when he needed it. Another day at the park there was a little boy a year or two older than Little Man who had found a gun-shaped stick and was pretending to shoot it. At Little Man. Over and Over. With steam coming out of my ears, I was about to go get involved, but as I approached I heard Little Man firmly tell the other child “We don’t play guns. Guns hurt people, and they aren’t a game. We don’t play guns.” The other child shrugged and ran off. A while later when the other child was at it again, Little man came to me and reported on the toy gun situation and calmly asked for help. This one gave me all the proud momma feels.
  4. The toddler is speaking! Our toddler baby, Little Sister, came to us almost completely silent. She would hardly even babble or make sounds at an age that she should be reliably using 15 to 20 words. After two and a half months in our home and some speech therapy, her expressive language is suddenly blossoming. She can say bubble, hungry, thirsty, banana, dog, cat, momma, daddy, book, ball, love you,  and bye bye. She gets more words every day, and her pronunciation is becoming clearer.

I believe any parent (foster or biological) would be proud of their child doing any of these things, but these instances are especially sweet to us. These are indicators that the kids are feeling physically and emotionally safe with us. These signs that they’re developing powerful social/emotional skills that can help them wherever they are in the future. These are the watermarks that we just might be doing what these kids need from us right now. out-of-focus-playground

The Three Foster Mom Phrases I’m Rocking This Week

A major component of our struggles as a foster family come from behavior management. Due to the profound trauma many of these kids have suffered, discipline tends to look and feel a little bit different in foster families. Traditional disciplinary methods, like grounding, timeout, spanking (though you should never spank) and even removing privileges can be too emotionally intense for children in foster care to respond to positively. In the absence of those strategies, we do a lot of talking about feelings, talking about safety, breathing exercises and reinforcing positive behaviors.

Real talk though: If I’ve just been smacked in the face by a toddler or watched said child purposefully dump her oatmeal on the floor and roll in it when we were moments from walking out the door to school, it can be a real struggle to whip out one of those nice guiding phrases or have a truly fruitful conversation about the consequences of our choices. So, in the spirit of setting myself up for success, I’ve been trying to build up my repertoire of strategies just a few phrases at a time.

Here’s what I’ve been working on this week:

Are you choosing to be safe right now? The foundation of our behavior plan at home is safety: physical and emotional. Our four year old Little Man can tell you forwards and backwards what safety looks like and why it’s important. It’s the job of the adults at home to keep the children safe, and ultimately that’s why they should follow our directions (not because I told you so or because you’ll be in trouble if you don’t). For example:

The toddler is chewing on an unidentifiable object she found on the floorboard of your car, and even if it was edible at one point it certainly isn’t safe for consumption anymore. Are you choosing to be safe right now? It’s mom’s job to keep you safe, and that thing you’re chewing on will probably make you sick. 

And that brings us to our next one:

 Would you like mom to help you to be safe right now? Even for adults, it can be hard to choose safety over fun (which is why jet-skis, motorcycles and casinos exist). This phrase still gives agency to the child: They still have the power to choose to be safe, a parent is simply helping them in that process. Also, some children have come from homes or situations in which it wasn’t always easy to make a safe choice. Kids in foster care often need detailed coaching on what it feels like and how it looks to be safe. Back to the toddler:

I can tell you really want to eat that, but it will definitely make you sick. Would you like mom to help you to be safe right now? I’ll take that icky thing and find you something better to  chew on. 

I’ll let you choose. This only works if you give your kid two really great choices. Giving them the choice of handing you the contraband or you snatching it from them doesn’t count. Also, you have to be ready to live with whatever choice they make. When you offer a child a choice, disregarding it is basically the same as saying their opinion doesn’t matter and you weren’t serious about them having one in the first place. I made the mistake once of telling Little Man that if he really didn’t want to get in his car seat our only other choice would be to walk all the way to the store. You can guess what he immediately chose. I lost some credibility with him on that one.

I’ll let you choose what to chew on instead of this possibly radioactive thing you found in the car: Would you like a teething ring or apple slices? 

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The trauma informed care gurus out there will know that these strategies are really just the tip of the ice burg, and I’m operating a pretty novice level in using them. Still, it’s a step up from because I told you so. Give one or two of these a try in your home this week. Why? Because I told you so.