Because You Don’t Have Kids
By Rakhi Mahendra Kaluhiokalani
Being women of Indian decent, we are no strangers to judgment. Judgment came in many forms for me growing up as a first-generation Gujarati girl in the United States – from family, from society, from colleagues, from the “community”. It affected (and still affects) me greatly. I remember being judged at age 9 on everything from how I walked to how I cut an onion to the rotundness of my rotis. Decades later, my rotis turn out perfectly round and fluffy though my strut continues to be gossip worthy.
It’s remarkable and somewhat unfortunate how the choices one human make affect people in surprising and somewhat negative ways. It makes them angry, mean, and sometimes lash out. For a long time, I noticed that my cousins exhibited a sort of bully like behavior toward me. I barely spoke with them or saw them and always sought acceptance from them. I simply did not understand their issue with me. Come to later find out, there were issues with our parents that had nothing to do with me. (And let’s not forget – I walked funny.) Unfortunately, even a seemingly younger, westernized generation is prone to judgement similar to that of an older generation where judgement was anticipated and expected (e.g. the infamous aunties).
Being equipped to cope with judgment is key to celebrating the sheer awesomeness and beauty that can come from pursuing an unconventional path. Acceptance from those you hold dear to you, or lack thereof, may surprise you. And it may not serve you.
I remember family members telling me that if I married a non-Indian guy, they wouldn’t come to my wedding. Well, I married a non-Indian guy – and they were all there, with open arms – taking pictures as my brother walked me down the aisle in his US Army uniform. (My poor, traditional, Gujarati parents – two children in constant pursuit of unconventional paths).
Now that I’m married, social convention dictates that the natural conversation topic of choice transition to “when will you have kids?” We’ve all been guilty of turning to social convention regarding what we believe is a natural succession in conversation. We also come to expect this from perhaps co-workers, family members or acquaintances.
But when did we get so lazy? 2016 and 2017 were some interesting years shaping world history. What will the impact of the #metoo movement actually be moving forward? What is the motivation behind Trump’s base? Why are people against calling Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock a terrorist when he orchestrated one of the worst mass shootings in the US? What can we do to help our friends affected by so many natural disasters? How will the new tax bill affect our community? What is the impact of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s policies on our public schools.
But yes, let’s instead talk about whether me and my husband plan to have kids. I actually had a parent, a good friend, that turned an entire conversation to my child baring goals during my bachelorette party. What a buzz kill.
My newest learning – when did couples without kids become the enemy? I swear, the way I hear some young parents talk, people without kids are the lazy scum of the earth! They have no clue!
My husband and I make choices to throw parties and kindly ask that our friends don’t bring their kids. We hope it may be a getaway for them, a date night. And some couples embrace this. In fact, they ask permission. I’m constantly impressed by them. In other situations, I’ve been asked if a parent could bring their three kids and their nanny. Or parents act rude when we don’t think of their individual situation. (And people without kids are selfish?)
But I am more surprised than ever at the judgements from our own generation, a generation that understands the value of choice, a generation that also understands that people are having kids later in life, and could be dealing with serious health challenges related to this.
This is not to take away from the remarkable transition to parenthood that I see my friends experience. I love seeing this transformation and empathize with their hardships. I make an effort. I love being in a position to offer to babysit and bring over some food for the family – just so the parents can have some period of relaxation. I love forming relationships with the new, innocent generation. They bring such an innocent, humorous perspective packaged up in adorableness.
But what I don’t love, is the judgement and the expectation. Parents lives are so demanding, but if you have time to judge non-parents, you have time to shift that judgement into empathy. Friends without kids are not your enemy. Parents prioritize family, and friends without kids are expected to prioritize them. This can add up. Remember, parents have their kids as the trump card for all excuses in life moving forward. Friends without kids don’t have this luxury – unless they have cancer or manage a sick relative.
Couples without kids pay more taxes – which in turn help the couples with kids indirectly. Couples without kids miss their friendships with friends who are now parents – the dynamic changes. But they are willing to take one for the team so they can have parents in their lives. This is rarely reciprocated. Rather, at times, the friendships just dissipate. Think of how tragic this is when people have history with each other, only to have it disappear. People without kids cover shifts or meetings or when their co-worker’s kids fall ill, again rarely met with reciprocation and constantly met with judgment.
I’m surprised that I have such a passionate view of this topic. I always thought I would be the soccer mom of the year. I had very conventional views of my future. I am not sure why or how my life took a turn for the unconventional by marrying so late in life and to a non-Indian man.
But the beauty that I now see is that I became exposed organically to a new perspective by serendipitously following an unconventional path. Who knows? If I was a parent right now, I may be just as guilty of judging the lives of my friends without kids. I may be resentful that I don’t have extra spending money or time for myself. I’d be a victim of my own choice. Though I would hope that I practiced more empathy to those not in my situation, one can never be sure.
Or, perhaps, my current path is more conventional than I ever imagined, especially in a booming city like San Francisco. I’ve become more and more exposed to people choosing not to have kids or just unable to have kids. They’ve shifted their plans to focus on providing impact in different ways. They start companies – which give people (parents) jobs. They volunteer or launch charities. They work on changing policy. Some of them work themselves into health problems by being so dedicated to these goals.
As I embark on a new decade of life, I plan to focus on letting go of judgement. While others judge, I’ll continue to excel at my work, volunteer at public schools, pay my taxes (a lot of taxes) so my community can thrive, travel to gain additional perspectives, challenge myself to let go, be helpful to my friends and those in need. Let’s face it, I have nothing but time – since I don’t have kids.