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When it comes to embarking on the journey of parenthood, lots of millennials are saying, “Meh. No, thanks.” According to data from the Urban Institute, birth rates among 20-something women declined 15% between 2007 and 2012. Additional research from the Pew Research Center reflects a longer-term trend of women eschewing parenthood as the number of U.S. women who choose to forego motherhood altogether has doubled since 1970… In an effort to find out why so many young people are really deciding against parenthood, we solicited dozens of responses from our audience… (Source: 11 Brutally Honest Reasons Why Millennials Dont Want Kids)
Soooo many words have been dedicated to women and men not “having it all” recently. The latest comes from a father’s point of view. This piece by Esquire’s Richard Dorment is well written and thought provoking and certainly worth a look if you have the time and energy.
If you don’t, here is a quick summary:
1) No one knows what “having it all” even means. Though a baby or two is unquestionably part of the recipe.
2) No one can actually have it all unless they do not need sleep… unless good sleep is also part of “it all”.
3) Just chasing it all is stressful. and ultimately no one seems completely satisfied with our collective “work-life balance”
4) It is unclear whether this unsettled state is a product of our culture, biology, competition between the sexes, cooperation between the sexes, or the unrealistic expectations hoisted on us by each other, advertisers, technology and contemporary society.
5) I am sure I am missing something (a lot). I read the story during a sweltering blackout at two in the morning and found myself wondering:
a) Has the ability to work remotely made our lives more full and balanced and provided us with unprecedented opportunities to balance our lives? Or the opposite? Everyone seems to be working their asses off when they are not pretending to be fulfilled… not that meaningful work, conquering challenges and purpise-driven living is unfullfilling.
b) Is all of this emphasis on capturing an elusive, undiefined thing intended to make us feel inadequate and insecure so we keep working harder and buying more things?
in response to Why Women Still Can’t Have It All – Atlantic
My best definition of having it all: Living a purpose-driven life of one’s own choosing.
But here’s the problem for parents I think: Putting kids at the top of the purpose pyramid means you may only get to choose ONCE, while the childfree can adjust their pupose and pursuits as they grow… Thoughts?
I like the idea of a childfree dictionary. Tongue-in-cheek of course, no haters please! While “crotchfruit” may be condescending, insulting or disgusting, it is damn creative, if not just plain funny. No?
So go ahead. Try not to be mean, but give us your contributions and definitions for a child free dictionary. We’ll re-post the tally.
does not mention children specifically, but… should it?
Is the modern desire for children, like our want for other new, shiny things, a result of relentless marketing?
The most defensible, obvious answer to both of the questions above is “No”. Biology, instinct, and the innate need to survive and thrive fuel our animalistic drive to procreate. Hormones propel us to copulate and populate, so chow can one lay the blame for overpopulation at the feet of media and advertising?
For starters, in developed countries at least, children no longer have utility beyond fulfilling the (selfish) desires of parents. As many others have reminded us (as in the first story on the following link) children are no longer needed to work the farm or otherwise help support modern families. While children were once a valuable asset, they now appear exclusively on the debit side of a family balance sheet. They are expensive, and the return on capital is not something that can be measured with a calculator. (Nor should it, I promise all the detached, cold calculus leads to something resembling a point.)
So how do we modern, western humans place a value on having babies and raising families? Well, this is where one might reflect on what we see in commercials or hear from celebrities. What about the endless celebration of babies on movie and TV, starting with Disney movies? Which life events are repeatedly, FOREVER, packed with the most drama, joy and possibility? How many babies do you think are born to TV characters every year during sweeps week? More importantly, WHY?
Babies are big, big business. Since the value of children can no longer be calculated, corporations are compelled to fill us with fantasies of a perfect life dependent upon, or punctuated by, a perfect child. The messages we constantly hear and see tell us that babies are priceless, and they make us happy. So, am I imagining things, or is this possibly the western worlds most effective marketing scheme?
Since babies are priceless, there is no ceiling on the amount of money that can/should be spent on them. If you do not spend every earned and borrowed penny on them, you are depriving them, and probably guilty of bad parenting. Your kids probably won’t succeed because you didn’t buy them every possible toy, tool and opportunity. No one is allowed to openly disagree. Parents, especially celebrities, must constantly and publicly repeat the same vague platitudes like “It’s amazing!” or “It’s all about the baby.” or “It gives my life meaning.” If you have 1 child, their birthday better be the best day of your life. (Meaning that it was all down hill from there?) If you have 2, it better be a tie!
Biology does not account for these things, does it? So what does? Marketing? Brilliant marketing?
This item is priceless + it is virtually guaranteed by your neighbors and celebrities to make you happy + fear + guilt + insecurity = ?
What do you think?
The links in the text above provide more links to related stories. And here is one about an actor swimming upstream:
Sometimes there isn’t anything to add, extract or analyze, and bite-sized blog post isn’t enough to satisfy. Sometimes the writing is so compelling the only thing to do is present the entire story. So here are some full meals to chew on (again if you’ve seen them already) repeatedly. The comments are also must reads.
Embroidered across the front of a delicate white toddler’s dress in scarlet letters, this searing slander offers a 21st century modern twist on the proverbial “scarlet letter”. Miriam Schaer a multimedia artist and teacher (Columbia College, Chicago), directs her creative wizardry on childfree women in her online installation for the International Museum of Women‘s MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe.
New York artist, Miriam Schaer, has created a series of almost disturbing pieces about the perceived value of a woman who chooses not to reproduce… I think you’ll find Schaer’s toddler dresses embroidered with expressions of both confusion and disdain, hurled at women who choose not to have children, both unsettling and thought-provoking. (Strollerderby)
Almost disturbing? I’d suggest that these images are disturbing.
But they also are provocative in their simplicity and their “scarlet letter” resonance. No audio guide is needed to engage the viewer or to invite reflection. These quotations are familiar to the childfree, and they drip with prejudice and downright hostility. But rather than hurt or defensiveness, they trigger a more profound (and more important) question: Why? Why are childfree women threatening? Why do childfree women lack humanity? Why do childfree women meet with intolerance?
Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance. (Miriam Schaer)
Each image vibrates with smug intolerance, but collectively the images tell a different if somewhat elusive story.
I detect a theme of fragility, of an almost desperate attempt to denigrate and disempower women who have not chosen to be mothers. I detect fear, fragility, urgency, desperation and intolerance. I detect an unquestioning, un-curious, bullying theme. And why? I suspect it is because childfree women are actually gaining respect and acceptance.
Prejudice increases in proportion to the perceived threat, and the perception that more women are choosing not to have children threatens the beliefs and biases of many. In short, the prejudice is a barometer of the increasingly mainstream conversation about a woman’s reproductive freedom. Childfree women are increasingly visible, respected and vocal, so it is inevitable that their detractors will grow louder, angrier. But underlying these images of intolerance is a message of hope, a message of tolerance and perhaps even growing acceptance.
Do you share my optimism? What is your reaction to Miriam Schaer’s images?
- Unintentional Insults on the Childless & Childfree (lauracarroll.com)
- Myth: Childless Versus Childfree (babyoffboard.com)
- What the Childfree and Single-Child Parents Share (blogher.com)
- Seven Reasons Choosing to be Childfree is on the Rise (psychologytoday.com)
- Why Are We Still Judging Women Without Children? (childfreenews.blogspot.com)
In reflecting on the movie Leila, it is easy to see the conundrum couples face in traditional cultures when they can’t have or don’t want children. Many cultures just don’t accept childless unions. How many people do we know, however, who really might be having children largely for their parents, or for the tradition of having children to carry on their family gene pool, so ingrained in every society, even the most modern of ones? It’s not uncommon.
I have to admit, the continuity of family heritage, and pleasing one’s parents or in-laws with the gift of grandchildren are compelling reasons to procreate. My own parents and in-laws have been exceptionally supportive of my decision not to have children, but if I told all of them tomorrow that I had changed my mind, or that I was pregnant, would they be over-the-moon elated? You bet. Multiple year-long celebrations would be initiated. Who doesn’t like to make people you love that happy (especially because of all they did for you)? Who doesn’t like the idea of having your parents and in-laws helping to shape your child if you know they would be great at it? That part of parenting would be ideal – the part where the baby’s grandparents are cooing over the child, playing on the floor, cleaning up the mess, while you’re reading a book or having cocktails with friends. But, then the grandparents leave, and you’re stuck with all the responsibility.
Perhaps if we lived with our siblings and parents as adults, like in some traditional societies, raising a child wouldn’t be that daunting, what with all those extra hands to help out. Frankly, multiple wives made it much easier too (but don’t get too excited about that idea until you see the film Leila).
Leila grippingly explores the consequences of ignoring one’s own needs and instincts, and one’s own biological destiny to please another entity, or a culture at large. It serves as an important reminder to know ourselves and our partners and to ensure that when our partner tells us that he or she does not want a child, to believe it and to discuss that choice with frankness and honesty.
Moreover, people choosing not to have children or questioning whether it is the right choice also need to have those same frank conversations with their parents. Hopefully, if they love you enough, and if they are not as imperious and opportunistic as Reza’s mother, they will happily accept the grand dog or cat and more quality time together (because you’re not saddled with the time demands of parenting) that you offer them instead.
I recently watched Leila, a mesmerizing Iranian film that debuted by Persian film director Dariush Mehrjui. It chronicles the story of a young married couple (Leila and Reza) living in modern Teheran who can’t conceive a child. More exactly, the couple learns that she, the wife cannot have a child. Trouble ensues.
In one of the earliest scenes the viewer meets the young man’s mother, who, while celebrating her daughter-in-law’s birthday announces that she can’t wait to meet the couple’s son (only they don’t have one). This woman, so insistent that her only son have a child to carry on the family’s lineage (never mind her handful of daughters who might procreate) soon learns, that her wish won’t be possible. The couple jumps through some fertility hoops to no avail, and the Reza consoles his wife by insisting to her that he really has had no interest in having children all along. Leila seems to believe him, and they resolve to enjoy each others’ company without the distraction of children.
Then Reza’s mother intercedes.
Leila and Reza’s love is palpable. Their connection and mutual admiration seem strong. But their love and ties are harrowingly tested in a tug-of-war between their modern marriage and Islamic tradition, between their dreams and Reza’s mother’s dreams. The film offers a glimpse into the complexities of living in contemporary Iran and the complexities of giving back to one’s parents.
Leila’s mother-in-law persistently, deceptively convinces her that Reza is desperate to have a child. She harasses Leila incessantly until Leila agrees to permit her husband to marry a second wife who can give him a child. Though adamantly opposed to the idea, Reza eventually yields to his mother’s desire and to the traditional Islamic expectations of him.
We watch the heart-wrenching process of selecting a new bride through Leila’s eyes. We witness and understand her anguish. Ironically, it is Reza’s sisters and father who try to convince Leila to refuse the second marriage. (Ostensibly polygamy is legal in Iran provided previous wives agree.) Leila’s family is horrified when they discover Reza’s plan to remarry.
Leila’s doubt that Reza would be happy without a child and her decision to encourage a second marriage inevitably proves devastating to her union with Reza. She signs her fate away to external factors and concludes: “God has not given me a child. He has given me the gift of eternal patience and endurance.” Her choices test the limits of that endurance (and the viewer’s).
I won’t spoil the plot, because the film is worth watching. We never really know why Leila consents to her insipid mother-in-law’s wishes. Does she hope this will make her a better Muslim and wife? Does she simply wish to please her new family? Does she too desperately desire a child even if impossible through her own DNA? Or does her self sacrificing decision reveal unconditional love for her husband? Perhaps all of these factors are in play, but the film is so compelling precisely because we never learn the answer.
something. But who cares? Let’s focus on the real newsy part of this news story:
George also revealed he has no plans to dye his greying hair and is embracing it instead.
How’s that for shattering taboos and expressing one’s (actorly) individuality? We get it George. You’re intelligent and independent and won’t sell photos of your beautiful offspring because you don’t give a shit about what Hollywood or the Celebrity ‘zines think; but grey hair…? Seriously? What’s next, no more teeth whitening?
Okay. Clooney is a good talker and is committed to being childfree and child-proofing his house in Italy would destroy its architectural integrity and… grey hair. The man seems to know what he wants.
“I’ve always known fatherhood wasn’t for me. Raising kids is a huge commitment and has to be your top priority. For me, that priority is my work. That’s why I’ll never get married again.”
- George Clooney – career before kids (heatworld.com)
- “Gallery: Ten Celebrities Give Their Reasons For Being Childless By Choice”
- No Kids for Kim Kardashian? (WhyNoKIds.com)
- Celebrities, WiNKs, Taboos and The Childfree Apology (WhyNoKIds.com)
- Not a Loser, Baby (WhyNoKIds.com)
- Even Movie Stars are Challenged by Parenting and Non-Parenting Roles (WhyNoKIds.com)