“But you’re not a parent, so what do you know?”

There are many facets to the experience of being childless not by choice.  You not only go through your own personal sense of loss you are subjected to errant assumptions within your peer groups and most especially within your own extended family.    The most infuriating assumption that I and my husband are subjected to is  “They’re not parents, so what do they know?”

No, we have never raised a child, but we have watched many of our friends and family raise theirs, and we have observed many different parenting styles.  We have had many years to form an opinion on what is good parenting and what is bad parenting…not that we sit back and take some sort of perverse satisfaction in criticizing parenting styles, but yes…we have formed opinions from our observations.

At this point we have seen many of these kids reach their late teens or even adulthood, and we are finding that most of our observations have been pretty on target.

Now, I know how a kid turns out is based on multiple factors, but the kids we know who have grown up in stable, two-parent homes (or in a very stable and functional one-parent home) with a parenting style that emphasized Godly values, discipline, and self-control have generally turned out great with very few exceptions.  All of the kids have made their share of mistakes, but it seems that the “stable home” kids are able to recover and move on from their mistakes whereas the “unstable home” kids have either not recovered or have a substantially longer and rockier period of recovery.

We are seeing this very acutely in our own family right now.  While I will not give personal details of the situation  in order to protect the folks involved…this situation has progressively gone from bad to worse over a period of nearly two decades.

Over the years my husband and I have spoke into this situation many, many times, and even offered to help parent the child involved.   The parent in this situation would not overcome their pride and take us up on the offer to help this child and to bring him into a stable environment (with a strong father figure) until the parent could provide that environment .  All of our efforts to lovingly, but firmly point out the direction this child was going were met with indignation and the statement of “What do you know?  You’re not parents!”

Yes…that was said right to our faces.

Every prediction we made of the ultimate outcome of this situation has come to pass.  We prayed that we were wrong, but unfortunately we were not.

Last week this 17-year-old child made a decision that will most likely affect the rest of his life, and at least in the short term his ability to live a free life.

So, in the end childless “What-do-they-know” Aunt and Uncle were right all along.  Do I revel in that?   No…at this moment there’s the potential I could drown in my own tears.  I witnessed this child being born, and I developed a strong bond with him that will remain with me the rest of my life.

So, if you are a childless person and are being told that your child rearing opinions don’t count simply because you’ve never reared one please know that most likely your intuitions are right.

I think it’s because we can see the forest for the trees.   Now, we shouldn’t allow that to make us cocky know-it-alls, but I do believe our unique life situation imparts on us a deep wisdom since we have spent months and then years contemplating how we would parent a child if ever given the opportunity.  Also, most of us never had an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy…parenthood was never forced upon us before we were ready.  We had time to observe and get ready if we ever were given the miracle that many just take for granted…or in extreme cases…resent.

Not that you will be heard, but take it from me…when it comes to close friends and family offer your opinion when red flags are raised.  I’m not talking about blatant interfering, but when asked share your honest views.   If you have moved on and don’t desire to impart any of your views then okay, but don’t automatically assume that since you don’t have kids your opinions don’t count simply because you’ve never had a child to raise.

Please remember that there is a grain of truth to the statement contained within the title of this post.   We have never been blinded by the unique overwhelming love of having a child (with the exception of those who experienced a live birth only to lose that child).  We have never felt the conflicting emotions of being so in love with a child and so angry at him at the same time for doing something stupid.  Someone once said…and I believe it’s true…that having a child is like taking your heart out of your chest and letting it walk around in this world.

So, if you face a situation on which you feel you need offer parenting advice please tread softly and impart a lot of love and gentleness.  Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs on earth, and no one ever does is perfectly.

4 thoughts on ““But you’re not a parent, so what do you know?”

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  1. Dh and I have gotten that attitude from parents in the past. It is very frustrating to have your education/professional/life experience deemed insignificant just because you haven’t had kids. Well, one doesn’t have to push a living being through a bodily orifice to recognize stupidity and bad decisions!

  2. Exactly, Barb. When I briefly considered going into obstetrical nursing when in was in my late 20’s (I’m amazed by the process of birth)I was told by several OB nurses that I would not be able to connect to a woman in labor, because I had never felt that pain myself, and that might go against me in a hiring process.

    Okay…I see that point of view, but nobody would’ve discriminated against me if I had never had a hip or a knee replacement but wanted to become a nurse specializing in orthopaedics.

    Same goes for the subject above…even if we never gave birth or parented I believe a lot of what it takes to parent (or to educate) a child is innate. You possess the skills with in you. On the day the child is born you don’t suddenly get a divine intervention of special skills to be a parent. Like anything you learn by practice, but it doesn’t take a genius to be a good parent. Yes, some parents are better parents than others, and that’s why I don’t knock the child-free folks. Parenting is hard at best, and just like any other challenge in life if you don’t feel like (or don’t want to) parenting then by all means don’t!

    But telling a childless person they don’t know what their talking about when it comes to parenting is a very prejudicial statement. Most of us with few exceptions have interacted with children enough to have some idea what it takes to parent a child.

    1. Wow-those ob people must not know it is illegal to even ask questions related to marital status, age, etc. At least they could have the smarts to make up a more legitimate, less litigative (is that even a word??) reason not to hire you. If I had to have cancer treatment w/an oncologist who was also a cancer survivor, I would have been in serious trouble!!!

  3. Barb,

    Well, it was just casual conversation with OB nurses at the hospital where I worked. I never became a nurse, and wasn’t really looking for a job at the time. It was just their opinion that under the table OB wards want nurses who have had children so they can empathize with patients. I do know great OB nurses who are CNBC. They can’t openly discriminate, but it’s the one nursing field where personal experience is preferred.

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