I need to weigh in on the pseudo news of the moment: Time magazine’s reportage on a 2010 study that showed “childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.”
I am not following why so much of the response to story” has been focused on childfree childbearing years as a woman’s right, or discussing this issue from a feminist angle. Don’t we all know a man who broke up with a woman because she wanted kids in the future or because she did not? Or someone who married a man with the hopes that he would change his mind — whatever that mind might be — on the “kid issue” or vice versa, and every other combo inbetween?
The silliest argument I saw was on CNN, by a 27-year old who decided to “come out” about her decision. This, about her mother’s response: “She didn’t understand right away. Later, she accepted it and now supports my stand for equality.” I’m not clear on how her decision to not have kids helps me or even my daughters. Men are parents too; men should be responding to the response — when did they pop out of the equation?
The idea that remaining childfree makes one selfish, or the perception that it does, seems illogical. A strong argument can be made that having kids is selfish. Some people have kids to support their own egos, in the hopes of unconditional love, as a self-reflective mirror, or literally to have someone take care of them as they grow old. I’ll get this bold: People who have children they cannot afford, or do not have time for, are far more selfish than those who choose not to have kids at all.
My many childfree friends, both male and female, are some of the smartest, most generous, most feminist-thinking people I know.
When I gave birth to my first child in my later 20s, a friend just a few years younger said something like, “I don’t want to offend you, but the reasons to not have kids are so real and concrete, and the reasons to… I can’t see them.”
Funny thing is, neither can I.
It’s much easier to list the reasons not to have children. There is just so much “they” don’t tell you. I will:
There are prodigious amounts of poop involved. Women, you are likely to poop on the table during delivery. Men, you are likely to see it. Sure, you know you will be changing a lot of diapers, but you simply cannot fathom the volume of actual shit you will deal with, of all colors, consistencies and textures. You will dream of crap. You are likely to have shit under your nails for about six years, depending upon the intelligence level of your child and your own energy levels.
It no longer matters what food you like. There were years of my life where I would look at the grocery check-out and think, “Where am I in all this?” Apple juice and graham crackers and goldfish and diapers and elbow macaroni and string cheese. I’d spend $120 on everything beige and have nothing I wanted to eat.
Even the most demanding partner is not as difficult to deal with as 2-year-old. Your partner might insist on purchasing a wicker tea pot as a souvenir from your trip to Maine, or watching Restaurant Impossible on demand (On demand!), but he would never go rigid in Wegman’s, screaming for a Kit Kat bar while his head spins 360 degrees, not even on his worst day.
Your joy may be multiplied, but so is your pain, and it’s worse than you can imagine. Take every bit of middle-school angst and multiple it by a bazillion. That’s how you will feel when someone slights your kid, or your kid even thinks someone has. Imagine pain from loss, and how it made your heart itself hurt. Now imagine the surrounding veins and arteries being braided. Now, tie them in a Windsor knot. You’re close.
Unless you own a farm or your own business, kids are not really helpful for very long. If you add up the few years they can mow the lawn or sponge mop the floor, thereby saving you a bit of time or money, they haven’t even made a dent in their diaper costs (see “poop” above). Factor their allowance(s) in, and you’re back in the red.
You give up your freedom in ways you cannot fathom. You are no longer free to walk out the door; to not worry about everything all the time; to take a shower or a shit when you need to (see, there’s poop issues on both sides); to not schedule work meetings around sing-alongs at the grade school where your second grader will stand on her tip toes every time she has to hit a high note.
Kids are good for are excuses, though, that part’s true. You can get out of demonstration parties by saying Emily has a fever. You can blow off other people’s birthday parties by claiming you have to drive your kid to a different one. You can even leave work early if little Henry has to see the school nurse.
Kids are also a terrific excuse for not having met your original career aspirations, even if that’s only true in your own mind.
I love my kids. I’ve told them that I believe raising children should not be an obligation or assumption, and that there are plenty of good, solid reasons not to procreate. They know this does not mean I love them any less.