Friday, July 30, 2010

Men, Childfreedom and the Myth of Growing Up

Hi Everyone

Today we have a guest poster: my hubby. Enjoy!

Hi everyone, here's a quiz from me, 'Firecracker Hubby':

What do these very successful and envied (albeit some only previously) men have in common, despite having very different backgrounds?

Mel Gibson
Michael Jackson
Kurt Cobain
Mick Jagger
Mike Tyson
Tiger Woods

..Give up? Two things: They all had children - AND NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE.

Of course, this is a subjective statement; even with all the media coverage they and their families receive, one can't presume to know everything about them. But most average men inherently understand that they must work to put their children and wives above everything else, right?

Why do we believe, generation after generation, that, especially if you're male, the two things that will (despite millenniums of contrary evidence) force you to unconditionally "grow up" are marriage - and CHILDREN? Let's examine why this holds no empiric logic:

We've often discussed the misuse of the word "selfish" in descriptions of the childfree by parents. And selfishness is almost universally linked to immaturity: all children are born narcissists, and it's mainly the responsibility of parents to teach them the value of cooperation, compromise, and the give-and-take of healthy relationships. Men in western society are considered more "selfish" (i.e. 'immature') than women, because they supposedly aren't born with the additional nurturing, self-sacrificing instincts that come with the ability to grow and 'produce' life inside their bodies. This belief, of course, is bolstered by unending gender stereotypes and the assumption that an excess of intense emotional bonding is a fatal weakness if you own a penis. So, as a man becomes "mature", he is expected to relinquish the 'childlike self-indulgence' of impulse or adventure for a tradition of providing, sacrifice, and the subsuming of his youthful lifestyle for one of a 'grown man'. many guys do you all know who are just ENDLESSLY THRILLED, FULFILLED AND ENGAGED with this new life?!

Now, to be fair, some ARE unquestionably happy with it, and some just too timid (or intimidated by their significant others) to allow themselves to picture anything else. But think for a moment about all the fathers you've ever known, seen, or heard of: what percentage of them would you say seem to continually treat their children like the most imperative objects and endlessly rewarding subjects of their lives, despite the fact that they chose to MAKE THEM their lives? Here we are in the 21st century, where masculinity has been largely redefined, women have been elevated to opportunities and status only dreamed about just 50 years ago, and in most cases, both parents are required to work at equally taxing and time-consuming jobs to support a decent standard of living. Yet, how many men do you know who, without ever being asked upon waking up or arriving home from work, step in to help with changing diapers, nurturing and comforting, taking charge of shopping, doctor visits, day care arrangements, transportation to and from activities, homework and school staff interactions, instilling appreciation for creativity and critical thinking, or preparing meals? Now, if dad's the sole provider, one could argue that he gets a pass (and that's NOT because I think his job's necessarily harder). But that's rarely the case these days. So what's the real issue with the inequity? My theory: men who have kids can, to their parents, peers, and society, APPEAR to have grown up, but in most cases, they really haven't!!

Think about it: if procreating is THAT important, why would we often be so nonchalant and unengaged with it? Is it because it's mainly the 'woman's job'? Like almost everything else in your adult life, having (or keeping) children was your choice. But if you guys were that unengaged at your chosen professional jobs, you'd be sacked before your first lunch break. If you were that uninvolved with the football playoffs at the altar of the big screen TV, you'd be looked at as a weirdo at best, "gay" at worst. If you played drums in a hard rock band, spent money on golf outings, or were a regular at a poker game, and were as noncommittal with those pursuits as you often are with your progeny, you'd quickly be shunned like Ted Nugent at a PETA rally. And although the above activities are not inherently harmful to yourself or others, society (and likely your wife or fiance) drills into you that, once you reach a certain age range and number of kids, it's time to "settle down" and put 'juvenile' pursuits like this on a back burner, or on hold. Why? It's obvious - they're SELFISH! So all your instincts to exercise the myriad freedoms and enrichments that come with living in a vast, multicultural democracy, and having some spending money to indulge them, are suddenly wrong. And just because your honey has a "biological clock" (a myth, incidentally; but that's another post) and you have a good job, now you must subjugate all your interests and hobbies that DON'T relate directly to family, and consider abandoning them completely, in many cases. Not surprisingly, most guys can't and won't do this. Men are taught from birth that their masculinity and identity are tied largely to their force of will, self-determination, and brave (or reckless) disregard for consequences. It's against our instincts to allow so 'feminine' a pursuit as child-rearing to cramp our style..we're the HUNTERS..THE WARRIORS..THE DUDES!! ("What's that, dear? All right, all right..can't it wait until halftime?!")

So, as it ever has been, the 'civilized' guys who've chosen to breed live vicariously through men like the ones mentioned above, unless they find out firsthand what their heroes' impulses and misdeeds have REALLY brought them. Or they live in a constant struggle with their partners, kids, and themselves to reconcile fitting in with society, and truly realizing who they are or could be, and if the price of 'being grown up' was worth it. Many will divorce because of this, others will simply live in ( and cause ) misery and resentment.

And almost all will continue, despite any exclusion of their families, to seek refuge in the all-too-brief and usually harmless 'childish' pursuits that once brought joy and which now, having been diluted or abbreviated by new responsibilities, often hold no more appeal than mere ritual, commiseration, and the chance to 'get out of the house'.

For the female readers, if you think this whole rant has been a bit sexist in it's stereotyping - everything I've written really applies to you, too. The most important thing about childfreedom is universal, and applies to anything in life: If you ever make ANY irreversible decision, you must NEVER, EVER make it with the influence of family, friends, peers, your religion, your society or even a partner who claims to love you. Because any moment you aren't yourself is a moment you inch closer to being nobody, and if your identity is that easily molded, it's never coming back - or didn't exist to begin with.

You're free to decide if any and all parts of your life are worthwhile and noble enough to make you a self-sacrificing hero or as simple as the pleasure of loud rock and roll at midnight, a football game with high-fives and beer, or sitting alone on a boat for hours waiting for a fish. Character is not, and never has been, dependent upon making babies and the mindless desire to act 'age-appropriate'. The fact that we still cling to this belief is evidence of the power of conformity, religion, and the media.

Almost all men associate their heroes with some kind of fight for self-determination. Guys, here's your chance to be your own hero. If you choose kids, I wish you the best; really good parents are a vanishing breed of hero themselves. But choose wisely. Your precious identity is yours alone, and you only get one real one in this life. Deciding for yourself - what's more adult than THAT?!

Or - you could just pull the old; "I had to give that up. I'll just watch my KID do it."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

BBC Radio Show About Childfree Women

Listen here

Thank you to reader Natasha who sent me the link.

I haven't had a chance to listen to the show yet, but will comment when I have. Please post your coments here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Tired Path

Back when I was writing my masters project (which is about childfreedom and pronatalism, in case you haven't read it), I remember in the early stages of formulating my thesis (i.e. floundering around), my advisor suggested that perhaps I should focus my paper on the reasons women choose to be childfree. He felt this would make a compelling paper. I immediately bristled. That slant just seemed so tired. It seems whenever the childfree lifestyle is discussed (even in books about childfreedom), the focus is on our reasons. Not to suggest that our reasons aren't interesting or important. They are. Hell, in 15 minutes I made a list up of 100 reasons not to have kids and that list has circled around the internets multiple times by now - a lot of my readership is thanks to that list.

Here's what I do find interesting: why people have kids. How society brainwashes people into having kids. How, despite all the negative ramifications of childrearing on peoples' lives, most people still fall for this brainwashing scam hook, line and sinker. How - with bloodshot, black-rimmed eyes (averting our gaze, as Wanda Sykes points out), a drained bank account, stress levels through the roof, a marriage reduced to a shell of its former self, few remaining hobbies, interests, quality relationships, or career, parents can keep a straight face while chanting the mantra "it's so worth it". How millions upon millions of people can look around them and objectively observe the lives of people with kids and still want that lifestyle. How our consumerist society lures people into parenthood with images and messages that go beyond reasonableness in making parenthood not just appealing - but uber-glamorous and sexy. How people can be hoodwinked into a scam that leads them to believe that by giving up 90% of their life for 20 or more years, their life will become more fulfilled, more happy and enriched. How it never occurs to people that having kids is a choice and one can choose to just say no.

THIS is what fascinates me and this is where I would like to see more discussion and energy focused on the subject of childfreedom.

For once, I would like to be asked (instead of "what are your reasons?") "How has being a childfree person benefitted your life?", "What about the parental lifestyle are you happy to avoid?", "What observations have you made about the lifestyles of people with kids?", "How does your marriage/relationship compare to your peers with children?", "Do you feel there are any false stereotypes promoted about the childfree?", "What messages do society and the media send to people about parenthood and childrearing?", "What losses and/or regrets have parents shared with you that are a result of their lifestyle?", "What advantages do you think you will have as you age into retirement?"

What got me thinking about this was the upcoming BBC radio show. I was looking at the BBCs page and thought their promo was a bit telling. Note the questions they put out to the childfree in preparation for the show:

"Are you child free by choice? How did you come to that decision? If you are now in your 50s and 60s, how do you look back to that decision? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have had your own children and grandchildren?"

(obviously trying to get at the regret issue)

To the parents they ask one simple question:

"Do you have one? What difference has it made to your life?"

(obviously implying a positive difference)

Notice they do not ask parents what their reasons were for having kids (of course, most people don't give it enough thought to have reasons, but in any case...) Notice they don't ask the parents if they are in their 50s or 60s, how they now look back on their decision to have kids. Notice they do not ask the parents if they ever wonder what it would have been like to live a childfree life into maturity. Notice that while they are interested in what difference children have made in a parents' life, they do not express and interest in knowing what difference being free of children has made in our lives.

With the media, always there is the undertone of:

parental choice = abundance, gain and gratitude for a life well lived.

childfree choice = lack, loss, uncertainty and regret.

I'm glad the BBC is going to do the show. I just hope that somehow they can steer it away from the same old, tired path.

BBC Radio Spotlights Childfree Women

For those of you who are listeners of BBC Radio, they will be dedicating an entire hour to the issue of women who choose to be childfree on July 28th.

For more information, click here. There is a link for sharing your story or volunteering to call in to the show.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

They're so WORTH IT

Thanks to reader (and Facebook friend) Michelle for sending me this. So funny! (and true)
Wanda Sykes - Kids Are Worth It
Futurama New EpisodesIt's Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaRussell Simmons Stand-Up Comedy

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dear Childfreedom...

Dear Readers,

Today I wanted to share an email I received from one of my readers (who gave her permission for me to publish it anonymously).

I sent her a reply (which I will post here as a comment) but thought it would be helpful to her to hear what you have to say as well.

If you have words of wisdom for this reader, please post a comment.

"Hi, I recently discovered your blog and I love it. Very well written posts. I agree with so much! I'm 27 and my husband is 24 and he has never wanted kids and very adamately still doesn't and says he most likely never will (he doesn't like the resposibility, thinks the world is already overpopulated and has a family history of bipolar and skitzophrenia and doesn't want to pass it on). I knew this when we got married and I didn't think I wanted them either so it wasn't a problem. I also have depression and ocd and anxiety and I know my child would probably get it too, especially when combined with his genes. So I was fine with it. Then all of my friends started having babies and started making me feel like I was missing something. I'm an only child, so is my husband.. so I have a small family and not many close friends at the moment either and sometimes worry about the future and not having any kids around to keep me company and/or take care of me. I know those are selfish and stupid reasons to have kids though, because there are plenty of old people who end up alone even though they had children. I agree so much with all the logical reasons not to have kids and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. I've never even been a motherly person at all, never wanted to hold other's babies the way all the other little girls did when I was growing up. But my question is, how do I get over these feelings that I'm "missing something"? Have you ever experienced that at all? I think its really all created by other people around me and not really coming from myself..I love the lifestyle my husband and I have right now, we can travel, sleep as much as we want, cook grown-up dishes, have time for hobbies, etc. I wouldn't really want all that to change when it comes down to it. But how can I deal with other people rubbing their kids in my face and always talking about how "wonderful" being a parent is? What made me decide to write you today was when I got on facebook one of my old friends who is currently pregnant was saying how she's always had depression and anxiety and now that she's pregnant its really coming out and she needed to get on some medication for it.. and then one of her friends (who I don't know) said: (in part) "I have a very long history of depression, anxiety, and OCD, but since I have had both of my daughters, if you can believe it, I have it all under control, w/o medication or counseling. I guess they make me so happy and make my life feel so fulfilled, plus I am too busy to have problems lol!". Of course this made me feel bad because like I said, I have deppression and ocd as well and it seems like now for some people all of that can be fixed by having a baby. I know its not true though! I just need some reassurance! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!! Sorry this is so long and thanks so much if you could get through reading it all!

Keep up the great work on the blog!"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friend Me on Facebook!

Hey Everyone,

I am now on Facebook as "Firecracker Mandy", so if you'd like to connect with me, please send me a friend request!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

NPR Discusses the Article

Thank you to Childfreedom reader, "M" for bringing it to my attention that NPR did a feature on the New York Magazine article I wrote about in my last post, "Why Parents Hate Parenting". In this discussion on "Tell Me More", a group of moms, including the author of the New York Magazine article, discuss their take on the research which shows that parents are less happy than non-parents.

Not surprisingly, the moms put a positive spin on parenthood, even going as far as to say we should all be grateful to parents for creating the surgeons and government leaders of the future. Everyone bow down now.

Wouldn't it have been nice if they had included some childfree folks in the discussion?

Listen here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why Parents Hate Parenting

New York Magazine currently has an article you may be interested in reading entitled: All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting. The article is long and well worth reading, but if you want a quick summary, here you go:

1. Most people assume that having kids will make them happier, but most research shows that parents are less happy than non-parents.

2. The more kids a person has, the less happy he becomes.

3. The aforementioned research upsets people who want to cling to the fantasy that having kids is necessary for happiness and fulfillment.

4. Children negatively impact a marriage - more arguments (mostly about the kids), more stress, less time together as a couple, fewer interesting conversations.

5. Theories abound as to why parents are less happy than non-parents:
  • people are delusional and bad predictors of what will make them happy.

  • the experience of parenthood has changed - kids are no longer economic contributors/assets to a family. They are "projects to be perfected" that require intensive work.

  • people have more choices now and experience more loss when they undertake the sacrifices involved in having kids.

  • people try to apply the same logic they have used in their well-developed professional lives to the unwieldy task of childrearing. Frustration and disappointment ensue.

  • The U.S. does not provide adequate social/welfare programs for parents (for example childcare)

  • our culture promotes the idea of the "perfect parent" and nobody can live up to this ideal.

Of course, no critical article about parenthood could draw to a close without a little pro-parenthood backpedaling to soften the blow. The article ends discussing one research study which found that married women were less depressed after they had kids than their childless peers (apparently because they are too busy to think too much). The author posits that a sense of purpose is what makes people happy - implying that having kids is necessary in order to achieve a real sense of purpose in life. She also points out that people are more likely to regret things they have not done, rather than things they have done - suggesting that childfree regret not having kids, but parents don't regret all the many things they have not done, or have given up in order to have kids.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Decision Tree

Thanks to CFVixen for forwarding this to me :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Our Growing Piece of the Pie

Thanks to my readers Nancy and Susan for forwarding me information recently released by the Pew Research Center showing that childlessness is on the increase among women. You can read the article here.

Pew found that currently 20% of women end their childbearing years without ever bearing a child and this is up from 10% in the 1970s. While this research does not break down the percentages by childfree by choice versus childless (not by choice), I think we can safely draw the conclusion that much of this increase is due to more and more women choosing to forego having children.

I think we childfree can find encouragement in this trend as it indicates that our lifestyle is slowly but surely becoming normalized. The more people that choose the childfree lifestyle, the more normal our lifestyle becomes and the less marginalized and stigmatized the childfree will be. My hope is that eventually, stating that one is childfree will be as inconsequential as stating a preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla.

Having said this, we are still in the minority - 80% of women DO bear children - and there is still a good deal of stigma attached to people (especially women) who choose not to have kids. We experience this stigma in our everyday lives, from the shock and disbelief we get when we announce we are childfree, to the scornful emails I get from parents who think I am the antichrist for promoting the idea that a life sans children can be a wonderful thing.

How do you feel about the research? Does it make you feel encouraged, discouraged or something else?