Four big things not to say to childfree people (or, okay, me) this holiday season

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Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

arents, in everyday life, often think childfree people have it easy. “You’re ‘tired’? You don’t know what ‘tired’ is,” they’ll say, for example.

The holidays are no different.

This season, especially, with COVID and elections and fraudulent fraud, we all have our unique challenges, many of which come with living the lives we’ve chosen.

I know we the childfree have ours, just as parents do.

In fact, and this may be surprising to some, parents actually have it a lot easier than we do, so it can make us feel unseen or misunderstood when they make assumptions about how “easy” and “carefree” our lives are compared to theirs.

With that in mind, here’s a helpful list of things for parents not to say to childfree people this tumultuous 2020 holiday season:


“My kid wants the new phone, the new game, and the new shoes. I’ll meet you for coffee in June. Not because of COVID, but because I’ll be broke until then. I wish I could be you and only have one person to buy for.”

I’m not entirely unsympathetic, but you parents don’t know how good you have it during gift-giving season.

You might wipe out your vacation savings on little Sammy’s gifts, but everyone knows it’s the thought that counts.

And your kid is giving you the thoughts.

Do you know how much you save in emotional labor? You can even get away with mindlessly and guiltlessly buying your partner something like clown socks or a tin of Dansk butter cookies, nicely wrapped, because, “Well, we have this kid.”

Imagine, instead, spending hours upon hours mining the internet for something perfect and meaningful and Just Right for your “Oh, you know I don’t really need or want anything” husband until the drunken scrolling finally ends with a victorious, “Whatever! I’ll just get him this.”

Hardly a gift opening goes by in a (well, my) childfree household without a good amount of drinking and wincing. You, my friend, are the lucky one.

“Even with social distancing, we want to do something special this year, so we’re renting a cabin. It’s a four-hour drive. With kids. You are so lucky it’s just you two in a car on any long trip.”

I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of commercials that have kids in them, so I know a thing or two about how they travel.

Cars these days have screens on the backs of the headrests that can keep kids quiet for days with TV shows and movies.

Children also have their own phones, their own tablets, their own little hand-held gaming systems, and probably drugs — nutmeg, cinnamon, Tide pods…whatever the spice trend is right now.

And when they do talk, they ask cute and insightful questions. Like, “Do you think pine trees feel superior because their leaves stay through winter?”

But when, like me, you’re on a road trip for a seafood lunch with your husband, who can’t watch TV while driving and who asks the exact same question, it’s like, “Seriously? You’re how old, and you don’t know — Look, the deciduous trees get everyone’s love and admiration once a year when they explode in their brilliant autumnal glory, and then they get completely new clothes every spring. Obviously, the pine trees are envious. Moron.”

“I see my partner all the time. Like, all the time. All day long, because COVID. And now, a holiday that we’d finally figured out routine-wise has us locked in Stepford smiles while I’m being very reasonable, I think, about why someone demanding to see her very special grandchild in person (because ‘Zoom isn’t real!’) should absolutely quarantine before flying in from her COVID quagmire, and why it is not at all rude to ask her to eat in the basement. It’s not like it’s unfinished.”

There’s something parents don’t appreciate about having a child as part of their relationship:

The child is part of the relationship. A critically convenient part.

Do you know how fortunate you are that you get to talk about COVID in-law grandparents, “How much, again?” you’re spending on little Sammy’s presents, and, probably, whether one of you should snoop through the closet with the Stay Out note on it and what that look little Sammy gave you was supposed to mean (Kevin? Is little Sammy a Kevin?)?

It means you and your partner can go weeks, decades, and holiday after holiday without looking way, way too closely at each other.

You never have to analyze every silly or devastating thing your partner said, didn’t say, should have said, shouldn’t have said, or was imagined to have said (or thought, also thought).

Instead, you can turn your attention to little Sammy’s holiday gifts/birthday gifts/achievement gifts/homework/dinner/lunch/snacks/breakfast/no more pop tarts, I mean it/laundry/school/car/used car, for sure, right?/no teenager needs a brand new car unless they buy it themselves/good we agree/college/yeah, or trade school/fine, good/mental health/emotional health/music choices/bedroom posters/that one, absolutely not, agree?/it’s not that bad/the part is showing/it’s all biology/it’s coming down/passions/book choices/egad, Catcher?/future/present/past (“Did we do it right?”).

You aren’t, say, just for example, going at it for hours and tossing your ice water on someone many tangents into an argument that started over the “untrusting” double-checking of the heat under a pot of cranberries, which one of us insisted was just LOOKING and it didn’t mean anything oh my gahhhd.

“You’re lucky to have so much time to yourself. Little Sammy had just gone back to school, but then, ta-daaa! COVID spike. And now we have the stupid holidays, so not even online learning to give us space. I never get alone time.”

Sorry, but from where I sit in my spacious, cozy, above-attic office that would, if I had kids, be their playroom, I have to say again that you don’t know how good you have it.

One time, a friend and his two little kids came to stay with my husband and me. Wherever I went, I could either hear or see a child saying or doing something. It was a literal and metaphysical cacophony — until the late hour, when everyone went to bed.

Everyone but me.

I stayed up for a few minutes in the dark living room more aware in that moment than I had ever been in my life of the value of quiet. Solitude. It felt earned, you know? Man, it was incredible.

You, with your family chaos and near-constant companionship of one kind or another, get to experience that glorious silence at least once a day. For me, it’s like…it’s like having Christmas 24-7, I guess. It loses that sparkle of novelty when it becomes routine.

“Whatever. Thanks to birthing kids, now I pee a little when I sneeze.”

At least you have an excuse.

Kristen Tsetsi is the author of The Age of the Child. “This is a book that gets under your skin in more ways than one. I keep mentally coming back to certain scenes when I let my mind wander.” — Amazon Reader Review

She is also 1/3 of the podcast and web series Childfree Girls.

Written by

Author, THE AGE OF THE CHILD & others. Former adjunct prof & journo. Co-host, ChildfreeGirls series:

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