At 29, female and happily married, there is one question I despise more than all others. Its the dreaded, “When are you going to have kids?” People always throw it in there casually, too. Usually between such innocuous questions as, “Hows your mother?” or, “Wheres the bathroom?” Just as Im getting comfortable in a conversation, someone drops in wondering if my ovaries are firing at full capacity and how often Im banging my man. And while theyre at it, whats my current condom bill? Because really, thats what asking about family planning boils down to. (Source: The Most Invasive Question I Get Asked Daily, by Julie Zack Yaste)
Need proof that many parents regret having children? Fifteen ‘rents dish As you get older your mind will make up more and more reasons why it makes sense to have a kid. Don’t be fooled, it’s just evolution tricking you into reproducing — no sane, thinking beast would take on the burden of raising a child if the mind didn’t fool us into it. So, does the world need another one of you? Or are you just being fooled into making a baby… (Source: 15 Parents Explain Why They Regret Having Children | Thought Catalog)
I just discovered Elan Morgan, aka Schmutzie (which in and of itself makes this a pretty super duper Friday), and I also discovered Schmutzie’s kid-free Twitter list (think, icing on the double dark chocolate cake), and — as if that isn’t already the limit for TGIF decadence — I read Schmutzie’s post on BlogHer called “Why I Made A Kid-Free List On Twitter And What Happened When I Did” which is quirky and smart and a perfect match for WNK readers.
Pushing the Baby Button
Read Schmutzie’s post for yourself. Until then I’m going to tempt you by highlighting a few choice passages.
Creating my kid-free list seemed innocent enough to me at the time. I tend to swim in a sea that seems primarily comprised of mommybloggers and daddybloggers, and I was suddenly possessed of the urge to find and collect those out there who fit my particular demographic: people over 30 who do not have children… The kid-free Twitter list had only existed for about half an hour, though, before I started losing followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook. I received a direct message on Twitter telling me that not everyone wanted to celebrate infertility like I did. An e-mail said that the list was cold-hearted. On Facebook, I was asked what I was trying to accomplish with it. (Elena Morgan, BlogHer)
A familiar rant, right? A familiar frustration for the childfree. If we openly acknowledge that we’ve opted out of the birthing bonanza, we inevitably piss people off. Just in voicing our preference to remain childfree we trod on something sacred. “What? You don’t want kids? That’s blasphemy. That’s, that’s inhuman!” The textures and color patterns vary, but the theme is the same. Parents too often become defensive when confronted by childfree couples, as if our personal life choice is a judgment on their marriage, their offspring, their ethics, intelligence, etc. Not all parents I should quickly add. My bride and I count many parent friends who are understanding. But I’d venture that it’s not the norm. Yet. But it is changing, slowly, for the better, I believe.
Beyond Breeder Bingo
And Ms. Morgan fleshes out the familiar Breeder Bingo cliches with some other similarly condescending and/or ignorant comments she’s endured regarding her choice to remain childfree. Here are a few choice comments:
- Why don’t you like children?
- It must be nice to still get to live like you’re twenty.
- When I’ve spent time with women who don’t have children, it feels like there is just something missing. They are incomplete.
- Are you worried that your husband might find someone else who can have children? (Elena Morgan, BlogHer)
The first two are annoying for the obvious reasons. Logic, for example.
And the second two rub my fur backwards because they are simultaneously ignorant and presumptuous. And let’s add smug to that. Especially because it’s so easy to imagine the look on people’s faces when they uttered these genius observations. It’s offensive to assume that childfree by choice adults are incomplete. And equally offensive to assume that a partner would betray a marriage because of a decision to remain childfree. Does it really not occur to parents that the choice to remain childfree is a joint decision? It’s not a power play. It’s no an evil plot to blunt the geneology of a partner. My bride and I discussed whether or not we wanted/intended to have children throughout the first four years that we dated. And we’ve continued the discussion throughout the seven years that we’ve been married. That’s how relationships work. If not, then the question of whether or not to get pregnant is probably the least of the problems a couple needs to deal with.
Back to Schmutzie since she navigates the issue with more grace than I, especially when it comes to the condescending assumptions of some (not all, thank gawd) parents.
Schmutzie Gets Tribal
These kinds of assumptions are common, and they make me more than a little angry. They minimize who we are in this world and the roles that we play, and they define us by what we are perceived to lack. This is why I felt moved to find my tribe on Twitter. An individual’s basic worth does not reside in whether they procreate…
The kid-free Twitter list is simply here to recognize the nearly 20% of us who may not feel as seen as those in the large parenting niche online in which we often socialize. We can sometimes feel a little ignored, and little less well-loved, a little passed over, and it feels kind of nice to be able to put up a hand and say “I’m here” in a group of other people whose lives look a little more like our own. (Elena Morgan, BlogHer)
I’m here. Mommy bloggers and daddy bloggers, we’re here. And we’re childfree. But we’re not the antichrist. And we’re not judging, bashing or mocking you. Well, at least most of the time we’re not. 😉 Sometimes we chide you just a little, but you take yourselves pretty @#$% seriously most of the time. And you don’t hesitate to chide us, so thicken your skin and try to understand why your childfree friends sometimes want to connect with others who’ve decided that two is enough for a happy, fulfilled life.
Thank you, parents. And thank you, Schmutzie!
Throughout much of Latin America motherhood is more destiny than decision for many young women despite limited abilities to care for a child.
Vera Cordeiro, Founder and General Superintendant of Associação Saude Criança, gives details of the situation in Brazil that spans throughout many places in Latin America about the inherent beliefs of motherhood:
Cordeiro says, “…in the favelas of Brazil the identity of motherhood is status–a ‘destination’ sought by teenage girls who view the opportunity to have a baby as a validation of their esteem even though they are unprepared to raise a child.
Favelas can be violent places to live. The rules are often different in places affected by abject poverty. And for young girls, pregnancy is often viewed as ‘protective’ in ways that outsiders may not understand. As it was explained to me, having a baby by a leader in the community associates that girl with a powerful man. That identity can protect her as her child will be recognized as belonging to the leader. This is the destination sought by many young girls.” (La Vie Childfree blogpost: Making Motherhood a Choice in Brazil.)
The Aconchego Project
While this debilitating mindset and incumbent social gridlock are prevalent, efforts are being made to combat the underlying challenges. Associação Saúde Criança was founded in 1991 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to help “poor families by providing help in the areas of education, health, income, housing, and citizenship” (Vera Cordeiro: Making Motherhood a Choice, Not a Destination). In 2005 the organization launched a major initiative called “Aconchego Teen” targeting teenage women and birth rates.
“Aconchego Teen,” which means coziness, a place for warmth and security, is designed as a public square in which teenage girls receive education regarding motherhood and pregnancy. The objective was to change the embedded view in poor teenagers that suggests motherhood is a destination instead of a personal choice. (Vera Cordeiro: Making Motherhood a Choice, Not a Destination.)
The Aconchego Project, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, spans an average of two years for each adolescent and emphasizes other interests and perspectives so that the rate of teen pregnancy decreases (Vera Cordeiro: Making Motherhood a Choice, Not a Destination).
The project seems to be a success with teen pregnancy in Brazil dropping by 34.6% between 2000 and 2010 according to Brazil’s Health Ministry.
So far, over 200 teenagers have participated in Aconchego Teen and the feedback from both parents and teenagers is strongly positive. Not only has the project helped teens understand the difficulties of motherhood but it has also paved the way for a better communication and understanding with their parents. We encourage teens to stay in school and prepare themselves for the labor market. That way, they will experience motherhood when [and if] they are ready to embrace the joys of having a child. (Vera Cordeiro: Making Motherhood a Choice, Not a Destination.)
Read the full article here: Vera Cordeiro: Making Motherhood a Choice, Not a Destination.
Follow Vera Cordeiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@saudecrianca
American culture… assumes that all women want to become mothers. And the best kind of woman — the best kind of mother — is portrayed as one who puts her maternal role above everything else. (The Washington Post)
Did you get that, childfree women? You’re dropping the ball. Tarnishing the ideal. Betraying your gender.
Jessica Valenti‘s (@JessicaValenti) hard-hitting but sage op-ed, “Are all women born to be mothers?“, takes a deserved swipe at the regressive (and increasingly deafening) womanhood-equals-motherhood rhetoric attempting to drown out a century’s progress in gender equality.
“Republicans’ efforts to woo women [which] have become fever-pitch pandering as the party tries to undo damage from comments such as Rep. Todd Akin’s remark that a ‘legitimate’ rape victim can’t get pregnant and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s advice to women who object to invasive ultrasounds before an abortion: ‘You just have to close your eyes.'” (The Washington Post)
The founder of Feministing.com, Valenti’s article was adapted from her new book, Why Have Kids?, which delves into the relationship between motherhood and happiness and is described as “a book for parents who can handle the truth.” If this op-ed is any indication, Valenti doesn’t shy from the gritty and grimy. I’m adding it to my WNK reading list. Expect a review sooner (if it’s great) or later (if it’s not so great!) In the meantime, here’s a glimpse at what she explores in the book.
Valenti drops up a couple of disturbing retro-feminist motherhood bombs before offering a glimmer of hope:
In 2006, the term “pre-pregnant” was coined in a Washington Post story about a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that all women of childbearing age care for their pre-conception health… The CDC was asking women to behave as if they were already pregnant, even if they had no intention of conceiving in the near — or distant — future. For the ﬁrst time, a U.S. government institution was explicitly saying what social norms had always hinted at: All women, regardless of whether they have or want children, are moms-in-waiting. (The Washington Post)
Rebecca Kukla, a professor of internal medicine and philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers’ Bodies said at a recent seminar, “Do lesbians, women who are carefully contracepting and not interested in having children, 13-year-olds, women done having kids, really want their bodies seen as prenatal, understood solely in terms of reproductive function?” (The Washington Post)
And now for the glimmer of hope. Valenti cites a 2010 study from the Pew Research Center which found that the rate of childfree women in the United States had almost doubled during the previous three decades which amounts to approximately 20% of the female population. This is interesting and surprising, especially given how little media attention has been brought to bear on the growing rate of women opting not to reproduce.
Laura Scott, the author of Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice, says the No. 1 reason women give for not wanting children is that they don’t want their lives to change… The other reasons they gave: loving the relationship they were in “as it is,” valuing their “freedom and independence,” not wanting to take on “the responsibility of raising a child,” a desire to focus “on my own interests, needs or goals,” and wanting to accomplish “things in life that would be difficult to do if I was a parent.” (The Washington Post)
As we brace for a national election cycle increasingly drawn to divisive wedge issues we can expect to witness more placating and more pandering, but I hope that we won’t get sucked into a time machine where women are represented primarily as walking, talking reproductive organs. I hope that 20% of the US female population who’ve opted to remain childfree will feel proud and confident as they re-frame “family values” in a less Neanderthal context. And I hope that childfree men will stand up and own our half of the childfree movement. This is not about feminism, gents; it’s about humanism. Time to stand by your woman!
[Hat tip to The Washington Post for providing the source images for the much distorted and contorted collage at the beginning of this post.]
Wow. This site is truly scary. Scary Mommy gets a TON of traffic and the posts and complaints alone could be used to dramatically increase the frequency of vasectomies. There may not be a need for WNK or preach to the choir childfree sites after all. Maybe we should just provide a single link to these angry moms and let them take the heat? The cards are possibly the least depressing and most amusing part of the otherwise scary….
I live in one of the poorest counties in this nation. Teen pregnancy occurs at an alarming rate here. People tell me in my rural community about some of our local high school young women who are actively trying to get pregnant, and they are not even in committed relationships. It seems that any old dad will do for some of these young lasses.
Moreover, in my community I’ve heard too many stories of teen pregnancy further complicated by the abuse of synthetic marijuana, tobacco and alcohol. How do they justify these activities while pregnant to those who inquire? They are all legal activities so therefore they don’t see the danger they are imposing on their own bodies or those of their fetuses. Moreover, many justify the practice of using dangerous substances while pregnant by retorting that their mothers did the same and every thing worked out okay.
How, I wonder, can we claim that the young people in our nation are remotely educated when so many of them cannot prevent an unwanted pregnancy, are actively seeking pregnancy as single young teenagers, or are abusing substances that harm their fetuses when they do become pregnant? When teen pregnancy occurs, parents must take some responsibility, but local schools and community have also failed. Isn’t learning how to control one’s fertility as important in the grand scheme of life as the skill of, say, arithmetic?
Moreover, with the luxury that young people have today in their ability to find any kind of information on the internet, why can’t more young people learn the basic facts about pregnancy (having one and preventing one), even when their parents or schools are not providing that useful information to them? I suppose along with their ability to learn on the internet, they also have the unfortunate ability to purchase substances like synthetic marijuana and to hear testimonials about how harmless the product is and to get step by step instruction on how to smoke it.
Teenagers learn most by example. When a teenager’s parent or community members are modeling unhealthy habits of continuing to have children when they don’t want or can’t afford more, and of abusing substances during pregnancy, who are they to break that pattern? Additionally, with popular television shows that pay pregnant teenagers gobs of money to reveal the banal routines of their lives to a camera, how can teens get the message that being pregnant at 13 or 14 or even seventeen, is not fashionable?
Call me old fashioned, but teen pregnancy will never be fashionable to me.
I did, however have one glimmer of hope when I recently spent time with a lovely local ten year old girl who is raised by multiple family members who fill in for her young mom who is continually in and out of drug rehab. She was talking excitedly about her new cousin that she can’t see because he is premature and in an incubator for a few months (his teenage mother, her aunt, reportedly smoked the synthetic marajuana, “Spice” during her pregnancy).
“You don’t want a baby for a long time, right?” I boldly ask her.
“Oh, no,”she quickly retorts. “Not for a very long time.” My heart soars.
“I’m going to be a singer,” she proudly exclaims.
“You can be anything you want, you know,” I say as I brush aside her pretty blond hair. She is a happy, sharp-witted, and outgoing child despite the difficult environment in which she lives, and she has an earthy beauty. I can well see her on stage.
“Yeah, I know,” she concludes and reverts back to the drawing she’s making of me, her mom, her aunt and new cousin in the plastic box. Way to go, I think. Good for you.
Childfree Chicks is a Facebook group set up by Tasmanian Tori Hodgman for “women who have ended up without kids” for various different reasons including:
- childfree by choice (couples who decide not to procreate)
- childfree by mistake (couples wait until its too late to procreate)
- childfree by biology (baby making bits and pieces compromised, etc.)
The popular group is open to “blokes” as well as chicks, and it provides a place to connect with other childfree couples. It’s absent the vitriol and activism often present in other childfree forums and childfree blogs, offering a refreshing place to share stories among kindred spirits.
In a family-oriented community like Tasmania, not having kids can present social, emotional and professional challenges. Tori Hodgman and friends founded Child Free Chicks, a Facebook that has over 300 members, including some passionate blokes. Here’s what she had to say… (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Despite the fact that Childfree Chicks welcomes men, the catchy-if-somewhat-risque name of the group highlights the fact that so much of childfree discourse is woman-centric. Undoubtedly this is due to the disproportionate bias against childfree women, but I’m curious to understand why this imbalance exists. Men often flaunt their childfree status as a badge of honor, but women are frequently derided. It’s as if society expects women to procreate, but willingly allows men to shirk responsibility.
The decision to have a child with a romantic partner isn’t one most adults take lightly. There’s usually quite a bit of discussion involved, and generally both parties have to be into the idea of procreating before they try to conceive together. However, a Daily Mail article published this week suggests that in many cases, one partner — the driven career woman, specifically — is making the decision for both people involved, and she’s deciding to deprive her husband of the joy of fatherhood. (Huffington Post)
Perhaps this disproportionate emphasis on women’s responsibility to procreate is echoed in the disproportionate numbers of single mothers versus single fathers. Now that I’ve wandered well into wild generalization, it’s worth noting… No, I’d better rein it in. Another time, perhaps.
If you compare the terms “childfree chick” and “childfree bloke”, the former sounds vaguely derogatory or dismissive and the latter sounds practically complimentary. Or at least lighthearted.
Just because a woman has a womb, doesn’t mean she should have to use it. That is the opinion of former Waikato University masters student Theresa Riley… who interviewed 10 childfree couples in the course of her year-long research, said people did not have to justify the decision to have children, but couples who chose not to have children often faced cruel judgment for their decision. (Stuff.co.nz)
I agree with Ms. Riley that women’s biological endowments shouldn’t obligate them to procreate, and yet I’m becoming increasingly conscious that society’s expectations and behaviors don’t always agree.
Time breast-feeding cover: On parenting, can we all get along? (via The Christian Science Monitor)
America got together this week on the national playground to talk mommies, breastfeeding, and good parenting. Time and their cover model-mom, Jamie Lynne Grumet, made sure of that, as the pretty, hand-on-her-hip mom looked out from supermarket magazine aisles, her near-4-year-old son standing on a…