September 20, 2016
I have often said (in jest) that "people without kids make the best parents." It's common for people to judge and to give advice on topics they know very little about. If the internet is any indication there are millions of childless parenting experts, willing to dish out their "tsk, tsk, tsks" in 140 characters or less. Admittedly there have been times I have caught myself disapprovingly muttering something like, "If that were my kid…" when I see a parent making a decision I don't agree with. Though I'm not a mother, I understand these criticisms are as ignorant as they are infuriating. For the same reason I don't take career advice from a toddler, people without children should not give parenting advice.
For most of my adult life, I've had people ask me why I didn't have children. My response has always been a shoulder shrug accompanied by some form of "I've never really wanted them."
But why I've never really felt a desire to reproduce, I have never been able to pinpoint. Other than it just didn't sound fun, I guess.
The events of last week, however, have given me clarity. What I have really meant to say in response is this: I'm too afraid. Parenting is hard and heartbreaking. It is full of challenges and unknowns and too many things that can go wrong. I never became a parent because I didn't want to spend every single day of the rest of my life terrified that the worst case scenario would happen to my child. Many parents I know would wave this off and tell me about the rewards of having children. But all I see are the frightening risks.
Most people my age do of course have children. And last week I watched several of my friends try to find the balance between educating their kids about all the dangers that can befall them, protecting them from harm yet also not annihilating their innocence. I watched them try to explain why two 13-year-old boys were dead and have open conversations about drugs and depression. I watched them grapple with tough decisions, like choosing to read their child's diary, poke around their social media pages and go through their phones. Some were overwhelmed by what they found. I cannot imagine trying to raise a child today, knowing he or she is always only one click away from twisted depravity and possible self-destruction. As one friend told me, "My kids cannot learn without the internet. But sometimes, I'm terrified of what they can learn on it."
Though the reasons they felt compelled to take these actions were tragic, it was gratifying to see them do it. "That's exactly what you should be doing," confirmed the woman without kids who shouldn't be giving parenting advice. When one girlfriend confided in me she found pot in her son's bedroom, I suggested she take off the door to his room. "That's what my parents did when they found an empty wine cooler in my room in high school," I told her.
As we discussed what to do with her son's stash, her neighbor popped over and joined the conversation. This woman seemed horrified at the idea any parent would go through their child's belongings. "I would never violate my child's right to privacy," she claimed with disgust in her voice. And that's when my aspiration to not judge, criticize or advise parents on how to raise their children no longer seemed possible.
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In this current environment we aren't talking about bedtimes or curfews. We are talking about lives. Somewhere along the way, many parents have become more concerned with being cool or being a peer, and not, in fact, being a parent. I'm sure it's easier to be their kid's friend, but it's not safer. If I had a teenager, I'd be invading his room like Napoleon on a mission. Parents don't just have that right; they have that obligation.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.