Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Choice or "Childless"

A friend of mine posted a link to a piece on Babble called The Problem with Married Couples who Choose to Have No Kids on her facebook wall.  The person who wrote it sounds angry.  He sounds bitter.  Maybe he is dissatisfied with his choices.  My friend has chosen, with her partner, to not have children and was hoping that the sentiments expressed in the piece were not rampant among other "breeders".  I am curious if the author's sentiments are shared by a large group of parents or not.

His self-described rant was a reaction to the article from February in Newsweek entitled Where Have all the Babies Gone? Why the Choice to be Childless is Bad for America.  This article describes a country in which values are changing, marriage rates and birth rates are declining, leaving American in a "postfamilial" state.  The authors point out how marketing, housing, social services, and governement programs are changing in response to this.  The author posits that we are even in danger because the ratio of those dependent on working Americans is growing while Americans are "failing" to reproduce themselves in adequate numbers.

I first began thinking about this in 2002 while watching Sex in the City reruns.  Carrie is shamed by a friend (with children) for not having a "real life" and for spending so much money on herself.  Later, the ladies sit around a table in a (fabulous) restaurant discussing the places that children should not be seen.I was young(er) in 2002 and it had rarely occured to me that people would choose to not have children.  Sure, some people were not able to - but on purpose?  That struck me as odd.


What I have been learning since then by reading some of Stephanie Coontz and Andrew Cherlin's work is that the nature of family is changing.  Women took control of their reproduction and began spending more time out of the house at the same time that children, for the most part, became unnecessary for the economic stability of the household.  Rather than adding to resources, children in middle class and upper class families are now being "cultivated" and becoming more of a drain on resources (Lareau, 2002).

 Only decades ago the "American Dream" was to get married, have kids, and live in the suburbs.  However, as young adults move farther away from their families of origin and find themselves having kids, they are doubly isolated.  There is a reason for the saying, "It takes a village."  The cultural story of "everyone has kids, you should too, that will make you happy" is still dominant but it is fading.  The fade is palpable and the current rise of the ideology that "choosing to be without children is so free and wonderful" makes people with children feel defensive.  

Calling people without children "selfish" appears to be a defense mechanism, and possibly even jealousy.  Children used to be inevitable, now they are an investment.  This is not an investment that everyone wants to make because it is hard work, every day.  And while we see celebrities swathed in white cotton thorough misty lenses blissfully breathing the angel breath of their newborns...they are also surrounded by a cadre of paid help.

Not everyone likes gardening or Indian food.  I happen to like both.  I can't stand golf.  Those are choices that people are expected to make; we will excel at some things and not others.  Yet, we're all expected to want to be parents and to be good at it.  You know, some people are amazing, super-star, how-do-they-do-it parents.  Some people are good enough, and according to developmental psychologist Donald Winnicott, all you need to be is "good enough" (okay, there's more to it, do some research!).  

If you want to have a baby because you love the warmth of that weight in your arms, the smell of a tiny warm head, the way your heart jumps into your throat when they smile at you, the way you get pure joy from their successes and you plunge with them when they are defeated - do it.  If you want to have a baby so that you can play in the sunshine, be pushed to try new things, and remember why you loved being a child - oh my gosh, we all need you to be a parent.  

But if someone tells you that you need to have a baby because retirees need your children to pay for them, or because your only child needs a sibling, or because you are selfish...well, I call bullshit.  And how could it possibly benefit children to have parents who don't want the job?  The only reason you "need" to have a child is because you can't imagine your life without one.  Obviously, I'm one of those people, but I have plenty of friends who aren't.  They make pretty cool aunties and uncles to my little man. 

I know we don't have many readers, but I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.



  1. Sometimes I think people spend too much trying to decide what is best for others and imposing thier values on others.

    Have a kid!...or not, it really doesn't affect me either way! Just like it would not affect me if you wanted to marry a woman Daisy! The fact that there is public dicourse on who someone can marry is ludicrous, just as someone who feels they can tell you that you NEED to have a baby for the greater good. We all have a set of values by which we live by and I can tell you that I strictly impose these values and ideas on... MYSELF. Parenting is by for the most challeging and emotionally draining job I have ever had- not for the faint of heart, and there are some days I wonder why I signed on! But of course, the joy far outweighs the trying moments. In defense of those who do not have children , there is just no way on earth to know what it feels like to have kids... until you have them. There is no way to undertstand this experience vicariously and you cannot appreciate it until you have been there.

  2. I had a child because I always wanted to be a parent. I also, wanted to leave a piece of me when i died. Kinda like continue the family name or history. I always saw myself with children. I guess I am old fashion when I think that college, marriage, kids are the "correct" order. I don't think that it is for everybody and if they choose not to then good for them.

  3. I have believed for many years that parenting is a genuine vocation, and not everyone has that call or the necessary skills. The economy will survive on however many people exist to perpetuate it; have children if you deeply desire to, and are willing to do everything necessary for that child's well-being. Anything less is unworthy of the child.