I’m Not Sure I Want Children. Why Does That Make Me Selfish?
Time’s trend piece, “The Childfree Life,” puts the decision to procreate squarely on women.
In “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children,” Lauren Sandler’s cover story for Time, the author attempts to explore what it’s like for individuals and couples whose “happily ever after” doesn’t include the pitter patter of little feet.
The news peg for Sandler’s story is that “the American birthrate is at a record low.” Fine. But the real story is the latest in the media “Mommy Wars” battles that make women feel guilty about their reproductive choices.
Just as in The Atlantic and The Daily Beast, the Time story’s focus on family puts a spotlight on women. To be fair, Sandler acknowledges that decisions against parenting unfairly become conversations solely about women’s choice — not that the acknowledgement inspired her to expand the focus of her piece.
There are no trend pieces in the media about men and their thoughts about children, nor any overwhelming concerns about whether they’ll ever truly achieve work-life balance as parents. Few men are quoted in this story about their decisions to live child-free; parenthood and reproductive rights are still viewed as “women’s issues” in both politics and the media.
At the root of these articles is a long-held societal stance that women are obligated to have children, and that deciding not to makes them selfish or worthy of condemnation or alienation.
Those who cling to tradition ask if women can “have it all,” forgetting that women are individualized and happiness isn’t prescriptive. How can anyone be surprised that, 50 years after birth control, some couples are electing not to have children?
Talk about missing the point.
Women are not obligated to have children. And women who decide to have children are not better than women who decide not to. Deciding not to have children does not make women selfish, though stories like these may make you think so. The decision to start a family is personal, requiring neither justification nor explanation, and deserving of neither judgment nor inquisition. And yet, here we all are, wondering, indirectly asking women, “what’s wrong with you?” when they say that they’d rather be ladies who lunch than ladies who lunchbox.
At 28, if I have a biological clock, it is broken. I have always been on the fence about having children of my own, deciding that they would only be involved with the right partner and at the right time. Procreation ranks low on my list of priorities, though close friends have shared with me their eagerness to begin a family of their own. I, on the other hand, love children knowing that I can give them back to their parents when they get fussy, and find it challenging enough being responsible for myself some days. Even the happiest parents say matter-of-factly that children change your entire life forever. Forever is a really long time.
Societal attitudes about being childfree bleed into the workplace and can create a lot of resentment between employees and management. There is an assumption that people without children are somehow less entitled to work-life balance and personal commitments outside of the office. That somehow, because one does not have to coordinate after-school pickup or endure the screechy vocals of a high school musical, he or she should be the first volunteer time on weekends or stay late on weeknights. Or that a personal emergency that doesn’t involve a school nurse is less of one.
None of which is true.
It should go without saying, and yet it seems it needs to be said that an individual’s value should not be predicated on his or her parental status. I do not have children. But I do have a precious life that I’m responsible for.