Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Childfree (or childlike?)

One of the negative stereotypes about childfree individuals is that we are immature and not fully developed adults, the idea being that becoming a parent is an essential step to becoming an adult and until a person has a child, she is forever locked in a childlike state. Lori Bradley, in her recent post Does Having Kids Make You Old? smartly observes that in many cases the opposite is true, and many people seem to use parenthood as an excuse to avoid aspects of mature adulthood.

I don't find parents who give up career, friends, and adult interests particularly mature. Many parents seem to launch themselves into a world of youthful fantasy that temporarily frees them from facing the difficulties of adulthood. Ironically, they abdicate their roles as parents as they desperately seek to be a best friend and key member of their childrens' clique.

And, it's important to remember that caring for others doesn’t mean just catering to kids. It can mean caring for the community, the planet, for students, for pets or other aging family members. Caring and nurturing comes in many forms. Parenthood is not the only path to maturity or social responsibility. In fact, if parenting is not undertaken with maturity it can lead to chronic childishness.

My reader Betty emailed me with her thoughts about this matter (and gave her permission for me to publish part of her letter here).

"My nephew's wife, Laura (age 29, with 2 lovely little girls who would be my great-nieces) said to me, "I believe you don't really grown up until you have children." Really? My husband and I don't have children, which must mean we haven't yet grown up, however:

*My husband and I are not only both University graduates but have advanced degrees


*We have no student loans or credit card debt, in fact except for a small mortgage on a rental property we are completely debt free.

*We have never defaulted on any payment, EVER.

*We have not been drunk since our college days, don't smoke and have never done drugs.

*We have not borrowed money from our parents.

*We file our taxes on time every year.

*Both my husband and I have had modest careers with Fortune 500 companies that have afforded us many opportunities to travel, work and live overseas.

*I speak 3 languages fluently (English, Spanish, German and actually a little bit of Thai), and my husband speaks fluent German and English.

*Due to my husband's career, in the last 8 years we have lived in Melbourne, Bangkok, Buenos Aires and currently live in Munich, Germany. Meaning I have planned, organized and done 4 international moves, found a place to live in each country, set up house, dealt with all the transition issues of a new culture as well as set up our social network and support system and then packed up and done it all over again...several times.

*We are avid sailors and owned our own sailboat when we lived in Melbourne and have chartered sailboats in many different parts of the world. We have sailed the Great Barrier Reef, Bass Strait, Gulf of Thailand and Mediterranean Sea, mostly just the two of us without any crew on 30-35 ft sailboats. Our ability to work well together as a team at sea has proved invaluable to our relationship on land.

*We have only 1 car, my husband's company car which he drives to work. I go everywhere either on my bike or on public transportation which admittedly is top notch here in Germany.

*We live in a nicely decorated, clean and tidy apartment.

*I love to cook and without being too crazy about it eat as much non-processed, fresh, organic, high quality food as possible. I can't remember the last time we had take out food from a box.

*We are kind and loving to our parents and family. My husband is a doting godfather to his two nephews.

*We have been living on only my husband's income the last 8 years. Due to the many international moves it wasn't always possible for me to work. However, we still manage to have 1+ year salary in savings.

*We have written wills, health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, rentors insurance and disability insurance all paid up and up to date.

*We don't keep the neighbors awake with loud parties or annoying music.

*We do not own a Playstation, Wii, X-box or any form of a video game.

......So I am kinda wondering what part of us has not yet grown up?????.......

Thank you for doing such a great job at the blog. Would enjoy being in contact with you.

Warm Regards,

Betty"




14 comments:

Laura said...

I really don't think maturity has anything to do with parenthood. I have known a number of mature people--with and without children. The reverse is also true; unfortunately I've known plenty of immature people--people with, and without children.

Wix said...

If by "mature" parents mean give up any and all sense of personal identity for the sake of the little hellspawn(s) they chose to bring into the world I suppose they might be onto something. As far as I'm concerned so long as you take care of your responsibilities (whatever they might be) and don't hurt anyone else in the process you are basically functioning as an adult, even if you choose to spend all your free time playing video games or watching sesame street or whatever. Why is that anyone's business? The entire notion of "you're not a grown-up until you're married with kids" is very obviously a manipulation tool to try to impose the same life values onto everyone.

firefly said...

Great article. One of the things I think is ridiculous about parenthood, that I see around me, is that people just replay their own childhoods for their kids -- learning how to ride a bike, trick or treat, Christmas, Easter egg hunts, you name it.

I did all that stuff when I was a kid, and the interesting thing about it is my parents didn't have that when they grew up in the Depression, so it wasn't like they were just doing the same things over again. They were inventing things as they went, so our childhoods weren't like everybody else's.

Now that I'm an adult, I'm ready for something new. Who wants to spend their lives in reruns?

As for "psychiatrists" who say you can't be mature until you take care of someone who can't care for themselves (meaning a BABBY), apparently they missed the memo on caretaking for aging parents.

Cleaning up after a baby who hasn't acquired all faculties is one thing, but cleaning up after a parent who is losing faculties is quite a sobering experience.

That Bitch said...

Parenthood and maturity are absolutely NOT related.

I recently had a small business that I'm closing due to my partner's lack of maturity. She's the mother of a young child.

Aforementioned child was an excuse for missing most aspects of the business, not being able to pay for anything, and so on. This woman's family takes her daughter every weekend, but rather than opt to work on business, she chose to frequently go out and party. Despite her 4 year age advantage over me, she still behaves like an 18 year old at a frathouse.

Having a child has not made her or her husband any more mature. She transitioned right from parents' home to moving in with hubby. She's never had to be on her own, and having that child ensured her that she would never have to be.

Being childfree, I ran the small business by myself, learned how to do the accounting needed, and so on. I've been on my own since I was 18. Not having something to fall back on has forced me to learn how to do those *dreaded* adult things that my business partner never has, and probably never will. For she, as described above, never really had to leave her fantasy kinderland.

Nahga said...

I'd rather keep growing then grow up.

Spectra said...

I know a lot of people that "had to" grow up and become responsible once they had kids. My husband and I were never like that--we've always been responsible, mature people and didn't need to have kids to "force" us to do things like buy a house, save for retirement, have jobs, etc. Incidentally, we don't own any video game systems, we have our house almost paid off (after owning it for only 3 years), don't have any debt, are active in the church, are responsible pet owners, etc.

As far as the whole "having kids makes you responsible" thing, I beg to differ--what about all the parents I know that are terrible pet owners or who give away their pets once they have kids because they no longer have time for them? Yeah, that's REALLY responsible :P

Christy said...

I love Lori Bradley's articles! She is always spot-on. I agree that having kids is a way that most people avoid growing up. It's not as hard to admit you are never going to be able to accomplish your dream of becoming a surgeon, a rock star, or a fashion designer, when you can point to your kid and say, well I can't do it now! Sure you failed, but you'll never have to admit to yourself the real reason.

And I was all "Go Betty!" until she got to the part about drinking and take-out food. I never thought drinking or partying were childish at all. I know lots of older people who party and drink like fish. Mardi Gras in the South actually involves events, balls, and parties all year long, and the people involved are usually older and well-to-do. I think these parents would love to be drinking, partying, and seeing live bands and shows, but they can't, so they have to reassure themselves with the idea that they have matured past it. Otherwise, they would have to admit their lives suck.

My brother asked me about my nephew, "Don't you just love it when he discovers something for the first time, and you get to be there to see the look in his eyes?" I said nothing, but was thinking to myself, no, not really, because I'm still discovering things of my own! I really wonder what goes wrong with people's childhoods, or in their minds, that makes them so hellbent on trying to make someone do it all over again for them.

Dave said...

I have always been irked by the "You are not a mature adult until you have kids" statement.

Being able to have unprotected sex and deal with its consequences doesn't make anyone automatically grown up.

In my 47 years with the last 29 of them as an adult, I have found the following experiences worthy and character-building as an adult:

(1) Getting my driver's license.

(2) Graduating from college.

(3) Going on job interviews and landing my first full-time job. Later, filing my first income tax return.

(4) Buying my first car.

(5) Registering to vote and then voting.

(6) Signing my first lease on an apartment. Later, going through the mortgage process and including the closing on my co-op apartment.

(7) At work, being promoted to supervisor and having authority to go along with responsibility for people and projects.

(8) Dealing with government agencies and businesses when there are disputes with them.

None of these things have anything to do with having children (or even being married, which I am not, either). So a 16-year-old girl who gets knocked up is more mature than I am? Yeah right!

harvey_requiem said...

*sigh*

I agree that maturity has nothing to do with parenthood. I also would say that maturity has little to do with whether or not you enjoy video games. Why does no one say this about people who enjoy sports or biking or anything like that? Children enjoy sports and bicycles as much--if not more--than adults, so why are these things not inherently "for kids"?

I guess that's a pet peeve of mine, because I'm plenty mature, but I love video games and animated films. And lots of babby-makin' people who are far less mature than I will point to that as evidence of my inherent immaturity. And my mom and sister, when talking about the inadequacy of any man, will always bring up the fact that he enjoys video games (if he does enjoy video games) as evidence of his refusal to "grow up".

All the rest of Betty's examples--such as excellent and responsible management of money and finances, or her many international moves, or even the fact that she and her husband can crew a sailboat in the ocean together, are definitely examples of maturity and are certainly much more than many people with kids have been capable of. She has plenty of reasons to be proud of herself and lots of evidence that she is a mature adult--despite her lack of the purported mythic "maturity" that supposedly one can only achieve when one has spawned.

I just got PO'd when I saw "we don't own any gaming platforms" offered up as evidence of maturity. Because that's a BS example and sounds more like a "you kids get off my grass" kind of argument.

I would say that a lot of people who have kids do so because they think you're supposed to, that it is an inherent part of being "grown up" or attaining "maturity". And as such, they are often not actually grown up or mature in any way, because they are merely adopting the trappings of what they have been told is "mature". Like my best friend in HS shunned shows like The Simpsons and limited herself to only the most highbrow Shakespearean pursuits because she felt that made her "intelligent"--as opposed to creating an image of what society accepts as "intelligent".

And you have no idea how many such people will denigrate my love of gaming as much as my lack of desire to reproduce, as equal evidence that I'm not "mature". These same people will explain ever-so-patiently that they were once like you, but once you hit a certain age (usually about fifteen or so) it's time to "grow up" and give up video games. Or horror films. Or whatever it is they have decided one must sacrifice to attain maturity. And they will tell you this with the exact same tone as the childed will tell the childfree that they "were once like you" and they changed their mind and that you, too, will change your mind and choose to spawn.

I guess what I'm saying is that to cite "likes gaming" as evidence of maturity and eternal childishness is as absurd and irrelevant as to cite "has no kids" as evidence of maturity and eternal childishness. The basic tastes one has in entertainment have zero bearing on whether one is a mature adult.

Tilley's Mum said...

While I agree that it is definitely a negative stereotype, I know some CF people that love toys and kids cereal etc, even having a toy room (for collectables). Because they can, not because they're immature. They have a stable full time gig and a mortgage etc. All that toy stuff isn't for me - I have other vices i.d rather spend money on - but why not?? That's one of the nice things about child freedom, we can do whatever we want with our money! We don't have to pay for diapers, school fees, or the latest toy for christmas.

I don't think I measure up on Betty's list LOL. In fact I'm probably the opposite of everything on that list, minus a few. My DH and I don't travel (yet), we're severely in debt thanks to university and a mortgage, and we don't get along with parents or family because of religious and CF issues.

And I like to party... which is another reason I'm childfree. But I don't think I'm immature. I guess my point is that "maturity" is super subjective.

Almost Alright said...

and on that note: http://jezebel.com/5713913/post+childhood-pre+grandchildren-the-adult-christmas-dilemma

bikegirl said...

I've noticed as well, that people who have children when they're young never really grow up.

I disagree with the insinuation that owning an Xbox, Wii or Playstation makes you immature, though. I own a Wii and an Xbox, but I'm not immature. It all depends on whether you sit around all day playing video games and ignoring your other responsibilities, or if you only play video games when you have free time.

bikegirl said...

I also find the notion that you're not mature until you get a driver's license and a car insulting. There are lots of people who don't have either, and can get around just fine, myself included.
Owning a car, financially speaking, makes no sense at all. You spend $20,000 or so and it starts losing value the second you drive it off the lot. Then you have to sink money into it for insurance, gas, repairs, maintenance, etc. as it depreciates in value more and more each year. Then after 15 - 20 years or so, it's a worthless piece of junk that needs to be replaced, so you go out and buy another one and start all over again.
Cars are money pits.

Angelus-Mortis said...

Hey, I'm happily childfree in Germany too!

I pretty much agree with you that parenthood doesn't automatically make you mature. In fact, I would say that the kinds of activities you choose to do don't necessarily make you immature; it's how you approach it.

If you take a look at my blog (http://deutschdeduktionspiel.blogspot.de), you'll see that I've spent tons of time in video games--learning German. And I don't think it's childish; it's been a great success. I learned a lot, I can hold conversations with Germans here, and 80% of the time, I haven't had to use a dictionary to read stuff or learn new words or grammar constructions. In fact, I could not have found the flat I live in now if I could not understand German. I have those video games to thank.