Monday, June 18, 2012

"How I Met Your Mother," redux

Tonight's episode of "How I Met Your Mother" was a rerun of one that aired last December, which I blogged about.

That episode stayed with me for a long time -- and I had actually started a second post on the subject, which eventually began growing dust bunnies in my drafts folder. I dusted it off again tonight.

I found myself noticing lots of little things I hadn't the first time around. I guess I had been sort of stunned by all the twists & turns of the plot and where it wound up going. This time, I was able to laugh a bit more -- over Robin's all-too-accurate predictions of how her friends would react if she told them she couldn't have kids = why she didn't want to tell them the truth (so true!!)... although the "pole vaulting" excuse still had me cringing.

I still think Cobie Smulders, as Robin, did an excellent job playing out the emotional struggle of knowing she really didn't want kids, but being faced with the sad finality of knowing she would never be able to have them -- something entirely different. And I still cried at the end when Ted delivered the killer line,"She was never alone." (Dh once again came over & held my hand while I dried my eyes and blew my nose, and promised that if he goes before I do, he will come back to haunt the nephews if they don't check in on me often enough, lol.)

Back in December, Starfish Kitty Dreams also posted about the show, and my comment to her read (in part):

In a way, it’s a little annoying that they had to turn her into someone who couldn’t [have kids]  — it’s like they had to give her a “better”/more acceptable reason for not having kids than that she simply didn’t want them. Because not everyone DOES have kids, for many, many reasons — and whatever those reasons are, it’s OK. (Or should be.)
Laura Scott, whose book, blog and film focus on couples who are childfree by choice, drew my attention to an article on Slate by Jessica Grose titled Child-free on TV, which mentions both the HIMYM episode and one of "Whitney" -- another childfree female character.

...neither of these characters—Robin (Cobie Smulders) on HIMYM and the titular Whitney (Whitney Cummings, also the show’s creator)—was allowed to fully embrace her desire not to have kids. Though Robin’s conflicted feelings about baby-rearing were treated in a much more enlightened way, it’s telling that on both shows, the characters who don’t want babies are women who like shooting guns and talking dirty, but who are grossed out by feelings. These shows are implicitly saying: Of course only a woman who’s not really feminine wouldn’t want to be a mom.
At the end of the show, we hear about all of the great things that Robin did accomplish with her life -- a brilliant journalism career, world traveller, bullfighter (!).  But another great point raised by commenter Lori (& several others) in response to my original post:

I think what bothers me is the thought that if you are childfree, by choice or not, somehow your life has to be more interesting, your job and achievements more than the average "mom" person who can happily live a simple life being a mom to her kids. I don't have big bull fighting plans or huge career accomplishments I plan to pat myself on the back for, I just want a simple life like everyone else, yet childfree is always have to portrayed as somehow doing more to make up for not being a mom. That's the only part that bothers me.
I actually wrote a post on this subject more than three years ago.

As someone who is trying to make lemonade out of the lemons life has handed me, I (still) struggle with the idea that I "chose" this path. Yes, in way I did, if only by default (since I didn't choose to try IVF, or donor egg, or hire a surrogate, or pursue adoption). But, as I've often said, "some choice."  :p 

I think there are many reasons why people may wind up living without children, and I wish that more people would recognize that in between the black of childfree by choice and the white of parenthood, there are many shades of grey -- which is one reason why I'm glad HIMYM addressed Robin's sadness over infertility, even if, deep down, she knew she didn't really want to be a mother. People need to recognize the emotional impact an infertility diagnosis can carry.

At the same time, I believe that however you came to live without children, you deserve to be supported. Why you don't have kids doesn't really matter in the end -- what you do with your no-kids life does. (And I'm not saying you need to do something extra-special/extraordinary to make up for the lack of children in your life, either -- just that, hopefully, you'll find some other purpose, some thing in your life that will fulfill you & give you some joy.)

And I'm thankful for role models like Robin who remind me of all the good things & advantages a childfree life has to offer. (Even if I would never, ever set foot in a bullfighting ring myself.)


  1. I agree with so many of your points:
    That it is sad that they couldn't accept a happily childfree character and not throw in infertility into the mix,
    The implication that women who don't want to have children are somehow less feminine (ie not "real women")
    That if you don't have kids, you should be doing something else interesting or more important or exciting or whatever
    That it doesn't matter how you came to live without kids, your lifestyle should be accepted and supported
    That I would also never be a bullfighter/watch bullfighting

    Great post. Ole!

  2. Well said (as usual). I still feel sheepish that it took such a tragic loss for my eyes to be open to this idea. I naively assumed that anybody who really wanted kids would have them, one way or another. And, because I have a favorite aunt who is childless (I assume by choice but have never asked her), I thought people who didn't have kids just wanted other things in life (like multiple vacations per year and a house on a golf course). It's SO much more complicated than that, and I realize now that I was buying into the idea that a life without kids meant a more exciting/thrilling/extravagant life. Definitely not the "choice" that many people are making.

  3. Thank you for this. It's so interesting to see what the media does (or doesn't do) with these ideas. One of my new favorite authors wrote a post about Robin called "How I Met Your More Awesome Friend" all about how Robin is so much more interesting and fun to watch than Ted -

    And I haven't watched Grey's Anatomy for a long time, but I gather from the blips I see on television that Cristina Yang continues to be child free by choice. Of course, she was always portrayed as a "career first" hard ass, and while she used to be my favorite character, I worry that she falls into a bit of a cliched idea of a person who would want to live child free. Also, the show seems to punish her for not wanting/having children in ways that bother me.

  4. mhmmmm, I'm thinking that having an adventurous life is some personal trait, a trait not necessarily altered by children or infertility. (And I hope one I can pass on if I ever get the chance)

    My next door neighbours were quite a 'normal' family. Mom, pop, boy (7), girl (1). And one day he sold his company, she quit the job she didn't like and they started to travel the world, not planning to come back within 7 months....

  5. I love this post. I agree that the best thing the show did was demonstrate how devastated Robin was by the diagnosis, even though she's been portrayed as someone who didn't especially want kids. The choice was gone, and Cobie Smulder's reaction to this was dead-on. I really hope she gets an Emmy nod this year. She did such a great job.

  6. So many people I have told me about this episode, but I have yet to watch it. I am not sure if I am brave enough. But, yet, I feel that it is really awesome that a major network show tackled this issue. And while I agree, it is great to see people choosing to be child free in the main stream... I think it is also awesome to show infertility. Because, I think I still think it is a bit of an elephant in a room that no one wants to address.

    But, I also do find it odd that women who can't have children have to do TONS of other exciting things. Sure, it leaves your more time and money, but that doesn't mean your life will be vastly different.

    I am most interested in this episode, because like Robin, I didn't know if I wanted children before infertility, but losing the choice is such a blow...and telling people is hard..

    Great post, as usual, by you :) So thoughtful and well written!