Monday, March 31, 2014

If You Had Kids: A "Say What?" Post

It has been a while since I broached the "Say What?" category on my blog. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe I am worried about coming across the wrong way, being perceived as snarky and rude. Please know that is never my intention. My goal is to simply bring awareness that some of the things we say (even without intentional malice) bring a lot of pain to those around us.

So today I wanted to address something that is said to me with decent regularity, and usually by people I do not personally know. There are a few forms this phrase usually comes in, and here they are:

"Well, you would understand if you had kids."

"I mean if you had kids, you would know."

"You must not have kids."

And the one that hurts the most:

"You'll understand when you have a family."

So often, these things are said with a laughing and conspiratorial tone, as if we are all in on an inside joke together. And I know that those who have said this (or some other variation) have done so without malicious intentions.

I want to take a minute to talk with you, candidly, about what I hear when people say these things to me.

"Well, you would understand if you had kids." 
"I mean, if you had kids, you would know." 

I hear that, because we do not have kids, I don't count. I don't know how hard life is. I couldn't possibly relate to you. Because I am childless. My heart drops every time someone says this to me. I don't know how to respond. Because, they are right. I don't understand what it is like to have kids. But I want to. I want to give up sleeping through the night, to change diapers, to rock my kids to sleep, to make meals that end up mostly on the table and placemats, to do endless cycles of laundry, to baby talk and miss adult conversation. I want to understand. And when I am reminded that I don't, I feel like somehow I just don't measure up. Like I am not a real woman because I don't understand what it's like to have kids.

"You must not have kids." 

I hear that there is something about me (maybe a brand on my forehead; ha!) that shouts, "Hey! I don't have children!" This has been said to me several times, but one instance stands out the most. This was said to me once by another teacher. Not someone I even work with, but someone who was looking over my shoulder at a professional development meeting while I was organizing some papers I had been editing for my students. She asked to see them and when she saw my commentary on them, "You must not have kids" was her very loud response. I totally froze. I had no idea what to say. I don't think she meant anything by it, but it felt like she did. I MUST not have kids? Must not? I just offered up a weak smile and shook my head, acknowledging the lack of pitter patter of little feet on my floors. Wearing that truth like a badge of shame. 

"You'll understand when you have a family." 

I hear that Adam doesn't count as my family because he is "just" my husband. I hear that I won't really have a family until we have children. This hurts more deeply than I can explain. My heart wants to shout, "But I DO have a family! I have the most wonderful husband. And I have parents and a sister and a dog that I love too much. They count!" I know what people mean when they say this. But that is not what I hear. This is one of the reasons I never call trying to have kids "starting a family." I know some people will think that I am picking over semantics, but these are real feelings, real implications. 

This is one of those posts for which I really wish you could hear my voice. I am not ranting and raving. I am not angry. My goal is to come from a place of love and gently encourage all of us (myself definitely included) to consider how our words might sound in the ears of those who hear them. Let us all resist the urge to say the first thing that comes to our minds, especially if it is exclusionary in nature. Instead, let's include and encourage those who need it. Let's reach out to those who are hurting.  

To those of you, and there are too many to count, who have gone out of your way to be sensitive to us during this difficult season of waiting to be matched with our little Ethiopian babe(s), I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have not gone unnoticed. 


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