December 19, 2014

The Happiness Project – “Lighten Up” on the Childfree

Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

The NYTimes bestseller by Gretchen Rubin is a year-in-the-life exploration of a writer trying to live her life happier. What does that mean? Each month is broken into a theme: energy, love, play, etc. April’s theme is “Lighten Up” with a subtitle: Parenthood. Hmm. Maybe that means you don’t need to “lighten up” if you don’t have kids or you are already pretty enlightened?
Nope. Not according to the author. Rubin cites a study that says “child
care” is only slightly more pleasant than commuting, and one that says
marital satisfaction declines after the first child is born (picking up
again after they leave the nest). Then she disputes these findings, all
the while complaining about her kids and marital satisfaction mostly
relating to fights about her kids.

“Now as a parent myself, I realize how much the happiness of parents depends
on the happiness of their children and grandchildren.”

Really? But then again the kids did give Rubin a reason to write a bestseller.
We at WNK believe that by being childfree, everyday is a project in
happiness.

From the Happiness Project Blog:

Do your children make you happy? Some research says NO! I say YES!

Read the article here

Hey WNKers have you read The Happiness Project?

 

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Childfree Women Lack Humanity

Childless women lack an essential humanity. (Miriam Schaer)“Childless women lack an essential humanity.”

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?

PANKs and PUNKs (Professional Aunties and Uncles No Kids)

Image representing SavvyAuntie as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

The number of PANKs (Professional Aunties No Kids) and PUNKs (Professional Uncles No kids) is growing and their influence on children is in the news. The founder of the auntie movement is Melanie Notkin at www.savvyauntie.com. She has an active blog and book that guides child-free aunties on all things kiddie. Notkin is the creator of the term PANK and she also owns the trademark.

From her website:

A few years ago, DINKs was the new segment marketers had their eye on – Dual Income No Kids. PANKs, while focusing specifically on women (married, partnered or single) who have no kids, is a pretty large market in the US. In fact, the 2010 US Census Report: Fertility of American Women states that 47.1  percent of women through age 44 do not have kids (check “All Races” report). And that number has been steadily growing over the last couple of decades. In 1976, only 35 percent were childless.

Notkin gives statistics on the spending potential of the emerging PANK market:

-  According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 50 percent of single women own their own homes. They’re also the fastest-growing segment of new home buyers, second home buyers, car purchasers, new investors, and travelers. (Who hasn’t dreamed of taking the nieces and nephews on their first trip to Disney World?)

–  Twenty-seven percent of American households are headed by women, a fourfold increase since 1950.

–  Of American women who draw annual incomes of $100,000 or more, nearly half don’t have children. In fact, the more a woman earns, the less likely she is to have kids.

That means that these PANKs and PUNKs have money to spend on their nieces and nephews since they don’t have kids of their own.

A November Forbes article Raising Children: The Role of Aunts and Uncles says that many adults in childrens’ lives today are not relatives but close friends that are considered stand in aunts, uncles and godparents.

Notkin says, “The more aunts and uncles the child has, the more influences a child has,” says Notkin. “If the uncle is a fantastic artist, the child may be inspired by that talent.”

For kids the diversity of influences could be beneficial. Parents who share their kids with aunties and uncles might benefit too. And it fits with the notion that “it takes a village” to raise a child.

Author’s Note:

I’m not really an aunt, but I’m a godmother three times over and consider most of my friends’ kids my nieces and nephews, so that makes me a PANK.  I just finished shopping, wrapping and mailing all their Christmas gifts. I take my role of Auntie Amy very seriously at Christmas time, and put A LOT of thought into finding the exact right gift for each child. (One gift was noisy and I’m sorry for that.) And I hope, hope, hope the kids love them! I find that books are the best gifts and still remember all the books my PANKs and PUNKs and real aunts and uncles gave to me as a child. Hope you will share your favorites.

Hey WNKers (and PANKs and PUNKs) what is your favorite book to give to kids?

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Where Babies Come From

It’s time for a little visual food for thought. Is the stork the bird of war?

Baby Makers and Biology

Just becasue you can reproduce doesn't mean you should.

An honest and candid post from Nyx (@Nyxks on Twitter) called “Women Are More Then Baby Makers” warrants sharing:

I 100% disagree with the statement “its embedded in every womans biological makeup to be a mother, to carry and give birth to this beautiful baby.” … I know that there are several of us who… have chosen NOT to have children we have chosen to be Childfree by choice… many women out there in the general population who have no ticking of the biological clock… Having a child… is a choice that one makes, it does not come down to the simple deal of it being a biological necessity… Being childfree or childless makes you no less a woman or man then being a parent makes you “all grown up”… I am no less a woman because nature took my ability to have children away or because I chose to be childfree… (Nyxks Musings)

Tick, tick, tick. My biological clock is ticking. But when the alarm sounds I hear, “Windsurf before you’re too old to enjoy it!” Or “Wander the globe while you’re still young and energetic.” Or, “Less wine tomorrow night, you don’t bounce back like you used to…” Nobody’s immune from the biological clock. But its alarms are diverse. And, for some of us, they don’t include, “Make a baby. Make a baby. Make a baby!”

You’ll change your mind

Mind Games (song)

Mind Games (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In case you missed it, Nullipara Life (@NulliparaLife) has been posting “Bingo Breeder Responses” which is to say, sometimes-funny-sometimes-flip-almost-always-thoughful answers to the questions and assertions childfree folks encounter. Each post includes several Q&A style exchanges, and the seventh post tackles the all-too-familiar, “You’ll change your mind.”

Ugh! This has to be the most common and most ignorant bingo out there. Being that ‘you’ll’ is the conjunction of ‘you will’, I think we can all assume you’re telling me that I am definitely going to change my mind. Right. Because clearly you must know me better than I know myself… Telling a childfree person they will change their mind one day only makes them want to prove you wrong even more. What if I were to tell you, “you’ll change your mind” about being a parent? Because admittedly, a lot of parents do change their mind. Oh but no one ever thinks of it that way. No one ever bothers to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and think about how they’d feel if they were being antagonized by a bunch of mombies… Next time someone says to you, “you’ll change your mind” just tell them, “you’ll change your mind.” Or if they ask you, “why don’t you have kids?” ask them, “why did you have kids?” They’ll probably start stuttering and end up lost for words, which is always a good thing… (Nullipara Life)

I’m a bit torn here. I like the questions. It would be nice if we all contributed to a more open Q&A cultured world. It would reward curiosity. It would encourage dialogue and possibly even understanding and respect. But “You’ll change your mind” isn’t a question. It’s an assumption. An assertion. And it’s frankly out of line. It’s amazing how different the same idea becomes when voiced as a question: “Do you think you’ll change your mind one day?” This question conveys genuine interest and respect. And it is unlikely to make the childfree answerer defensive or dismissive. A constructive conversation will likely follow.

Nyx (@Nyxks) reflected on the “You’ll change your mind” assertion:

I do think that even if I had meet him early on that I would still have kept my childfree status and wish. In part because I’ve never had that maternal side when it comes to children, I can get along with them for short periods of time, but at the end of the day I do have to give them back because I just can’t do the 24/7 deal with them. (Nyxks Musings)

Childfree couples come to their choice for many different reasons, and discussing these reasons can be useful. Defending one’s childfree choices against breeders who insist that we’ll regret our choices one day or that we’ll change our minds is less useful. And less inviting. Consider a childfree friend asking a parent about the choice to have children and then asserting, “You’ll regret your choice to have a child!”

A Peter Pan Complex

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, she writes that the term matrimony comes from the Latin word for mother. She explains that while she is childfree by choice, many women throughout history have chosen the same path, or maybe nature has allowed for it to be so.  Gilbert notes that, at any given time in history at least 10% of women are childless worldwide. And during the Great Depression, in America, the number was up to 23%. Today the number hovers close to 50%.

Does nature know something that we’ve all but ignored? Does it really take a village to raise a child? Gilbert wonders if maybe there are extra women around to be “sparents” – “spare parents” to help out.

Savvy Auntie by Melanie Notkin

The popularity of author and blogger Melanie Notkin suggests the answer is a resounding yes. SavvyAuntie.com celebrates the childfree women who lend a hand. It is, “the first community for cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids.” I am a proud member of this auntie brigade, with three gorgeous godkiddies. Savvy Auntie instructs kid-free aunts on everything childfriendly, from the perfect birthday present to how to save for a niece’s education. A review from Kirkus says it best: “A chic guide for new and experienced aunts that establishes their valuable family role. Challenging the cultural stigma associated with childless women, Notkin creates a distinctive voice that draws attention to the value of an aunt’s role in families…Communal childrearing at its finest.”

Of course the stories of the famously heartbroken and lonely “old-maid” aunties persist, and are part of our literary history. But Gilbert writes that these are merely creatures of myth, “recent studies of nursing homes comparing happiness levels of elderly childless women against happiness levels of women who did have children show no pattern of special misery or joy in one group or the other.”

Perhaps several works of fiction wouldn’t even exist without the help of aunties. Childless aunties helped raise and influence notable artists including: Coco Chanel, Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

From Gilbert we also learn that J.M. Barrie’s inspiration for the spirit of his forever, youthful fictional character, Peter Pan, was found “in the faces of many women who have no children.” That would be me. And I only hope my own role as a Peter Pan makes me a valuable auntie and an excellent “sparent”…

I'm flying!

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Childfree Myths

Busted Childfree Myth of the Week (National Infertility Awareness Week)

Busted Childfree Myth of the Week (National Infertility Awareness Week)

Myth: People who live childfree are selfish.

Busted!: Choosing not to have children is no more or less selfish than choosing to have children. Describing a childfree person as being selfish is a subjective value judgment that does not consider the various other meaningful contributions childfree people make to the world.

The reasons for which children are brought into this world vary and some can be very selfish. Aspiring parents could conceivably be making an equally or more selfish a decision if their purpose is the expectation that their children will look after them as they grow older, or are trying to save a relationship already in trouble. At the heart of the decision to bring a child into the world often lies the parents’ own desires, to enjoy the experience of child-rearing.

Living a childfree lifestyle is choosing to be for one’s self, rather than being selfish. It is being honest with the realities of the reason the decision was presented in the first place and understanding that the value of one’s self is not defined by the role of being a parent, but by the quality of the role played by being a human being.

(via Myths About Childfree Living)

I’d never heard of National Infertility Awareness Week before receiving a tip from a reader that I should check out their Myths About Childfree Living. It’s worth a touch-and-go — if for no other reason than it’s intriguing creation and dissemination by the The National Infertility Association — but I think the most compelling “busted childfree myth” is the one I’ve quoted above. It touches on two issues that invariably arise in “Why no kids?” conversations, selfishness and choice. The post revisits the latter and several other childfree myths:

  • Living child free is a choice, and they never wanted children.
  • People who live child free have empty lives.
  • People who live childfree have carefree lives.
  • A higher-power is telling you that you should not be a parent.

Obviously some couple living childfree lives actually wanted to (perhaps tried to) have children and were unable to for one reason or another. For them, living childfree is not not a choice. But for many of us it is. A profoundly important (and often difficult) choice. It’s a choice we continue to make again and again. And it isn’t always a choice that hinges upon having never wanted children. Few people are so simple. Human psychology is complex and fluid; wants ebb and flow. But the ongoing choice not to have children endures for some couples despite whims, curiosities, fashions, fears, desires, etc. It is these couples who’s stories particularly intrigue me. I hope that we will continue to hear more in the weeks and months ahead.

As for the final three childfree myths, they all strike me as a bit light and goofy, but they’ll be revisited in due course. Although, fair warning, the “higher-power” crutch is a personal peeve. So, with all due respect, I’ll encourage someone else to ponder the almighty will scenarios!