Tuesday, September 25, 2007

American Self-Determinism?

As an American, one of the ideals I hold most dear is the idea that I can be whatever I want to be - this ideal of self-determinism is as American as apple pie. We have all been indoctrinated from birth that we live in a great country where we can aspire to be anything - even the President of the United States - if we truly apply ourselves and give it everything we have. We are taught that America is the "land of opportunity", that people flock here from around the globe for the chance to live a prosperous life of their choosing. I may be growing weary and cynical with age, but I generally still believe this to be true and am grateful to live in a country where I can determine my own path in life. A woman like me wouldn't fare too well in Afghanistan.

Yes, American self-determinism is alive and well. There is one big caveat, however, for Americans who also happen to be women. You can be anything you want to be - a doctor, lawyer, executive, President or Indian Chief - as long as you are also a mother. This is where American self-determinism hits a wall. While it's true that one can certainly choose not to be a mother (take me, for instance), this lifestyle choice is not supported, sanctioned, encouraged or in most cases tolerated in our country. How many childfree-by-choice role models did I have growing up? None. How many tax breaks do I get as a childfree person? None. How many television shows or films feature lead characters who are childfree by choice? Can't think of any. How many politicians running for office are childfree by choice? I can't think of any. Do you think a childfree-by-choice person could be elected President? Doubt it.

Being a childfree-by-choice woman in this culture gets about the same reaction as announcing you are an atheist or a househusband. Everyone agrees in freedom of religion, but most people wouldn't elect an atheist as President. Most people agree that men should contribute to the care of a home, but would have a pretty low opinion of a man who stayed at home and cooked and cleaned while his wife brought home the bacon.

This is American self-determinism in a nutshell: you can be whatever you want to be as long as you select from the list of pre-approved gender-appropriate aspirations. And if you are woman, motherhood is aspiration number one.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Empty Spot

I was talking yesterday with a pregnant co-worker who I like very much. Although she's pregnant, she is totally sympathetic to the cause of childfree people and completely respects our lifestyle choice. We were talking about having (or not having) kids and she was telling me that up until recently, she wasn't sure she wanted to have kids. She was always ambivalent about it at best.

She admitted that her decision to have a child came completely out of fear of regret. She added, "and I came to realize that it wouldn't be enough for it to be just me and my husband - there would always be an empty spot".

Ah, the mythical "empty spot". It's been around forever - this fuzzy, romantic notion that a cute and cuddly baby will bring unity and completeness to a marriage. I have never understood this. I know lots of people with kids and from what I have seen, rather than fill an empty spot, children create a void between the husband and wife. Two people who were once close now become ships passing in the night when children enter the relationship. Time that was once devoted to each other is now diverted to a new, dependent and demanding third party. I cannot imagine having a marriage that I felt was so lacking that a third party must be brought in to save it from its deficiency.

A Random Thought

Parenting is often said to be "the most important job in the world" - bringing people into the world and raising them in a way that they become positive contributors to society. At first this seems to make sense - the world will become a better place for all these well-raised, positive contributors. But if each successive generation's primary focus in life - their energy, their time, their money, their effort - is dedicated to bringing new people into the world who will be raised in a way to contribute positively to it (and on and on and on like mirrors into infinity), who is doing the actual contributing?

I'll tell you who. The people who choose to do something with their lives other than have children.

The Joy of Other Peoples' Kids

I spend a lot of time blowing off steam in this blog - justified complaining in reaction to an oppressive child-centric society. Complaining becomes tiresome after awhile, even to myself. Sometimes I feel like Archie Bunker spewing hatred out like a catharting toxic waste dump.

Today, though, I would like to impart some sunshine into this blog and talk about something positive concerning children - the joy of other peoples' kids (or as my husband says, "OPKs"). It's a topic that is brushed over in most discussions of the childfree lifestyle, but I think it's one that really deserves some focused attention.

One of the numerous joys of being a childfree person is that I can have all the happiness and fun of children without the burdens of them. I have been accutely aware of the fact that I seem to have more fun with children and derive more happiness from them then their own parents do.

Let's take my family as an example. One of my brothers has 3 children who my husband and I just adore - two girls and a boy, all under the age of 5. When we see those kids, we are just filled with joy (and they are too). They love us and we love them. We feel excited to see them and we can tell they are excited to see us too. We engross ourselves in playing with them and my husband spends our entire time with them in doing whatever he can to make them laugh and entertain them - even if this means throwing himself into walls or onto the floor. We marvel at how unique and different they are, and how they each have their little quirks and how deep and intense the love is that we feel for each of them. Every month or two we will take one of the kids for an overnight stay at our house on the weekend and I delight in thinking up fun things to do with them. We usually take them each to a special place that we think they will enjoy, like the zoo, amusement park or other places, and it's really fun to see them so happy and to see things through their eyes. We love doing crafts with them and I am excited to know that as they grow older we can share our interests with them...maybe I will teach them to cook or share my love of photography, or my hubby will teach them to play drums (they're already clammoring to get behind the drum kit each time they come over) or impart his special sense of humor onto them. We can't wait to take them camping with us and share our love of nature and animals with them. Maybe through our influence one or more of them will eventually become vegetarians - you never know.

Our time with those kids is 100% joy. Okay, maybe 90% joy and 10% exhaustion (they do tend to wear us out). The point of this is, we don't have children and we are not missing anything. Through our nieces and nephew we get all the "kid fix" we need - all the joys of loving them, seeing them grow and change, influencing them, doing fun things with them and feeling enriched by their presence in our lives. We have the best part of parenthood without the burden or responsibility.

When I see my brother and his wife with the kids, my impression is that they are just worn down. Most of the time they don't seem joyful with the kids. They love them to death - no doubt about that - but the truth is - they mostly just look tired and jaded. The kids will do things that completely bust hubby and me up and I turn to look at my brother and his wife to see their reaction, expecting them to be laughing too, and they are just staring straight ahead or just barely smirking or rolling their eyes. They've seen it all 10,000 times already and it's not special anymore. They are tired. We think it's funny when the kids are dancing and singing, dropping their pants to make us laugh and karate chopping us. We squeel, "how CUUUUUUTE!!!!" and it takes every ounce of control for me not to kiss them to death and my brother and sister-and-law (you can just read it in their faces) are annoyed that we are riling them up.

Their house is noise, mess and chaos 16 hours a day - all the hours the kids are awake. They are struggling to maintain order, to get the kids fed, the get them bathed, to deal with their temper tantrums, mood swings and illnesses, to provide for them. So it's no wonder they are jaded and tired.

Hubby and me have all the joy, fun and fulfilment we could ever want from children in only a few hours a month. The rest of the month we enjoy the other numerous aspects of our lives - our marriage, our interests, our friends, our careers, our cats, our trips, our quiet home.

If you like kids, being childfree doesn't mean you will have no kids in your life. It just means you can have the good parts and none of the bad.

More on the Stork

This animated short is just fantastic. I think it really captures the true nature of the stork.

The Stork Spot

Have you seen the new crop of parking spaces popping up in commercial parking lots across America? It's the Stork Spot - premium parking spaces for pregnant women and women with small children that are right up front next to the handicapped parking spots.

When I first saw these, I did a double-take. I had no idea pregnant women and women with small children were disabled and required special parking - I thought they were just burdened and inconvenienced by their own lifestyle choice. After all, if they were truly disabled, they could just apply for handicapped parking spots, right?

This got me thinking a little, and the more I thought about it, the more outraged I became. How is it fair that only one segment of the inconvenienced population is accommodated with premium parking? I have decided that if pregnant women and women with small children are considered so inconvenienced that they get coddled and catered to with premium parking, then it's only fair that other people who are inconvenienced also have premium parking spaces. Here are some of my ideas:

The Musclehead Parking Spot: Premium parking spots for fitness buffs who, despite their doctor's warnings against strength training every day, overdo it with 5 straight days of iron-pumping and are suffering with resulting muscle soreness.

The PMS Parking Spot: Who deserves premium parking more than crabby, cramping, bloated women whose tampons are leaking and who need to get to the restroom pronto?

The Ball-N-Chain Shopping Companion Parking Spot: Premium parking for women who insist on dragging their complaining ball-and-chain husbands shopping with them, even though their husbands hate shopping, protest, drag their feet and complain the whole time they are in the store.

The Multi-Cat Household Premium Parking Spot: If you have more than one cat, you know that pushing those 40-lb. boxes of cat litter around in the shopping cart is like competing in the Strong Man Competition. Regular parking spots in the back of the lot just will not do!

The Horny Teen Premium Parking Spot: For teens whose raging libidos require the most expedient access to the birth control aisle.

And while we're at it, I have been feeling particularly inconvenienced and burdened lately by our monthly mortgage and property tax payment. It's really putting a financial strain on us. Since we have no use for stork parking, I wonder if I could petition the generous commercial outlets that offer these parking spots to subsidize our mortgage payments instead? Being that they are so interested in easing the burdens of their customers' lifestyle choices, it seems only reasonable that they should offer us some kind of accommodation too.

In all seriousness, the Stork Spots are just not cool and when I come upon a stork spot, I zip right into it like Daisy Duke and I have no guilt whatsoever. You'll never catch me parking in a handicapped spot and I have the utmost compassion for people who are genuinely disabled. Pregnant women are NOT disabled, they are not handicapped, and if their pregnancies or small children are THAT difficult to manage that they cannot walk a few extra parking spaces, they should just stay at home with the kids and send hubby to the store, or apply for a handicapped parking permit like legitimate handicapped people. Furthermore, since stork spaces are not legal and cannot be enforced, what's the point? I'll tell you what the point is. These businesses know who butters their bread and it's FAMILIES - big SUV-driving, mass-consuming FAMILIES who spend $800 a month on groceries and $1,000 a month on plastic crap at Walmart. And those businesses just LOVE to look like the nice guys - sweet gentlemen providing parking spots for all the lovely, fragile, overburdened mommies.


Another One Bites the Dust

I am feeling really sad about something and I thought I would share it with you. I didn't want to admit this to myself but I have finally come to the realization that I have lost one of my closest friends to childrearing.

It's not a loss in the way you might think. Yes, it's true that we spend less time together because it's harder for her to break away from the family. Our phone calls are fewer and farther between than in her pre-child days, but I expected that would happen. We don't do those long walks and talks in the park like we used to do. We can't meet up after work for dinner at a moment's notice. Actually, we can't meet up for dinner straight from work at all because there's too much to be taken care of before she can even consider a dinner out. First she's got to pick her son up from daycare, then she's got to take him home and cook dinner for him and her husband. Then she has to wait for hubby to get home so there's someone to watch her son and then - finally - at around 7:30 at night - she's finally free and we get an hour or two together.

But when we're together, we're not really together, and that's what's making me so sad. I am in mourning for the death of my friend's attention span.

In the old days, we had a true give-and-take relationship, and it was something I really treasured - the kind of friendship that is so rare - where each person shows sincere mutual interest in the other person - their ups and downs, their worries and concerns, their angers, joys and triumphs, the smallest details of their lives. It is something I have never taken for granted because I have met so few people who truly are interested in the other person. Most people are just living, walking blogs whose only desire is to have an audience to talk at.

This friend was the exception to the rule.

And now? The birth of my friend's son ushered in a complete change in her mental state. As can be expected, speaking with her on the phone now is an exercise in pointlessness with her 4 year old son continually interrupting, squeeling and demanding things. But the thing that is really upsetting me is that even when it's just the two of us - hanging out and spending what is supposed to be quality one-on-one time together, her attention span is nowhere to be found. In the old days, we could confide in each other and we'd each be rapt at attention, absorbing every word and offering each other support, advice and consolation. Now, I have to keep my stories short because I can tell within 30 seconds that her mind has wandered away. There is a glaze that comes over her eyes and then they start darting - she's not listening to me. Not only do her eyes give her away, but so do her responses - I get a lot of "yeah?", "hmmm...", "uh huh", and I can tell she hasn't heard a single word I've said. I am tempted to say something like, "I have been having suicidal thoughts lately" as a test to see if she's really paying attention.

Sadly, I have come to accept that my friend's brain has been completely rewired by childrearing and her attention span has sadly been wiped away. And when she does have the attention to have a conversation that is more than 2 minutes in length, you can guess what the conversation is about. Huggies anyone?

The final nail in the coffin is that she just had her second child and because of the costs of having two kids in daycare and the fact that she'd have to spend almost her entire salary to pay for it, she is now opting to be a stay-at-home-mom. So now, not only is her attention span gone, but there is no longer the array of topics to talk about. Her entire life is childrearing and nothing else. We can't gossip and vent about work anymore (well, I can, but what's the point since she isn't listening to me?). We can't talk about current events because the only media outlets she is exposed to now are populated by purple dinosaurs and other equally-annoying characters. No, her only interest is her kids and she can't even fake an interest in our friendship anymore.

Another one bites the dust.

Childfree Couples on Good Morning America

An Honest Parent

It's so refreshing to speak with a parent who is honest about the downside of childrearing.

Yesterday I was making casual conversation with our new receptionist at work. She works full time during the day at another company and evenings at our office doing the receptionist job. I had recently mentioned to her that a full-time position was opening up that she may want to consider in lieu of her other full-time job (which she had complained about). After some discussion, she declined pursuing the position further because the salary was lower than her other job, and since she is a single mother, she just can't afford to take the pay cut.

She said she just got her son's tuition bill (for Catholic school) and started complaining about the non-stop expenses involved with having a kid. I told her that's one of the many reasons hubby and me decided not to have kids to which she replied, "oh, I HATE kids". At first I laughed, thinking she was being funny, but she said, "no, I mean it. I hate them." "So is this something you knew before you had your son, or after?" I asked. "No, after. Before I had him, I liked kids. But once I had one and saw everything involved in it, I changed my mind." She added that while she loves her son "Nobody ever tells you all the negative stuff involved in having kids, like how strapped you will be and how you give your whole life up. They just talk about all the good stuff." "Yeah", I said, "I've always suspected it was some kind of conspiracy." "It definitely is", she said.

So this makes a total of 4 people (parents) I know who have said that having kids sucks. Three of these 4 people have told me if they could go back in time, knowing what they know now and start over again, they wouldn't have kids.

I should add that all of these people LOVE their own kids and aren't speaking of any ill feelings towards their children, or wishing they didn't have their specific kids. They are speaking more in general terms about having kids. None of them would give up their own children now after having them, but given the chance to go back in time, before ever having their specific kids, they wouldn't do it again.

The Allure of Ordinary

Have you ever noticed that to most people being ordinary is extremely appealing? To the masses there is nothing more satisfying then not being special. Being, looking, acting and living just like everyone else so that you are not noticed is the way to go. Being one-in-a-million and blending in seamlessly is the highest aspiration and ultimate accomplishment in life for most people. I have never for the life of me been able to understand this.

There are so many examples of this. For example, every year, I am simply amazed at the stuff women will wear simply because it's "in" this year. A couple years ago ponchos came back into style. Just as I was finally overcoming my PTSD from all the hideous stuff I wore as a kid, suddenly, it was 1972 again and the streets were all aflurry with billows of crochet-enrobed women - one a clone of the next. It was horrifying. Last year, it was flip-flops. Suddenly, they became the staple office shoe of every urban office professional. The streets were jam-packed with elbow-to-elbow, plastic flip-flopping women, tripping over each other as they marched their cloned asses down the street. Now, I have nothing against flip-flops per se - in fact, I own some and wear them to the beach, around the yard and to other places in the summer where they are perfectly appropriate. But I am sorry - plastic flip flops look absolutely ridiculous on women in a business setting and there's nobody that can convince me otherwise. I don't care how "in" they are.

And then, there are the women who wear "in" clothes despite the fact that they look horrendous in them. Case in point - the "muffin top" look - you know, those hip-hugger jeans that women wear several sizes too small so that their rolls of stomach flab hang over the waistband. Not to be Joan Rivers or the fashion police, but don't these women have mirrors? Don't they realize how ridiculous they look? Oh, that's right - it doesn't matter because they are in style and look just like everyone else. Mission accomplished.

Even the goth kids who are supposed to be the non-conformist "shock-everyone-out-of-their-senses" people are conformists when you get right down to it. They have their uniform too - the black painted lips, hair and fingernails, the white vampire skin, the black clothes and Doc Martens and dog collars. They think they are radical, but really they are no more radical than the poncho wearing, flip-flopping, muffin topped clones. If they really wanted to be non-conformists, they would each dress differently in shocking clothes - maybe one could dress in a clown costume while another wears a paper bag over his head like the Unknown Comic. Now that would be radical.

At this point you are probably thinking, this is all very entertaining but what does this have to do with the childfree issue? Well, I'll tell you. I would like to make a point that is seldom made, but needs to be.

Childbearing is so ordinary.

Everyone does it, almost everyone can do it and frankly, it's no accomplishment. I point this out because it is drummed into our heads from day one (especially women's heads) that the biggest accomplishment in life is having children. In fact, whereas fatherhood describes a man, motherhood defines a woman. A woman gets pregnant and the world stops breathing for a collective second - people act as though the seas have parted. Showers are planned, gifts are bought, the baby pops out and people lose their fucking minds. Why? Because two people screwed and it took? Can somebody please tell me what the accomplishment is in that?

If you think about it, it's really a much bigger accomplishment to NOT reproduce. It's the road less taken. It takes care and caution. It takes deep consideration. It takes a willingness to think independently and not blindly accept every dictate that is spoon fed to you. It takes daring and courage to face the questions, the pressures, the perplexed, concerned looks and to remain steadfastly commited to your decision. It takes guts to devote your life to pursuing endeavors that take real effort, dedication, intelligence and skill. Most of all, it takes thought. It's true - there are actually people who think about reproduction and realize that for human beings, it is a choice, not a given, no matter how much the opposite message is rammed down their throats.

Sadly, despite the myriad of endless and exciting options life presents us, most people will choose to be ordinary and forsake most of those options to have children. And who can blame them, really? After all, it's so easy and they get lots of positive reinforcement for it. Want to have attention and adoration heaped immediately upon you? Want lots of gifts? Want to have an instant bond with your parents, your friends, your family and 95% of the rest of the adult population? Want to get tax breaks and extra time off from work? Want lots of praise, support and validation and a hearty pat on the back? Want to be told you're beautiful and radiant 10 times a day? Get pregnant. It's a hell of a lot of fun going for it and once you're there, all the other ordinary people will gather around you and make your ordinary act seem like an amazing accomplishment.

Who's Missing Out?

When you see people with kids, do you perceive them as living rich, fulfilling lives, or do you see them as missing out?

We're taught to believe that when we see a couple with children, we should think, "Wow! They have it all!" It's pounded into our heads from day one that in order to live a rich and fulfilling life, it is essential to have children. That's what makes life rich and fulfilling, right? And those who do not have children are missing out. Oh, but wait - back up a second. There are actually five steps to obtaining said rich and fulfilling life, according to the brainwashing we are under from the day we are born:

1. Find Mr./Ms. Right.
2. Get married.
3. Buy a house.
4. Have a child.
5. Have more children.

Voila - instant happiness and fulfilment!

What we are never taught, however, is that every choice we make in life (including having children) results in the sacrifice of other choices. No matter what we choose, we will be "missing out" on the things we didn't choose. Although the Five-Step Road to Happiness laid out for us from birth is promoted as the "have it all" lifestyle, the fact is that when we choose that path, we do so at the expense of other options that might have led us to a richer, happier and more fulfilling life.

You will never hear this out of the mouths of most people. Why? Because most people are part of the hookwinked community that buys into the Surefire-Five-Step-Road-to-Happiness conspiracy. Even when they are plodding through life, dragging their ball-and-chain children behind them, cursing and yelling, broke and exhausted, overwhelmed by responsibiliy and worry and having sacrificed all other pursuits in life, they will still laud the Five-Step-Road for the "blissfully happy" lives they lead, all the while crossing their fingers behind their backs, hoping you believe them.

Well, here's the real scoop and I am not going to bullshit you. People with children are missing out.

Don't believe me? Let's compare the lives of childfree people with childed people and see who is missing out on what.


Having children
Having grandchildren


Large amounts of quality time with hubby/wife/significant other
A marriage that isn't buckling under the strain of the responsibilities of children
A full night's sleep
A financially comfortable life
Adult friendships that don't revolve around children
Adult conversations that don't revolve around children
Meaningingful relationships with friends and family members (i.e. quality time for them)
Dedicated pursuit of hobbies, interests and higher education
Uninterrupted career path
Devotion of adequate time to exercise and fitness
Energy and romantic inclination for a satisfying sex life
Diet and meals tailored to adult tastes
An attention span
A sharp, focused mind
Being informed and present in the world
Spontaneous travel, any time of the year
The money to travel at all
Use of vacation days for vacations (instead of for caring for sick kids)
Volunteerism and community activism
Peace and quiet
A taut body, unmarred by the havocs of childbearing
A neat and clean home
Sleeping in late when desired
Taking a "down day" when desired
A life of few worries (compared to the lives of those with kids)
A comfortable retirement (no children's college educations, weddings, etc. to wipe you out financially)

So the next time somebody tries to pressure you into having children by telling you that you would be "missing something" if you don't, just remember all the things you will be missing if you do!

In other words, think before you choose. You might choose differently.

Who Hates Kids?

I am sure there are people out there who hate kids. I am not one of them. After reading the venting I do on here about our culture's obsession with children, you may be surprised to learn that I like kids! I genuinely do. I have two nieces and two nephews that I just adore with all my heart and look forward to my times with them - I hug and kiss them to death and give them the silliest little nicknames. I even like our friends' kids and grandkids. I've always been a natural with kids. When I was in my early 20's I worked in a day care center for a few years and I was the star teacher. I was the one who was crawling on the floor playing Big Bad Wolf with the kids and acting like a lunatic. I am still that way for the most part, although crawling on the floor isn't quite as appealing to me now that I'm in my 40s.

So why an essay about kid hating? Well, I want to dispel a big myth about childfree people. The myth is that childfree people are kid-haters. The truth? Most of us like kids. Sure, there are some kid-haters out there who find children repulsive and call them all kinds of meanspirited names like "sprogs" and "crotch dumplings" (I have to admit that one gives me a chuckle), but not all of us feel this way. In fact, I would venture to say the childfree people who hate kids are the minority. Most of us like kids alright - we just don't want the burdensome lifestyle that comes along with having them.

The interesting thing about kid-hating is that the most vehement hatred of children I have ever witnessed has been from parents themselves toward their own children! It never fails to shock and horrify me when I am riding the subway on my way to work, or waiting in line at the bank, and I witness episodes of seething hatred bordering on violence toward children - from parent to child. The hatred is so powerful, it freezes me in my tracks.

I have witnessed parents jerking their children and slamming them into their seats while threatening them with physical violence. I have heard parents call their children names that make me cringe in pain for the child (especially when I look into the child's eyes and see their pain). I have witnessed mothers dragging their kids down the street by their shirt collars and talking to them like dogs. But it's the seething hatred that eminates from some of these people that is simply stupifying. I look into their eyes and I just see hatred, pure and simple. It truly scares me.

Now I can already hear the voices of protest. "It's not hatred! Those mothers are just stressed out. They love their kids! You're misreading them!" or "You cannot judge a person until you've walked in her shoes!" (meaning the stress of parenting drives people to be this way). Well, whatever their reasons for behaving the way they do toward their children, it is simply not acceptable, PERIOD. I have days where I am pushed over the edge by people, but as much as I might like to smash their heads in, I have to control my base instincts and restrain myself.

It makes me want to go up to these mothers and ask, "Can I ask you a question? Why the fuck do you have kids???????!??!!!!!????" (Sorry for the profanity, but that is honestly what I want to say). "If you hate kids so much, WHY DID YOU HAVE THEM? Why do these poor children have to suffer because you are too lazy to use birth control or because you can't think for yourself long enough to ask yourself, 'am I cut out to be a parent?' "

It really upsets me. And when I see the hatred - the shoving, the cursing, the demeaning - and the resulting pain and sadness in the child's eyes - I just don't know what to do. Should I say something? What should I say? Will it do any good or will I just get my ass kicked? Should I call DYFS? Most of the time, the behavior is borderline violent, not breaking-the-law violent, but the long-term psychological damage that is being inflicted on these poor kids is clear as day.

And the kicker is - all this shoving, yelling and demeaning accomplishes NOTHING except to make the situation worse. The kids who are shoved, yelled at and demeaned act WORSE then if they were talked to calmly and treated respectfully, but firmly. The entire energy of a family is set by the parents. If the parents are angry, hateful, screaming and treating others in a demeaning way, so will the kids. And the cycle continues for generations.

I guess the thing that saddens me the most is the sheer stupidity of the human race. How much intelligence does it take to figure out that treating your kids like crap isn't good for them? Is it so hard to put two-and-two together to realize that just because you were treated like crap by your parents doesn't mean that's the way to go with your own kids? Do you REALLY believe your own words when you say, "well, my parents beat MY ass when I was a kid and I turned out fine?" Look me straight in the eye and say it. And just how many brain neurons need to fire before you can figure out how to strap a condom on?

No, the hatred of children doesn't come from me, and it doesn't come from most of the childfree people I know. But yes, there is hatred coming from this childfree person and it is aimed squarely at the people who have no business being parents.

The "S" Word

Okay, I admit it. It really irritates me when childfree folks are labeled selfish. That word gets under my skin like nothing else. It's worse than being called clueless, confused, misguided or foolish (yeah, we childfree get those labels too). But selfish - now there's a word that has a sting to it.

The idea that childfree people are selfish apparently stems from the fact that we choose to live our own lives as opposed to spending all our time taking care of children. But this is faulty on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin.

Let's start by defining the word "selfish". The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines the term as follows:

self·ish /ˈsɛlfɪʃ/ –adjective 1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

Does this describe childfree people? Well, it certainly doesn't describe me and I don't think it describes any of the other childfree people I have met either. Speaking for myself, I have many roles in life - I am a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a colleague, and the companion of three housecats. In none of these roles am I centered on myself or focused only with my own interests at the expense of others. In fact, I pride myself in being a person that can be relied upon to be a good listener, a helper and a caring, devoted, reliable friend, companion and family member.

Most of the childfree people I have met also have multiple roles in life in which they invest so much of themselves in caring relationships. The idea that we are selfish simply because we choose not to undertake one specific form of caring relationship - the parent relationship - is simply ridiculous. One doesn't need children to be a caring and giving person, and being childfree does not a selfish person make.

Equally irritating is the secondary message that is expressed when somebody says "childfree people are selfish" - the underlying message being that people who parent are not selfish. Granted, people who parent are spending a lot of themselves taking care of others and sacrificing their time, energy and money for the wellbeing of other people. Nobody's disputing that. But not so fast. There is plenty of selfishness going on in this land of Oz, so let's take a peek and get a look at that man behind the curtain.

Selfish Motives for Having Children

People have children for all kinds of reasons and let's just be frank - many of the reasons are outright selfish.

"I want to experience the joy of being a parent."
"I want to have someone to take care of me in old age."
"I want to re-live childhood again and I can do that through my child."
"I want to see what a mixture of my spouse and me will look like."
"I want to carry on the family name."
"I want to be really needed and loved by somebody."
"I want the attention, esteem and community acceptance that comes with being a parent."
"I want to be a role model to somebody who will look up to me."
"I want to feel like I have a purpose in life."

The Truly Selfless Parent

People who have children think of themselves as selfless, but if you really give it some thought, what is so selfless about creating a new life, bringing it into an already overpopulated world and then taking care of what you've created? Want to be a selfless parent? Adopt an orphan. This is far more selfless than bringing more lives into the world when there are already scores of homeless children who need parents.

Conversly, there is nothing selfish in choosing not to have hypothetical children. The choice to be childfree negatively impacts no one, nor does it further contribute to overpopulation. In fact, because the childfree are not bogged down with the responsibilities of childrearing, many of them are able to spend time contributing to their communities through volunteer work and other civic activities. Some of this selfless work even involves helping children.

The fact is that we all - childfree and childed alike - have the same goal of living the lives that make us the happiest. For childfree people, that means being free to spend quality time with our spouses, friends and family, travel, pursue educational opportunities, civic activities and other interests, without being burdened with the unending responsibilities of parenthood. For parents, that means investing their energy, time, money and effort in the rearing of children and reaping the rewards of being good parents.

If wanting to live the life that makes one the happiest is selfish, then I guess we're all guilty. But it's time to expand our idea of what selfishness is and isn't and cut the childfree folks some slack.

The Domestic Aesthetic

Hubby and I are really satisfied with ourselves right now. We just completed a grueling one month stint of fixing up the second floor of our home. Let me start by saying that we are very fortunate to live in a very lovely home - it's a classic 1928 center hall colonial that looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting - you can almost smell hot apple pie just looking at it. It certainly is a lovely abode and we counted our lucky stars when it came up for sale just at the time we were house-hunting. When we purchased the house three years ago, however, we realized it was lucky for us that we have x-ray vision and were able to look through the ghastly decor used by the previous owners to see the beautiful potential just underneath the many layers of hideous paint. The previous owners made some color and decor choices that could only have been made under the heavy influence of alcohol or narcotics (or more likely, both). There is no way a sane person in her right mind (with even a shred of taste) would paint a bedroom bright fuscia, carpet it with turquoise wall-to-wall carpeting and finish it off with lacy granny curtains!

Anyway, we completely remodeled the upstairs and honestly, it looks like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. Last night, I was lying in our new bedroom, breathing in the intoxicating scent of fresh paint and floor stain and feeling oh-so-satisfied with myself (and with that darling husband of mine). I was running my hand over the luxurious new bedspread and feeling like I was in the Four Seasons Hotel when I got to thinking about my friends and family with children. I pictured their chaotic disaster-area homes and I thought to myself, "there's no way a couple with children could ever have a bedroom like this". I looked at the beautiful bedspread and imagined it ruined with a big grape juice stain smack dab in the middle. And those carefully-chosen brown lamps? Forget about it! They'd last a day and then would be smashed to smithereens on the hardwood floors. On second thought, forget hardwood floors. You'd have to have wall-to-wall carpeting to protect their dirty little feet from splinters.

Oh and let's not forget the kindercrap. You know what I am talking about. Wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling plastic CRAP everywhere you look. This photo is a pretty good representation of what most rooms in the homes of American families look like:

And what do I have to say to that?


Some might say it's good for a home to look lived in. And maybe some people think kindercrap imparts a certain desirable, lived-in coziness to a home. Well, to each his own because I'd much rather be sleeping in a tranquil, soothing oasis than tripping over crateloads of plastic junk at every turn and fighting the unwinnable battle of me-versus-the-kindercrap.

To us, there is nothing better than coming home from work, tossing open the door and after being warmly greeted by our adorable furrbabies, being enveloped in the quiet embrace of our home...no noise, no screaming, no chaos, no mess (well...usually), no jarring plastic junk - just peace and quiet and the background music of chirping birds through the windows. A place to dream, to relax, to unwind, to escape the craziness and uncertainty of the outside world. A place that looks the way we want it to look. A place where we can slip into our pajamas straight in the door and eat cereal for dinner without feeling guilty. A place where we can lounge on that pretty red reading chaise and actually read in peace until sleep takes us over and we are off to slumberland.

Ah, delightful!

Now if you happen to be one of those people who sincerely believes that one does not have to be childfree to redecorate your home into a beautiful oasis, I challenge you to give it a try. Just keep your eyes on that paint can or you may end up with this!

Motherhood Demystified

I was listening to the Today Show this morning as I was getting ready for work and I overheard the hosts talking about a new study on American families that found that the unhappiest member of the family is the mom.

This is news?

The mothers of the world (well, most of them anyway) would like everyone to believe that motherhood is the most fulfilling, rewarding and blissfully happy role a woman can have. Don't believe it. Mothers everywhere shout this from the highest rooftops at every opportunity, and yet, when I look around at the moms I know, most of them don't look all that happy to me. They look tired, stressed out, aggravated, broke, worn out and used up. In one breath, they complain about having no time for themselves and in the next breath they are muttering the "motherhood is wonderful" mantra while staring through me with that glassy Stepford Wives' stare.

Here's a funny story that just shows the lengths some women will go to delude themselves and everyone else that motherhood is so fabulous. About 3 years ago my brother and his girlfriend, K, were having dinner at our house. K has a grown 19 year old son from a previous relationship. During our dinner, K went into a 20 minute tirade - spouting off non-stop about her horrible son - how disrespectful he is, how he has chosen to live with his father instead of her, how she can't stand him anymore, how he backtalks her and badmouths her, and on and on and on. I thought her tirade would never end. I never heard a mother complain so bitterly about her child (except maybe on the Dr. Phil show).

After 20 minutes of non-stop railing, she finally paused to take a breath. She turned to me and quizzically asked, "so ... you don't want to have any children?" I choked back laughter. "Nope", I replied. And then in the most indignant tone, as if I must be completely out of my mind, she exclaimed, "WHY NOT!!!!?????"

Excuse me?

"Why NOT? You just spent 20 minutes complaining bitterly about how much you can't stand your son and how miserable he has made your life, and you are asking me why not?"

"Oh...well yeah.....", she stammered, "but he's grown. It's different with babies...they're so cute when they are little".

Okay, so there's a good reason to have a child...because babies are cute.

I honestly think people crave parenthood because they want a cute, cuddly little pet and they selectively block out the fact that their cute, cuddly baby will only be in that state temporarily. Unlike many people who are blinded with baby fever, I am fully aware that babies quickly turn into kids, who quickly turn into teens, who quickly turn into grownups. The cute, cuddly baby phase only lasts a year or two. They are not like cats or dogs who stay cute and babylike forever.

Now, granted, while some kids are monsters like K's son, many kids are not, so I am not meaning to imply that babies are cute and nice, but grown kids aren't. I am sharing this story because I think it's interesting that the women who shout the loudest that motherhood is the epitomy of joy, happiness and fulfilment, are the same women who also are the most miserable in the role of motherhood. So what gives?

I suspect these women are trying to convince themselves that motherhood is great because after succumbing to the pressures of our pronatalist culture and buying into the motherhood mystique lock, stock and barrell, they now have their doubts - and those doubts are difficult to face because parenthood is one of the only choices in life that one cannot take back. One thing I know for sure though, is that it is a rare woman who will admit that motherhood isn't all it's cracked up to be. I have actually heard the truth uttered from a couple parents' mouths (one, surprisingly, a woman), but most will just tow the party line about the fabulousness of it and hope you don't notice the black circles under their eyes.

The Inner Child

I have always had a sneaking suspicion that one of the primary driving forces which compels people to have children is the desire to escape the doldrums of adulthood and relive childhood - you know, go to the amusement park and ride all the crazy rides, play ball, host a pajama party. Sadly (and always surprisingly to me) most adults are not able or willing to do these things without children. It's as though there is this unspoken rule that (you name the activity) is for kids, or people accompanying kids, but not for solo grownups. It's almost as though having children will provide these adults with the adequate excuse they need to have fun and release their inner child. It never occurs to them that if they like amusement parks, playing ball, having pajama parties or generally just letting loose and being a kid again, that they can still do those things as adults (they're just as much fun!) and really don't need a child in tow (and all the responsibility that comes with them) to give them an excuse. I can personally attest that riding that big wooden rollercoaster is just as much fun in my grownup days (and without a child chaparone) as it was when I was a kid.

I've held this suspicion for years, although none of my childed friends or family actually admitted outright to their desire to live vicariously through another human being until recently. A couple months ago a friend (whose girlfriend was pregnant with their first child) admitted to it outright. We were reminiscing about our favorite Jersey haunt, Wildwood (known for its honkey tonk boardwalk teeming with rides, arcades, pizza joints and t-shirt stores) and all the fun times we had had there over the years, and my friend said, "see, that's why I want to have a kid. Wildwood just isn't the same to me now and I want to relive the excitement of it again."

And people call the childfree folks selfish.

My friend's statement brought up a couple of feelings in me. First, I felt really sad - for him and for all the grownups who can no longer find pleasure and magic in the simple things in life. I can only imagine the extent of this despair - that it would compel a person to undertake a lifetime of monumental sacrifice and responsibility - having a child - just to get the magic back.

It also made me feel puzzled and confused. I admit that I have difficulty understanding why and how people become adults and then - as if some switch was flipped - immediately lose their sense of adventure, fun, mystery and magic. Maybe it's not immediate - maybe it's a slow erosion that happens little by little, year by year. Okay, I admit that it's not completely hard for me to wrap my mind around it. After all, I am an adult too and have my moments of wondering where the mystery and magic went. Despite this, though, I can gratefully say yes, I still have fun, am still filled with a sense of adventure and I still can tap into my inner child. And no - I don't need a kid in tow in order to accomplish this.

Today, hubby and me are going to Wildwood (this is what got me thinking about my friend's comment) and I can already envision what the day will be like - first we'll sit on the beach and enjoy the sunshine - maybe splash in the ocean if it's not too cold - walk the boardwalk and maybe even ride some rides (hopefully my favorite roller coaster in the world - pictured). I know that just as always - the second we step onto that boardwalk I will be 10 years old again. I'll be dodging those cackling, vulturous seagulls as I eat all that wonderful artery-clogging junk of which I am so fond (ice cream, pizza, Curley's Fries, fudge) and just as it was when I was a kid - I won't worry about it. I will giggle at all the tacky and offensive t-shirts hanging outside the ramshackle stores and as always, I will wonder 'who actually wears those things?'. I will gleefully play a round of skee-ball and just as when I was a kid, be disappointed by the junky prizes I can buy with my tickets. I will excitedly ride the tram car from one end of the boardwalk to the other - as my senses are completely overloaded with all the color, noise, lights, smells and chaos.

At the end of the day, we will drive home with tired feet, bellies full of grease and sugar, and the same satisfying feeling we had as kids - that everything worth doing in life and experiencing was all experienced today.