Annals of Dogs and Movies

Whenever parents of young children get together, inevitably the conversation turns to our childless friends. Bill and Laurence and Catherine and I fell this way last week at dinner.

I recalled how a childful couple, in a sort of low-key propaganda move before Oliver was conceived (physically or emotionally), told me that all their deliberately childless friends seemed spiritually bereft and somewhat selfish, as though the absense of a need to think of their children caused an overabundance of inward focus.

My friend Stephen says that having children is liking being admitted to a club the rules and character of which can’t possibly be understood until you join.

This isn’t to say that having children is for everyone — I’m the last person to try and woo people into this life, however wonderful it might be — but simply that once you’re “in” the “time before” seems strange and foreign.

Laurence said it seems to her that couples without children are always “talking to their dogs, and about movies.”

That about sums it up.


John Boylan's picture
John Boylan on February 14, 2004 - 17:06 Permalink

Hmmm… people with children talk about their children, people with dogs and no children talk about their dogs. It appears that people just need to have something to talk about. What an odd thought!

Sheila's picture
Sheila on February 14, 2004 - 19:41 Permalink

To assume that having no children makes one shallow is pretty shallow ……. go figure eh? Thought your site was cool but your head’s obviously narrow.

Al's picture
Al on February 14, 2004 - 20:26 Permalink

I will say this: if you find yourself talking to your dog all the time or only tlaking about (say) watching movies, then perhaps you might benefit from having a kid.

Johnny's picture
Johnny on February 15, 2004 - 01:23 Permalink

Pete: I really don’t know exactly what you’re getting at here, but it *seems* like you’re saying (or at least not diasagreeing with the statement) that childless folks are spiritually bereft, selfish, and obsessed with their dogs and movies. I don’t think this is gonna go over to well with the childless folks, especially the ones with dogs. I’m in the unique position of being somewhere in between the two worlds as a childless dog-owner who plans to have some kids very soon, and your post comes across as a bit of cheap shot at people who aren’t like you. Am I missing something?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 15, 2004 - 03:58 Permalink

Yes. You are missing something (both of you). I’m saying that once you have kids, people without kids seem like they are, by comparison spiritually bereft, selfish, and obsessed with their dogs and movies. It’s not a cheap shot, especially inasmuch as I see the pre-child me as spiritually bereft, selfish, and obsessed with dogs and movies. I’m sure that childless people have spiritually fulfilling, altruistic lives, filled with wonderful dogs, movies and other pursuits; it’s just that, from my perspective, it’s hard to imagine this being true. This is the paradox of having children: it cannot be adequately explained to those without, and all attempts to do so end up sounding like criticism or gibberish or both. In other words, this is more a comment about what life is like post-children than a perjorative statement about the childless.

Toby Rockwell's picture
Toby Rockwell on February 15, 2004 - 14:02 Permalink

There is a grain of truth in your statement Peter, but I think that to a degree you are mistaking a symtom with the cure.
I think it would be more accurate to say that until one has a focus that is beyond themselves in some important way, they are, as you say, spiritually bereft, shallow, …
Two women running an AIDS orphans school in South Africa, a volunteer at a hospice, a teacher of developmentally disabled kids, …. you get the idea.
Having children just may be the biological kick start that many of us require to enter that mindset.

Uncle steve's picture
Uncle steve on February 15, 2004 - 17:40 Permalink

I’m one of Oliver’s uncles (he doesn’t always know whcih one, but that’s part of his charm). I’m childless and dogless, and, if not spiritually bereft, perhaps somewhat spiritually challenged. I don’t know if having a child would be the answer to this, but as you say, one cannot know until one has found their way to parenthood. Becoming a parent is a long journey with several steps, which include watching movies, getting some plants (this is as far as I’ve got), maybe getting a dog, meeting a nice girl, settling down etc. You can’t know what it’s like to have a child until you have one, but you can’t have one until you’re ready. Thus there is a sort of natural built-in tension between parents and their childless friends. While I find young children themselves immensely interesting and entertaining and I enjoy spending time with them, it’s hard for me to relate to their parents sometimes. The minutae of children’s poo and pee and clothing and toys and safety devices is not an especially interesting topic of conversation for the childless. Children add so much to your life, but they also take things away. I imagine (and I can only imagine, at this point) that when you become a parent you realize the things taken away — the movies, the drinking opportunities, the time to oneself — simply aren’t as important as you once thought. The joy of being avuncular is that you can wander into this world of poo and pee and clothing and toys and safety devices for a finite time and see what it’s like, but you don’t have to settle down there just yet.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 15, 2004 - 18:15 Permalink

Well-said, Steve — better than I ever could have.

Robert  Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on February 15, 2004 - 22:40 Permalink

Maybe another perspective Peter — Children are so complex and demand so much energy that over time, most parents become more able to float though life’s turbulence with less stress than many who have had a more controlled environment at home. Not true for every one but at the back end of the process, it is my observation that well worn parents appear less self centred and seem more able to cope with having their personal needs thwarted than those adults who by say 45 have not been through the mill

oliver b's picture
oliver b on February 17, 2004 - 20:16 Permalink

Natural selection probably encourages the proliferation of people who advocate having children, but single folks have a lot more time to write books and movies and ads and speeches. So after the human species goes extinct from lack of reproduction, it may be the words of the anti-baby-makers that are most predominantly left behind. Uh, let that be a lesson.

Lulu's picture
Lulu on July 11, 2004 - 06:47 Permalink

This “children versus dogs” debate could be compared with the equally inane “Pepsi versus Coke” issue in the 80s.Like a car accident, I want to look away from this website, yet just can’t quite manage to. I’m affected by these comments on several different levels, and since I’ve got all this blank space in front of me, I’m going to share all of those levels with you lovely folks.

The childish-schoolyard-stick-out-your tongue level: As the song goes, “Been around the world to learn that only stupid people are breeding…” Now that’s just mean. Funny, but mean.

The career level: As a teacher, I am in the unique position of playing a part in a child’s development. However, as most working folks do, I HATE to bring my work home with me. ‘Nuff said.

The Maternal level: When I asked my mom if she hated the fact that she was grandchildless, she replied, “OH god, why ? Are you feeling unnessarily guilty ? I want a grand dog !” I am happy to play auntie/babysitter to my friends’ babies, and recently had a friend with a one year old turn to me at a party and say, “Tell me, what is it like to have a life ?” Oh yeah, I’m missing out on something alright !

The “fear factor” level: It’s okay to be retired and NOT have grandchildren. If someone asks, “Yes, but what will you do ?” Reply, “Whatever the hell I didn’t do while I was working, dumbass !” To have a child because you’re afraid of not being looked after in your old age and NOT because you love and want a child is many years of therapy in the making. If you want a child, have one, but not because society expects you to. I LIKE living outside the box.

The “x” level: Forget writing books, movies, ads and speeches. Single folks have a lot more time for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of hap-penis”. Tell me I’m wrong !

Okay, rant over.