Baby Love and the Double Standard

Baby Love and the Double Standard

As an English major in college, I was asked countless times if I was interested in teaching as a career. I said I considered teaching at the college level, but wouldn’t enjoy a classroom younger than that. “No grade school or high school English classes for you, huh?” was a common press, to which I replied, “That sounds like a damn nightmare. I would be terrible at that.”

I would be terrible at it. Teaching children is an intricately difficult job that requires patient leadership, classroom creativity, and child communication skills…with the children of strangers. I lack these talents and interest, and there are plenty of other challenges I’d rather pursue. But people are always surprised to hear this, quick to assume my reasoning boils down to distaste for children. I don’t “hate kids,” I tell them. I simply don’t enjoy their company. Still, my lack of enthusiasm translates to “hatred,” an assumption I have yet to see a male peer endure.

To some people (read: women) kids are kids, and their company is fulfilling. To me, a stranger’s child is another small stranger. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for my future as a teacher, but more importantly, a mother. When male peers shied away from elementary ed majors, their disinterest was not perceived as “dislike of” children, and even if their choice came from “anxiety” or “misunderstanding” of kids, their potential for fatherhood was not at stake.

I have had women of all ages raise eyebrows at my apathy towards a baby in the room. When I see a toddler clutching a stuffed animal, I do not feel compelled to crouch down and squeal, “Is that a giraffe?! Wow! What’s your giraffe’s name?” and I don’t resent women who respond this way. If that’s what you feel inclined to do, by all means coo away. But does my failure to gush indicate a “missing instinct” in my womanhood? If I’m not attracted to babies now, how can I expect to be an attentive mother in the future? These, and other questions, pose a threat to my parent potential…

Oh come on, who doesn’t like babies?! Countless times my apathy automatically reads as hostility, as though the absence of gushing attention is rude and unfeeling. Perhaps the parent takes my disinterest in their Greatest Gift from God as a personal affront. This I can imagine, even understand. What bothers me is the obligation to gush. In my experience, it is the women in the room who are expected to respond (with at least a small degree of excitement) to any newborns present, while a man’s enthusiasm is celebrated as an extra and unusual “soft spot” for kids. In other words, “He’s going to be a great dad, someday.”

Do you want to hold him? Not really. I’ve held other people’s babies before, and the experience was pretty underwhelming. Face it, ladies: those of us who fail to approach a baby with eagerly outstretched arms will never hear the high compliment: “She’s going to be a great mom, someday.” Instead, there are patronizing statements like “Don’t worry, the mommy gene will kick in for you later,” or the especially polarizing “So do you see yourself as more of a career woman?” Here’s an idea: just because I don’t want to hold your (perfect,  miraculous) offspring doesn’t mean I’m going to wave a bored hand at my own in the delivery room.

But don’t you want to be a mommy someday? My apathy for your baby has nothing to do with the nurture and interest I’ll apply to my own role as a parent. Just because I’m not having a squealing fit over your kid’s mini sweater vest doesn’t mean I lack maternal instinct. If anything, my Egyptian sensibilities have the potential to suffocate my future children with love and attention. When I have kids, you’ll never hear me ask, “Do you want to hold him?” I’ll be too content holding him myself.

– Katya Karaz

Photo by Kitt Walker (Creative Commons)