Reproductive Suspect

There was a specific article that inspired this post, but Jebus help me, I can’t remember where I saw it or find it again. Essentially the author wrote about how the community/society at large has a responsibility to help parents. Which is something I agree with (and psychology agrees with) but, in my personal experience, is sometimes problematic in actual practice.

As a single, childless woman who has worked with children in a professional capacity since 2001, I have some experience with being judged for my choices. I don’t want children, for many reasons, intensely personal and practical reasons (in fact, as you’ll hear more about in an upcoming Circulating Ideas podcast, I used to think I hated children). Since I work with kids—and love working with kids—I feel as though this stance confuses and sometimes bothers people, as though they think I am faking it and just waiting for the right chance to snatch a baby or something.

The thing is, as the article above states, “From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense that children would want to form close relationships with many different people, not just their parents.” Children need people in their lives. Often this is aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and the like. However, family structures have been changing. Most Americans are having fewer children, and even though sometimes up to five generations of a family might be in existence at the same time, due to migration many families often do not live close to each other (1). This makes an extended network of unrelated, invested adults even more important, including babysitters, daycare providers, preschool teachers, friends, and, yes, even librarians. (2) Librarians have many great opportunities, via story times and other programs, to allow parents to build their support networks. I’ve seen many a friendship between families blossom during playtime after a baby story time. It’s amazing, and I find that fostering these kinds of connections to be incredibly professionally gratifying.

Anecdotally, I’ve personally been told it was “creepy” that I wanted to have a “baby party” when a large swath of my social circle was having babies. I’ve also heard other children’s librarians called the same for being willing to baby sit for another librarian’s child. It’s not just me, either (more).

Sometimes those who are single and childless are seen as not having anything “important” to do. I’ve been told in jobs that I worked more night shifts because I had no one to go home to. The single and childless are often treated as suspect, careless, carefree, with no pressing concerns or values. (Again I’m not the only one.)

I can’t even begin to talk about what it must be like for men who choose to teach preschool, Kindergarten, or work as children’s librarians.

This all circles back to how we perceive people who work with young children–it seems, sometimes, that we cannot win the war of public perception. We are either saints who work solely for the love of the children (because many of us certainly are not paid what we are worth) or emotionally stunted creeps who want to abscond with your children. When, really, we are people who have skills and talents, who value children and families, and who acknowledge that parents have an important job and can often use support in doing it.

What about you? Have you faced these assumptions in your work? How have you dealt with it?

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1) Major trends affecting families in the new millennium 

2) For this phenomenon, I like Armistead Maupin’s description of a “logical” family versus a “biological” family:

“It’s very hard for me to analyse my own work but I think there’s a sense of family, a sort of modern urban family. I use the term you’re ‘logical family’, as opposed to your ‘biological family’, meaning the one that you make for yourself.

“Sometimes that includes members of your biological family but not always. I think that people respond to that: the notion of a big inclusive household where people are chasing love in all different directions and connecting with each other and making friends with each other in the process.”  (x)

The title of this post is an allusion to A Sexual Suspect, the memoir written by Jenny, Garp’s mother, in The World According to Garp.

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