Parenting isn’t hard. Being in community with non-parents is: A reflection on my first year of motherhood.

me and squish twoI’m not someone who ever dreamed of having a child. My daughter, now almost one year old, was a delightful surprise.

When my partner and I discovered I was pregnant, one of our many conversations amidst the flurry of panic and excitement was about our commitment to our art practices. No matter how hard it was, we would not stop being artists. One of our main priorities, in addition to the health and wellness of our child, would be to support each other in being able to have creative time.

We were determined to not to become parents whose lives only centered around their children, not as judgement against those people, but because we knew we wouldn’t be happy.

And I have to say, we did a pretty good job all things considered. He taught himself how to do VJing–live time video projection–and video projection mapping and performed several shows in 2014 at venues like the Trocadero and Underground Arts. I wrote and directed the first two episode of a high production value web series when our daughter was 6 months old, pumping on set and waking up three times a night after 15 hour days on set to breast feed. I also was on the screening committee and volunteered at the BlackStar Film Festival (where childcare for filmmakers and committee members was offered).

I was so worried that the lack of sleep, breastfeeding, enduring crying sessions and all the craziness that comes with living with an infant would be too hard for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were absolutely difficult moments. Surprisingly though, overall it wasn’t that bad.

What has been devastating and unexpectedly difficult, however, has been trying to stay connected with communities I used to share with non-parent friends.

I describe my cultural background as “kebab, grits and kale.” I am an Iranian-American, raised by hippies in the U.S. south. I grew up in communities–both amidst the (mostly white) hippies and the Persians–where intergenerational connections were strong. When someone threw a party, all the kids were thrown into one room and the older kids took care of the younger ones. If anyone got hurt, you went and got an adult.

I grew up with visions of adults who were whole people, fun and a little crazy. There was always space for children of all ages.

I guess I (wrongly) assumed that would be my experience as a parent in arts and activism circles here in Philadelphia as well.

After having a kid in 2014, my social options were suddenly minimal. I receive dozens of invitations from friends, well intentioned and in the spirit of inclusion, and over and over again have to ask them: is there childcare at this event? Is there a space set up for kids? It’s exhausting. And, depressing.

After a year it’s finally becoming clear what’s been so difficult about my first year of motherhood: segregation from my non-parent friends.

I no longer can go to workshops on filmmaking, discussions on cultural representation, literary salons and poetry readings, board game night at a friend’s–because there is no childcare or or space for children made.

I can’t pursue my interests and dreams of learning to DJ better, join a writing group, or tear up someone’s living room floor dancing–because there is no childcare or  space for children made.

I can go to mommy groups and talk about breastfeeding, poop or how tired we all are. But that doesn’t feed me. I don’t feel whole or alive in those spaces. They are segregated spaces for parents only. My vision of the world and the communities I existed in have never been monolithic in any way.

When you don’t offer childcare or make space for children, you exclude people from your community and deny them their humanness. Same as when you don’t offer accessibility options at your events.

What you communicate by making these decisions is that parents and disabled people are not welcome in your community. It is particularly hurtful and problematic when that message comes from people who claim to be committed to social justice.

Before my daughter was born, I wasn’t great about inclusion myself. I admit. This isn’t finger pointing, but awareness raising.

My commitment in 2015 is to challenge every invitation I get with the question: will there be childcare or a space for kids to play/sleep? I encourage you to make yours to figure out a way to say yes.

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8 Comments

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  1. This post means the world to me, Sara. I’m expecting a baby in may and I’ve been an active and touring musician since I was 17 – nearly 20 years. I’m terrified of how my artistic practice will be impacted, what space there will be for me and my little guy and my partner, and how this will affect my friendships and relationships with my non parent friends and community. Seriously, thank you for writing this.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. For folks reading this, I was just introduced to this fantastic resource, Cultural ReProducers, on Twitter by @AndrewSimonet http://www.culturalreproducers.org/

  3. I think everything you say is true and this is a very thoughtful piece. I think it also bears saying that the isolation and assumptions can cut both ways. You may be experiencing this disjuncture because the majority of your pre-parenthood friends are not (or not yet) parents. As someone who is older and without children of my own, I have experienced the flip side of this coin. Everywhere around me are parenting people whose lives are revolving around their children, and every social event revolves around their needs. We are expected to enjoy being around children and be unconditionally accepting of even the worst behavior. Whenever there is a need for volunteer effort, parents are excused from the expectation to help because, y’know, they have kids. Those of us choosing not to raise children are assumed to have disposable income, scads of free time, less stress, and what we choose to do with our time/income/resources is assumed to be less important. We are regarded by some as selfish or self-centered for choosing not to bear/raise kids, and excluded from many kid-centric conversations and activities unless we can pony up some nieces or nephews that “count”. We are sometimes not seen as fully adult or even fully human – we are pitied by some because we are missing something oh so important about the human experience. It is particularly hurtful and problematic when these messages come from people who claim to be committed to social justice.

    Also – while I agree that child friendly spaces and available childcare would help de-segregate, I think it bears a deeper conversation about whose responsibility that is, and who bears the cost – or really how those responsibilities and costs should be shared. Do I want events and spaces to be more accessible to parents of young children? Sure. As someone who has chosen not to have kids, do I want to be responsible for arranging and paying for that all the time to make their lives easier? Not so sure.

    Like many issues of accessibility and inclusivity, it is a more complex problem than it appears on the surface.

    • YES YES YES YES YES to everything you’re saying KE. I am in same situation as you. You don’t know how many times I have to listen to child related conversations say in a workout class where all the women (but me) and men have children. Nobody even knows I exist. I am made to feel “less important” b/c I don’t have “responsibilities”. I could not possibly contribute to the conversation b/c what do I know about anything if I’ve never had kids. I usually just smile and work on my abs while thinking “when will class end?”. It is hard to escape these situations b/c I know I am in the minority. Btw, I am also an artist and work at a gallery. Our openings are always free and child friendly. Only rarely do we have to ask parents to watch over their kids due to certain installations being more fragile. Otherwise almost all the art events I attend are open to children. As for “child care”, that is not always possible as we are artist run spaces, so there is no professional caretakers around to watch say very young children. Larger art institutions like museums are a bit different and I don’t have experience enough to comment on what they can and cannot offer in terms of childcare. I believe Sara has valid concerns about this situation that leads her to yearn for more inclusion with the non-parenting community. The other side of the coin is equally valid. Yet you will rarely hear any grievances from non-parents. I believe we all choose whether to parent or not knowing the lifestyle shift, responsibility and rewards that are to come.

  4. Note: I’ve been called out on lumping having kids with being disabled and apologize for miscommunicating. They are very different things and not at all equal experiences, and it was not my intention to imply that. I think I was just trying to articulate different ways people get excluded in my life, but clearly didn’t do a good job introducing that idea.

  5. I recently read an article that described how parenthood is not longer considered to be a normal and natural part of the human experience because availability of birth control and abortion mean that virtually every woman who becomes a mother did so by choice to some extent. Slowly but surely, society lost sympathy for parents who struggled to find support and acceptance in their communities because people now believe that parents should have known what they were getting into and should have aborted or prevented any children if they were unwilling to make the enormous sacrifices required to raise a child in a 21st century society. Just look at some of the responses here. People say they don’t really like the noise, mess, and annoying presence of kids and resent it when parents request accommodations. Children are no longer seen as full human beings and rightful members of the community, but as unnecessary lifestyle choices that parents rudely choose to have and impose on others, no different than choosing to have a dog or take up golfing. Until this mentality changes, parents will continue to be pushed to the side. I think this is why the birth rate for nonreligious people (who make up the bulk of the art community) has plummeted to as low as 0.87 in some places. Few people want to have kids when they know they will receive no support and any requests for help will be met with admonitions that they shouldn’t have had kids at all if they wanted to remain in the community.

  6. I have seen both sides of this, now that my DS is an adult. When I was a young single mother, I either didn’t go, or I got a babysitter. Period Hate to burst your bubble, but the “community” really does not need to revolve around your precious child. I didn’t think it revolved around mine.
    Now more than ever I get really annoyed when I’m in places where other people’s kids are allowed to dig into my bags, take things from a table in front of me, run around screaming (not unless you’re at a park, kiddo) and basically act as though they are untamed wild beings. Parenting is a verb, and nobody appears to want to actively do it anymore. Which would be fine, if the “community” were allowed to discipline your child also. No? Then leave them home.

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