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?


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.

5 responses to “Reproductive Suspect”

  1. I felt like I was reading my own (better articulated and more amusing) thoughts in this marvelous post – from one young peoples librarian to another, I hear ya.


  2. Ah, yes. The childless kid-person. I am one. I’m almost 26, so it’s not yet socially strange that I don’t have children. However, I just entered my third year of marriage and so the women around me have decided it’s time. Every time I don’t feel well, I’m pregnant. If a smell sickens me, I’m pregnant. As someone who doesn’t want children right now (or very possibly ever), it’s hard for me not to have a nervous breakdown over this.

    I, too, get asked to work evenings before my co-workers with children and, secretly, I’ve started making up reasons not to. Just every now and then. Just as a reminder that I have a life too.

    What I find most interesting are the people who are astounded that I work with children because, “I’m so intellectual.” Of course women who are highly educated and stimulating in conversation wouldn’t find children fascinating. *eye roll*


  3. I am SO GLAD to see this post, and to know that I’m not the only one who’s encountered this. Over the last few years, I’ve had numerous patrons – and sometimes colleagues as well – react with complete shock that I don’t (and may never) have kids. Especially when I do programs geared towards babies and toddlers, I’ve had moms regard me strangely as if I couldn’t possibly know how to relate to their children. People react even more oddly if I mention I’m single. Having recently gotten out of a long-term relationship, the latter is downright insulting. I’m only 26; unfortunately this aspect of my life hasn’t gone as smoothly as some of my patrons’ have. It’s a very closed-minded thing to judge someone else’s lifestyle in this way. To me, my personal life should not be anyone’s business in my professional world.


  4. Childless male kidbrarian here, and I’m sorry to say, but I think this is another area where guys have it easier than women. Too many people in my library are so astonished to even see a bearded person in the storytime room, they never even think to interrogate me on the rest of my life.

    Maybe everyone harbours secret opinions about me and my motives, but seriously, I’ve only been asked once about my kids by a library member, and that storytime dad didn’t react weirdly to my “I don’t have any” answer at all. Even when I lead Babytime the moms see my “not actually having ever had a baby”ness as as not a big deal. I get so much goodwill just by having fun interacting with kids, it’s totally unfair. I’m positive other towns in our regional system are way more demanding of their female kidbrarians and do side-eye our childless ones, but not me.

    I kind of feel like no one wants to ask any questions because I might leave and stop “being a bookish male role model” which is something hard to come by in this logging/mining/fishing town. But it’s probably just another one of those bullshit ways us males in predominantly female professions get seen as beautiful and unique snowflakes. I’m sorry.


  5. Awesome post! I’ve been in a similar boat since. I had to put off having kids for medical reasons, and you wouldn’t believe how many ppl think they need to inform me that my biological clock is ticking. UGH! Anyway, haters are gonna hate & busybodies are gonna judge no matter what choices you make. But I think you’ve developed a very wise, and true worldview about where we fit. You’re a pro, and sometimes that means honing a brilliant “bite & smile”. and for every lame-o who thinks it’s weird for a grown-up to love kids who aren’t their own, there are a hundred parents who need and appreciate the awesome aunts, friends, uncles, teachers, and librarians. I find the smartest, most awesome people appreciate the help. And their awesomeness outshines the lame-o judgement 1000x over.


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