Friday, July 22, 2011

On Being Childfree

A(nother) friend of mine just had a baby. My partner and I have been talking a lot lately about children. Throughout the course of our relationship there have been times when one of us has wanted them and the other hasn't, or we both have or we both haven't. Right now we both don't want them, and it's a phase that has been going on for a while. I think it will probably stick.

Oh what a surprise, right, the abortion lady doesn't want kids? Surprisingly my involvement in the reproductive rights movement hasn't had much of a conscious effect on my desire to be childfree. For one thing, I have always known I didn't want to have my OWN kids, ie I don't want to push them out of my body. I know myself well enough to know that my pain threshold is far, far too low for that. So we would have adopted or fostered. But the more I think about having children, the less appealing it seems. I want to travel. I want to have disposable income. I already feel kind of tied down by our cats. When I do the cost/benefit analysis in my mind, I can't see it working out.

Both of us love kids, and he is especially good with them. We will be awesome as an aunt and uncle or whatever. I certainly get the appeal of them. I just don't want any of my own. I totally respect and admire people who are parents, and I think they have a valuable place in the movement that we are just not giving them (especially mamas) - but I don't see it as my role. And I'm ok with that.

What I'm beginning to get less and less ok with is the arrogance and antagonism of some of these "childfree" crusaders. I am 100% behind the idea of being proud of being childfree, and of changing society to accommodate people (especially women) who do not want to reproduce. But I don't feel the way to change the dominant mindset is by aggressively complaining about spaces that welcome children, or about other people's children specifically. The childfree movement is beginning to parallel, in my mind, the atheist movement - it is becoming distant, arrogant, overly intellectual and worst of all, elitist. The attitudes of some of the childfree people I have encountered are the reason I am hesitant to identify as such (and I feel the same way about atheism).

If you are childfree by choice, that's awesome. You are making a brave choice and in some ways being a trailblazer. I support questioning our culture's obsession with the "mommy cult", the bizarre hyper-consumerism expected of parents, the deification of married mothers and the demonization of single ones, and in fact the whole horrific kyriarchal lens through which we look as a society to decide which mothers are worthy of our love and attention. I support standing up against the assumption that all women are breeders, that all women want to and should have children. I support asserting your right to decide what does and doesn't happen in your uterus. I totally support the choice to be childfree (and to be vocal about it) as much as I support any reproductive decision a person makes. Because it's your body, not mine.

What I don't support is acting like your choice to be childfree makes you better than others. Or your decision to complain about spaces that welcome children. And what I especially don't support is when people start to talk about children as if they are not also people - "I hate kids" "Kids are so annoying" etc. Some kids are annoying, as are some adults. Children on average are more likely to be loud, impulsive, and easily upset. But THEY ARE PEOPLE. They are in our lives. They are always around. So just suck it up. And don't assume the choice you made is somehow better or more valid or more altruistic or whatever than the choice to parent. And if I know you, and you ever say something about someone needing to "control their kids in public", so help me it will take a lot for me not to slap you. Verbally. Of course.

Let's all just try to respect each other's choices and get along, is what I'm saying. There's a lot of people out there trying to take those choices away from us, so being an asshole to someone who has kids isn't going to protect your right to choose not to have them.

Edited to add: Go read this. Do it.


Jeremy Hatt said...

This is a really good post, Peggy, and one that I agree w/ pretty much completely. I appreciate that you write posts that are considerate of the various choices people make rather than simply tossing around judgment.

Thanks for posting.

Unknown said...

I really appreciate your approach to this! As a mother, I get really tired of the anti-child sentiment that I continue to hear. I really don't care whether or not other people have kids and I would never do anything to stand in the way of their choice. But I have kids, and I LOVE them, and I have never regretted for a single second having them. It gets tiring listening to people talk about how awful kids are. Good thing those people were never kids themselves!

Foust said...

I think the overt anti-child militancy comes from being poked and poked and poked to hurry up and reproduce. I agree that stridency is counterproductive, but after someone (okay, me) gets asked the "when are you starting a family" question one time too often, I tend to get a bit defensive about it. It comes off as an attitude of superiority, but it's just frustration about having my personal choice repeatedly disparaged. But it's still the wrong way for me to react, you're right about that. And how come my husband and I don't qualify as a family? Oops--there I go again . . .

JeninCanada said...

I'm a prochoice Pagan mom and I follow a few childfree folks online as well as have a couple of childfree friends. Sometimes their attitude is incredibly frustrating, just like the attitude from atheist friends. The word 'elitism' is spot on. Respect should always be our base-line when dealing with anyone, even with people who make decisions or have opinions/lifestyles/etc we dont' agree with.

Anonymous said...

I don't think my choice to be child free makes me better than others. It's simply a life choice. And yes, I think some people go over the line. I actually like kids, but have only a small amount of patience for them, which is why being an auntie (actual and honorary) is so great. I get to hang out with them, then give them back when they get annoying - and sorry, but they DO get annoying.

However, why does it bother you if someone says they hate kids?? They have a right to voice their opinion, just like everyone else. Other people may love their kids, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to. It also doesn't mean that they wish harm on children, either.

And I vehemently disagree with you about your last statement- I did not make the choice to have kids, so I should not have to 'suck it up' and deal them. Especially unruly kids. Yes, if I decide to go to kid friendly places (Disneyland, Chuck E Cheese, outdoor family event) - of course I expect there to be kids there. And of course I wouldn't complain. However, if i'm in a nice restaurant or a movie theater (for a non-kid friendly move), and there is an out of control kid,I WILL tell the parent to control their child.

As for the tired bingo "you were a kid once too" - yes, I was. But my mother NEVER allowed me to run roughshod all over the place. Of course, at home I was allowed to be crazy. But we were taught that in a public place, you are to act properly. Not running around like animals, with lots of please and thank you's. If I acted up, I got taken outside. My mother didn't inconvenience other people - her child, her responsibility. Respect has to go both ways.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post. As I said in one of my recent posts, I really don't judge other people's desired number of kids (20? go right ahead), but hope for the same lack of judgment about my desired number (zero). I think it's the judgment that makes people prickly. I'm just not a kid person, no big whoop, or at least I feel it shouldn't be.

S said...

I'm agreeing with Foust. Whenever I mention I don't want to have kids people either look at me like I sprouted a second head or laugh and say I'll change my mind as if I'm a little kid. And if I try to say something to the effect of I'm sure I won't be having kids, they act as if they have been offended.

And I suppose I should let your generalized slander of "the atheist movement" slide? I find it amazing (and very offensive) that atheists are expected to show a high level of humility that religious people never would. I've (and friends of mine) been accused of being "elitist" or "arrogant" for simply stating that I am an atheist or politely refusing an offer (and by this its usually an attempt to get me to change my mind) to attend a bible study or go to a church. Athiests still face significant discrimination in the US, and that is largely why a movement has developed.

Not to say there aren't people who take it too far (this is true of any movement), but I don't see why one extreme is tolerated when another is not.

The Pedgehog said...

I never argued that atheists and childfree folks aren't discriminated against and harassed. As a childfree atheist, I get my fair share of bullshit. What I'm saying is basically two wrongs don't make a right.

If you're annoyed by children, fine. But you do have to accept that they exist. And most importantly, just because someone receives judgement for being childfree doesn't mean they should be dishing it out to those who choose to parent.

As for atheism, I find a lot of atheists (especially certain high profile ones) act as if their beliefs somehow make them superior to others. I also find there to be a strong misogynist streak in the mainstream atheist movement that really turns me off.

Also, really, for everyone: if it's not about you, it's not about you.

MotherofMayhem said...

Great post! After having children myself, I wholeheartedly support the notion that children are not for everyone. And I hate to hijack your thread but I must point out to Dawn that parenting is HARD. It is probably the hardest job in the world, definitely the hardest thing I have encountered and far surpasses the challenges that I encountered in completing law school and passing the bar exam. I am an energetic, skilled and reasonable person and I find it immensely challenging. After thinking I knew it all and having to put my foot in my mouth more than once, I've realized that the parenting of others should not be judged. Yes it is easy to find fault with the parenting of others, especially when their children are causing you inconvenience but in the end you have to realized that even if they aren't doing the best they can their life is not easy, it is a hard job and you have no idea how exhausted/ frazzled/ frustrated/ crazy they are feeling at that moment. Give people a break.


Anonymous said...

TOTALLY AGREE with Dawn and S. Couldnt have been said better.

Anonymous said...


I know parenting is hard, just because i'm child free doesn't mean I am completely clueless about kids. That is yet another tired 'bingo' that parents like to throw out - "Parenting is HARD, you can't possibly know what I'm going through." WRONG.

While I am not a parent, I work with kids everyday and I've helped to raise my niece and nephews when they were young. In fact, the reason why I am child free is not because i'm 'selfish'. It's because I understand the work that goes into raising a child - and after much thought and consideration, I realized it was not something I was cut out for. Lots of parents DON'T do this and find out the hard way afterward.

While I may understand that you may be struggling at times, I have little sympathy for you. You CHOSE to have kids and knew (hopefully) of the ups and downs that went with it. I'm not saying that i'm mean to every parent with a child. If I was like that, I'd have no friends because they all have kids!

HOWEVER, if you're in a movie theater and your kid is out of control and you're exhausted/ frazzled/ frustrated, how about taking the child OUT of the situation instead of expecting everyone else to 'cut you a break'?

Yes, your life may be hard - but have you thought of others? Just because they don't have kids doesn't mean they're not struggling too. Again, respect goes both ways.


Sandy said...

I don't like it when you go to a restaurant and there is a restaurant side and a bar/lounge side and there are parents with their kids in the bar/lounge side. The bar/lounge side should be child free. I go there to get drunk and be offensive, I shouldn't have to tone that down because some parents don't understand why the different sides exist. I have been bottling this up for some time and I am glad that I now have a forum where we can talk about being child free.

MotherofMayhem said...

Sorry Dawn but you still don't get it. Unless you're a parent, you can't understand. That's just the way it is. Even in the example you provide, you don't know why the parents are taking that approach, maybe it works most of the time better than taking the child out. Maybe they are really just that sleep-deprived that they are not noticing that everyone is being bothered. Who knows? Not you or I.

Being non-judgmental is difficult and I am struggling with it myself but I think it is better for one's own sanity to generally practice compassion rather than judgement. I don't know, but it's something I'm trying lately.

Anonymous said...

Us CHILD-FREE people PAY OUT THE ASS FOR YOUR KIDS. You ignorant, inconsiderate breeders get ALL the fucking tax breaks, and the rest of us have to pay higher taxes and succumb to the bullshit school speed limits and the infants crying in R-rated movies. Fuck you breeders, and I hope your "precious children" throw you in a fucking home for the unnecessary people you produced into society. Fuck you.

The Pedgehog said...

Hey Anon, so I guess here are a few solutions to that problem. Let me know which one suits you:

1. No tax breaks/benefits for kids (or people with kids), so the next generation is raised poorer than ours

2. No government programs like day care, childcare, parental leave etc. so people have to raise families on one (or half) income, and kids continue to be raised poorer than they already are

3. The government (or cheery people like you!) gets to decide who is allowed to "breed" and how many kids they can have. Super pro-choice, amirite?

Basically the solution to the "problem" you raise of your taxes going to benefit vulnerable members of society (boo hoo) is either those kids should be poorer, or we need to take more control over people's reproductive choices. Is that right?