Saturday, July 30, 2011

Today Show Gets it Right for Once (mostly)

Looks like the Today Show is making some strides in addressing the issue of childfreedom in a more balanced manner than they have in the past.  In this piece, the Today Show speaks with Lilit Marcus, a young childfree woman, psychiatrist Janet Taylor,  Laura Scott, author of Two is Enough:  A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice and Sarah Brokaw, therapist and author of Fortytude: Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life - Through the 40s, 50s and Beyond.  The guests discuss the subject of women who choose not to have children.

There are a couple good things about this piece. First, the women discuss many of the negative stereotypes childfree women must endure, such as the assumptions that we are selfish, cold, heartless people who do not know our own minds (you know - we'll change our minds later about having kids).  They also discuss the assumptions that all women should aspire to be moms, that motherhood is the one true path to adulthood, maturity, fulfilment and a purposeful life and agree that these assumptions are incorrect, and that there are many ways women can lead satisfying and fulfilling lives apart from having children.

Then there are the downsides:

1. I wish the message was conveyed that not only can childfreedom be equally as fulfilling as motherhood, but many childfree women feel it is more fulfilling and this is an important reason many women opt out of motherhood. 

2.  It is incorrect to say that all childfree women have doubts and second thoughts about their choice.  Childfree women are no more unsure or doubtful about their life choice than mothers.  In fact, while moms are flooding the internet with  "I hate being a mom" and "I regret having kids" posts and discussions,  one would be hard-pressed to find any "I hate being childfree" or "I regret not having kids" posts on the web. So which group is the unsure and regretful one?  And why is it always assumed that the childfree woman is racked with doubt?  Just another false stereotype about childfree women. 

And do we really need the lonely, stark photos of empty playground swings accompanied by a shift in music from upbeat to creepy and forboding at the very moment the issue of childfree doubt arises? (reinforcing the message that childfree women might be making a big mistake).

3.  While the negative stereotypes about childfree women were mentioned, such as selfishness, I wish the piece took the next step and discussed the truth about childfree women:  that they are in fact often better able to live a more selfless and giving life thanks to the freedoms they are afforded by foregoing childrearing - more time to devote to their spouses, families and other personal relationships, more time to be involved in their communities, more time for volunteer and charity work, etc.

4.  Ms. Brokaw's comment at the end of the piece about there being many ways a woman can relate to children without having to be a mom was well-meaning, but reinforces the stereotype that all women are maternal and have a need to express that instinct.  In fact, while many childfree women (including me) consider themselves maternal and express that part of themselves in a variety of ways, there are also many childfree women who have chosen not to have kids precisely because they recognize that they are not maternal - and hurray for them for recognizing this!  There are far too many non-maternal women who have no business being mothers, who go ahead and have children anyway because "it's just what you do" - and the children pay the price.  Additionally, while many childfree women enjoy being around kids or working in careers which place them around children, there are plenty of childfree women who do not enjoy kids and have no interest in caretaking jobs such as social worker, teacher, nurse, doctor and so on. Not all women have a need to have children as an important part of their lives.  However, I suspect this viewpoint (as well as the others I listed here) might be a bit too much for the Today Show's audience to digest.


Freelance Feminist said...

I totally agree with all of your post, especially number four. I would add that Today could have also said that THERE'S NOTHING WRONG with not wanting to work with children, and not having your life revolve around children. As much as other people like to believe, the world does not revolve around kids. There are other, equally valuable, aspects of society that need help.

Dave said...

I liked your comments to the piece more than the piece itself.

The piece still puts childfree women on the defensive instead of including something, anything, about how much better and more fulfilling their lives are by being childfree. And "fulfilling" can include doing things with children or NOT doing things with children, whichever the childfree choose (or they can choose both).

Until this aspect of being childfree gets more coverage than simply trying to make the childfree choice an equally viable option (your first item in the critique), it will always be tough to get around the hurdle of childfreedom as an alternate but somehow "inferior" choice.

Marie said...

Your comments on the video are right-on. While it's nice to see this kind of talk in the media, they are barely scratching the surface here.

I'm one of those childfree women who has a maternal side, but I can't feel it towards people. I also wish there could be a positive interview with a childfree woman who is one of those who dislikes children and babies... but it's probably too soon, socially, for that!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing up your thoughts on this piece. I kept seeing links to it on other blogs, but I wasn't in the mood to watch something that bashed the childfree on the Today show again (I was afraid it was more of Kathy Lee's eye-rolling, to be honest). I agree with your points after watching it myself, and I wanted to just make a few comments on your points and add one of my own:

2. I have never expressed doubt in not having children. When I finally came straight out and told my mother in my 20s, she said she already knew and had never expected me to have kids. Why? She had apparently heard me say it enough as a child myself and as a teenager (I hadn't realized I was so open about it) that she had already come to terms with it. In fact, while I have never had doubt about having children, I did have a scare where I thought I might be pregnant, and I was sick with worry and fear that it might be so. I was sick at the very idea of becoming a mother, so I know this is the right decision for me.

4. While I do enjoy my nieces and nephews and I have generally worked in a school setting in a variety of positions (educator, etc.), I do realize that not everyone feels the need to ever set eyes on a child. I don't particularly need to do so myself (and in a school setting, the parents are the most stressful part of the job), as I have also worked with the elderly and handicapped of all ages in other positions I've held. My next job will more than likely not even be around kids, which is also fine.

5 (my addition). Why, oh why, is it that every time there is a news article or spot on this topic they feel the need to bring in some kind of mental health expert? The idea that childfree women really need to examine their "hidden motive" behind not wanting children before it's an accepted choice really irks me. Why do women who really, really, really want to be mothers not have to counseling before they get pregnant? If it so happens that a chilfree woman does have a mental health issue, that would be between her and any spouse she has. If a woman who wants children has a mental health issue, that can definitely negatively affect her children in more harmful ways than it may affect her husband.

Spectra said...

Excellent post! I agree with you that many CF women are more fulfilled than women that choose motherhood. Most of the women I know that raised kids/are raising kids feel like they aren't good parents unless they let their lives revolve around their kids. Meanwhile, other relationships and hobbies/interestss go down the tubes until all of a sudden, the kids move out. Then what? Many women rediscover themselves and wish they could've skipped the kid-thing altogether. My own mom tells me she LOVES not having kids at home anymore. I can't say I blame her--I think her main goal as a mom was to use us for slave labor until we were 18 and then get rid of us as soon as possible.

CFVixen said...

Your post was excellent. I didn't care for the Today Show spot for exactly the reasons you listed. The part at the end where they talked about women still having involvement or benefit to children even if they didn't bear them really ticked me off. Frankly, there is more to life than children. I'd much rather spend my time helping out the elderly. They are much more interesting to me. They have substance...they have LIVED. It's a shame how society puts them on the back burner for yet more children.

I agree with "The Viking or the Celt" where she asks why is there always a mental health expert on spots like if the childfree need to have their heads examined. I would think that a woman who wants to put up with 9 months of bodily torment, hours and hours of painful labor, and then 18 years of worry and drudgery should be the one going to counseling.

caroline said...

Excellent post. As a childfree woman without a career to speak of (I have a job but hardly a career) it bothers me that if you choose to not have children you'er expected to have a fulfilling career. Can I just be unambitious careerwise and childfree, please - I like it just fine that way - Thankyou!

LaurenMissesYou said...

I find your insights interesting but would caution you against saying being childfree is more fulfilling. A doctor cannot say she is more fulfilled than a sanitation worker or a teacher or a lawyer. If you are not something, you cannot say that what you are is better. I've no doubt in my mind there are many women and men who are happy to be childfree, but that doesn't mean they are any happier or better or more fulfilled than parents. It's different in such a way as they cannot be compared. Apples and oranges are both great fruits and some may choose one over the other, but you can't tell me oranges are better just because you say so, maybe I really love apples. If you are looking to win parents over and feel so distressed that they either don't believe you or expect you are selfish/evil, perhaps you should write in a less negative way? You can be positively passionate, you can stand up for your choices without bashing the choice of others, and we can both be "right" because we made the right choice for us.

Temujin said...

Definitely progress, especially if you compare it to the earlier Today show segment about the guy who got a vasectomy. Still some downsides, as Mandy mentioned, but I think this is definitely some steps in the right direction.

That part about "some women even find it equally fulfilling" was pretty lame. Why not MORE fulfilling?

I couldn't help noticing in the piece that someone on a national news program said flat out "we all know people who really should not be parents." That in itself is far too rare, still too taboo to say out loud. YES! Let's hear more of that, please....

I also couldn't help but notice that the list of jobs you can do in order to work with children included "congresswoman." Huh? Being a female member of Congress means you have to work on children's issues? Heaven forbid they might concentrate on foreign policy or reforming the financial sector....

Childfreeeee said...

Temujin, I laughed too at the "congresswoman" reference. Say what? I don't know many congresswomen who are focusing their efforts working with children.

Lauren, my audience is childfree by choice folks, not parents, although I know some parents like to read my blog as well and they are welcomed here if they enjoy what I write. I have no interest in "winning parents over". My focus is making the childfree feel validated and supported in their choice, because for the most part we are invalidated and marginalized. The fact that you assumed my concern is "winning over parents", or that this blog is concerned with what parents think illustrates this very nicely.

Anonymous said...


Oh my goodness, I laughed when Ann Curry said that about knowing people who should not be parents (especially since she kind of looked like she had someone in mind when she said it). I immediately turned to my husband and said, "I love Ann Curry for saying that outright on national television."

Temujin said...

To me the ultimate understanding about being childfree by choise is that there is not just one reason to choose it, not just one single feeling about it, and not just one single kind of person who chooses it. Same thing with having chidren -- different reasons, feelings, and origins.

There's a complexity here that a lot of people just can't wrap their minds around because they can't tolerate complex human behavior. And, short media blurbs are not well-geared for complexities.

People who hate children can be parents. People who love children can be childfree. Not all childfree people hate or love children. Hating children is not the end of the world anyway.

A great sign would be a Today show piece that suggests that being childfree has nothing to do with whether you would have made a good parent -- maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't. And it's not a waste or a tragedy for a would-be-great parent not to be a parent.

I'd settle for seeing the idea that whether or not you have children is no real indication about you as a person at all. It's really a poor source for any conclusion about anyone.

P.S. Why is an empty swingset a depressing sight? Who says wingsets should just be for kids?

LaurenMissesYou said...

So you are writing about having "child freedom" become
an accepted and respected choice solely to people who already made that choice? That's like writing about gaining support and acceptance for people with disabilities and saying you only write to people already within the special education or people living with disabilities. If you want your choice to be accepted and respected, you do need to "win over" parents because the child free individuals already accept and respect your choice.

Childfreeeee said...

Lauren, my messages about promoting childfree acceptance are directed to my childfree audience, not to parents, although they are certainly welcome to read it. I hope that by inspiring my childfree readers to feel proud of who they are, to find validation in knowing there are others who share their feelings and approach to life, they will become emboldened to stop being silent about their choice, to not denegrate themselves, or lie, apologize, or make excuses for their lifestyle, but to stand up tall and say, "Yes, I am childfree and my life is better for it!" The childfree and their lifestyle will only gain acceptance once THEY accept themselves and stop apologizing for who they are. And maybe something I write can help this process along a little.

As for comparing the lifestyles of parents versus children, much of my observations come from personal experience in observing the parents and non-parents in my life and noticing how the parents seem a lot more stressed out, tired, and unhappy than myself and my childfree friends. But I also draw on the large amount of scientific research which concludes that parents have higher levels of depression and lower levels of marital satisfaction than non-parents. If you'd like to read more about theses studies, I invite you to read my masters thesis - a link to which is located on the main page of this blog.

Temujin said...

LaurenMissesYou's recent message made an unfortunate analogy that I'm trying not to read too much into. Being childfree is like being disabled?

Apparently we need to get out there, stop talking to each other so much, and try to convince parents to be more accepting and respecting of our choices. I kind of see her point, but it seems an odd criticism for any blog.

I would say most blogs are "preaching to the choir." I would guess many of the ones that LaruenMissesYou considers her favorites are not primarily there to reach out to non-parents....

Anonymous said...

@LaurenMissesYou: I think you're misunderstanding the point of this blog. This is not a blog to proselytize parents to not become parents (is that possible? Didn't think so.) This is a blog to support those who feel having no children by choice is right for them. I've never asked for and never will ask for acceptance from people who choose to have children but think I'm wrong. That's their opinion, and they are welcome to keep it.

To continue with your analogy: there indeed are blogs that are written by and for handicapped persons (I used to work with handicapped people and know several people who created such blogs) that are support for others dealing with the stigma of being handicapped. It had nothing to do with trying to get those without a handicap to see things their way or to treat them differently. It was solely to provide a place for like-minded people to come together and commiserate together about a shared experience that may not be completely accepted by society as a whole. (I've discovered through my work that realizing others have shared an experience when dealing with societal stigmas is part of the healing process for moving on with life, especially for those I've known with mental health issues. I call it "You are not alone" therapy.)

If you have a problem with a person who has a handicap, then you have a problem, not her. If you have a problem with a person who chooses not to have children, then that's your problem, not hers. Neither the person with a handicap nor the person who chooses not to have children needs your approval or acceptance or even, really, your respect. Your problem with one of these two issues has nothing to do with that particular person (particularly if you don't even know the person, and I know you do not know me, so how does whether you respect me even remotely play into my life choices?) but with your own internal issues that I know nothing about.

That said, I do think that it's understandable when some parents become upset with childfree people who are militantly against anyone having children, just as I think it's understandable when childfree people become upset with people who think everyone should be running around procreating all the time just because they happen to have the equipment for it. I'm the type to be happy for friends and family who thoughtfully choose to have children, but I'm also lucky to have good friends and family who do respect that my personal choices are my own. When it comes to strangers, I just do the Miss Manners "Why do you ask such a personal question?" routine, and it usually lets us both of out of a potentially hazardous conversation. I have had people question me with curiosity and not hostility, and I generally answer those types of questions, especially if it's someone who isn't sure if they want to have children or not.

(Sorry for blogging your comments. I love seeing polite discourse, but misguided assumptions can be dangerous to such discussions.)

Links said...

Great post. I hate how people assume that child-free people are somehow doomed to a life of loneliness and sorrow... as if children are the only kind of people that are capable of providing love and support. Please. I come from a HUGE family. I have love and friendship falling out of my butt.

Anonymous said...

Hi all i have read these posts and many other articles about having children and child free couples. I am trying to understand both sides of thepossibilty to have children. As someone intheir twenties and thinking if children are for me, i am put off by the idea that anyone group has to talk down the other in order to be stronger yourself. I have seen an awful lot of posts from parents saying it natural why eles are we made to have children but equally as many sites where child free people seem to have the need to rationalise what they dont know. My conundrom is exactly the picture of two fruit by lauren. I dont know what i might be missing if i choose one type of fruit over another. One isnt better or worse simply suited to different individuals. If you want to bury your head in the sand fine, but we are all inevitably linked by the world we live in. If you want people feel better in themselves about a choice they have made look to the individuals reason for not feeling strong. While you attack any one group for your feeling of strength you will always provide them with a target to hit. This blog puts me off the idea of being child free if these things are truly the case.

I can really understand many of your reasons a group to not have children i could add a number of my own. But iask why the need to persuade each other you have made the right decision at the expense of others,?

Childfreeeee said...

Hi Isolde

Thanks for your comment. Please read a previous post of mine in which I address the point you made.