July 28, 2014

Dads Are Using Their Kids’ Sporting Events to Get Out of Household Chores

“at least dads are doing something to keep kids from mucking up the house with their dirty fingernails and carelessly-brandished Ring-Pops”

OK. Lets agree to save the anthropological discussion about how men are not meant to be domesticated for another post, or another era maybe? In the meantime, perhaps someone can do a study of mens’ dorm rooms, bachelor pads and fraternity houses so we can conclusively report that MEN ARE DISGUSTING! We are the last beings anyone should want to be responsible for disinfecting! Men will give themselves double diarrhea or watch The View (or give themselves double diarrhea by watching The View) in order to avoid cleaning toilets, so “I have to drive to a swim meet while listening to (childfree) Justin Bieber songs” must absolutely be an acceptable excuse to get out of household chores. No?

Those conducting the report, or commenting about it, don’t necessarily think so:

“men aren’t making much progress in taking over some of the less-glamorous housework. “The fathers we studied,” said Kremer-Sadlik, “are finding ways to create a new ideal of fatherhood, but they are not creating a new ideal with their partners.” He added that some fathers even use sporting events as an excuse to get out of doing housework”

via Dads Are Using Their Kids’ Sporting Events to Get Out of Helping with Household Chores.

Childfree Families

There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Child-Free (image courtesy twoday magazine)

There’s Nothing Wrong With Childfree Families (Credit: twoday magazine)

A month ago Amy asked, “What makes a family?” and drew attention to the curious exemption that childfree families often experience. If you’re married or in a committed relationship and you don’t have children (or at least a “bump” to buy you time), you’ve probably noticed the distinction.

Oh, we meant family… You know, like families with children?

Right. Families with children. Childfree families are not in the club. No kids, no family.

The Fed on Families

It’s not a legal exclusion, of course, most clubs are more tactful than that. It’s simply a social bias. And a bizarre bias at that, considering even clunky bureaucracies like the U.S. Census Bureau employ a more flexible judgment of who is, and who isn’t, a family.

The Census Bureau’s definition of “family” remains traditional: “A family is a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together.” (ABC News)

Whether or not this definition of “family” is traditional I’ll leave up to you to decide, but I feel that it’s workable vis-à-vis childfree families. It leaves plenty of room for married couples sans children, and only the “residing together” phrase perplexes me. So once junior heads off to college and resides in a dormitory far from the family home the family ceases to be a family? Weird. Who cooks this stuff up?

Are Childfree Families Families?

But I’m wandering. The question is, are childfree families families? And who gets to decide?

An ABC news story on a 2010 survey by sociology professor Brian Powell shows that most Americans believe that kids make a family… it seems that the child-free might be considered family-free for now. (Why No Kids?)

For now, though not forever, I suspect. Childfree families are more and more common and more and more vocal. I genuinely believe that it is becoming less taboo for married couples to openly admit that they are childfree by choice. And as this life choice becomes more mainstream, social norms will shift.

Shifting the Definition of Family

I wonder if this change may even be further along than we all realize. Childfree blogger extraordinaire (La Vie Childfree) and Families of Two author Laura Carroll (@LauraCarroll88) offers some insight.

While not having kids by choice is becoming more accepted with each generation… two people in a committed relationship who live together and have no kids by choice [still] aren’t considered a “family.” The childfree feel they are a family, but aren’t often seen that way by others with children or those who want them. (Technorati Lifestyle)

Certainly there’s a generational shift underway, but I think she deliberately if subtly touches on the crux of the matter in that last phrase. Married couples with children and married couples who hope/plan to have children are creating the bias. They are the gatekeepers, the bouncers at Club Family.

It’s normal to get married and have children. It’s abnormal to get married and choose not to have children. But normalcy might not be the best criterion for defining what qualifies as a family.

Childfree Families + Servants + Household = Family

Family Portrait - Montreal 1963

Family Portrait – Montreal 1963 (Photo credit: Mikey G Ottawa)

The etymological roots of the word “family” are revealing. It turns out that residing together (Thank you U.S. Census Bureau) was originally fundamental to the idea of family.

c.1400, “servants of a household,” from L. familia “family servants, domestics;” also “members of a household,” including relatives and servants, from famulus “servant,” of unknown origin. Ancestral sense is from early 15c.; “household” sense recorded in English from 1540s; main modern sense of “those connected by blood” (whether living together or not) is first attested 1660s. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

I wonder how many families with children see their “servants” as members of their family. Few, I’d guess. But maybe that’s the key. Childfree families need to get servants. And they need to stay shacked up under one roof. And then, we’ll be in the club!

It’s interesting to note that back in the progressive 1660s modern usage shifted to emphasize blood connections rather than domestic connections. Perhaps we’re overdue for another shift?

Families, With and Without Children

On the one hand, it seems academic, almost silly, to worry about whether or not the modern definition of families include childfree families. On the other, semantics are important, especially when they inform social norms, behaviors and biases. Failing to recognize that childfree families are families is unnecessarily biased, offers no notable social or linguistic benefit and is easily rectified.

A married couple who’s child tragically dies is not stripped of their family status once the memorial service ends. A married couple who choose to remain childfree or are obliged to remain childless due to health, age, etc. likewise should not be stripped of their family status.

It’s time to embrace a more ample, more inclusive, more tolerant definition of family. Cohabiting with servants under one roof and insisting that marriage produce progeny are both outdated expectations.

Creating and nurturing a family is a beautiful choice, an important social unit, and an thread in our social fabric. Let’s update our definition to include families with children and childfree families, and in the process we’ll strengthen the social fabric rather than clinging to a divisive definition that no longer serves us.

Barren in Iran

Leila (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I recently watched Leila, a mesmerizing Iranian film that debuted  by Persian film director Dariush Mehrjui. It chronicles the story of a young married couple (Leila and Reza) living in modern Teheran who can’t conceive a child.  More exactly, the couple learns that she, the wife cannot have a child. Trouble ensues.

In one of the earliest scenes the viewer meets the young man’s mother, who, while celebrating her daughter-in-law’s birthday announces that she can’t wait to meet the couple’s son (only they don’t have one).  This woman, so insistent that her only son have a child to carry on the family’s lineage (never mind her handful of daughters who might procreate) soon learns, that her wish won’t be possible.  The couple jumps through some fertility hoops to no avail, and the Reza consoles his wife by insisting to her that he really has had no interest in having children all along.  Leila seems to believe him, and they resolve to enjoy each others’ company without the distraction of children.

Then Reza’s mother intercedes.

Leila and Reza’s love is palpable. Their connection and mutual admiration seem strong. But their love and ties are harrowingly tested in a tug-of-war between their modern marriage and Islamic tradition, between their dreams and Reza’s mother’s dreams.  The film offers a glimpse into the complexities of living in contemporary Iran and the complexities of giving back to one’s parents.

Leila’s mother-in-law persistently, deceptively convinces her that Reza is desperate to have a child. She harasses Leila incessantly until Leila agrees to permit her husband to marry a second wife who can give him a child. Though adamantly opposed to the idea, Reza eventually yields to his mother’s desire and to the traditional Islamic expectations of him.

We watch the heart-wrenching process of selecting a new bride through Leila’s eyes. We witness and understand her anguish.  Ironically, it is Reza’s sisters and father who try to convince Leila to refuse the second marriage. (Ostensibly polygamy is legal in Iran provided previous wives agree.) Leila’s family is horrified when they discover Reza’s plan to remarry.

Leila’s doubt that Reza would be happy without a child and her decision to encourage a second marriage inevitably proves devastating to her union with Reza.  She signs her fate away to external factors and concludes: “God has not given me a child.  He has given me the gift of eternal patience and endurance.”  Her choices test the limits of that endurance (and the viewer’s).

I won’t spoil the plot, because the film is worth watching. We never really know why Leila consents to her insipid mother-in-law’s wishes. Does she hope this will make her a better Muslim and wife? Does she simply wish to please her new family? Does she too desperately desire a child even if impossible through her own DNA? Or does her self sacrificing decision reveal unconditional love for her husband?  Perhaps all of these factors are in play, but the film is so compelling precisely because we never learn the answer.

Ellen DeGeneres and partner Portia de Rossi Don’t… | Stuff.co.nz

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 30:  Actress Portia d...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

There are a few things other than celebrity that make this story interesting I think. For starters, Ellen DeGeneres is 53 and her wife nearly 40. If they’d married 10 years ago though, i wonder if the question would have even been asked? Oh, that’s right, they couldn’t get married 10 years ago. So along with the right to marry and the choice to do so, comes the assumption that there will be babies? Or is it truly just a query aimed at EVERY celebrity? Also note the standard childfree apology and some artful, humorous dodging.

Ellen DeGeneres and partner Portia de Rossi Don’t… | Stuff.co.nz.

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Vicki Larson: How Not To Save A Marriage

READ – Vicki Larson: How Not To Save A Marriage.

Thanks to Vicky Larson and GINK – green inclinations, no kids for bringing us another compelling story, and an appropriate follow-up to the earlier WNK piece by Vicki Larson:  Are Childless Couples Headed Toward Divorce? Vicky is a great researcher and thinker, and certainly a conversation starter. She has responded to comments from our writers and readers, so don’t be afraid to share your own questions or thoughts.

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Vicki Larson: Are Childless Couples Headed Toward Divorce?

Marriage and divorce rates in the US, 1990-200...

Image via Wikipedia

Vicki Larson: Are Childless Couples Headed Toward Divorce?.

“People assume children are the glue that holds a marriage together, which really isn’t true. Kids are huge stressors,” says Scott, head of the Childless by Choice Project whose documentary on childfree couples was just released. “Despite that, there is a strong motive to stay together. The childfree don’t have that motive so there’s no reason to stay together if it’s not working.”

This article is great, really layered and probing. It answers a lot of questions about who is “childfree”, why, and what the impact of such status on their marriage may be. However, there may be some confusion, or even unintended/inaccurate conclusions, as all couples without children are lumped into the “childfree” category, including couples frequently categorized as “childless” (those who want kids but cannot conceive) that “make up the bulk of the childfree” in this story.

As I read the article I wondered how many of the divorced couples were simply victims of a decision to marry too early. According to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, the rate of divorce among people that marry before 25 is astounding. I also hoped for statistics comparing older married couples. How do those who CHOOSE not to have kids compare to couples with empty nests at the same age? When the decision  for parents to divorce can be made without complicating child rearing, like the childfree by choice, then who APPEARS to be more successful or happily married? (Not that remaining married is an accurate indicator of “success”) When I was in college, my parents finally divorced, and there was a rash of divorces among my friends’ parents as well.

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No Kids Alliance

Today’s guest post is from Kimberly Rielly , director of communications for Lake Placid CVB / Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

Singletracking Frontier Town, North Hudson, New York

Singletracking Frontier Town, North Hudson, New York

I personally made the choice to live kid-free before I was old enough to know from whence they came. I said it out loud at the ripe old age of 3. I was sure that if I had a child, it would be just like me – and who needs another sarcastic drain on my attention and wallet who has no respect for their elders?

I’ve never wavered from this decision, and when I met the guy who would be my husband, it was a mandate that he agree wholeheartedly; which we did, and do, about almost everything.

We have fielded reproductive questions from the audience ever since our first date.  I know that my parents genuinely wished to have grandchildren, but I suspect that our friends, who found themselves chasing two or three toddlers around, just wanted us to share in their misery.

During the first ten years of our relationship, we diagnosed ourselves as being selfish. Why no kids? We would save money, and be free to live the lifestyle to which we would become accustomed. Take off for the week and go rock climbing? Sure. No babysitter required.  Tear the house apart for reconstruction while living in it? No problem. We weren’t endangering the health of anyone but ourselves.

We chose to live in the Adirondacks, where we grew up, in order to enjoy the healthy quality of life here. But living in the Adirondacks requires an economic balancing act. Though we are DINKs, we also live up to the level of our double income without much to spare. Adding kids to the equation is beyond my math abilities.

And then there’s the worry factor. Having had the pleasure of being owned by a dog for over 15 years, and living with the associated anxiety about his safety, I can only assume that a kid would increase that level of anxiety by a sizable multiplier. More math.

As I understand from reading the news, our contribution is unnecessary for the survival of the species; there are plenty of other people keeping the planet’s population growing.  And good for them – we actually LIKE kids.  We especially like to be the doting, fun, favorite aunt and uncle.

Luckily, we’re not alone. We’re oddly surrounded by (or maybe attracted to?) a number of workaholic friends who have made the same “no kids” decision.

Perhaps as a result of the this no kids alliance, but more likely a result of maturity, I no longer think that we made a selfish decision. Rather, we have the freedom (though not necessarily the money) to make a greater contribution to society. Instead of driving kids to piano lessons and coaching basketball, we are able to donate our time and perceived skill sets to organizations and individuals that enhance our lives and our communities.

And at this point, we’ve successfully dodged family and friends who repeatedly insisted we’d change our minds – 18 years of dodging. Still no kids. Now that I’m 40-something, I think they FINALLY believe us.

Kim Reilly (@krielly) is an Adirondack adventurer, destination communicator, friend of all dogs and most people. Find out more at her Lake Placid tourism blog or her personal blog.

Why I left my children

Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr
Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr

“My problem was not with my children,” author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto explains, “but with how we think about motherhood.” Her poignant, smartly crafted essay, Why I left my children, is part of Salon.com‘s Real Families series. Her unflinching candor is especially powerful coming from the perspective of a woman, a mother, a wife. It’s an unfamiliar perspective, one that is easily and habitually vilified as she hastens to acknowledge. The redemptive arc of her essay softens the jagged edge of realizing — as a married mother of a three and a five year old — that she hadn’t wanted to be a mother in the first place.

I had no idea what to do with these bouncing balls of energy. Even feeding them, finding them a bathroom, was a challenge. It raised a little issue for me that I have neglected to mention: I never wanted to be a mother. I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over.

She loses her marriage but regains her children and discovers her motherhood. It’s a tidy conclusion with a happily ever after vibe, but the essay concludes without returning to the mother-phobia hiccup. I suspect that I’ll need to read her novel, Why She Left Us, to learn more. Her fear that motherhood would/could exhaust her, swallow her up and erase her sense of self strike me as relevant and important (even critical) concerns.

I’m not a mother. Nor will I ever be a mother. I’m a happily married childfree husband. I’m a dog owner, storyteller, adventurer and unabashed flâneur. I’m a DINK. And yet Rizzuto’s perception that parenting has the potential to swallow up the self feels familiar, like it was conjured up out of my own twenty-something anxiety cauldron. A decade and change later, the ingredients are still there. How do I know? Because friends — parents, mothers, fathers — confirm and reaffirm the woes of parenting. They are exhausted. Swallowed up. Lost.

I know, that’s only part of the equation. “Having children is the best decision we ever made,” they always hasten to add. But it tends to come as an apologetic parenthetical after a laundry list of laments, regrets and frustrations. I don’t mean to diminish the splendors of parenting. They doubtless trump the petty concerns I’ve mentioned, and yet I’m not convinced. Frankly, I don’t want to be convinced. I’m okay with exhaustion, but swallowed up? No thanks!