November 14, 2018

Geo Davis (aka virtualDavis)

About virtualDavis

Geo Davis (aka virtualDavis) is a writer, storyteller, unabashed flâneur and eager-beaver uncle. Despite two whiz-bang nieces, two superstar nephews, and rewarding teaching/coaching stints at the American School of Paris and Santa Fe Preparatory School, he remains willingly, enthusiastically and happily childfree. His WNK posts are part of an ongoing attempt to understand why. Rosslyn Redux, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks, offers a more ironic twist on his childfree adventure. He also blogs at virtualDavis.com and EssexonLakeChamplain.com. Connect with Geo Davis via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Maternal Instinct and Other Myths

Maternal Instinct is a Myth (Source: HuffPost)

Maternal Instinct is a Myth (Source: HuffPost)

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with Amy Blackstone (University of Maine Sociology Professor and non-momma blogger at we’re {not} having a baby!) as a International Childfree Day panelist. If you’re casting around for a childfree choice mentor, I suggest you check her out. You can start with her website (werenothavingababy.com) or find her on Facebook (facebook.com/WereNotHavingABaby) and Twitter (@nothavingababy).

I’m currently reviewing 2018 childfree nominations (so many outstanding people and organizations!) and an interesting trend sent me back to a May 2017 article that Amy published on HuffPost that tackled the “maternal instinct” trope.

If women were really born with a maternal instinct, we would see birth rates stay the same through the years. Even the feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s that expanded educational and workforce opportunities for many women shouldn’t change which women decide to be parents. But childfree adulthood has been on the rise since then.

What we think of as maternal instinct comes from our culture rather than our nature. Children – and girls in particular – are taught from a very young age that one of the most important things they can do when they grow up is become parents… (Source: HuffPost)

It’s an excellent article, well worth a read by those of us who choose to remain childfree, but it is arguably and even more important read for those parents who struggle to understand (and accept without judgment) the fact that some of us choose not to reproduce. For this reason along it’s worth resurfacing more than an year after it was published.

But there’s something else that intrigues me.

Maternal Instinct is a Myth (Source: HuffPost)

Maternal Instinct is a Myth (Source: HuffPost)

Paternal Instinct?

In Amy Blackstone’s second paragraph excerpted above she addresses the crux of the matter. Too often we acculturate girls and young women to assume that motherhood is / should be the default. In order to fully become a woman, a baby should be born. Procreation is the ultimate fulfillment, the ultimate joy, the ultimate experience of true love.

Blackstone articulates quite clearly that this widely, consistently reinforced bias is so ubiquitous that many assume that motherhood is an instinct, hardwiring, predestination. And yet, she reminds us, this is untrue. And, it is potentially harmful.

As I weigh the merits of our 2018 nominations for Childfree Person of the Year I wonder about another possible cultural bias. Is the choice to remain childfree primarily a women’s issue? Or is it a human issue? Where do men (and other non-female adults) fit into the broader conversation of the childfree choice, overpopulation, etc? Is there a similarly socialized “paternal instinct” that silently reinforces expectations that adult males will procreate? And why do we allow women to bear the brunt of the responsibility for defending the childfree choice when male partners are obviously, necessarily part of the calculation?

A Bigger Tent

Often we are thanked for helping young women and men recognize their own agency in the procreative equation. We are even thanked for “giving permission” not to reproduce, though we certainly have no illusions about our right to give that permission. None is needed, but we’re more than happy to remind our readers that they alone can/should make the choice to parent or the choice to remain childfree.

Perhaps it is time for us to help dilate the conversation, to expand the proverbial tent so that everyone feels welcome to participate. The considerations at stake are not exclusively the domain of women and/or mothers. These are not women’s issues. They are human issues. They are profoundly important, global issues that effect all of us and that demand a more ample and inclusive and intentional path forward.

Isn’t it time we acknowledge myth and cultural bias for what they are? Isn’t it time we empower everyone to live and love and let live and let love more intentionally, more generously, more responsibly than we have in the past. Isn’t it time that we weigh questions of sustainability and overpopulation against the urge to reproduce ourselves? Isn’t it time?

I think so. I hope so.

The Triumph Of Choosing A Single, Childfree Life

Read a book review of Glynnis MacNicol’s new memoir, No One Tells You This.

Normalize Being Childfree

A post shared by Leilani Münter (@leilanimunter) on

We’ve been documenting a pretty dramatic shift in recent years as the childfree choice has moved from fringe to mainstream, and professional race driver Leilani Münter’s public stance is perfect proof of this phenomena. She has become a staunch supporter of women’s choice to remain childfree. In fact, she’s driving an even more important cultural shift: it’s time to normalize being childfree.

Amen!

Leilani Münter: Normalize being childfree and NEVER underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car! (Source: www.leilani.green)

Leilani Münter: Normalize being childfree and NEVER underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car! (Source: www.leilani.green)

The 44-year-old U. C. San Diego grad highlighted (Reuters, here via RT Sport News) the same motivation as Oonagh Dalgliesh (See Choosing Nulliparity to Combat Overpopulation).

Not having a child has been the biggest way for me to reduce my impact on the planet… If you look at the numbers, the Earth is finite, and the human race cannot keep growing infinitely with only so many resources. We need to normalize choosing being child-free…” (Source: RT Sport News)

It’s becoming a familiar refrain, one we’ve been singing for years. And we’re inspired to see strong, smart young women like Leilani Münter and Oonagh Dalgliesh not only choosing child-freedom, but also taking public stands and leveraging their platforms to help other women feel safe and confident with their own choices. Bravo, ladies! Thanks for helping to normalize being childfree.

Choosing Nulliparity to Combat Overpopulation

Oonagh Dalgliesh is choosing nulliparity to combat overpopulation. (Source: Daily Mail)

Oonagh Dalgliesh is choosing nulliparity to combat overpopulation. (Source: Daily Mail)

The childfree tide is rising with each passing year. Actually, lately it seems like each month reveals an uptick in the child-freedom trend. Whether zeitgeist of simply smart (and long overdue) cultural shift, it’s exciting to witness more and more women (and more and more couples) choosing not to reproduce. Career, lifestyle, health, romance, finances, and travel are all familiar reasons why adults of parenting age are choosing to remain childfree, but another explanation has become increasingly commonplace. Women are by choosing nulliparity to combat overpopulation.

Oonagh Dalgliesh is one of the daring women who refuses to have babies in order to help save the planet.

‘Humans are the greatest single driver of climate change and greenhouse gas contributions, of deforestation and the acidity of the oceans,’ [Oonagh Dalgliesh] explains earnestly.

‘The only thing that will fix these problems is to have fewer people on the planet. I don’t see it’s justified to make more people than we already have. Yes, I have a maternal instinct, but I will never change my mind.’

Drastic? Perhaps. But, astonishing as it sounds, Oonagh is one of a number of British women who are deciding to remain child-free, not because of career aspirations or an inability to find a partner, but because they are concerned about the crippling impact of overpopulation on the Earth. (Source: Daily Mail)

Bravo, Oonagh Dalgliesh! It’s a bold and inevitably emotion-straining choice to opt out of motherhood/parenthood. But choosing nulliparity to combat overpopulation may well be one of the most impactful ways we can ease the strain our mushrooming population and consumption habits are placing on planet earth. Terrry Spahr‘s soon-to-permier documentary, 8 Billion Angels tackles this very issue, and I hope that Oonagh Dalgliesh gets the opportunity to watch it.

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Childfree Vacation: No Kids, No Fun?

The WNK quartet was recently indulging in a little mid-week, mid-summer bliss (think Lake Champlain, locally grown eats, frosty libations, nary the shadow of a kidlet) when a couple of us stumbled on a particularly obvious reason we have no kids. We are kids.

Sure we’re all in our fourth decades, but maturity seems to have passed us by. Or perhaps it’s just running late?

Why no kids? We are kids!

Childfree Vacation

English: Playa del Carmen is at the heart of t...

Playa del Carmen (Photo: Wikipedia)

This childfree truism was still echoing around my gray matter when I remembered a post I’d started a while back when a couple of childfree vacation and travel themed items caught my attention.

Although it may seem like every hotel and resort is touting their child friendliness, their amazing kids’ club or their deals for families… not every hotel is courting families this summer — or at all.

More and more hotels are putting a ban – yes, a ban — on kids. And while they probably won’t advertise it on their web site’s homepage, some hotels are simply saying: No kids allowed… (ABC News)

More and more hotels are banning kids. More and more hotels are offering childfree vacations. It’s a trend! And you thought it was just the mainstream media that discovered the childfree panacea?

Of course the childfree zeitgeist rubs tender folks against the grain, parents mostly, and they start gnashing their teeth.

Kids are awesome. We need to stop making excuses and start living… I am done apologizing. In fact, the only mistake here is that I ever told my children to be quiet in the first place. Pools are for shouting and jumping and cannonballing… Got it? … I’ve got a cannonball to perfect. (An Open Letter to People Without Children)

Easy, momma. Kids may be awesome, especially when they dazzle you with doody, but let’s remember that pools and jumping and cannonballing are as much fun for childfree adults as they are for kids. See, we CFers actually hang on to those childish pleasure principles a bit better than many parents. But that’s not the issue. At all!

And another.

Am I the only CF that loves kids? I am a kid. When I go on holiday I’d rather join the kids running around and screaming than lay on a beach. (Annika Desai on Why No Kids? Facebook page)

No, Annika, you’re not the only CF who loves kids. Many of us love kids. Many of us behave like big kids much of the time. But, and this is a big “but”, we’re also prone to adult moments. Sans kids.

Childfree Vacation Hot Spots

Anyway, it’s the usual volley. And not worth the digital ink it takes to bluster on. So let’s cut to the chase. Assuming you actually are interested in childfree vacation destinations rather than spoiling for a debate about why such should be in existence, etc. then we’ve got some fun leads for you.

Check out these eighteen hotel and resort “properties where the pool is sure to free of cannonballing kids. (ABC News)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Check the article for more. And add your own childfree vacation favorites in the comments below or on the WNK Facebook page.

 

Childless Woman Taboo

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)

Childless Woman Taboo

Childless Woman Taboo

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)

Oh.

Right. Different but equal. Ambitious, highly educated high-flyers.

Childless Women: From Taboo to Equality

A Strong Woman

A strong woman stands up for herself.
A stronger woman stands up
for everyone else. (Credit: Quoteswave)

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.

‘s post “Childfree: All Women are Created Equal” sees women as the primary culprits, perpetuating the medieval childless taboo upon their female contemporaries.

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.

Can’t we?

Related articles

Why No Kids? Dependent 20 Somethings!

Why no kids? Dependent 20 somethings! (Photo credit: Junior Achievement)

Why no kids? Dependent 20 somethings! (Photo credit: Junior Achievement)

In what could be an indicator of either a massive drop in teens’ financial prospects or the fact that teens today are getting more realistic about their financial futures, a new survey shows that the percentage of teenagers who expect to remain dependent on mom and/or dad until at least age 27 has doubled in just the last two years. (Consumerist)

Chris Morran’s post, “Number Of Teens Expecting To Depend On Parents Into Adulthood Has Doubled Since 2011“, breaks down the startling figures from a Junior Achievement study released on March 27.

Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs. (Junior Achievement)

The statistics, based on a survey conducted with The Allstate Foundation does indicate that teenagers have become more optimistic since 2011 about their financial futures, but there’s a catch.

Junior Achievement USA® (JA) and The Allstate Foundation’s 2013 Teens and Personal Finance Poll shows that teenagers are more optimistic about their financial futures, with a 20 percent increase in teens believing they will be financially better off than their parents. However, part of their financial security comes from depending on parents until a later age. (Junior Achievement)

Read: teens eye a brighter financial future so long as they can maintain their allowance cord into their late twenties. Hang on, ‘rents, don’t snip the dinero umbilical cord yet! But when exactly is “yet”?

The survey found that 25 percent of teens think they will be age 25-27 before becoming financially independent from their parents, up from 12 percent in 2011. (Junior Achievement)

Umbilical Cord Bungee Jump (Credit: Rob Caswell)

Umbilical Cord Bungee Jump (Credit: Rob Caswell)

Heck, by then these coddled teens might even have children of their own. Having spent a few years living in France and Italy as a 20 something where this social trend was common, this sounds familiar. Jack E. Kosakowski, the President and CEO of Junior Achievement USA fleshes out the news a bit.

[I] infer that teens expect to live with their parents longer because 23 percent are unsure about their ability to budget and nearly 20 percent express similar feelings about the use of credit cards. Additionally, 34 percent of teens express a lack of confidence in their ability to invest their money. (Junior Achievement)

A 40 Something on Dependent 20 Somethings

I’m no finance wizard (Team WNK relies on BrianWNK for all matters economic) nor do I claim a stellar post adolescence financial trajectory. In short, I’m ill qualified to opine on the dramatic shift over the last two years highlighted in these sorts of survey results:

In 2011, 75% of teens said they would be supporting themselves at some point between 18 and 24. In just two years, that has decreased to 59%. (Consumerist)

Sounds like bad news to me, probably in keeping with US financial outlooks in general, but my macroeconomic barometer is probably not that relevant. Nor is it worth my weighing in on these findings (via Junior Achievement):

  • Of the 33 percent of teens who say they do not use a budget, 42 percent are “not interested” and more than a quarter (26 percent) think “budgets are for adults.”
  • More than half of teens (52 percent) think students are borrowing too much to pay for college, yet only nine percent report they are currently saving money for college. Nearly 30 percent have not talked with their parents about paying for higher education.

The times are a’changing. I suspect that our collective unconscious should be unsettled. But I’ll leave the really wise and useful conclusions to scholars and pundits.

So, if I’m not going to slash around in the statistics and social science mosh pit, then why-oh-why did I bring up all these distressing survey results? And why are they distressing?

Well, in a very selfish way, they are not too distressing. Not to me. Personally. Because… I have no children, dependent or otherwise. But if I did, if Junior were texting me another request for an advance on his allowance to cover his Verizon bill, then I might well be extremely distressed about the survey results. The odds seem to be increasingly good that Junior will be siphoning off funds for a looong time. And, frankly, I’m pretty sure I’d be concerned if my 20 something were still totally dependent into the dawn of his/her third decade.

Do you follow me?

Dependent 20 somethings strike me as another really good reason why not to have kids. Let’s call it reason #1972. Actually I might have already used that. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t have kids. Cash hungry 20 somethings had never before crossed my mind. Overall expense? Check. Tuition? Check. But the possibility of having a 20 something that fails to launch? Add it to the list…

Why no kids? Dependent 20 somethings!

Childfree Regrets?

Childfree Regrets?

You’ll regret being childfree when you’re older…

One of most common Breeder Bingos is, “You’ll regret being childfree when you’re older.” To which most of us roll our eyes or nod agreeably but dismissively.

“I hope not,” I say when feeling more generous. Or, “I’ll let you know when I get there…”

I sigh inwardly and add another mark to the childfree regrets blotter hanging on a hook inside my otherwise rather upbeat skull, and then I recite a quiet mantra to myself:

Do not encourage this condescending know-it-all.
Do not suggest that s/he will regret having children when s/he is older.
Do not explain my childfree choice because his/her judgment is made.

Rebuttals About Childfree Regrets

Despite frequent suggestions that the childfree choice will inevitably morph into childfree regrets, most of us learn to avoid engaging. We become tired with countering judgment with reason and dialogue. Parent conviction is deeply ingrained and generally inflexible. Trying to be understood (or, god forbid, respected) by parents who inflexibly assume that we will experience childfree regret down the road is akin to the dysfunctional dialogue between theists and atheists/agnostics. Patience, passion, logic, science, conviction, etc. need not apply.

So reading “What I Regret About Being Childfree” offered a welcome antidote. This admittedly snarky post written by Julie Was Here (aka The hiking Humanist) originally emerged from a response to a childfree-basher.

So this list was originally written as a response to a rather persistent troll on another website, who tried to insist that the childfree (namely, me) are envious of her life as a grandmother (by her own admission, breeding is about all she ever did with her life,) and secretly regret being childfree.

Her childfree regrets range from spot-on to hilarious, and the list is virtually endless. I’ve culled my favorites into a top ten parade to entice you to wander over and read the full post.

Top 10 Childfree Regrets

Please note that the following is excerpted and quoted directly from Julie Was Here‘s post.

  1. I regret that I don’t just mindlessly follow the herd like any lazy, unimaginative cow…
  2. I regret that I’ve served my country proudly, gotten a pilot’s license, competed in and won art competitions, traveled the world, and generally do all the things most people only dream of, and all by the age of 24…
  3. I regret having a healthy, fit, thin body, complete with perky (though admittedly small) breasts, an unmarred abdomen, and…
  4. I regret that I have never looked nor felt like a bloated whale…[nor] like a deflated balloon…
  5. I regret not being covered in the bodily fluids…
  6. I also regret enjoying peaceful slumber every night, not interrupted by screeching shit-factories…
  7. I really regret having an actual healthy and happy relationship… [that] is not strained or destroyed by children…
  8. I regret that my typical free-time resembles what other people consider a rare vacation treat…
  9. I regret that I never get calls from school about bullying or being bullied…
  10. I regret that there is no one around to smash all breakable objects in the house, attempt to feed inappropriate items into disk drives… [and] flush toys down the toilet…

 What are Your Top “Childfree Regrets”?

Schmutzie’s Kid-Free List

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

Shmutzie (Elena Morgan) Doodle

Shmutzie (Elena Morgan) Doodle

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.

Schmutzie, baby.

Schmutzie, baby. (Photo: rubyshoes)

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!

 

Parents Should Learn from Hunter-Gatherers

Could parents learn a thing or two from hunter-gatherers? Perhaps.

English: Title: Personal photographs of the Ho...

Aborigine Chief of Bathurst Island (Credit: Wikipedia)

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)

English: A Kali'na hunter with a woman gathere...

Kali’na hunter with woman gatherer. (Credit: Wikipedia)

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

‘The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?’ by Jared Diamond. 512 p. Viking Adult. $22.94

The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond. 512 p. Viking Adult.

[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.

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