As a childfree person who actually likes children, I often myself in what seems like an odd position of having to defend that yes, I generally think it's OK to hang out with kids. With some children, my enjoyment of them even tends to border on unhealthy. My partner, for instance, has a colleague who has what might be the most adorable one-year-old I've ever been around. I have literally left my desk and walked to their office ten minutes from our house when I've heard that the chubby little toddler will be making an afternoon appearance. I even wear my hair down so he can yank on it (no, I don't mind at all, though I do remove my earrings). I suspect the colleague thinks I'm very strange, especially when one day, I hung around long enough to essentially babysit the tyke while his dad went off to a meeting. He knows I don't want kids of my own, yet I am unabashedly smitten with his. But is that really so hard to believe?
The older I get, the more I know that I both like children and don't want any of my own. Often, the former is confirmed by strangers who allow me or even encourage me to take an active interest in their children. See the photo above? That little bundle of joy was placed in my arms a few years back his very excited grandfather, completely out of the blue in a park one day. I guess I looked friendly? Like I wanted to meet a happy little boy? Good thing I did! And we had an excellent time that included him pulling on my face, me pointing at some birds, and lots of giggling from us both. The grandpa didn't speak English, and my rusty Spanish didn't get us very far. I never figured out why he trusted me to hold and love his grandson. I don't suppose it really matters.
But in the same way, chilling with kids helps me realize why I'm not ever going to have my own. I've tried substitute teaching exactly once and came home with an exhaustion-induced migraine. Granted, the school stuck me in the kindergarten drama class with no lesson plans, but even recess kind of bowled me over. I couldn't imagine having enough energy to keep up with even one child every day, let alone one (or more) in my own home. I loved the kids, and they seemed to loved me, but it once again gave me a deep appreciation for the fact that I'm totally not cut out to parent.
Since I've pretty much always known I didn't want to have kids, this has come up for me a lot over the years—specifically when talking to people who also like kids but don't want to have their own. In my personal and professional life, I've met daycare staffers and school teachers who, like me (only to a greater extent), totally dig children but want to work with them, not give birth to and raise them. I have a good friend who worked for years in a nonprofit with at-risk girls and young women who has no desire to ever parent. Their good work is vital to so many young lives. So why can't that be enough?
Why do these two things get treated as mutually exclusive? If you're a childfree person who enjoys and/or actively works with children, how do you talk about and honor these seemingly conflicting choices?
Photo via factorytakeover.com