Parenting

Treasures & Travels, Ali Harper, Nasos Zavoilis/Stocksy

Lately Kids Have Had A Serious PR Problem

This year has given children — or, at least, the idea of them — an unfairly bad rap.

by Emma Rosenblum

Kids are in the midst of a huge PR crisis. Not just my kids, who you can see daily in my Zoom window, running around naked, breaking things, and strangling each other. All kids. Boys and girls. Young and old. From the babies who’ve never met other humans to the kindergartners refusing to do remote school to the adolescent super-spreaders. Children, collectively — or, at least, the idea of them — have gotten a bad rap.

It’s no wonder. We’ve been inundated this year with stories about moms falling apart, moms primal screaming, parents at the end of their childcare ropes. “One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to not have a baby before the pandemic,” a colleague recently said to me, only half joking. I half laughed. My 3-year-old, on cue, popped his head into the call and told me he had to go pee. My coworker smiled, too kind to say, “see what I mean?” Instead, she said, “I feel so terrible for parents right now.”

Everyone feels terrible for parents! And for good reason. We’ve been thrown into a dystopian anthropological experiment in which everything we relied upon was taken away. School? Ha. Daycare. Maybe. Babysitters? Nah. And then we were told that the work side of our lives had to operate normally. So, yes, I will accept your sympathy, thank you very much. But there’s more to the story than that.

When the Census numbers came in last week the alleged baby bust was confirmed in hard numbers— the birth rate dropped an additional 4% in 2020. I nodded and thought, It’s because of the terrible PR. Of course, there are myriad other legitimate reasons for this, including lower rates of teen pregnancy, economic anxiety, and lack of societal support like subsidized daycare and parental leave. But for argument’s sake, let’s consider people like my colleague, women and men who were on the fence (there must be a few, at the very least). They’ve read those scary articles and they’ve seen my children crying on Zoom. They’ve decided: no, nope, not for me.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t complain loudly or be open about the hardships of raising families during a pandemic. Commiseration is helpful and it’s nice to know you’re not the only one in the muck. But it’s difficult to explain what it’s like having kids to people who haven’t had them yet. (I remember when I was pregnant with my first, trying to imagine what holding my own baby would be like. The only thing I could approximate was the feeling of carrying my cat.) If all anyone is hearing is how painful and arduous and disruptive and unbearable the whole child-rearing operation is, they’re not getting the full picture.

It seems many of us have internalized the message that it’s at best, kind of lame, and at worst, antifeminist, to be sentimental or gushy about our brood. I certainly have. And so we’ve overcorrected.

So, in order to get kids some deserved recognition, I’ll contribute the first puff piece. Here goes:

I love my kids more than anything and am absurdly thankful for them, particularly this year. My life would be worse, so much worse, without them. My 3-year-old is a beautiful creature who delights in making people laugh. He holds the world record for using “poop” as a punchline. It gets me every time. My 5-year-old is a sensitive, brilliant little guy who can tell you how far the earth is from the sun (93 million miles, give or take) and why zebras have stripes (to ward off flies— duh). I like to look at pictures of my sons on my phone. When I think about them I smile. And I’m not a very smile-y person! Please ignore what you see on Zoom. They are generally very good boys.

There. Why is that hard to say? It seems many of us have internalized the message that it’s at best, kind of lame, and at worst, antifeminist, to be sentimental or gushy about our brood. I certainly have. And so we’ve overcorrected. Now, even on Facebook—Facebook—a caption under a hard-earned family picture must begin with the requisite: “Real talk; everyone was crying two minutes before this, I’m exhausted, and it wasn’t nearly as idyllic as it looks.” Come on. It was probably a very nice moment. You don’t have to apologize for loving your children and saying they’re great.

Take babies. Babies are wonderful. Your own baby will be particularly wonderful to you. Their heads smell delicious. Their reputation for only pooping and crying is unfounded — they also wiggle and look around and smile. You will think — nay, know — that your own baby is a beautiful genius sent down from heaven to delight you. And toddlers! Toddlers are hilarious and interesting and fun. The wondrousness of watching toddlers learn to speak cannot be overstated. They are adorable blobs, then they can walk, then they can talk? I’m sorry to curse, as I am a mom, but it’s fucking amazing to witness. The only category I cannot vouch for is teenagers, as I don’t have one yet and am also deathly scared of them.

Tell your child-curious friends what it’s like to cuddle in bed with your kids, your limbs entwined with theirs, your nose pressed against their warm heads.

Perhaps for every few tweets about the horrors of remote schooling (and it is a horror show) we can throw in one about the smell of babies’ heads. Or a post about hearing your 2-year-old say, “I love you, Mommy,” for the first time. Or an Instagram ode to the pleasure of watching your 10-year-old discover the genius of Beverly Cleary (RIP). Tell your child-curious friends what it’s like to cuddle in bed with your kids, your limbs entwined with theirs, your nose pressed against their warm heads. (Are children’s heads the key to this campaign? Maybe!)

If you don’t want to have kids, that’s cool. It would just be a shame if someone like my colleague was pushed toward a “no” by all the current negative hype. And it’s coming from inside my own house! Gah. The truth is that having my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done. Which is why, from now on, I’m turning off my Zoom camera.