March 20, 2017

Childless by Choice Issues? Enough Already!

Is it time to mute the childless by choice debate?

Is it time to mute the childless by choice debate?

Let’s finish the week off with a quick look at Dani Alpert’s rant on HuffPo about childless by choice oversaturation. Sure, it’s a few weeks overripe, and there’s something decidedly disingenuous about reposting a post about the fact that there’s too much posting about childless by choice issues, but… I can’t resist.

Why do the Childless by Choice still feel the need to defend their decisions? Why is this still relevant? With all that’s going on in the world; Isis, Ebola, climate change, George Clooney’s wedding, why does anyone give a sh*t about the 10 things not to say to a CBC person? ~ Dani Alpert (huffingtonpost.com)

Right. Why? Sometimes I want to throw around asterisk-ornamented bombs myself, let off a little steam and tell all the bingo brandishing breeders to cut me some slack. To cut us some slack. Why is it any of their business whether or not my wife and I are childless by choice?

The answer is that I don’t know. I don’t know why the debate grows louder and more caustic instead of vanishing quietly into the background. Are childless by choice adults defensive? Maybe. But honestly, it usually feels like it’s the way around. I’ve honestly never heard CBCs question a parent’s choice. Never! But parents frequently question our choice to remain childfree. So you tell me, who’s being defensive?

I will never understand why what I do, and don’t do, with my uterus matters to anyone else but me and my gynecologist. ~ Dani Alpert (huffingtonpost.com)

Okay, so let’s cut to the chase. This is exactly the sort of gem that I couldn’t resist highlighting and echoing back across the interwebs. Seriously! And here’s another.

Do us all a favor and read a book, go to the movies or join the army. Whatever you do… stay out of my bed and womb. ~ Dani Alpert (huffingtonpost.com)

Wow! Dani’s pulling no punches. Sure, it’s effective venting language, and she’s certainly grabbed the “Hey, look at me!” spotlight, but there’s more to it than that. She’s right. She isn’t refocusing the debate. She is annulling the debate. Parents who question and/or judge their childless by choice friends are WAY out of bounds. Period.

Dani touches briefly on feminism and explains that she’s metaphorically “mothered” people, things, even a short film. She totally groks the mothering/parenting instinct, a point that she underlines in her stream of conscious list of CBC related thoughts. But that’s not the point. The point, is she wants everyone to shut the $&@%! up and start talking about something more important.

Fair enough. Let’s distance ourselves from the judgment. Let’s remember that how a woman chooses to uses her uterus is her business. Let’s recognize that questioning/judging a woman’s childfree choice is no less inappropriate and offensive than a CBC woman questioning/judging a mother’s decision to get pregnant, carry the baby to term, and keep it after birth.

But healthy conversation about the childless by choice option is just as important, especially for young women, as information about pregnancy, birthing, parenting. There is an awful lot of social programming to balance out, and women should be empowered to make the choice whether or not to become mothers with knowledge, intention, and confidence. That will not happen in a vacuum. Nor will it happen in a bellicose atmosphere of judgment. Let’s create a friendlier, more informative, more nurturing process for women and men to determine the the best choices. Sounds reasonable, right?

Are Childfree Men Misunderstood?

Childfree Men (Credit: virtualDavis)

Childfree Men (Credit: virtualDavis)

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!

 

Why no kids? Childfree celebrities!

George Clooney, one of the world's favorite childfree celebrities

George Clooney, one of the world’s favorite childfree celebrities

“You really don’t plan to have children?”

“No.”

“Really? Like, ever?”

“Like, never.”

“Weird. Why no kids?”

“Childfree celebrities.”

“Oh, you mean like George Clooney?”

“Right. Like George Clooney.”

“Oh, and Patrick Swayze, he was childfree too, right.”

“Right. Though not by choice, I’ve heard. Perhaps childless rather than childfree.”

“So, you want to be like George Clooney, not Patrick Swayze.”

“I’m not a great dancer. Enthusiastic, but not great. Not even good. But see where my hair’s going gray? I am good with that.”

“Right. I can totally see where you’re coming from. So childfree, not childless.”

“At this stage, I qualify as both, I think. Still working on the George Clooney part.”

“Well, good luck with that. He’s such a hunk!”

“Still working on that too…”

 

Childfree Celebrities Role Models?

As mundane and fictional as the foregoing dialogue may be, it’s not unrealistic. I could have cribbed it from a chance encounter during an urban elevator ride or in a rural grocery checkout line. In the North Country or in the Southwest.

Celebrities are de facto role models (often despite concerted efforts to ditch this mantle), and we rely upon them as credible spokespeople for saving dolphins, building oil pipelines and losing weight.

Recently this has become especially true for celebrities without children, especially celebrities who are childfree by choice. Having a hard time explaining to your mother-in-law why you and your wife have chosen not to have children? No worries, plug in George Clooney.

“Oh, George Clooney’s childfree? I love George Cooney.”

Mission accomplished. Or so it would seem.

 

Searching for Childfree Celebrities

In recent months Why No Kids? has experienced a dramatic spike among folks looking for information about childfree celebrities. Over the last few months four of the top eight search queries delivering new readers to the WNK blog have been:

  • celebrities without children
  • childfree by choice celebrities
  • childless celebrities
  • childfree celebrities

Curious. This is good news for AmyWNK who is our resident expert on all topics pop culture and celebrity-hood. But I’m a bumbling dunce when it comes to celebrities. My bride would offer a more colorful description.

In short, I’ve never been particularly fame-centric, childfree celebrities or otherwise.

That said, I’m fascinated with the fact so many others are drawn to celebrities in general, and especially intrigued by the increasing numbers focused on childfree celebrities. Here’s a quick glimpse at some non-WNK coverage:

Can we infer anything from the this trend? Are more and more people looking for childfree celebrity role models?

Celebrities Who Don’t Want Kids – Marie Claire

This story from Marie Claire spotlights a long list of quotable childfree celebrities, including, Jennifer AnistonCameron Diaz, Winona RyderEva Mendes, Jessica Biel, Rupert Everett, Helen Mirren, Taylor Hackford, George Clooney, Margaret Cho, Jacqueline Bisset, Janeane Garofalo, Jay Leno, Kim Cattrall, Kylie Minogue, Lara Flynn Boyle, Lily Tomlin, Oprah Winfrey, Renée Zellweger, Ricky Gervais, Robbie Williams, and Rachael Ray.

It came out last year and the list is just dated enough to also include Beyonce And Jay-Z; but it is worth revisiting. If not because people are googling “childfree celebrities” and finding “Why No Kids?” daily, then because we are nearing year end and the anniversary of this story, “2010: The year childfree went mainstream (thanks, Oprah!)”, which also has some good videos and lists and links.

Here are a few select  quotes from the Marie Claire piece to temporarily quench your curiosity:

Cameron Diaz: “Having children changes your life drastically, and I really love my life,” she has said. “Children aren’t the only things that bring you gratification and happiness, and it’s easier to give life than to give love, so I don’t know. That kind of change would have to be either very well thought out, or a total mistake — a real oops!”

Eva Mendes: “I don’t wanna have kids … I love the little suckers; they’re so cute. But I love sleep so much, and I worry about everything,” adding, “I feel like the institution of marriage is a very archaic kinda thing. I don’t think it fits in my world today.”

George Clooney: “Even one kid running around my villa makes me nervous, so I’m definitely not a candidate for father of the year! If I need to surround myself with children and feel like I have this big extended family, I can always call Brad and Angie and ask them to stay with me, just to remind me why I’m so happy without.”

Margaret Cho: “I do not want children. When I see children, I feel nothing. I have no maternal instinct. I am barren. I ovulate sand … I look at children and feel no pull toward them, no desire whatsoever. Actually, my fiancé and I have seen some very interesting personal ads of 50-year-olds that like to wear diapers. So we’re thinking of adopting one of these guys. A baby by choice.”

Kim Cattrall: “I realized that so much of the pressure I was feeling was from outside sources, and I knew I wasn’t ready to take that step into motherhood. Being a biological mother just isn’t part of my experience this time around.”

Renée Zellweger : “Motherhood has never been an ambition. I don’t think like that,”

Robbie Williams: “I don’t believe that to be fulfilled you have to have kids. What’s the point? I can’t guarantee my child won’t suffer pain because that kid’s going to be in pain at some point in their life. I don’t want to see that. It’s too much.”

Read more: Celebrities Without Children – Celebrities Who Don’t Want Kids – Marie Claire.

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George Clooney not interested in kids

According to Canadian news and George Clooney, he does not intend to make any good looking babies because he is dedicated to movie making or

George Clooney

Image by manfrys via Flickr

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.”

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Not a Loser, Baby

Kate Walsh More cover girl

The Hollywood headline reads “Kate Walsh (television star of Gray’s Anatomy and Private Practice) Embarrassed For Not Having Kids”.

This newsflash did its job and caught my childfree eye. I had to read more. Maybe not coincidentally, the article is in MORE magazine, a magazine “that celebrates women over 40”. However, it seems that in this case, not having kids by 40 means this star is more likely falling or failing.

In the article Kate Walsh says, “I feel like a loser. I would definitely love to be a parent. But I definitely don’t think I want to do it on my own. Things are just going to go the way they go… I thought I’d be married and have three or four kids. I always knew I wanted to be an actress, but I think I always wanted a quote-unquote normal life because I had a very untraditional upbringing.”

So normal is two kids and a dog right? Not for the nearly 50% of American women who are not moms. (source savvyauntie.com)

Maybe Kate should talk to Oscar winner Dame Helen Mirren, who swore off childbirth after seeing a film on the subject as a kid, “I swear it traumatised me to this day. I haven’t had children and now I can’t look at anything to do with childbirth. It absolutely disgusts me.”

Childfree and carefree Cameron Diaz

Or she could listen to outspoken environmentalist Cameron Diaz, who recently defended women who don’t want children in Cosmo by saying, “I think women are afraid to say that they don’t want children because they’re going to get shunned. But I think that’s changing too now. I have more girlfriends who don’t have kids than those that do. And honestly? We don’t need any more kids. We have plenty of people on this planet.” Diaz adds she might still have kids of her own.

Every celebrity rag is filled with photos of pregnant or potentially knocked up stars. We are obsessed with bump watch and all the joys of charting famous bellies and how quickly they grow then disappear.

Maybe Kate Walsh’s PR agent thinks she is a loser for not cashing in on the craze and publicity nexus of the moment. (Although, her article has caused quite a stir of its own.) It seems more and more actresses are joining the Hollywood Baby Boom. Currently pregnant stars include: Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Natalie Portman, Selma Blair, Maya Rudolph, Alyssa Milano, Alicia Silverstone, and three of the five Spice Girls.

Suri cruisin' with her $1,700 purse

The paparazzi have gone after the celebrity spawn as well. Photos of the little fashionistas are making cover stories. We’ve always wanted all the goodies and clothing of the rich and famous, and now we want our kids to wear what their kids are wearing too. Does that include the $1,700 Dolce and Gabbana purse of Miss Suri Cruise, age 4? For Ms. Walsh, her ability to protect a child from the paps and lack of privacy might be influencing her decision.

With the Hollywood baby boom exploding, we could use some other childfree personalities to speak up and share that their lives without children are still worth living, and that having less is sometimes more.

Some Notable Childfree Movie Stars

George Clooney

Cameron Diaz

Hugh Grant

Renee Zellweger

Katharine Hepburn

Oprah Winfrey

Hilary Swank

Charlize Theron

Angelica Houston

Steve Martin

Marisa Tomei

Ellen DeGeneres

Portia DeGeneres