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.

15 comments:

Surfie said...

I really hope you call in or write to them with these views. They're so ingrained into the parenthood lifestyle that they probably don't even realize they are stating a bias.

C.S. said...

Hey, Just found your blog, really enjoy your posts.

I'm childfree by choice, and used to write columns about my lifestyle at Suite101.com. I'm 58 now, a widow of 4 years, and still NO regrets about my decision! No doubts, no wondering...very content with my choice -- and my late husband felt the same way.

My childfree articles are here:
http://www.suite101.com/articles.cfm/childfree_by_choice

Any my blog, "Mad, Mad World," is here:
http://madmadworld.blogspot.com/

Do drop by! Keep writing your posts...you're a great advocate for childfreedom!

Childfreeeee said...

Surfie,

Yes, I already wrote to them with these views and I hope other childfree folks chime in as well.

CS

Thanks for your kind words about my blog...I am thrilled to hear from a mature CF person who can testify to a life without regrets. YOU should call into that show!!

Thanks for sharing your sites...off to check them out.

CFVixen said...

You have brought up so many excellent points in this post, and I find myself nodding in agreement as I'm reading (as usual)!

It's almost as if we are constantly being asked to defend our choice, yet parents would NEVER be questioned in the same way.

Sara said...

Thank you so much for this post; it expresses so much of what I think and feel about this topic.

Once, years ago, when my sis-in-law asked me "Why don't you guys want kids?", I dared to answer with "Why do you WANT to have kids?", and it was like I grew another head, the way she looked at me.

Why are we always forced to defend our decision, yet parents are never questioned or forced to defend their choice to have children. Why can't people realize asking how we can NOT want children is rude, as rude as me saying to someone "Wow, what made you decide to get pregnant?!?"

I am now 40, happily married for 12 years and my husband and I have never regretted our choice. But it is great to read well-expressed blog posts such as yours to know we are not alone!

Thanks!

M said...

Yes....questions bordering on intrusive and rude to the chosen child free are annoying at best.

No one ever asks a woman or a couple questions when they become pregnant....

Like:

"How much money do you make? Do you have enough resources to adequately raise a child?"

And don't give me that love will see us through crap...I have worked in social services and obviously...love can do alot, but it can't feed, clothe or pay for a child's education.

"Do you have time for a child?"

Meaning do you have time to foster a great relationship with this little person who didn't ask to be born. Note: Sorry, I don't think the 3 hours before bedtime is adequate and the rest at day care.

"Do you, or anyone in your family have serious medical issues that could somehow be genetic?"

You know, life is hard enough without saddling the poor tyke with a lifetime of a progressively worse disease, be it mental or physical.

Are these questions asked? No

All people do is oohhh and ahhhh and ask what the babie's name will be and what color the nursery will be....you know...important shit like that.

But here are the questions that have been posed to me, in "polite" social situations:

"Do you hate children?"
"Are you afraid of getting fat?"
"Are you afraid of growing old alone?"
"So you don't want to put anyone else first in your life huh?"
"Are you unable to get pregnant?"

The last one always slays me. I used to get offended..now I just use it to have fun...

Sometimes I will be honest about my choice to be childfree, sometimes I will well up tears in my eyes, quiver the bottom lip, gaze adoringly at one of their offspring and whisper "I wasn't able to have kids."

Of course, they don't know I wasn't able to have kids because I was a fanatic about birth control, but never mind that...

The reaction, needless to say, is much more empathetic and accepting....the pitiful looks and clucking tongues are priceless.

And I walk away knowing that yes, I am pretty much right on when it comes to the cult of the childed. I could have been one of them, I could have been a contender. NOT!

TLO said...

It is so true that it is equally as rude to ask "why do you choose not to have kids?" as it is to ask why someone has them. But going forward, if any parent does ask me about my childfree status again--probing, rude questions!--I have no qualms about asking them their reasons behind their choice to raise a child.

Tom said...

I'm vehemently childfree, and agree that there is widespread brainwashing taking place, but I think you are incorrect in largely blaming society for doing that brainwashing. Evolutionary psychology makes a very compelling case that having children is an innate drive; it's how our genes make sure they get propagated at our expense, since we're not much more than throwaway vehicles to them.

Childfreeeee said...

Tom,

Many people feel a drive to have children, but a growing number of people do not. Would you say the childfree are less evolved because we lack that drive?

Tom said...

Childfreeeee: It's a common misconception that evolution has a "goal", or that there is such a thing as "more evolved". A human isn't "more evolved" than an ant or a mouse or a tree; it's just a member of a different species.

Regardless of any tendencies that a particular species is granted by its genes, they're just that: tendencies, which we can speak of in terms of statistics but not certainties. If there's a drive to procreate that humans (particularly human females) tend to feel, it by no mean implies that every last human feels that drive, or that having that drive (or not) implies any moral conclusions whatsoever.

(That proximate drive to procreate is above and beyond the typical proximate drive towards pleasure from sex, and both serve the ultimate drive of procreation that our genes are trying to inflict upon us.)

Hilary said...

@Tom: We are also "wired" from an evolutionary perspective to be sexually non monogamous. Yet this notion generally flies in the face of society as well. But of course, all studies (not to mention common sense, generally) point to the fact that children (who we do need to continue the species) do better in a stable home with both parents (which of course, in "society" means and man and a woman). So while our culture may be pronatal--thus agreeing with biology--it is also keeping quite repressive when it comes to sexuality. An interesting dichotomy.

Spectra said...

I've often wondered why exactly some people choose to have kids. When I tell some people that I've chosen not to have them, a lot of people actually say "Wow, I didn't think of that. You can just choose NOT to have kids?" As if you are somehow destined to have them no matter what or something. I guess some people have never heard of birth control.

Rachael said...

No one ever asks parents WHY they want children, but I think it's a fair question to ask. Society validates their decision to the point where they probably haven't even asked themselves. If someone ever asks me why I'm CF, I'll casually ask them why they want/have kids. I'll probably get hell for it, but if I do, I'll just shrug and say, "You asked me first."

Pai said...

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

You notice a similar set-up when it comes to women and relationships... a single woman is somehow considered some poor pathetic soul who must have such an empty life, because obviously if you don't NEED to be constantly paired up with someone it's impossible to be fulfilled in life.

People who buy into that brand of emotional neediness and codependancy seem to often be the same people who have a kid because 'it's just what you do once you get married'... unfulfilled people who can't stand being alone with themselves and who need to have a spouse/child to make themselves feel like a whole person.

Suzanna said...

@Tom Although I personally want to have children one day, it is interesting to me why some people choose not to (I understand the reasons for both choices and I don't think it's necessarily society dictating these choices). I agree with your explanation of the proximal causes.

However, I must say that what @Hilary says about monogamy is a misconception, as well. We are not hardwired to be non-monogamous. Genetically speaking, we can just as easily be either depending on the circumstance. And differences in personality and other individual factors determine is someone will choose infidelity and a promiscuous lifestyle.

However, as circumstances have it, most children do better with 2 parents and thus social monogamy thrives (with or without extra-marital pairings). We started adopting this biparental strategy when we diverged from chimps and it was a relatively small genetic shift to move from one sexual strategy to another and thus we are capable of being either.

For example, in societies with high adult mortality or in times of war, there is more promiscuity. This makes sense because it increases the chances that if one mate dies, there will be another to take over.


I write about these topics on my blog http://www.TheLoveLab.com.