An open letter to people with no children

Dear People with No Children,

How’s it going? It’s been awhile. Hope you’re enjoying all of that travel, and sleep, and getting to do whatever you want with your lives. It must be great. I vaguely remember some of that. I’ve been meaning to write to you for a long time. You see, I wanted to let you know something. It’s an issue that needs to be resolved so that we can get back to raising our kids and you can get back to planning that weekend scuba getaway to Grand Cayman (at least, that’s what I imagine people with no kids do on the weekends). So here it is…

You can’t raise my kids better than me.

Whew. I feel better already. I know you think you can, and I get that. I mean, how hard could it be right? You just tell them what to do and they do it. We’re adults, they’re children. We’re the bosses, they’re the subordinates. 2 + 2 = 4, doesn’t it? And so when you hear my kids acting up in the restaurant, or whining incessantly as we walk through the mall, or bickering with each other in the backseat of a car ride, or creating messes wherever they go, I’m sure it’s natural for you to think, “If that was my kid, I would not allow [annoying behavior]/handle this better/put a stop to this…”

But you wouldn’t. You couldn’t.

You didn’t change thousands of their smelly, gross, urine-soaked diapers. You didn’t clean up the sheets, and clothes, and their bodies when they vomited on themselves in the middle of the night. You didn’t have to tell them they got cut from the ball team and then cry with them. You didn’t hold their hand or hold them down as the doctor administered necessary, but painful shots. You didn’t comfort them when their favorite pet died. You didn’t help them with their homework every night. You didn’t do 98% of their science project for them. You didn’t take them to swim lessons, ball, or music practice. You didn’t get in your car and go pick them up when they got homesick around midnight of their first sleepover. You didn’t comfort them when their friends were mean to them at school. You haven’t laid down on your bed, night after night, just hoping against hope that they will be safe, confident, and loved, and just knowing that you’re probably screwing it all up for them.

The truth is, there’s no “trick” to parenting. It’s not a science. There’s no formulas or strategies or magic bullets. You can read all of the parenting books in the world by all of the so-called parenting experts, and it’s still not enough to prepare you for it. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And the truth is, I’m not sure I have any idea what I’m doing a lot of the time. Even though I’ve now got almost twelve years of experience under my belt.

Parenting is the most rewarding experience of my life. It’s the greatest privilege and the most challenging task. It is so beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time that it’s difficult to put it into words. It’s almost as if we need another language, or at least some specialized terminology with a lot more texture and depth, to describe what it’s like to attempt to raise healthy, emotionally well-adjusted, spiritually-grounded, and confident children.

One word that could never be used to describe it is easy.

Kids are so unpredictable, and each one has to be raised differently than all of the others. So many changes are happening to their little minds and bodies that they don’t even understand why they are acting the way they are, which makes it very difficult for them to communicate to us what they need. If there’s anything I’ve learned about parenting is that nothing fits into neat little categories. And 2 + 2 doesn’t always equal 4. There’s a lot of guessing, and hoping, and praying.

But I understand where you’re coming from. I really do. I, too, was once a childless adult thinking I could do it better than parents. And who doesn’t want a nice, quiet, civilized atmosphere when you’re eating, or driving, or shopping? I know I do. Just know that it’s all part of a process. Believe me when I say that we’re working on it. We don’t have it all solved or even figured out yet, but we’re working on it.┬áSo be patient with us. And with our offspring. Please.

And I promise to you that one day, if and when you do have children of your own, I’ll be right there to try to help you in any way I can.

And possibly to say “I told you so.”

With much love and sincerity,

Mark

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Comments

  1. Stephen Johns

    Love it. And as one of those childless people who occasionally rolls his eyes at other people’s children/parenting techniques, my sincere apologies for ever over-stepping my bounds.

    In fact, I’ll make all the parents out there a deal. I’ll do my very best never to stand in judgment of your parenting, and parents do your very best never to stand in judgment of those of us who may choose not to have children (it definitely happens).

    Your assertion that you don’t have any idea what you’re doing half the time rings familiar. My parents continually remind us that they had “no clue” what they were doing raising us. Somehow, it all turned out OK in the end.

    You love your kids ferociously, without reserve, and because of that, non-parents like me should come to this judgment: they’re gonna turn out just fine.

    • Haha, thanks for the feedback and kind words. As far as I’m concerned, whether or not you have kids is your business. I’m in no place to judge. So you’ve got a deal with this parent for sure.

      It’s a crazy balancing act raising kids, but if I’m going to err on the side of anything, it’s going to be “ferocious love” as you so eloquently put it. Depending on the day or hour or circumstance, I sometimes believe that system is working.

      Here’s to hoping and praying that they find their God-given purpose and pursue it, with confidence, and with all of their hearts.

  2. Jala

    I don’t have kids — I have stepkids. And, I can tell you they are well behaved every place we go. At first they were not, but we taught them. We can take them to Sushi, Turkish, Italian and they are polite and know how to act at 4 and 6 years old. I have changed peed on sheets, held on during nightmares and I only get to see them when their mother will let us as she is a bitter woman. I appreciate your artical and it’s cute. But step parents work just as hard and I do believe we do a better job than the mother. I love them as my own. But am still — childless, per se.

    • Jim Redovian

      I don’t believe you can be both a step parent and childless at the same time.

  3. Jala

    We set up a dinner rule chart and worked on it everytime they came. They now ask for candles and classical music. They drink water like wine and sip apple juice slowly. When they came to us they were blowing bubbles with straws and dropping food on the floor and licking plates. It can be done. A car ride. They read quietly or sing. We had them quite often and we can see the shift in their behavior from what they do at mom’s house. Here we don’t tolerate it. And, it is doable.

  4. Jim Redovian

    Funny, God must be looking down from above and saying the same about his children. We seem to partake in the same such behavior.
    After helping to raise six of my own,I can only say I would never forget what it was like to be a kid, and realize that far too often
    parents sometimes expect more from them then they do from themselves.

  5. John

    Mark, I have no children, and I’m not a parent. But you know all those “you didn’t” things you listed? Well, I did. Most of them, anyway.

    What you, and other parents, have to realize is that nobody is perfect, and that there are tons of bad parents. So take advice for what it is worth, and not because of who gives it. Betcha a lot of those who gave you looks when your kids were too loud at the local restaurant were parents themselves.

    By the way, it seems like the people I know taking vacations to the Cayman Islands and such are the “married with children” folks. For myself, I don’t seem to have much left over after I’ve spent on the kids(nineteen birthdays[including parents], nineteen Christmas gifts, magazine subcriptions, casual restaurant treats, science project purchases, athletic equipment….and no, I don’t get it all back on my birthday or at Christmas). But Uncle John is single, so he must have plenty of money, right?