Do some people just not ‘do’ children?

Thanksgiving had barely started when my sister-in-law told her grandchildren, “Don’t bother Aunt Sue. She doesn’t do kids.”
I couldn’t let that ride, especially when I really wanted to get to know my great-niece and nephew better. I responded, “Just because I don’t have any of my own doesn’t mean I don’t like them.”
No reply.
But as much as I hate to admit it, she might be right. The little ones, ages 1 and 2, are a handful. Add four dogs, one of them a tiny pup that got attacked by one of the bigger dogs early on, and my late father’s gaping absence, and things were a little hectic.
While I was there for Thanksgiving, I had a project: going through boxes of photos and memorabilia taken from my father’s house. Try doing that when a two-year-old thinks it’s fun to grab papers and rip them up. I was not amused when he tore a notebook with some of my grandfather’s writing. Or when he insisted I pick him up and kept launching himself at my back. It reminded me of the overgrown puppy my husband and I kept for only a few weeks before we took him back to the animal shelter. Too much energy! When I discovered the boy had a cold, I was even less appreciative. Dang it, I don’t want to get sick.
With the dogs, however, I felt comfortable. I could talk to them, pet them, hug them, slip them snacks, and take them out for walks. Even when I discovered one of them sleeping in my bed because that’s where she usually sleeps, and even though I knew her long fur would stir up my allergies, I was fine with it.
But the children. That was like trying to jump into a conversation in a language for which I only know a few words. I winced every time I heard something crash, begged off the third time the boy tried to climb on me because I have a bad back, and did not even think to offer to change a diaper or give them food. I’m not sure I know how.
I got scolded when I got my grandfather’s accordion out of the case, just to see what it looked like and maybe figure out how to play a few notes. “We have sleeping babies!” Oh yeah,  naptime. Now that everyone’s awake, I don’t know why the grownups still don’t want to hear me figure out “La Tarantella” on the old accordion that has been sitting in my dad’s closet for at least 25 years.
Maybe some of you have lots of experience with children, but I just don’t. I was terrible at babysitting, which I only did for a little bit. When my brother was a baby, I was too, and I have not had much to do with my stepchildren or their children. I never worked hands-on with kids—singing at them doesn’t count. I wanted to be a mother, and I think I could have learned to be a very good one, but all these years after I was fertile, maybe my sister-in-law is right; Aunt Sue doesn’t do kids. She does dogs. Parallel universes.
Why do I feel so guilty about it?
Eventually my niece took her kids home. My sister-in-law’s brother took their elderly mom home, and it felt like midnight when it was not even prime time yet. Holidays get my time clock all messed up. But the food was good, and we got to hang out together for a while. I’m sure my headache will fade eventually.
In the stacks of photos, I found a woman who apparently was my paternal grandmother’s aunt, whose name was Aunt Sue, and boy, she was ugly. I wonder if she had any children.
Who will spend Thanksgiving figuring out what to do with my old photos when I die?
I can’t worry about that today, but I am inspired to make sure my pictures have names on them. We have bags of photos of people whom we can’t identify. The last person who might have known who they were is gone. We’ll probably end up throwing them away. Label your photos, my friends.
How was your Thanksgiving? Please share. You are welcome to be as ungrateful as you want in the comments.

13 thoughts on “Do some people just not ‘do’ children?

  1. That’s a good tip on the photos and one I never thought of! Our Thanksgiving weekend isn’t even close to being over. Relatives with kids come tomorrow and stay until Monday.


  2. Sigh. Each year I try. And the holiday itself passes okay. It’s the day after that get’s me. The hangover. The emotional overload hangover.

    In the moment, I was able to share the joy of my niece in the early stages of wedding planning. My heart twinged when she was laughing with her siblings and poking fun at each other and my sister-in-law happily tamed everyone down. They were trying to figure out a problem and my brother finally said, “Well, we have plenty of time – we’ll figure it out.” Which was code for – we don’t need to include outsiders with this issue. And that was my reminder that THEY have something THEY need to work on. THEY have this happy event to plan. THEY will be the core group of this event. I will be a guest. And while I should be happy to have a place at the table – today I only lament how far down the table I am.

    And I get it. I really do. I shouldn’t be included with THEM. I know this. I know this without any sort of pity party thrown in. But today I’m sad that I don’t have a “they”. I have an “us” with my husband but we don’t have a “they”. And I’m reminded of the times my husband and I wanted to celebrate something, only for others to not really care all that much.

    And then onto the other family party where my awful sister-in-law was in attendance. Watching her hold her sixth child, knowing that she hasn’t the time or the care to patch up her relationship with me. When the rest of the family has their own little power plays and “things,” it’s easy to feel insignificant. I played tag with the kids for a little bit. They all cheered excitedly when I agreed to go one round with them. That felt good, but in a childish way that just seems sad today. I sat outside in the cold garage for a while after, listening to their happy voices in the back yard, not really wanting to go back in and deal with adults.

    Today I’m pms-ing – hard. Proof that my body is still able to reproduce (but hasn’t). My face, which looks all of mid-forties, doesn’t match how young I feel at heart, and it hurts. I’m being really, really hard on myself for cancelling a last-minute outing with a friend later today. I’m not my best. I’m stuck at work with deadlines. And I’m sad in a way that can’t be explained without feeling pathetic. I’m almost defiant about it. And I’m sick of myself. I can’t seem to figure ME out. No wonder I don’t have a THEY. Perhaps God knew I wasn’t strong enough for it. I know this is all silly talk. I know tomorrow I’ll be fine. But today I’m not. I am so very thankful to share here, secure in the knowledge that someone feels the way I do.


  3. Your sister-in-law forgot a couple of words. When she (rudely) said that you don’t “do kids,” what she (unbeknownst to her) meant was that you don’t “do poorly behaved kids.” A two-year-old may be very young but is still old enough to learn to not jump onto other adults. And, if said two-year-old is unable to learn that lesson for whatever reason, then the parents get to parent and supervise their child so that the little one doesn’t accidentally hurt anyone. Just from reading your post, it sounded like your family gathering was very focused on all of the children’s needs but none of the adults’. I’ve seen this play out a million times. It does not bode well for raising considerate little humans. Just my two cents.


  4. I used to be a nanny, mostly infants then turning into toddlers. So had hands on then. I think of my stuff [like pictures] and I just figured it will be all thrown out, or if I knew I was dying, I’d burn everything. Who is going to remember me? I told my cousin’s daughter that she could have my rings, but I don’t think she would be sentimental about them. I tell myself it’s ‘just stuff.’ I would like to see my mom’s quilts go to a good home, but they will probably end up in a Goodwill. No one to tell the stories to each quilt. I have a Bonnie Sue quilt that I used to lay on my bed to see if I could ‘peek’ under the bonnets. Or the one my mom made with all my old school dresses. Who cares right?


    • I know what you mean Maribeth. I love antiquing, and I often see lovely family things and lament that no one (?!) wanted these things. In my conversations with my younger family members, I find myself thinking, “Oh, maybe she’d like my button collection someday?” Or, “Oh I bet he will treasure my husband’s whatever.” It would be nice to think that someone in our life would care enough about us to want these things. They might.


  5. I would really encourage you to keep trying to be involved with the youngsters in your family even if it may not always come naturally or easily. I think almost all parents would say that when they had their first kid that it seemed scary or overwhelming, but as time goes on they learned just from experiencing it what to do. Parents grow into parenthood as their children grow. Things like changing a diaper are really quite simple once you’ve done it. I also think most parents would say that certain ages are trickier to deal with than others are. A toddler is definitely one of the harder ages for most people, but someday very soon will grow into a very different kid, and maybe at an older age it will be easier for you to find a connection with that kid.

    Why bother? I think there is a lot of value in relationships across generations. Kids benefit from having another caring adult in their life and someone to teach them about life. You might benefit in other ways – like having someone to pass your memories on to. I also think that as we get older, having friendships with younger people helps keep us young too. It’s just my opinion, of course, but I truly believe that it is worth it to cultivate these relationships.


  6. I loved your phrase about not speaking the language of kids, or at least, of only knowing a few words. That explains exactly how I have felt around children. But I’m much better when I’m one-on-one – it’s when all the relatives sit around and silently judge my interactions, which they have done since I was about 21 and way before I ever decided to even try having kids. That makes me very self-conscious.

    Thankfully, we don’t have Thanksgiving here! lol


  7. That so reminded me. I was at a birthday party for the ex’s grandkid. Another couple was there with a just-walking child. He was going from knee to knee to knee around the room. He got to me and I overheard Mommy say, “Not everyone likes kids.” The anger still wells today. I managed not to say anything cuz normally I have a very pointed comment. But you have to just smile because they are mommies who are special and you aren’t. Simple as that lol.


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