02 March 2010

For the Love of Anonymous Vitriol

Unfortunately, in recent weeks, the job that pays has taken precedence over everything except my family life and I haven’t been able to be as productive in my writing (obviously) as I would like. I feel like we haven’t talked, you and I, so let’s do that. Tonight, let’s talk about choice. More specifically, let’s talk about lifestyle choices – to have children or not – and what, if anything, that really means. Let’s talk, too, about how we teach our kids to deal with the choices they make and how things have changed since we were on the playground.

I got to thinking about this after reading Erica Noonan’s latest column, Will the Real Childfree Movement Please Stand Up? Ms. Noonan has, apparently, just learned of the existence of the so-called, “Childfree Movement” and is a little put off, as is evidenced by her writing.

It’s no secret here that I was, not long ago, planning to be “childfree” for the duration of my life – although I wouldn’t have labeled myself as such – and didn’t. The first I had heard of a group of people wearing this label like a badge of office was probably back in 2004 when I followed a link to a link to a link on Live Journal and came upon a community called, “CF Hardcore” (that community no longer exists, however, there are 3 pages of CF comms that come up in search on that site). It was eye-opening. I suppose I never really knew that there were groups of people out there who so loathed the idea of (having) children that they felt compelled to band together and preach to their choir. The reason I phrase it like that was because for the CF Hardcore community, it was about loathing and not about a simple choice. I was not, however, surprised. One of the things I figured out early on in my internet trolling years was that there are groups of people who represent anything and everything a human being could possibly imagine (and a few things we collectively couldn’t…and shouldn’t, for that matter) all over cyber space.

I read what it was that I was supposed to, as per the links, rolled my eyes and said to myself, “Self, some people really need to get a life.” But that was that. At the time, I should probably add, that I had no interest in parent blogs or communities either. I had made my choice: Live and let live. I hadn’t had children therefore, it was not my place or need or desire to catch up in the world of parenting. Similarly, I was not “childfree”, I simply chose to not have children, therefore, I had no business or place in a group of people who define themselves first and foremost as such and congregate to discuss the world of parents, children, and how happy they are to be apart from that.

But apparently, for many people, it isn’t that easy. So why discuss it now? Well, it seems that this crossover – the admonishment from Ms. Noonan to the more hardcore, “Bratfree” folks in her column and the subsequent outcry from the childfree themselves, along with the childless (while they didn’t seem to be able to make the distinction between not wanting and not being able to have kids, I will) and of course, the Proud Parents – has really highlighted something that’s been bothering me for a while:

The need to anonymously and viciously decry the choices others make that have zero bearing in anyone else's life but that of the chooser.

When we teach our children about choice, it starts off easy. Last night, A had the choice between not eating that last bite of carrot and not getting to share a popsicle with mommy or eating the carrot and sharing the popsicle. Trial and error has shown her that her choices do have consequences and, last night, she chose wisely. The consequence of choosing wisely was, of course, snuggling on the couch and sharing a popsicle. The other consequence would have been, naturally, not getting to eat a popsicle. Cut and dry, simple stuff.

As we age and make more complex choices in our lives (e.g. to have kids or to not), the consequences are not so cut and dry or obvious. More often than not, we find that we are rewarded with both the good (the desired outcome of our choice) as well as the bad. For the childfree, the largest rallying cry is that the world is unkind to those who opt not to have children, for whatever the reason. From my personal experiences, I never felt or saw that – but I don’t discount that it happens.

For the proud parent, sacrifices that we never anticipated balance the positive aspects of our choice.

For both, the scorn of those who disagree with your choice is now more public than ever. While it’s easy to say, “Ignore it”, it’s not always easy to actually do. As a wee lass, in the prehistoric age of technology when answering machines were about 50 pounds, and brick cell phones were larger than actual bricks, ignoring the derision of the public at large was easy – you never knew about it. You couldn’t remain anonymous to insult someone you didn’t know, and generally speaking, most folks would apply the, “if you have nothing nice to say…” adage to their face-to-face encounters. By and large, the latter is still true – but not the former.

The result more recently has been a spate of issues surrounding cyber-bullying of adolescents, but who’s to say that anonymously (or not) disparaging a personal choice in a very public venue isn’t the same? In fact, the more I read, the more hard pressed I am to see a difference at all.

So, as A grows and learns and the complexities of the consequences of her choices develop with her, will one of them now be, “Run the risk of someone finding out what my decision is and having it go public and being mocked into the ground by large groups of people who are not now, nor have they ever been, in my position to understand why I chose what I did”?

For me, the choice is clear: Yes. I’ll put up with it, if only to reinforce my belief that people, when they feel safe and unknown, let their true colors fly higher than the SR-71 Blackbird. It’s an experience that should be had to better understand the nature of those around us each day.

It also serves as a valuable reminder that judgment cannot be so idly passed and has helped me to think a lot harder before I speak...or write; not to suppress my voice or my thoughts, but to try on those shoes as best I can – to be empathetic enough to see that even if I don’t agree, it wasn’t my choice to make and I am not now, nor will I ever be, in full possession of the facts that led to the decision in the first place.

As a parent, I see it as my job to let my daughter know that her choices may come to the eyes of many unintended people and they may, regardless of how sound the process was that she used to make her decision, try to cut her down. It’s my job to let her see that in a new way, not as a negative but as a learning experience. It’s my job to give her the wherewithal to be able to stand by her decision, to gracefully accept responsibility for those times when clearly, it was a bad decision and bad things happen as a result; and to hold her head high when she has no doubt that her choice was the best one she could have made.

Over the years, many of my own decisions have come under fire: my choice to give birth to my son and then give him up for adoption right after; our choice to have only one child; our choice to flip gender roles (yes, one of those couples is us) in our household…to name a few. Some of the commentary has stung a little, but it can be brushed off. I know that very little changes after high school and bullies will always be bullies, regardless of the venue. Yet, I think it’s important to realize how easy it is to bully from a blog or a community too, without even realizing what you're doing or that real people read what you've said.

I wonder when, in a society that so values the freedom of choice, we will finally accept that we may all choose differently, but that doesn’t always make it the wrong choice.

How about you? How will you teach your child to choose – and to accept the choices of others?


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