Starshine Roshell

Starshine Roshell
Santa Barbara, California, USA
August 10
journalist / professor
Starshine Roshell is a syndicated columnist, and the author of "Keep Your Skirt On" and "Wife on the Edge."


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MARCH 4, 2013 1:48PM

No Children, No Comment: Is ‘I Don’t Like Kids’ a Cop-Out?

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As far as breeders go, I like to think I’m pretty tolerable. I don’t preach to my child-free friends about the unparalleled rapture that is (but kind of isn’t) parenthood. I don’t scoff when they call their pets their “babies.” I don’t sneer resentfully as they jet off to tropical, adult-only vacations in fricking February, when it’s not even a school holiday and they have no natural right to be warm and free and happy. (Okay, I do that, but they don’t know it.)

What I definitely don’t do is ask people why they don’t have children. My nonparent friends say they get asked this question all the time — sometimes by relative strangers. No one with a modicum of manners would ask, “Why aren’t you married?” or “Why don’t you earn more money?” Yet childless adults who appear within an egg’s toss of breeding age are often asked to explain why they’re not helping to populate this poor, desolate planet.

The real answer is often complicated, but my put-upon pals like to have a short, simple response at the ready — something that’ll call off the procreative inquisition and let everyone get back to vapid small talk, for the love of god.

I recently suggested to my friend Miranda that when someone asks, “Don’t you want kids?” she should reply, “No, thank you; I just ate.” I figure rude questions invite rude answers. But when she told me her standard response to such prying queries — “I don’t like children” — I surprised both of us by declaring the statement unreasonable.

Not unfair. Not unkind. Unreasonable. It’s a judgy word from someone who not six sentences ago made a child-eating joke.

But Miranda wasn’t joking at all. She insisted that she doesn’t care for kids and that saying so is an honest and effective way to shut down any graceless inquiries about her parental leanings.

Effective? Perhaps. But honest? I don’t buy it.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to dislike children; I dislike my own a fair chunk of the time. To truly abhor kids, though, you’d have to be self-loathing, since we were all children once. And you’d have to be woefully prejudiced — someone who’d be equally comfortable saying “I don’t like women” or “I’m not wild about old people.” I told Miranda that “I don’t like kids” is a cop-out, a lazy-person’s catchall for some deeper reasons.

Her response was not only reasonable. It was sort of brilliant.

“Sure,” she allowed, “I could confess a list of reasons why I don’t have or want children: I don’t like noise. I enjoy traveling. Crying makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like kids’ movies or music. The idea that Hitler also had a mother terrifies me. I prefer fancy dinners out to staying at home with picky eaters. I had bad parents and didn’t learn good lessons about maternity. I’m not keen on gaining weight. I don’t deal well with irrational creatures. My husband and I enjoy being each other’s top priority. Baby shoes are cute, but Kate Spade flats in a size 10 are cuter. Oh, and babies stink.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Not any of it. It made me wish that nonbreeders would make the effort to explain their well-reasoned positions when nosey folks go snooping around their reproductive organs. Rather, it made me wish those nosey folks were worthy of such effort.

“Or,” Miranda continued, “I could just say, ‘I don’t like kids,’ and get on about my business. If I didn’t like brussels sprouts, would I need to list all the reasons why?”

Certainly not. I think it’s obvious why anyone wouldn’t like brussels sprouts. And if you have the nerve to ask me if I want the little buggers, you know very well what I’ll say.

“No, thanks. I just ate.”

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I see Miranda's point completely. =o)
Thank you for writing this, and right on! I'm always shocked when people we barely know, ask me and my boyfriend when we're having kids. We do want kids, but I feel like this is such a weird question to be asked by an outsider - how do they know we haven't been trying and suffering through heartbreaking miscarriage after miscarriage, or if we're dealing with some other major problem that would keep us from having children? When it comes to asking people about their choices to have offspring or not, I think more people need to keep their darn mouths shut. Your friend's response is an honest one, and I respect it - of course, as you can probably tell from my comment, I'd never be the kind of person who'd ask why she doesn't have kids in the first place.
I guess I just find it at once lovely, and incredibly puzzling, that people seem to think that having kids is the be-all, end-all of existence. When you think of all the people who've made a difference to human history, or all the ways we advance our lives each day, whether or not someone has kids has rarely, if ever, meant very much at all.
I had a good maternal role model but never wanted kids. I recently just tell prying folks that children are not conversationalists, and I can't wait 20 some years in the hopes that mine would become conversationalists. More concisely: I just don't really enjoy children. They like me and come on by and after 5 minutes I am restless to get way. They are sometimes very cute but oftentimes they are just undeveloped little people.As Alysa said, I don't see them as the be all or end all, at all. Being a mommy is fine but is it some great accomplishment? Is it some strange tragedy to not breed? No, I say. Many seem to think so, or pretend to think so.
Excellent post. One the best, smartest and most tightly structured pieces I've read here in a long time. Your tag line works perfectly. I've been on both sides of this issue and was equally annoying regardless of my situation or position. Now I know enough to just shut up. When I do discuss my kids with non-parents, it's always in a self denigrating and vaguely negative (or at least put-upon) fashion, with many references to school musicals, band concerts and teacher open house nights. I guess this is because part of m e suspects they regret their decision on some deep level, no matter what they say, and I'm always trying to soften the blow.
Whether brussels sprouts or children, I believe the proper reply is, "I have all I want."

As for most breeders, the scary thing about them is they don't care who they marry, just if they marry.
This brings back memories. I have a lot in common with your friend and I'm old - a baby boomer. Back in the '70's and '80's I got asked this all the time - and I mean, ALL the time. I even got comments such as "you can get yourself fertility tested you know". Back then I was polite, perhaps timid thereby never ever snapping back a good comment. Now I'm older and have learned the rude ways of most individuals. My responses are along the lines of "what, 7 bill isn't enough for you?", "my parents were unqualified, incompetent and I shouldn't be here, anything else?", "I couldn't feed 'em so why breed 'em?". I must say, I do love the no thanks I just ate which I'll add to my repertoire. In the end, it's about people learning how to mind their own business, utilize tact and diplomacy - oh but wait, they can't - their parents shouldn't have been in the first place!!
Funny stuff!

As Alysa noted, there's also the fact that a sizable number of childless people tried very hard and couldn't have children, and also went through miscarriages and failed infertility treatment as well.

People just shouldn't ask that question, or if they're going to insist on it, they need to ask it in a way that isn't so judgmental.
A very good article. I agree that asking others why they don't have or want children is not something to ask. Having said that, you would not be here if your parents did not create you. R.
Choice. It is about being free to choose without judgment. The cannibal line is kind of crude tho. Makes me a little sad.
And in the end...where are they?
It's a lame question anyway you slice it. Who really cares whether or not someone else has children? I don't. This debate is about as helpful as the "Mommy Wars" row. Who cares if a woman chooses to stay home, have children, pamper her pets, travel, etc. Who really cares? It's all a matter of personal choice. Anyone who feels the need to quiz someone else about their life choices is projecting their own insecurities about THEIR life choices onto others. r.
I have no children and I've never been married. And yes, people DO ask why I've never been married. My answer is that I never found anyone to live with for the rest of my life. I have no desire to ever be divorced.

About kids, I just tell them that I would be a really lousy single parent. People do get incredibly pushy, even going so far as to tell me I could adopt when I said I never found anyone to have kids with. What is it about parents that makes them think that, in this grossly overpopulated world, everyone needs to have children?
I don't like kids either. Except that I like a lot of individual kids. And I like my own, most of the time. Maybe the line is drawn between people who love children as a group of innocent clay-persons (like those who want to be teachers and daycare providers and pediatricians) and think you can mold them into something great, and those of us who realize that children emerge pretty much as eventual friends or douchebags. You can tell early on.

I'd also never dream of asking why someone didn't have children. It's pretty obvious why you wouldn't have them, and also obvious why you'd want them, but either way it's an intimate question beyond the scope of casual conversation.
I like brussel sprouts with maple syrup, and children without.
'No thanks, I just ate' is my new go-to response to any questions I don't want to answer. It's brilliant.
Your first sentence says, "breeders" which reeks of intolerance right from the get-go.
'Breeders' being the equivalent of saying 'foreigners' among the racist crowd.
Bad form.
I agree with Just Thinking that the term "breeders" is offensive.

But if I'm to be referred to as a Breeder, I reserve the right to those who refer to me that way as Breeder-Reactors.
The only people I talk about the kids versus no kids are my brother and sisters. I know we all grew up the same way, more or less. With the same expectations. I do understand people who say they don't like kids and I don't judge them as being terrible people or inadequate in some way. It is the same as someone who doesn't like brussel sprouts and that's ok. Brussel sprouts are great if you fry them in butter, get the pan hot first and let them get burnt and crispy - they taste like popcorn. I never liked brussel sprouts as a kid.
"I guess I just find it at once lovely, and incredibly puzzling, that people seem to think that having kids is the be-all, end-all of existence. When you think of all the people who've made a difference to human history, or all the ways we advance our lives each day, whether or not someone has kids has rarely, if ever,meant very much at all." Alysa, I have to disagree with you here. Without Mrs. Einstein, there would be no Albert....
Since the question is on one else's business, I'd say any answer is acceptable.
*no* one else's business...
Well the issue is you are judging as well. Why should someone have to explain their life decisions to anyone? I have no interest in someone's desire to breed because it is simply none of my business. Someone has had bad parents or they are being selfish could be the reasons for any life decision from being vegan to be a certain political party. No one has the right answers and the ambiguity makes people uncomfortable. I sometimes think of the women in 3rd world countries who would love to have the option not to procreate. As women we need to respect each other's choices, not try to convince ourselves we made the right ones by forcing them upon others. Be confident in your own choices.
Obviously none of you have met my new grandson - the most amazing little critter ever.

No but seriously. When I have to bite my lip is when I see people with 4, 5 or more kids. 3 - it can be chalked up to a mistake (like me.) More than that and I just want to say, "WTF is wrong with you?" (Except my son and his wife - I'm trying to talk them into Dugger levels because if they can turn out more just like their first - omg, they owe it to humanity.)

There are too many humans and it's past time to move past any breeding imperative. It's my theory that the developing open acceptance of homosexuality is part of that, a sign we're slowly beginning to make that change. Non-breeding is following if somewhat more slowly. (Noting that one of the justifications for gay marriage is always having children.)

Not that it's anyone's damn business. I like the "I have all I want," response.
People who don't like kids shouldn't have kids. You're friend is a good soul. :)
"Breeder" is a derogatory term used amongst homosexuals as an epithet against heterosexuals. Not being a PC policeman here (er policeperson) jus sayin'.
I spose its OK for straight people to use it amongst or to describe themselves, just a gay person might use the terms, "faggot" or "dyke" amongst themselves or to describe themselves, doesn't make it any less offense for many to hear and doesn't make it OK for others to use.
Ya feelin' me "nigga" ? (see how bad that sounds coming from this cracker, LOL)
A rude question DESERVES a rude answer!

I loved my late wife's answer, "Because they might grow up to ask people rude personal questions."