Kate Banister and her husband Ian spent two or three years weighing up whether to have kids. “We both had our ups and downs, but now were equally on the same page about it which is very fortunate,” the 37-year-old business owner said. Getting their two dogs Ruby and Saffy helped the Banisters make up their minds. “We thought this is actually quite nice, you get the interaction and the nurturing with the dogs, and you can still have a life. But new research suggests one in four women who choose not to have children live to regret their decision, as they face growing old without family.” (Source: Will women who choose to go childfree regret it? | Stuff.co.nz)
WNK readers will appreciate this candid look at childfree guilt (or the absence thereof) and the persistent pressure on women (rather than men) to become parents.
Sylvia D. Lucas (@SylDLucas) wants to redirect the conversation away from why women are choosing not to have kids and toward the far more important message that women need to understand that they have the choice. In short, debating whether or not childfree women are selfish, etc. is the wrong focus and is overlooking an important demographic shift. Lucas (aka Kristen J. Tsetsi, @ktsetsi) and NBC Connecticut’s Shirley Chan. effectively dilate the conversation without succumbing to bingo volleying and book promo. Well done!
No Childfree Guilt
That’s right, Lucas recently published No Children, No Guilt, a nonfiction book about the choice to opt out of parenthood. Drawing upon her own experience (including two failed marriages) Lucas offers a welcome antidote to the those concerned with the risks of childfree guilt. I just purchased a copy from Amazon, and I’ll pass along my verdict shortly. For now, I’ll defer to the ever wise Laura Carroll.
You will turn the pages grinning, definitely be prone to giggling or even laughing out loud, as I did. Ideally for those who have not 100% accepted they are childfree or are not quite completely ok with it yet, this slim Ebook is also for those who have made peace with it. Like any fun ride, it ended too soon. ~ Laura Carroll (“Anonymous” Was a Woman)
Or, in the words and interpretive dance of the author, “Guilty? Hahahaha…” Take that, childfree guilt!
Miriam Schaer and Melissa Potter are asking you to answer a childfree question: What’s your baby?
No, not your cute little bundle of time-released anxiety and tuition payments. Your metaphorical baby. As in, “My baby is my medical career.” And, “My baby is volunteering in my community.” Or, “My baby is a travel ‘bucket list’ a mile long!”
Childfree adults often cite non-childbearing priorities that trumped their reproductive genes. Sometimes our reasons for not breeding are overarching and a bit abstract like freedom, autonomy, etc. But I think that Miriam Schaer (remember “Childfree Women Lack Humanity”?) is on to something.
People often refer to their passion, their vocation or avocation, their life’s work as — their “baby.” What’s Your Baby? … [explores the] broadly embedded cultural hostility toward women (rarely men) without children that appears on the rise even as non-traditional families gain greater acceptance. What’s Your Baby? seeks to re-frame this conversation. (Miriam Schaer)
Schaer’s unflinching look at a woman’s childfree existence offers solace and perhaps even a glimpse of optimism to Melissa Potter. The following much abridged excerpt captures a familiar (if often concealed) feeling of judgment endured by childfree adults.
“We’ve always felt sorry for you and Rene that you couldn’t balance your amazing career with a family.” 18 words that hit me like a ton of bricks…
I realized I’d been sorta hoodwinked. This same family member said many times she was so thrilled with my career, and even said she didn’t think having kids was necessary, particularly with such a life fulfilled like mine…
But to know that even to a Quaker radical feminist who adores me thinks I am at some deficit sucks. I admit it: I care what people think. And this is what people think of my gender, in the age of “have it all.” You are never enough, you are always somehow fucked up for not having a baby…
I invite you to take part in the amazing Miriam Schaer’s artwork, “What’s Your Baby?” This project celebrates YOU, in all your iterations. It is working to bring some 21st Century complexity to the question of life and what we contribute. (via Melissa Potter’s “Gender Assignment” tumblr)
Experience toughens up childfree adults, but it doesn’t mean that the judgment doesn’t sting. And while parents knock us for overreacting, suggesting that we’re responding to criticism and judgment that is overstated or doesn’t even exist at all, I’m confident that Potter’s experience will be familiar to many CF, especially women.
Rather than sawing away on little violins, the “What’s your baby?” project flips the coin. If we childfree have prioritized other life choices over reproducing, let’s own them. Out loud. Let’s celebrate them!
My Baby Is
Think about your own answer to the question, and jot a quick note. “My baby is…” And then submit it to inspire others.
As for my own experience, I can’t narrow my babies down to just one. While I can’t imagine fathering multiple flesh-and-blood progeny, I’ve had the good fortune of gestating and loving and supporting quite a few metaphorical babies. And for the most part, there’s been no greater satisfaction than sending them out into the world when the right time came.
As a college student I edited a pedigreed literary and art magazine called the Georgetown Journal back into thriving existence from mere embers. That was my first “baby”. There were other babies in my early twenties too including teaching, coaching and launching an innovative service learning program. I adopted and parented a lacrosse program in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a swimming program in Paris, France. I adopted and adapted two innovative interdisciplinary humanities curricula and launched an early e-learning platform. In my thirties other “babies” of mine included developing a spectacular luxury vacation property in Paris; co-parenting a fast growing ecommerce portal for marine supplies; launching two now-thriving nonprofits in the Adirondacks’ Champlain Valley; transitioning an AEA theater through growing pains and success in its late twenties; and several eco-friendly historic rehabilitation projects including ongoing Rosslyn Redux. I’m not bragging. I’ve often struggled and sometimes failed at parenting my “babies”. (And to be honest, I’ve left the biggest flops off the list!) But the point is that I have had the good fortune of many “babies”! Life has been extremely full for me and immensely rewarding. I harbor few regrets and bold hopes. Perhaps that’s my most important “baby” of all: a life free to dream up and dive into new challenges and adventures without the risk of losing or damaging a flesh-and-blood baby.
Now I’m on to a new “baby”. As I headed out into the world from college I didn’t know precisely what career path I intended to pursue, but I understood that my ambitions including writing and entrepreneurship. Along the way, many of my “babies” have included this DNA. My newest adventure is no exception. I am a blogger, a storyteller, a writer. Full time. That is my newborn. My “baby” is my story. Thank you for helping make it possible!
The TIME magazine article, “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children,” has sparked an electric storm of media attention. It’s a shame the writers at WNK are too busy enjoying a childfree summer on the lake to respond. We kid! No…wait! We DON’T kid! We have a lot to say but we are busy boating AND reading all the articles about the TIME hoopla. We promise to comment soon! For now we offer you a “Friday Funny” and hope that you all remember to laugh a little more today since everyday is Friday when you are childfree!
For some reason we find this cartoon hilarious.
Do you agree? Funny or not here we come!
If you have a “Friday Funny” for WNK please share!
- The pros and cons of a childfree life (kvue.com)
- Singles in the News: A childfree roundup, black love in a time of poverty, Google me! and visual reinforcement for staying single (partyofones.com)
- Time magazine catches on to the childfree movement, misses the green angle (grist.org)
- No kid-ding: Your view of the childfree life? (boston.com)
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?
When a woman reaches a certain age, she is expected to start thinking about having children. If she doesn’t, society demands an answer. (Telegraph)
Sarah Rainey recently took up the much discussed and debated February Vogue article in which Dame Helen Mirren “confronts the final female taboo“: childlessness. Like many commentators, Rainey finds Mirren’s candor refreshing in a media maelstrom prone to condemning childless celebrities (or at least badgering them to explain and justify why they are childless.) Regarding her own experience, Mirren explains that women never judged or harassed her. Men did.
[It] was only boring old men. And whenever they went ‘What? No children? Well, you’d better get on with it, old girl,’ I’d say ‘No! F— off!’ ~ Dame Helen Mirren (Telegraph)
Female childless celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston and Kylie Minogue are relentlessly interrogated. Pregnant? Baby bump? Just pudgy? Why no baby bump? When will you become mother? Why aren’t you a mother?
“The expectation is that they [women] will marry and have children,” explains Sue Fagalde Lick, author of Childless by Marriage. “If they don’t, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with them.” (Telegraph)
What’s Right with Them
Sure, once upon a time, looong ago childbearing was an almost essential and unquestioned connubial responsibility. Make babies to chop firewood, grow crops, protect us from marauders, care for us when we are old. I get. We get it.
But one of the really groovy perks of living in the first world in the dawn of the 21st century is that we’re no longer locked into this breed-or-bust marital model. Here’s a telling statistical arc.
An ONS study in 2010 found that just one in nine women born in 1938 remained childless, rising to one in five women born in 1965. It is projected that a quarter of 45-year-olds will be childless by 2018. (Telegraph)
Who are these disreputable, irresponsible scallywags? It’s time to expose them, to reveal them for who and what they are!
“You will find them among the higher educated, the ambitious and the high-flyers,” explains [author Fay] Weldon. “They, like Mirren, have a different but equal service to make to the community. They should be praised, not condemned.” (Telegraph)
Right. Different but equal. Ambitious, highly educated high-flyers.
Childless Women: From Taboo to Equality
Yet, as Mirren articulates, women are frequently derided when childless. And while she lays the bugaboo at the insensitive feet of men, it seems that she may be oversimplifying the equation.
It was mostly women who were negative about my decision… I saw that it’s often women who don’t support other women’s life choices; it’s often women’s stereotypes of what we should be and do that get in our way. (Flurt!)
We’ll let Dame Mirren and Ms. Anderson debate whether men or women are more to blame for reinforcing long stale judgments and condescension toward childless women. What is evident is that the taboo endures despite statistical shift and more widespread recognition that motherhood should be a decision, not destiny.
Men, women, society. Something is stuck. Or clinging. Either way, it is high time we move forward. There’s a bright future ahead. It is a Technicolor tomorrow where equality reigns and we encourage and celebrate diversity of all flavors. Moms respect dads. Dads respect moms. Let’s start with that! And parents respect childless couples. And childless individuals. And childless by choice respect parents. And all of us embrace and support those who wanted to be parents but couldn’t. We might even discover that it is pretty fascinating to hear each other’s stories about why we are the way we are, to listen without judging or sneering or condescending or belittling. Sounds great, right?
To all women with children who unfairly judge those of us who have decided not to follow in your motherhood footsteps, I say, “accept every woman for who she is. Respect the decisions she has made for herself. Just because her choices are not the same as yours is no reason to criticize or belittle. She is not any less a woman than you are because she chose not to have children. Women need to support one another and to encourage one another to be who and what we each want to be.” (Flurt!)
Transform Childless Taboo into Folklore
In truth, it is “boring old men” and myopic mothers who perpetuate the breed-or-bust stereotype for women. But it’s also true that many of us in the childless by choice camp perpetuate “breeder” stereotypes that offend parents. Sometimes it is unintentional. Sometimes not. Often we are just as guilty of judging and sneering and condescending and belittling. Perhaps it’s a defensive mechanism or a way to vent after absorbing yet another breeder bingo. But it is not helpful. And it too reinforces the divide between parents and childless couples.
Let’s stop. We can. I challenge us to transform childless women taboos into folklore. Trite, amusing folklore. Yes, we can.
Rubbers are in the news, and the childfree may well want to pay attention. Not only are condoms one of the most reliable, affordable and convenient ways to preserve your childfree choice, but if Microsoft strongman Bill Gates has his way, next generation condoms will also be one of the sexiest (and most enjoyable) ways to avoid pregnancy.
Here’s the problem.
Most men prefer sex without a condom, but the risks of not using one are disproportionately borne by women. That’s a big problem. (SodaHead)
But that first part, the part about men preferring to skinny dip, that might be changing soon. Bill Gates will pay you $100K to dream up a sexier condom that men will choose to wear because it enhances protected intercourse.
This winning idea would need to be a condom design that doesn’t reduce sexual pleasure for either party, and if possible, makes it more pleasurable than if you didn’t use one. (SodaHead)
As ABC News put it, “Bill Gates’ latest project gives a whole new meaning to the old Microsoft slogan, ‘Your potential. Our Passion.’ The Microsoft founder and its former CEO is getting out of software and into, er, hardware.” Forgive me. I couldn’t resist including that. There’s something about condoms — whether old school rubbers or “next generation condoms” — that tend to make men a little squirrely when we talk about them. We love them. We hate them.
$100,000 Condom Challenge
Some clever sheafmeister may be headed to the bank soon if he can figure out a way to invent a next generation condom that makes intercourse so much more enjoyable that men the world over will prefer to use it than skip it. Great concept, Mr. Gates. And that $100,000 is just the door prize. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a lot more loot ready to transform ideas into sex toys. Er, contraception and HIV prevention supplies.
The estimated 80 grant recipients can then apply for a follow-up grant worth up to $1 million. (ABC News)
Intriguing, transform condoms from necessary inconvenience to smart sexual enhancement gadgets that just happen to also prevent pregnancy and the transmission of disease. It’s a compelling concept. Here’s the way Bill and Melinda talk about the future of man’s other best friend.
What if we could develop a condom that would provide all the benefit of our current versions, without the drawbacks? Even better, what if we could develop one that was preferred to no condom? […] The idea of a condom that men would prefer to no condom is a revolutionary idea, but we know more today about sexual function than at any time in the past, and advances in relevant disciplines such as neuroscience, vascular biology, urology, reproductive biology, materials science, and other fields can contribute to new and unconventional approaches. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Impatient Optimists)
Is this pie in the sky carrot dangling or is the Gates Foundation propelling innovation toward a realistic, deliverable objective? Well, it turns out that at least one forward thinking company is already working on next generation condom prototypes. It turns out that Marina del Rey based ORIGAMI Condoms™ is independently working on a similar project.
Three patented silicone condoms, invented by Danny Resnic of Los Angeles, CA, began their US clinical trials in the fall of 2011, with funding from the National institutes of Allergies and Infectious Disease, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (ORIGAMI Condoms)
And if you thought that $1ooK with a possibility of $1 million follow-up funding from the Gates Foundation was good, listen to this.
Generous NIH funding totaling nearly USD $3,100,000 has supported the company’s R&D and three Phase I clinical trials. An additional USD $3,000,000 of NIH funding is anticipated for 3 large scale Phase II clinical trials of the ORIGAMI Condoms™… (ORIGAMI Condoms)
So what’s so innovative about ORIGAMI Condoms™ that explains such significant investment so far? Take a look at this video to see what they’re working on.
Still with me? Good. Because I’ve saved the best for last.
Makin’ Bacon Condoms
While Bill Gates was offering a small fortune for a condom that “feels good,” the bro-y entrepreneurs at J & D’s were busy creating a condom that tastes like bacon. (Gawker)
You read that right. And sorry, no video for this one. Here’s what Justin and Dave of J&D’s have to say for their effort to trump lambskin sheafs. Or something…
J&D’s Bacon Condoms™ are proudly Made in America of the highest quality latex. Every Bacon Condom has been rigorously tested to help ensure reliability and the utmost safety for when you’re makin’ Bacon. As an added bonus, J&D’s baconlube™ ultra premium water based meat flavored personal lubricant has been generously applied inside and out for an even more hot pork experience. (Bacon Condoms)
As Jenn Harris at the Los Angeles Times asks, “Why did it take so long to put a smoked meat-flavored contraceptive on the market?” Why indeed?
Only time will tell whether or not the next generation condom will remember the ancient art of folded paper or the equally timeless allure of bacon…
Until then, you can rest assured that no hogs were slaughtered to make the bacon condoms:
Don’t worry, though: Bacon condoms only appear to “make your meat look like meat.” The condoms are made of latex, and come coated with the company’s special brand of water-based lube. (Huffington Post)
Could parents learn a thing or two from hunter-gatherers? Perhaps.
But just as the childfree get sensitive when parents judge their choice not to have children, parents tend to get touchy when the childfree judge or advise their parenting. In short, I’m venturing into tricky territory by advocating hunter-gatherer parenting practices to my “childed” contemporaries. And yet while I may be off-base, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some meaningful reflection to be had here…
Many of the world’s hunter-gatherer societies have a laissez-faire style of parenting and consider young children to be autonomous individuals whose desires should not be thwarted (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers). Consequently some societies allow children to play with dangerous objects such as sharp knives and fires letting them be free to learn from mistakes but also to be hurt.
However, hunter-gatherer societies also foster precocious development of social skills in their children.
The Westerners who have lived with hunter-gatherers and other small-scale societies speculate that these admirable qualities develop because of the way in which their children are brought up: namely, with constant security and stimulation, as a result of the long nursing period, sleeping near parents for several years, far more social models available to children through allo-parenting, far more social stimulation through constant physical contact and proximity of caretakers, instant caretaker responses to a child’s crying, and the minimal amount of physical punishment. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
Close Contact Among Hunter-Gatherers
Sharing a bed, or at least the same bedroom, is common practice among parents and their children in hunter-gatherer societies and many cultures throughout the world. It is only recently in Western society that isolation has become part of common parenting tactics.
A cross-cultural sample of 90 traditional human societies identified not a single one with mother and infant sleeping in separate rooms: that current Western practice is a recent invention responsible for the struggles at putting kids to bed that torment modern Western parents. American pediatricians now recommend not having an infant sleep in the same bed with its parents, because of occasional cases of the infant ending up crushed or else overheating; but virtually all infants in human history until the last few thousand years did sleep in the same bed with the mother and usually also with the father, without widespread reports of the dire consequences feared by pediatricians. That may be because hunter-gatherers sleep on the hard ground or on hard mats; a parent is more likely to roll over onto an infant in our modern soft beds. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
From slings to cradle boards, hunter-gatherers employ a wide variety of techniques/devices to carry their children resulting in constant contact between the mother (or another caregiver) and the infant. Only when the child is older and mobile does the child choose to voluntarily venture away, usually to play with other children. (Note: Some consider swaddling or placing an infant in a cradle board cruel because it restricts the child’s movement. Others believe it causes the child permanent damage.)
[However,] there are no personality or motor differences, or differences in age of independent walking, between Navajo children who were or were not kept on a cradle board, or between cradle-boarded Navajo children and nearby Anglo-American children. […] Hence it is argued that doing away with cradle boards brings no real advantages in freedom, stimulation, or neuromotor development. Typical Western children sleeping in separate rooms, transported in baby carriages, and left in cribs during the day are often socially more isolated than are cradle-boarded Navajo children. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
Debate and studies are still ongoing about whether it is better to leave a child alone when it is crying with no reason or if it should be held and comforted. While there is no consensus on the issue, hunter-gatherers generally favor comforting a troubled child.
Observers of children in hunter-gatherer societies commonly report that, if an infant begins crying, the parents’ practice is to respond immediately. […] The result is that !Kung infants spend at most one minute out of each hour crying, mainly in crying bouts of less than 10 seconds—half that measured for Dutch infants. Many other studies show that 1-year-old infants whose crying is ignored end up spending more time crying than do infants whose crying receives a response. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
What are Allo-parents?
Allo-parents are individuals who are not the biological parents but who play a role in a child’s life and do some caregiving.
In small-scale societies, the allo-parents are materially important as additional providers of food and protection. Hence studies around the world agree in showing that the presence of allo-parents improves a child’s chances for survival. But allo-parents are also psychologically important, as additional social influences and models beyond the parents themselves. Anthropologists working with small-scale societies often comment on what strikes them as the precocious development of social skills among children in those societies, and they speculate that the richness of allo-parental relationships may provide part of the explanation. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
Population numbers affect the socialization of children of various ages. In all cities, and in rural areas of moderate population density, children are separated by age, and will learn and play in age cohorts (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers). However in small-scale societies, the smaller group of children will interact more simply because there are less of them and situations would arise that make is easier to keep all the children together in spite of age differences.
A typical hunter-gatherer band numbering around 30 people will on the average contain only about a dozen preadolescent kids, of both sexes and various ages. Hence it is impossible to assemble separate age-cohort playgroups, each with many children, as is characteristic of large societies. Instead, all children in the band form a single multi-age playgroup of both sexes. […] The young children gain from being socialized not only by adults but also by older children, while the older children acquire experience in caring for younger children. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
Because hunter-gatherer children sleep with their parents, they are exposed to their parents having sexual intercourse which inevitably leads to groups of mixed-gender children mimicking what they witness.
Either the adults don’t interfere with child sex play at all, or else !Kung parents discourage it when it becomes obvious, but they consider child sexual experimentation inevitable and normal. It’s what the !Kung parents themselves did as children, and the children are often playing out of sight where the parents don’t see their sex games. Many societies, such as the Siriono and Piraha and New Guinea Eastern Highlanders, tolerate open sexual play between adults and children. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
State vs. Hunter-gatherer Child-rearing
[A] tentative generalization is that individual autonomy, even of children, is a more cherished ideal in hunter-gatherer bands than in state societies, where the state considers that it has an interest in its children, does not want children to get hurt by doing as they please, and forbids parents to let a child harm itself. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
In the modern world there is much variation among industrial state societies where parenting practices differ from state to state and between classes and generations. But it does seem that their may be some universal lessons to learn from hunter-gatherer parenting.
Everybody in the world was a hunter-gatherer until the local origins of agriculture around 11,000 years ago, and nobody in the world lived under a state government until 5,400 years ago. The lessons from all those experiments in child-rearing that lasted for such a long time are worth considering seriously. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
Some hunter-gatherer parenting practices are obviously not worth emulating.
I don’t recommend that we return to the hunter-gatherer practices of selective infanticide, high risk of death in childbirth, and letting infants play with knives and get burned by fires. Some other features of hunter-gatherer childhoods, like the permissiveness of child sex play, feel uncomfortable to many of us, even though it may be hard to demonstrate that they really are harmful to children. Still other practices are now adopted by some citizens of state societies, but make others of us uncomfortable—such as having infants sleep in the same bedroom or in the same bed as parents, nursing children until age 3 or 4, and avoiding physical punishment of children. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
However, there are many less controversial hunter-gatherer parenting practices which might well server our modern state societies.
It’s perfectly feasible for us to transport our infants vertically upright and facing forward, rather than horizontally in a pram or vertically but facing backward in a pack. We could respond quickly and consistently to an infant’s crying, practice much more extensive allo-parenting, and have far more physical contact between infants and caregivers. We could encourage self-invented play of children, rather than discourage it by constantly providing complicated so-called educational toys. We could arrange for multi-age child playgroups, rather than playgroups consisting of a uniform age cohort. We could maximize a child’s freedom to explore, insofar as it is safe to do so. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)
I hope you’ve made it this far. Interesting, right? Before lambasting Jared Diamond (or me), pause. Consider. Sometimes we feel judged even when we’re not. Sometimes we feel advised even when we’re not. I know, the title of my blog post suggests otherwise. And hopefully it got your attention, provoked your curiosity, compelled you to read the post. Perhaps you’ll even grab the book and probe further. Your comments after reading the book would real really, really welcome. Especially since I haven’t read it. Yet.
Source for Hunter-Gatherer Parenting Post:
- From The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright 2012 by Jared Diamond.
- Newsweek and The Daily Beast
UPDATE: For some reason this post got lost in the holiday mail!
I’m too excited to sleep! On Saturday I’m taking my goddaughter to see Annie on Broadway for her 9th birthday. It’s going to be the best birthday ever – just like it was my best Christmas gift ever when I was nine and my parents took me (31 years ago)! I think. I hope.
Am I trying too hard because I don’t have kids of my own? Nope. I just want to be the cool Auntie, like my idol the Savvy Auntie. I want to be the best godmama in the world every time I see my godchildren (four and counting). There is no way that I could sustain this level of pressure 24/7.
Am I forcing my own wants on this little girl that I love to bits? Perhaps. Last year I bought a rare Barbie – because I loved/loooove Barbie! The year before it was art supplies and jewelry and a fancy dress, all things I craved as a kid and still do. No complaints from the recipient so far.
Am I trying to buy love with gifts? Maybe. I had a cool aunt who bought the best gifts and she was my favorite until she had little girl of her own. (Me? Jealous?)
Am I trying to influence this poor child into becoming more like me? Ha! Isn’t that what “real” parents do? (I still want to be my mom when/if I grow up.)
Still, I can’ t help thinking: what if it’s the worst birthday ever and she winds up in therapy because she really wanted to see Mary Poppins on Broadway instead but, no, I MADE her see Annie? Gah! To be continued…
Hey WNKsters what did you get your nieces, nephews, godchildren this year for Christmas/Hanukkah?
UPDATE PART 2: No one cried or died! Hooray! Success. Now how do I top it?
Childfree discussion and debate generally focuses on women, curiously quiet on the topic of childfree men. But a March 2012 Psychology Today post by Ellen Walker (clinical psychologist and author of Complete Without Kids) titled, “Childfree Men: Misunderstood and Often Maligned!”, examines childfree men. Walker’s look at the reasoning behind childfree men’s choice and the perception of childfree men within our society is thoughtful and compelling
Childfree men fly under the radar screen more often than their female counterparts. In our culture, the role of father is not deemed essential in the life of a man. For women, on the other hand, many consider being a mother to be a chief purpose in life. Some people go so far as to propose that this is a woman’s main reason for existing. But men who do not become dads are still viewed with suspicion, and they often get a bad rap! They are often thought to be immature little boys who never grew up and whose primary goal in life is to play. (Psychology Today)
I’ve laughed off this last judgment often enough. In fact, I’m happy to admit that there’s some truth in it. But these dismissive stereotypes inevitably can damage a man’s character and — as Walker points out — can even damage a man’s workforce opportunities.
Employers often prefer men who are dads, as they are viewed as more reliable and responsible employees than are guys who have no one to consider but themselves. (Psychology Today)
This is ironic given the fact that childfree mothers are perceived as profiting in the workforce due to increased focus, lack of maternity leave, etc. (Read Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?)
Childfree men also risk stress induced by failing to living up to social expectations.
It’s hard for many people to imagine that a couple simply would prefer to be on their own, unencumbered by children and the responsibilities that come with parenting. (Psychology Today)
Negative stereotypes are attached to childfree men of any social standing including celebrities who are often painted as immature playboys if they choose to remain childfree. Witness George Clooney and Simon Cowell, both childfree men inspiring endless tabloid, who both devote themselves to their careers and civic goals and are wildly accomplished.
Archetypal Childfree Men
Childfree men are as diverse as their female counterparts, with distinct personalities and differing reasons for not having or choosing not to have children.
- Childfree by happenstance: “Some have simply never met the right partner with whom to create a family, and their ambivalence about this is such that they’re not going to go out to actively seek it” (Psychology Today).
- Childfree by choice: “They have made a conscious decision to not have kids, either due to lifestyle or to life values. If they are in a relationship, it’s with someone who shares their view and also has chosen a life without kids” (Psychology Today).
- Childfree by circumstance: “They would have loved to have become fathers, but they simply couldn’t make it happen. Perhaps their partners were infertile, or perhaps they never married due to shyness or other barrier to meeting a mate” (Psychology Today). These men may wish to be fathers and may feel grief that they do not have children or have the chance to be fathers.
I would augment the first two examples. With respect to childfree men due to “happenstance”, I suspect that ambivalence transcends matching up with the appropriate partner. Men often say, “It really didn’t matter to me whether or not we had kids, but it was important to my wife.” Perhaps this is bravado, a sort of guy-to-guy way of dumping the parenting instinct on your spouse. But I suspect it’s sincere. I’ve never felt a burning desire to be a father. I’ve been curious at times, and I’ve even felt a poignant twinge of sadness now and then. This is especially the case when I witness my brother interacting with his daughters or my sister-in-law and brother-in-law interacting with their sons. But these same children, as my nieces and nephews, more than compensate for the few glimpses of sorrow. And in all cases these wonders and laments are short lived. From what I can tell, this ambivalence toward having children does not hinge upon finding the right mate. Some of us simply feel ambivalent about having children!
Walker’s notion of childfree men who’ve been motivated to forgo childbearing due to values or lifestyle overlooks some other likely reasons that both men and women elect to remain childfree. A couple of obvious examples are genetics and economics. Many childfree men and women do not consider their gene pool or their earning potential sufficient to safely risk procreating. Perhaps she sees these as somehow falling under the broad value/lifestyle categories, but these are important and relevant considerations when evaluating whether or not to have a child. If reproducing is genetically or financially risky, some prudent men (and women) opt for prudence.
Childfree Men Tomorrow
With an eye to the future, Walker acknowledges that choosing to remain childfree is becoming an increasingly acceptable option for individuals and couples. Perhaps low-cost and no-cost contraception, shifting social norms and broader education will reduce unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, resulting in intentional childbearing and a stigma-free childfree option. Walker concludes with an optimistic prediction:
Who knows, maybe in twenty years, no one will bat an eye if a man doesn’t have kids. He won’t be viewed as an immature playboy who never grew up. He may even be perceived as someone who is more able to fully focus on goals and aspirations, because he is not distracted by the responsibilities of parenting. (Psychology Today)
Let’s help make her prediction come true, childfree men!