“Too crazy to parent”

“I couldn’t subject kids to my craziness.”

“I’m not sane enough to be a parent.”

“I’m doing the world a favor by not passing on these crazy genes.”

All these and more are phrases I’ve heard — excuses from the childless, defenses from the childfree.

The very last thing I want to do is attack those who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to have children. So many women — though far from all — are pressured to reproduce, or at the least (as though adoption is a consolation prize, a mimicry of “real” parenting) become mothers in some way. I support without reservation the choice to remain childless/free, and consider it my duty and honor to protect and defend all the reproductive choices of women, and to counter the misogyny of external pressure to procreate.

But I am a crazy mom. And the child of a crazy parent. And when I hear these excuses — when no excuse should be needed for what is a respectful and deserves to be respected choice — it gives me pause. I squirm. I do not speak out, because the last thing a woman-under-attack needs to hear is how her defenses against unacceptable insinuations hurt me — but hurt me they do. And I remember.

A disclaimer: in defense of the childfree

I am the last to argue that parenting is universally good for one’s mental health. I entered the experience armed with terrible-truth telling tomes like Mother Shock, Operating Instructions, Inconsolable, and though I was filled with an irrational ache, an indescribable emptiness that itself adversely affected my instability, and would trade it for no other life path, neither would I do readers the disfavor of lying that it has not, in measurable ways, challenged and, yes, harmed me. From uncontrollable hormonal waves to sleep deprivation to insanity-inducing sensations, to triggery toddlers and more-triggery preschoolers: parenting has not been easy or kind to my mental wellness. I fault no one for hearing these honest, if one sided, truths and deciding to say “no thank you” and book another cruise to Cuba. This isn’t about attempting to persuade anyone to parent if they lack the wholly irrational drive on their own.

But it is about what else is said when, hearing of diarrhea diapers and untameable tantrums, one announces “I’m too crazy to parent.” Because meaning to or not — and it mostly isn’t — it says parents aren’t supposed to be crazy. It says children are better off without crazy parents. It says my life, on both ends, is wrong.

Unattainably high ideals for parents, unacceptably low ideas of craziness

Whenever I write posts like this, someone says it isn’t about me, and I’m being too sensitive, and I take words too seriously. And it’s true, to some extent: I don’t believe anyone who says these things to me is intending to speak about anyone other than themselves, and their truths. I am not trying to (as though I could!) ban anyone from using phrase “too crazy to parent” referring to themselves. I don’t think these words are spoken of oneself out of malice for others, nor do I wish to silence the stories of those who have desired children, weighed the possibilities, and decided the risk to themselves and their health was too great. Because that is the truth of many, and deserves respect and recognition no less than any other honesty.

But for many others, it seems not a deep-thought truth, but a talisman waved to ward off “and when can we expect pitter-patters in your halls, hmm?” I do not blame the inclination to reach for whatever will shut those over-nosy voices up, but I protest when what reached for harms me.

Harm me it does, twice over, for the idea of “too crazy to parent”, outside of a deeply reflective context, is based on impossibly, unattainably high ideals for parents, and on insulting, unacceptably low ideas of craziness. When spoken of oneself, it may be either an honest assessment of ability, or internalized ableism (or some inseparable tangle of both). From here, outside the speaker’s heart, I cannot know which it is, and so I do not disagree; but I hear it so frequently from those who I know consider themselves more stable than I (or no less so) that I know not all instances can be free of this internalization.

Parents are not perfect. Parents are not meant to be perfect; I consider it inevitable, nigh on my duty, that in some way I fuck up my child — just like every other parent. Us crazies certainly don’t have a monopoly on fucking up our offspring; indeed, I dare you to find me one parent, anywhere, anywhen, who has not burdened or blessed their child with some form of awkward, hindersome baggage. Craziness, uncontrolled, might affect the quality or degree of mess we make of our kids, but in the fact of its existence makes us different not at all.

All parents fuck up our kids in some way, to some degree, but some fuck them over. Some fuck them — unfortunately not merely metaphorically. Some people — people I love — were abused, abandoned, neglected, never allowed the abundant love and adequate parenting that was their birthright. Some people are parents in name only, and need to be disallowed from damaging their children any further. I do not pretend that these things are not true. I do not wish to silence those whose parent(s), crazy or broken or both, were very much not a blessing or gift or growth opportunity. Sometimes “crazy” and “abusive” go hand in hand.

But they are not synonymous.

Not crazy, not sane, but… self aware?

My dad is not neurotypical — there are many diagnoses he’s been slapped with over the years, and suspicions of others abound, but I find an appropriate approximation of his challenges is communicated with the combination “bipolar” and “Asperger” — and his craziness has wound around the deepest parts of my psyche, choked off some growths, clouded some areas, heaped manure on some ground. He fucked me up, unquestionably, inescapably.

And yet — I was also gifted tools to cope, skills to survive, and (paradoxically with my pathetically low self esteem) an absolute arrogance that I deserve to exist. As I am. As fucked up as I am. As broken as I have been made. I, understandably I’d say, bristle when however unintentionally someone supports the meme that crazy (fat, different, indebted) people shouldn’t parent — that I should be other than I am. Whatever burdens were placed on me by the parenting I received (and they are numerous, and heavy, and uncomfortable to carry), I was also taught how to be strong; to ask for help when needed; to take a rest when needed; that those that love me would share my load — and though they are lessons I will spend my life repeating, striving always to get right, I am better off for having the introduction early on in my life. Rather than lessons taught in spite of the craziness I was exposed to (that was inflicted upon me, at times), they were wound up together, one growing in response to the other. It was not the crazy per se that granted me these lessons, but awareness of what the crazy — as well as not-crazy human failings — could do, and would do, that allowed them to be given me.

I do not have the name for what this quality is, but it is what matters far more than crazy or sane, neurotypical or not, patient or prone to agitation. It seems some form of self-awareness, some ability to reflect on the whys and wherefores of one’s failings, some meta-parenting that makes up for many imperfect micro-parenting moments. (Which is not to encourage overthinking this whole ridiculous enterprise-called-parenting either — as I said, I don’t have the words, and that always leaves me flailing, circling around in oft vain attempts to flank and flush out the exact idea I am attempt to pin down so I can communicate it.) Whatever it is, it allows one to recognize and acknowledge the fuck-ups and then teach (or at least search for) ways to cope with them.

What frustrates me perhaps most of all is that this nameless quality seems so very closely related to the awareness that leads people to state they are “too crazy to parent”. Rightly or wrongly, it makes me want to shake the speaker and say “You’re wrong! You could be exactly the type of parent the world needs more of! You know your challenges, and you know enough to take steps to compensate for them! I want you by my side! I want you raising my children’s peers!”

I won’t, of course — no one needs more outside opinions on their reproductive choices. But if you say to me “I could never have kids — I’m too crazy to parent!”, and you see me cringe, this is why: this frustrating mix of hurt and anger, of thwarted desire and repressed opinion, of raised brow and bitten tongue. I’m not going to tell you not to say it. But I will ask you to think about what you really mean when you do.

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8 Responses to “Too crazy to parent”

  1. love love love love. you are my (imperfect, pedestal-free) hero. <3

  2. I’ve heard this kind of thing spoken in the context of people saying something terrible about children and how awful they are – or yes, spouting fables of impossible-to-attain parental “control” of children – … then they give themselves an “out” by saying they’re “crazy” or “too neurotic” to understand kids anyway. So at least there are some who use this phraseology as an excuse to not-much examine how children work, what’s best for children, how children (anyone’s and everyone’s) are being treated.

    I, understandably I’d say, bristle when however unintentionally someone supports the meme that crazy (fat, different, indebted) people shouldn’t parent — that I should be other than I am.

    Yes. I’m sorry you’re being erased or vilified… and I’m sad our definition of who gets to parent is some kind of asymptotic approach to Perfection – I agree: fat, different, indebted, “poor”, elite, “trashy”, too-many-kids, too-few-kids – they all get slammed when they need to be supported.

    My friend (who doesn’t have kids) once said on my blog – “When it comes to parents, support more, speculate less.”

  3. Just curious- how do you feel about people who say parenting is too crazy for them? When you mention “diarrhea diapers”
    and crazy, my first thought is “I’m not crazy enough to do that” (not “I’m too crazy for that”).

  4. I hear a lot of reasons from a lot of people to not have children. I think two things about this:

    (1) No one should need an excuse to not have children, and it’s sort of sad that women feel that they do.
    (2) The excuses are generally bogus.

    If you don’t want to have kids, it’s no skin off my teeth. It’s a highly personal decision. But the reality is that no parent is some kind of gifted, perfect creation. We all mess up, we all figure it out as we go along, we all have our issues. And these excuses often serve to imply either that we shouldn’t be, or that somehow childbearing should be reserved for a select few.

    Childbearing is the province of those who choose to have children (and are able to make it happen). And that’s pretty much the beginning, middle and end of the story.

  5. No one should have to defend their decision to not have children.

    Reasons (which are very, VERY different from excuses) such as “I’m too crazy for children” are typically a sign that the childfree person in question is sick and tired of being harangued about their decision and thus searching for an effective “shut up and go away now” conversation-ender.

  6. I was one who said I was too damaged and unbalanced to have children, then my brother had a child and somehow hope and desire blossomed. Four years later my husband and I had a baby. I am in therapy, have been for years, will be forever. When things are bad I feel like I am a horrible parent and my daughter would be better off an orphan, but I keep getting help, and I keep realizing that the love and care I give her, and that she gets from her father, and our family, far outstrips what I received as a child and once again I feel hope for the future.

  7. I agree. I have a non-neurotypical mom and while she did a lot of things “wrong” raising me, she did a lot of other things right. She is, in fact, a good mom who is also an alcoholic, depressed and/or bipolar and was a teen mother when she gave birth to me. Yes, she is a difficult mother – just like at times my children are difficult. But I’m sick of feeling apologetic to the world at large for her parenting and my existence – I feel like I’m expected to love her less, respect her less, and be lessened by the experience of being her daughter. And you know what? That’s complete bullshit.

    My other pet peeve that I will add to yours – people who say that so-and-so “shouldn’t have had children” because of the way they behave or parent, when usually the offense in question is so trivial like being a working mom, not breastfeeding, taking their kids to McDOnalds sometimes, letting them watch tv, etc. etc. I am SO sick of hearing “well, if they were just going to let the tv raise their kids they shouldn’t have had any”. WTF? First of all, letting your kids watch tv is NOT the same as somehow letting the tv “raise” them. Secondly – excuse me? Those children don’t have a right to exist because their parents make different choices than you do? Or than your parents did? Or than you think parents should (especially aggravating coming from childless people). Or because their failures, mistakes or even simple weaknesses as parents are different than yours? So they don’t deserve to be parents, and their children are worthless, don’t deserve to exist? What kind of freakin’ society do we live in?? I agree with your friend – parents should be supported more and judged less.

  8. I think this is my first comment on your blog, although I’ve followed it for a while.

    I can’t have kids, but I’ve said for a very long time that even if I could, I wouldn’t, because I’m so afraid of doing to them what my father did to me. ‘Crazy’ and ‘abusive’ did go hand in hand during my childhood, and I’ve struggled with my own mental health issues. I can see in myself the ability to be like my father and it scares me. I can’t bear the thought that if I had a child (or sometimes, was even NEAR a child) and I lost control, I could cause such harm.

    But there’s no way I could possibly explain that to random people who ask when I’m going to have kids. So I usually just rely on ‘Never, I can’t,’ and they usually stop asking at that point (and then you get the unwanted pity, bleh).

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