Friday, January 15, 2010

Dr. Phil (almost gave me a thrill)

One of the regular commenters on my blog, HawkMom, kindly emailed me a few days ago to alert me that Dr. Phil was doing a show on non-traditional families, featuring a childfree-by-choice couple (thanks, HawkMom).

I missed the show, but I went to Dr. Phil's website to see if there was a clip from the show.

There is a brief clip, and also a short written summary in which Dr. Phil asks the couple if they have considered whether they might come to regret their decision once it's too late. The couple answers that yes, they have considered that, but do not feel that having kids is the right choice for them, and it's more important to do what is right for them, then to cave in to society's expectations.

Dr. Phil was supportive of them, telling them that if they have doubts about having kids, they shouldn't do it, no matter how much others are pressuring them, but he also suggested that they re-visit the subject once a year to make sure their decision still stands.

I'll give Dr. Phil a grade of B on his approach to this couple.

On the one hand, he was supportive of their stance and encouraged them to stand by their decision and not cave in to pressure from outsiders. Had he stopped there, I would have graded him an A, but alas, he also went on to question whether they might regret their decision later, and suggested they continue to re-visit the subject every year to make sure their decision still stands.

What I would like to know is this: how often are people who are planning to have kids questioned how much thought they have put into their decision? How often are they encouraged to think about whether they will regret their decision to have kids? How often are those who have decided to have kids encouraged to think carefully about their decision over a period of time, and make sure they aren't making a mistake? Considering that having children negatively impacts all of the major facets of a person's life - their happiness and well-being, their marital satisfaction, their financial stability, and on and on, doesn't it seem reasonable that someone contemplating having children think long and hard about potential regrets?

It always comes back to the same assumptions about the childfree:

- that we are confused, misguided, ill-informed souls who do not know our own minds.

- that most likely we will come to regret our decision.

- that being childfree is pathological and those who choose the lifestyle suspect.

Dr. Phil did mention briefly that some parents have regrets (that was a shocker!), giving the impression that parental regrets are rare but they do occasionally happen. The truth is, I have never met a childfree-by-choice person who regretted their decision not to have kids, yet I have met several parents who have told me straight out that if they could do it all over again, they wouldn't have kids. From my experience I have also observed that childfree folks put much more careful thought into their decision to not have kids, than parents put into their decision to have kids. In fact, most people who have kids don't even consider it a decision at all. It's just a mindless bodily function like breathing or going to the bathroom.

And yet it is we - the childfree folks - who are suspect.

It blows the mind.


Erin said...

This post reminded me of guest lecturers I had in a college women's studies class. It was a lesbian couple (2 middle-aged college professors) who talked about the process they went through to reach a decision on whether or not to have children. They actually attended a class titled "Maybe Baby" where they discussed the issues you referenced, i.e. parenting styles, financial implications, the strength of their relationship, their individual maturity, personal desires, the effect on their professional careers, etc. But more importantly for them it was the legal issues concerning adoption / legal guardianship, healthcare benefits, how various states & countries would recognize two mothers (one biological) who, at that time, were unable to marry in the US, etc.

I was so impressed that a couple -- whether hetero- or homosexual would actually DISCUSS the issue, take a class, and THEN make a decision together as to what was best for them. At the time (mid 90s) this was a completely foreign concept to me, but I still managed to realize that everyone should be so deliberate in their choice, whatever that is. Just because you can procreate doesn't mean you should and I admired their thoughtful process.

Now that Dr. Phil has opened the door on this subject, we can only hope that Oprah comes around!

StayTheCurse said...

Good post..Dr. Phil's ringing non-endorsement is a typical media example of the message serving the sponsors. Like child-free Oprah who will NEVER speak out for her choice as long as her middle-American-Mom audience is subjected to warm, fuzzy Johnson And Johnson propaganda between segments, Dr. Phil has to toe the line for his handlers, too. Conformity will be right back after these messages..

Anonymous said...

Also, on the show after Dr. Phil told them "you're making the right decision for yourselves", he made sure to pull up a family photo of his wife, sons, and DIL to say "they are the light of my life and I can't imagine it without them". I rolled my eyes so hard, because it was such a cheap shot. Apparently the people have no interest in parenting. Why do they need convincing?! There are plenty of parents and children on Earth as it is. Geez.

I'm pretty secure as a parent, and I don't feel the need to recruit. If anything, I deter. I tell everyone I know either to not have children or to make sure they're willing to put their lives on hold. Not because I have regrets, because I honestly don't, cliche as it sounds. Unmotivated, inadequate, unprepared parents just make life harder for EVERYONE. I really wish our society didn't have such a "close your eyes and jump" attitude towards procreation.

Dave Ale said...

I think he handled it perfectly.

I also think you're being a little unfair to parents, because there's a big difference between the parents and the childfree --

For the childfree the option is always on the table. Might change your mind, might not. Doesn't really matter.

Once you're a parent you can't really review the choice. It's an irreversible decision.

For prospective parents there should be a larger thought process involved than "I want a baby!". Funny how it's rarely "I want to take care and raise a baby to an adult".

Anyway, it doesn't hurt for childfree or prospective parents to review their decisions. People should be doing this in all aspects of their lives -- do you still love your career? Your friends? The city you live in?

The worst that can happen is we'll be reminded of all the reasons we don't want kids.

Anonymous said...

@Dave Shepherd

That's a really good point, and I'm inclined to agree. The only reason why I don't see the point in convincing CF'ers to think about it, is because the option is never really off of the table. Thanks to entitlement complexes and modern science, people can have biological children anytime in their lives these days. There isn't much of a "window" anymore.

Dave said...

Dave Shepherd, you are missing the point.

For us childfree, we know with 100% certainty that we don't ever want to have kids. We do NOT need to review this decision every so often and find it insulting and bothersome to have others tell us we should review it.

Would skiers ask non-skiers to review their decision every year not to ski?

Would stamp collectors ask non-stamp collectors to review their decision every year not to start collecting stamps?

I don't ski or collect stamps and I would find it insulting and bothersome to have skiers and stamp collectors bugging me all the time to begin doing those things. If you don't ski or collect stamps, wouldn't you find it insulting and bothersome, too?

So why do parents get a free pass when it comes to asking the childfree to "review their decision" all the time to remain childfree? To us, it is just as insulting and bothersome to have our lifestyle choice questioned all the time.

And, as the terrific original post here mentioned, prospecitve parents are never questioned about their decision to have kids even though that decision is not reversible and will more negatively affect the lives of the would-be parents if it turns out they regretted it later.

It is too bad these popular talk show folks don't put childfree people on the show who can then boast about all the things they can do because they are childfree and ONLY because they are childfree. That would bust up the studio and TV audience, for sure!

Dave Ale said...

@ Dave

"For us childfree, we know with 100% certainty that we don't ever want to have kids. We do NOT need to review this decision every so often"

But you already review the decision every day -- every time you see a child throwing a tantrum and you say "Glad it's not me" -- you're reinforcing your decision not to have kids.

I'm not saying you need to sit down one night a week and make a list of pros and cons -- I'm saying you remind yourself of why you've made certain decisions -- in all aspects of your life.

And prospective parents should be doing the same thing -- though it should be a lot more involved.

Most people won't change their answer, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask yourself the question.

Do I want kids? No. Not even a little. I'm not even sure I want a dog -- and I love dogs.

Doesn't hurt to ask the question. It's no different than asking "Do I still want to be working in x industry?"

All I'm saying is people shouldn't be robots going through their day to day lives without questioning things -- whether it's their own decisions or other stuff.

Fanboy Wife said...

I actually had someone tell me recently that she didn’t think that people should think about becoming parents or not, and that it should just happen. My husband and I decided we didn’t want children before we got married, and it’s irritating to have friends tell me that I should or keep thinking about it. The attitude seems to be, “I had kids, so you should have to go through it too.”

Lady K said...

This is actually a comment unrelated to this post, so I hope you don't mind.

There is a different blog that has written a typical militant-childfree response to something HawkMom said in a comment there. Blah blah whinge whinge all-parents-are-breeders stuff.

I commented that I see HM on another blog (this one) quite a bit and consider her to be respectful, intelligent and interesting. In fact, I *like* her presence here because I think it's valuable - especially for fence sitters - to see both sides of the story, and I don't find her judgemental or preachy at all. My comment wasn't posted because the people there are too insecure and small minded to behave rationally or respectfully.

So on that note, I also want to say that I really appreciate this blog for its measured approach. You don't candy coat things but you also don't come across as a snarling, militant, bitter and insane childfree nutcase. I really hate coming across childfree blogs that are all disdain, disgust and open-faced fury. It makes the rest of us look bad and it's embarrassing to be associated with that sort of vitriolic hatred.

So, thanks for this blog, thanks to all the commenters for being polite and respectful, and thanks to HawkMom for her presence here.


lauracarroll said...

It's ironic that Dr Phil says some parents have regrets..he did a survey awhile ago of Lots of parents and over half said if they had to do it over again they would not have kids!

Could not agree with you more about why we don't question those planning to have kids if they have really thought about the decision. We also don't in part because of our society's deep pronatalistic assumptions -- Of Course you are going to have children! This breeds more people having them before they are ready, and more people having them that should not have had them at all.. Laura

Dave said...

Dave Shepherd,

How do you explain the many childfree people who have been sterilized (i.e vasectomies, tubes tied)? These people, who are 100% sure they NEVER want to have children, never need to reconsider their decision because they can never have them and don't ever want any possibility of having them. For them, the issue is a done deal - no further questions asked. But even if childfree people don't get sterilized, they still feel the same way as those who did get that done - the issue is a done deal - no further questions asked.

We childfree people try to distance ourselves from the tantrums of little kids because we find it so upsetting and annoying.

Back to my skiing analogy, I have zero interest in ever skiing. I won't get my legs amputated to make sure I can never ski. Even if I like watching others ski on TV (i.e. Olympics), I still have zero interest in ever skiing. I did not need to know about the fatal skiiing accidents which caused the deaths of Sonny Bono and Natasha Richardson to confirm my decision - I simply knew I never wanted to ski.

Why can't people be sure of a decision not to do something and never feel the need to reconsider it? It happens all the time.

Retired Syd said...

I think his advice is just silly and that you are being way too kind with a "B" grade.

Let me put it another way to anyone that doesn't quite get it. Do you need to ask yourself on a certain day each year whether you want to continue to be married to the same spouse?

You decided to spend the rest of your life with that person, right? But you might just decide AT ANY TIME DURING THE MARRIAGE that you don't want it anymore. What is this "revisit that decision every year."

Do you think if a child free couple changed their mind that they wouldn't just go ahead and have a kid right then? Or would they wait until that annual "thinking about it appointment?"

Or do you think the fact that they don't have kids might have slipped their minds and they need to be reminded of it each year.

This is a silly discussion, if you don't have kids and you later decide to have them, you just decide to do that just like anyone that decided to have them in the first place. Why would it be more important for the child free to schedule that revisiting of decision on the calendar each year.

I know one couple where one spouse changed her mind on the baby thing. And guess what, she just brought it up to her husband, right when she thought of it! (By the way, they divorced over this as they both came to a different conclusion when this occurred.)

I don't get it.

goddiva-11 said...

I've never understood the concept of letting those who decide to breed have a pass while childfree people are constantly questioned! Afterall, we're not the one's who will have an offspring on some shrinks couch discussing their mommy and daddy issues. I have yet to have someone give me a logical answer as to what is the "gain" on having kids. I can only think of what they take away. The joy of 'baby' is short lived. When you think of the number of kids in state custody, juvenile jail, runaways and the number of parents with charges of abuse why with all of our access to information detailing and analyzing the stories and consequences of bad parenting aren't THESE people being questioned? Is it because the answers will give real insight to how having a child is really one of the most SELFISH acts a person can commit or the simple fact that many of these people are stupid (have you ever heard the answers people give for wanting or having kids? the word stupid is too kind), desperate, delusional narcissists and therefore if having a child was really based on qualification, emotional and mental health world population would greatly decline?

Childfreeeee said...

Thanks, Sustantivo, for your kind words. I too find HawkMom to be intelligent, respectful and an interesting contributor. She also is helpful and forwards me interesting links that I can use for blog material when she comes across them.

Like you, I am not much for the bitter, militant approach, but to each his own. For many I imagine it is cathartic to be able to spew out venom, since there are so few avenues in "real" life where we can let loose like that. And perhaps they do not care how it reflects on us as a group. I think that approach just validates the stereotypes about CF people - that we are bitter, angry, misguided fools who are jealous and inferior to parents.

But again, to each his own. It's a free country and I think there is an audience for both styles of writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear I'm taken seriously here, and not suspected of trolling. : )

Thanks to Sustantivo for trying to defend my reputation as a reasonable person. That blogger actually posted my e-mail address in an effort to direct CF hate mail my way. Luckily, there was none. I understand the need to vent and all, but sheesh. When it becomes a one-way attack, free speech is no longer an excuse.

Unknown said...

I find the idea that I need to sit down and "review" my choice to be CF every year insulting, for all the reasons Dave illuminated.

Are parents encouraged to do some sort of yearly introspective? Please.

Unknown said...

There is a difference between an honest question and pressure to make a certain choice masquerading as a question.

I don't think it's inappropriate to suggest people re-visit their decision to, or to not have a baby, periodically. Its not threatening to revisit your commitments if those commitments are genuine.

But it is insulting to have someone ask you questions about your commitment b/c they disagree with your decision and want to convince you otherwise.

I think the difference is when you reassess your decisions and decide if they are still working for you, and someone ELSE asking you those questions b/c your decision isn't working for THEM.

I just think it's a private matter and should be left alone by others, no matter what that decision is.

Anonymous said...