Today, I decided to stop saying “congratulations” to people announcing their engagements or pregnancies. I’m not going to say it at anyone else’s wedding or shortly after the birth of any child.
It’s not because I’m not happy for people during these moments—in fact, “I’m happy for you” will be my verbatim substitute for “congratulations”—but, in a culture that overvalues marriage and having kids, this is my small act of resistance.
We emphasize the milestones of getting married and starting a family so much that some people do either, or both, almost mindlessly. “It was just the next step,” friends have said to me, shrugging, when talking about their decision to become a spouse or a parent. While I, a never-married and childless woman at age 35, don’t intend to diminish the level of effort and sacrifice required to sustain a marriage or nurture a family, I also don’t see how and why we should continue to prioritize these life transitions over others.
Families are an important piece of any community’s foundation; certainly, we should support people who choose to create families, either through marriage, raising children, or both. However, to regard the creation of a family as more important or impressive than any other meaningful transition diminishes the significance of alternative paths.
“Why don’t we have ‘starting-over’ celebrations?” a friend asked me once during a conversation about baby showers and sprinkles. She was referring to the number of long-distance moves she has made and the logistical (and financial) support that would have been of considerable benefit to her during those times—but our culture isn’t inclined to automatically support someone during those times the way we are when planning for a wedding or a new child.
Over the years, I’ve attended countless engagement parties, bachelorette parties, and bridal and baby showers, though not as many as I’ve been invited to. This incessant celebration of marriage and motherhood sends the message that if I’m not experiencing these milestones, I’m failing as an adult, and especially as a woman.
While I have recently come to see that my worth as a human has nothing to do with my relationship status or number of offspring, it concerns me how quick we are to tout these characteristics over others. So, when my marrying and parenting friends and acquaintances share news of their upcoming changes, I will sincerely wish them well. I will express my happiness for them and offer my support.
I just won’t applaud them for it.