Stranger in the Strange Land of the Parent-People

Do you ever think about talking to mothers and fathers as a journey to another country where you don’t speak the same language? 

I was tilted back in the dentist chair yesterday while the hygienist scraped my teeth, and she started talking about kids. She’s a new hygienist, but her predecessors all talked about their kids, too. I don’t think I ever met one who wasn’t a mom. The mom-talk used to annoy me, but this time it didn’t.

One of the patients who passed by our cubicle was a girl, Izzy, whose basketball team was playing that night against the hygienist’s daughter’s team. She has known this girl since she was so little she couldn’t get the ball up high enough to go through the hoop, but now she’s four years older and a skilled player. Izzy’s team was likely to trounce her daughter’s team, but she was looking forward to attending the game and cheering both girls on. 

Hmm, I thought as she moved from inside my bottom teeth to outside, where they’re extra close together. This is interesting stuff that I know nothing about. When she paused to let me rinse, I asked how many kids she had. She has three, two girls, ages 10 and 12, and a four-year-old boy. The girls play a lot of sports. From basketball, they will go into volleyball and softball, and my hygienist and her husband will spend most of their off-work time going to games. They want to get the boy into T-ball but don’t know how they will find the extra time. 

Clearly their children dominate their lives. My parents weren’t like that. If we wanted to do something that required their time, they said no. They had their own things to do.

But for a lot of parents these days, it’s all about the kids, and everybody at the dentist’s office seemed to have them. As the scraping moved on to my upper teeth, I heard the word Mom a lot from another room. I overheard the dentist talking a boy through his first Novocaine shot. A dad himself, he told me later that he wants to make sure kids aren’t traumatized by their early dentist visits. 

Surrounded by parent-people, I felt like an anthropologist who had come upon a civilization completely distinct from her own. It was so intriguing, I was surprised to realize the hygienist had finished scraping and was polishing my teeth with minty toothpaste. We were almost done.

I didn’t feel any personal lack or grief or annoyance, just a welcome distraction from the assault on my teeth. My life has no children in it, especially in these COVID days when I rarely go places where children might be. I spend my weekends with church, house-cleaning, yard work, movies, and dog walks. I was an alien asking, “Tell me about your people, who seem very different from mine.”

It took me years to get past the anger, grief, and resentment that dogged me in my 40s and 50s,  but these days, I find children and parents fascinating. I’m not aching to join them anymore, but I watch with interest. 

Do I feel left out sometimes? Sure. Do I wish I had grown children to help me with things I can’t do alone and to put on my forms as emergency contacts? Definitely. But that’s not how it turned out, so I’ll pay the occasional visit to the land of children and parents then return to my own land, where we take care of dogs and cats and maybe write books or play the piano. It’s not the place I expected to live, but it’s a very good place.

The best part of this visit? Nobody asked me how many children I had. I was dreading that question. 

How do you feel when others talk about their child-filled lives? Do you think you will ever reach a point where it doesn’t bother you? If not, is there still time to change your situation?

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5 thoughts on “Stranger in the Strange Land of the Parent-People

  1. There is no time for me to change my situation. I am not a mom. I could not get pregnant, I don’t have the time/money/energy for the years-long adoption process, and my partner’s children are grown. I had to come to a place of acceptance about my childless life in order to enjoy the life that I DO have. I worked very, very hard to get to this mental place.

    As for listening to parents chatter and how I feel about it, it depends. It depends on the day and my mood. It also depends on the person and whether or not I’m close to them. I had to take a lot of space from my closest friends for many years. It was just too painful to enter and exit their parenting worlds. Now I’m able to engage in these friendships again, but I also moved out of state so it’s just texting to catch up every now and then.

    I cannot stand hearing people complain about their children. Although, I can’t remember the last time I overheard someone complaining… Thankfully.

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  2. I think if a woman is childless and infertile and cannot conceive a baby with some deficiencies beyond her
    control then it must be accepted in this background. However if a woman can conceive/bear a child but she
    is childless with her own sweet will then it is objectionable and debatable. It is better for her to remain celibate
    for ever. When she is married sex is a norm how can she avoid a baby when her husband wants children. Most men indulge in obsessive sex in their matrimony. Before marriage she must find a spouse who is
    also interested to be childless otherwise a husband will make love day and night for a baby. Is it so?

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  3. I’m so glad you weren’t asked “the question.” (I wrote about it this week – and the toll it often takes on us.) I’m a bit like you and Phoenix – sometimes the world of parents and children is fascinating. If I’m listening to our national radio programmes, and they have a parenting segment, I find it very interesting. But how I feel being around people talking about their kids varies. Sometimes I’m fine. Sometimes I’m not. It depends if people are lecturing me or genuinely including me in the conversation. I for example, played a lot of sport, went to music and dance lessons, and was a Girl Guide. I can talk about all those things. (And yes, in the ’70s my parents ferried me everywhere till I got my licence – NZ spelling – when I was 16, because they wanted me focused on these things rather than boys and smoking, like my older sister. lol)

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    • You make a good point Mali about conversation.

      My husband’s family has a lot of toxic personalities and I find I feel my worse when it’s clear that they are “showing off”. Several of them will talk amongst themselves (even thought we’re all seated around one table) and throw in teacher names, events, other kids I’ve never heard of. I might be sensitive but it really feels like one of them enjoys doing this and the others play along.

      I might ask questions but I’ll get one-word answers, so I stop asking. One sister-in-law, who is sweet as pie, will toss me a few bones while no one is paying attention. “That’s the math teacher who is also the volleyball coach,” or “that’s the popular kid that niece has a crush on.” The other in-laws, who don’t live in the area, still have children so they are able to toss in some insights that the “queen bee” mother might appreciate. Everyone seems happy. But for me, I leave the table feeling like a loser, looking in. And I start thinking that I’m weak. That I’m failing as an aunt. That if I wanted respect and inclusion, I should be doing MORE to keep in touch with these people.

      Then we go home, and hubby and I will stress eat pie and binge-watch something before complaining about how awful they were. It takes a few days and then we are well again.

      On my side of the family I feel like Sue described. I’ll ask my teenage niece a million questions. “So who is this kid?” “What does Mr. Smith even teach?” “Wait, when did you get home and how much homework did you get?” “What did that girl Kelsey say, after you said that?” I’m practically sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the details, and my niece loves it. Her mother (my brother’s wife) will interject with helpful details that adults care about and it’s a real conversation. I leave these visits feeling like I learned something. I have a lot of respect for my brother and sister-in-law. I also feel like a trusted family member who will be welcomed back. We still eat pie when we get home but we go to bed happy and laughing.

      In both cases, these women are good mothers (even the “queen bee”) and are incredibly busy raising their children, juggling a career and a home, and have other struggles. But in one case I feel like crap and in the other I feel like I’ve traveled to the beautiful country where Sue got her teeth cleaned.

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