August 21, 2018

Am I trying too hard to be the cool Auntie? (Giving gifts to the kids in your Childfree life)

The Production poster for the original Broadwa...

Original Annie on Broadway (Credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE: For some reason this post got lost in the holiday mail!

I’m too excited to sleep! On Saturday I’m taking my goddaughter to see Annie on Broadway for her 9th birthday. It’s going to be the best birthday ever – just like it was my best Christmas gift ever when I was nine and my parents took me (31 years ago)! I think. I hope.

Am I trying too hard because I don’t have kids of my own? Nope. I just want to be the cool Auntie, like my idol the Savvy Auntie. I want to be the best godmama in the world every time I see my godchildren (four and counting). There is no way that I could sustain this level of pressure 24/7.

Am I forcing my own wants on this little girl that I love to bits? Perhaps. Last year I bought a rare Barbie – because I loved/loooove Barbie! The year before it was art supplies and jewelry and a fancy dress, all things I craved as a kid and still do. No complaints from the recipient so far.

Am I trying to buy love with gifts? Maybe. I had a cool aunt who bought the best gifts and she was my favorite until she had little girl of her own. (Me? Jealous?)

Am I trying to influence this poor child into becoming more like me? Ha! Isn’t that what “real” parents do? (I still want to be my mom when/if I grow up.)

Still, I can’ t help thinking: what if it’s the worst birthday ever and she winds up in therapy because she really wanted to see Mary Poppins on Broadway instead but, no, I MADE her see Annie? Gah! To be continued…

Hey WNKsters what did you get your nieces, nephews, godchildren this year for Christmas/Hanukkah?

UPDATE PART 2: No one cried or died! Hooray! Success. Now how do I top it?

Scary Mommy: Cards For New Moms

Scarey House page 1

Scarey House page 1 (Photo credit: the_toe_stubber)

Wow. This site is truly scary. Scary Mommy gets a TON of traffic and the posts and complaints alone could be used to dramatically increase the frequency of vasectomies. There may not be a need for WNK or preach to the choir childfree sites after all. Maybe we should just provide a single link to these angry moms and let them take the heat? The cards are possibly the least depressing and most amusing part of the otherwise scary….

Cards For New Moms.

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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.

Child Photo Christmas Cards

American card, circa 1940

You're darned tootin' (Image via Wikipedia)

Are we all getting an abundance of holiday cards right now?  Are many of those cards pictures of our friends’ very cute children?  We must admit that they are, oftentimes, very sweet photos, but is anyone else but me wondering why more parents don’t put their own images in their cards?  Admittedly, kids photograph much better than the rest of the aging population, but it seems to me that cards with pictures only of the children sends a negative message.  It negates the importance of the parents, like they are non entities.

It’s obviously harder to find photos we like of ourselves as we age but do we need to look like models to our friends?  It is interesting to see how the children grow and resemble their parents in different ways each year but I like to see photos of my far away friends, not just their children.  Even grandparents seem to be sending pictures only of their grandchildren these days.  Of course they are proud, but they should have more to show for themselves in their golden years than the offspring of their offspring.

News of my friends also seems to be vanishing in their letter updates.  So much verbosity is wasted on the excruciating minutia of their children’s lives that little or no room seems to remain for me to learn of the parent’s lives.  Okay, so little Bob likes soccer and his sister is excelling in ballet.  Enough, that’s all I need to know of them.  Are their parents still at their same jobs, traveling, or still  skiing avidly?  Are they happy?  Hard to know.

Parents:  We do enjoy pictures of your kids.  Even when they are in their awkward stage we still like to see them because they are products of you, our cherished friends.  But, really how are you?  What do you look like? What rocked your world this year (other than something your kids did)?  By the way, the picture of your baby with food all over his face – so adorable to you – not  so well translated into a holiday card.

Leila Revisited

Matti

Image via Wikipedia

In reflecting on the movie Leilait is easy to see the conundrum couples face in traditional cultures when they can’t have or don’t want children.  Many cultures just don’t accept childless unions.  How many people do we know, however, who really might be having children largely for their parents, or for the tradition of having children to carry on their family gene pool, so ingrained in every society, even the most modern of ones?  It’s not uncommon.

I have to admit, the continuity of family heritage, and pleasing one’s parents or in-laws with the gift of grandchildren are compelling reasons to procreate.  My own parents and in-laws have been exceptionally supportive of my decision not to have children, but if I told all of them tomorrow that I had changed my mind, or that I was pregnant, would they be over-the-moon elated?  You bet.  Multiple year-long celebrations would be initiated.  Who doesn’t like to make people you love that happy (especially because of all they did for you)? Who doesn’t like the idea of having your parents and in-laws helping to shape your child if you know they would be great at it?  That part of parenting would be ideal – the part where the baby’s grandparents are cooing over the child, playing on the floor, cleaning up the mess, while you’re reading a book or having cocktails with friends.  But, then the grandparents leave, and you’re stuck with all the responsibility.

Perhaps if we lived with our siblings and parents as adults, like in some traditional societies, raising a child wouldn’t be that daunting, what with all those extra hands to help out. Frankly, multiple wives made it much easier too (but don’t get too excited about that idea until you see the film Leila).

Leila grippingly explores the consequences of ignoring one’s own needs and instincts, and one’s own biological destiny to please another entity, or a culture at large.  It serves as an important reminder to know ourselves and our partners and to ensure that when our partner tells us that he or she does not want a child, to believe it and to discuss that choice with frankness and honesty.

Moreover, people choosing not to have children or questioning whether it is the right choice also need to have those same frank conversations with their parents.  Hopefully, if they love you enough, and if they are not as imperious and opportunistic as Reza’s mother, they will happily accept the grand dog or cat and more quality time together (because you’re not saddled with the time demands of parenting) that you offer them instead.

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.

Saving Birth Control for the 99%

1926 US advertisement. "Birth Control"

Image via Wikipedia

From the Ms. Magazine blog Twitter feed:

“Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended–how would making birth control less available solve this problem?”

There are some interesting points to this discussion and WNK would love to hear from our readers. Why should we pay for contraception for those who can’t afford it? Why should contraception be available and inexpensive? Would you rather pay for children that people can’t afford? Do you think people should be more responsible in making family planning choices?

“Contraception obviously is a deeply held value by American women. But the fact that in the United States a startling half of all pregnancies are unintended makes clear that birth control is used only sporadically by some. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but a chief one is that so many women cannot afford contraception, especially the most expensive—and most effective–methods, such as birth control pills, and long lasting reversible contraception, for example, the newer (and far safer) models of IUDs (intrauterine devices). In short, the same economic disparities that pervade every other area of American life manifest here as well: poor women depend on publicly-funded programs for their contraceptive services, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only a little more than half of the 17 million women who need these services currently receive them.”

Check out the rest of the article here.

 

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Why No Sleep for Moms?

Stillnox

Image via Wikipedia

Moms don’t sleep, and on top of that they worry about not sleeping. Disturbed from restful nights by crying babes, and stressed by busy days they are turning to prescription meds to fight anxiety and insomnia.

“A 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that nearly three in 10 U.S. women said they used a sleep aid a few nights a week. Experts said that stress and anxiety had made mothers dependent on sleep aids like Lunesta, melatonin, Ambien and even Xanax.” (ABC News)

No word on a study about dads. Maybe they slept through it.

The NYTimes reports:

“One of the cruel jokes of motherhood is that the sleeplessness of pregnancy, followed by the sleeplessness generated by an infant (a period in which a staggering — truly — 84 percent of women experience insomnia), is not followed by a makeup period of rest. It is merely the setup for what can become a permanent modus operandi.”

Is it another reason to not have kids? Or just part of the busy world we live in where we are over-scheduled, stressed out, and plugged in?

Hey WNKers do you have trouble sleeping? Do you reach for a “mother’s little helper” to get to sleep?

 

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Too Old to Have Kids?

I’m obsessed with the television show Teen Mom and the five sixteen year olds that MTV has followed over several seasons. Watching the show is an excellent example of not only why we should have abundant, low-cost and available birth control everywhere, but also why sixteen is too young to have kids. So how OLD is too OLD to have kids?

Like many people, I was stunned to see a recent cover of New York magazine with a naked, albeit Photoshopped, grandma-looking pregnant woman. In their article “Parents of a Certain Age” NYMag asked the question, “Is there anything wrong with being 53 and pregnant?” Most readers agreed: YES! Including one reader who was so repulsed he threw the entire magazine in the garbage without reading a single word.

“The age of first motherhood is rising all over the West. In Italy, Germany, and Great Britain, it’s 30. In the U.S., it’s gone up to 25 from 21 since 1970, and in New York State, it’s even higher, at 27. But among the extremely middle-aged, births aren’t just inching up. They are booming. In 2008, the most recent year for which detailed data are available, about 8,000 babies were born to women 45 or older, more than double the number in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Five hundred and forty-one of these were born to women age 50 or older—a 375 percent increase. In adoption, the story is the same. Nearly a quarter of adopted children in the U.S. have parents more than 45 years older than they are.”

It seems logical that as the average age of the world population continues to rise the age of first time parents will also rise:

“Among the countries currently classified by the United Nations as more developed (with a total population of 1.2 billion in 2005), the overall median age rose from 29.0 in 1950 to 37.3 in 2000, and is forecast to rise to 45.5 by 2050.” (Wikipedia)

So why is there a trend of older parents? Couples are getting married later, and it’s taking longer for wannabe parents to feel financially stable to provide for children. Also, we live in a world where it is possible to have children at a later age through advances in science and medicine. But just because we can reverse menopause and make moms and dads out of senior citizens does it mean that we should?

As a woman on the cusp of forty, I am relieved that I have almost aged out of my fertile years. People ask when I am having kids less and less. My joints are starting to creak and my short-term memory stinks. I am aging, and as my body changes I can understand why it would be difficult to have a baby later in life. I respect that it is a parent’s choice to have kids or not, but I do feel uncomfortable about the risks associated with older parents on both parents and their children.

From the article:

“After 40, a pregnant woman is likelier to become afflicted with preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertension—the worst outcomes of which can result in the death of the fetus and occasionally the mother as well. It is also after 40 that the risk of having a child with autism increases—by 30 percent for mothers and 50 percent for fathers, says Lisa Croen, a senior scientist at Kaiser Permanente. Advanced paternal age is likewise associated with miscarriage, childhood cancer, autoimmune disease, and schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders.”

My grandfather once told me that the most embarrassing day of his life was his high school graduation. His forty something year-old mother sat in the audience with her white hair piled high in a bun and a bun in her oven, she was eight months pregnant. So maybe I have good genes and maybe I have science on my side. For me, still, maybe does not equal baby.

WNKies: Can you be too old to have kids?

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