On being Aunty – Child-free, but childful

This week I had a significant challenge. I went and collected my Diploma of Leadership and Management.I had not enjoyed the course as I wanted to – a combination of me having different expectations of the course itself and disliking some of the women that shared the classroom, whos’ internalised misogyny grated on me. Despite this, I was able to complete it over the last twelve months, alongside my Masters studies and full-time work. My only wish for the afternoon was to thank our facilitators, spend the afternoon with my close friend who I completed the course with and exit with grace.

This was not to be as I was publicly berated (across the room, at volume) not once, twice but three times by a fellow student, being called a “baby hater”. This had been said in previous classes. This person had completed a diploma that had been about leading, diversity and respect. She assumed that she had enough knowledge about my life that she could say this with impunity. No one in that room sought to correct this for me. I let it go the first two times. The third I simply said “I don’t hate babies”. She insisted “kids then”. I was like “no I don’t hate them either”. She said “oh I misunderstood”. No apology for rudeness.

I shared this on Facebook, and was overwhelmed, as normal with my friends supportive attitudes, from those who shared my choice to remain childfree (for reasons which are individual as each of us) to those people who have had children, and shared their children’s life’s generously with me.

It got me thinking about two things:

Firstly the ongoing challenge of dealing with people, particularly women who feel it is somehow an affront on their personal situation when you choose something different from them. My decisions do not invalidate yours. As Amy Poehler says, good for her, not for me. Furthermore, the reasons for my decisions are none of your business.

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The thing that gets me, is that this sort of judgey behaviour is the sort of thing most of us face – if you are single, “why are you single”, if you are in a relationship “when are you getting engaged”, if you are engaged, “when are you getting married”, when you marry “when are the kids coming”, after the first kid arrives, “when is the next” in a pattern that ends I assume with “when are you going to kark it” as a blue haired senior (I’m always blue haired in my visions of my dotage) .

I would ask that next time you feel like commenting on someone’s life choices: partner, kids, job, clothes, family, education, or whatever ask first, is this respectful, helpful or necessary.

Secondly it is sad for this woman to fail to understand that the desire not to have kids does not mean I hate children. In fact the opposite is true. My favourite days are those that include slobbery wet kisses, snotty cardigans and tipping small people upside down. I am blessed with being the aunt to some truly gorgeous kids. These kids are a part of my life not because of blood, but through the ties to their parents and my desire to be involved in their lives. This is family of my own choosing.

I was truly fortunate to be guided in life by amazing parents, who introduced me to my own ‘aunties and uncles’. These non-blood relatives exposed me to a range of ways of getting through the world, to art, theatre, books, music. They shared their experience, knowledge and skills. This is a gift to me, that I want to be able to share with my friends children into the future.

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The issue boils down for me, is the negative portrayal of feminists as unnatural, as taking up too much space in the world, for making choices that are against the (patriarchy’s) grain. When I had talked about being child-free in a course with other women, I had incorrectly assumed that these women could respect my choice as I respected theirs. The problem of course is that doing anything that is counter-cultural is uncomfortable. I think that this is a lesson that I’ll keep repeating, and the challenge will be to do so with grace and understanding.

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