Comedian Rita Rudner once said, “My husband and I are either going to buy a dog or have a child. We just can’t decide whether to ruin the carpet or ruin our lives.”
Ruining one’s life and a child’s life can both easily be said and done, given the fact that many people put more thought into deciding what car or home to purchase, as well as what carpet to buy, than whether or not they should bring a child into the world.
I have brought children into this world, with the first unplanned in the fleeting days of young adulthood when my life’s plans included everything but having a baby.
The important philosophically hard fact is that it was my choice to both keep her and love her, as I continue to do today.
But what if I did not? What if I had decided instead to adventure through college undeterred as planned; live in a dark writer’s flat in England and then travel the world as a fearless female war correspondent?
These are questions I will never be able to answer as my life undoubtedly took a drastically different turn, but that was my choice as a woman, as a human being and as a resident of this crowded and ever-shrinking planet.
As a mother, I can honestly say that I cannot imagine my life as meaningful or fulfilling had I decided “not to have children.” However, I can also honestly say that my life might be “less stressful” and perhaps just as interesting on an equally, albeit different level.
However, the “choice debate” and the issue of politicized parental propaganda is not only limited to the lives and dramas of women.
Men also suffer the rigors of societal pressure, continually facing the dilemma of whether or not to have children and raise them, and they face unrelenting rants upon them just as women do, even though the format may be slightly different.
The biological and social pressure for men to propagate is huge, not that size matters, as males are accused of being less than masculine should they chose not to sow their wild oats and then spread them feverishly. Just ask any man over 30 without kids.
And conversely, notice the praises of ultimate manhood for males who even father children out of wedlock and across ports and distant shores. Although men may be scorned if they are merely “baby daddies” and leave children without physical or financial support, a man’s proven virility goes a long way, baby.
As a parent, you might wonder why I may be so concerned with this subject at all. The most important concern is obviously that I believe that many men and women, are harassed into becoming parents when they should not be, for their own sake and for the child’s.
Secondly, I have both friends and family members, male and female, who are consistently called names and given guilted lifetime trips about their childless status, and as grown adults, they suffer emotional and mental anguish.
To both men and women of a certain age, I have heard the following comments and questions posed:
“He or she must be gay.”
“You must have had a really bad relationship with your father or mother.”
“Have you tried therapy?”
“Are you afraid of commitment?”
“You must be sterile.”
“You are going to really regret this when you are old and all alone.”
And the always classically and affectionately put . . .
“What is wrong with you?”
In Western society and largely throughout the world, one is presumed to be cold, selfish, physically or mentally challenged, immoral and even mentally and spiritually lacking in one way or another if they decide not to have any children at all . . . . ever.
And if the “said” childless has pets instead of children . . . let the wars and scathing commentary and glances begin ever the more ugly.
We wonder what could possibly be wrong as we imagine a multitude of strange skeletons hiding in their closets—perhaps even scathingly theorizing if they too have yet to come out of one. Whispers, rumors and opinions are formed as to why this friend, sister, brother, cousin, uncle, aunt or childless couple continues in their unwavering stance of simply not wanting kids. We torture them with endless pictures of our own babies, tell them over and over again that “it’s never too late,” and warn that they will regret their decision “not to go forth and multiply” for the rest of their lives.
According to a 2010 Study by Pew Research, nearly one in five American women now ends her childbearing years without having a child, compared to only one in 10 during the 1970s.
“Among all women ages 40-44, the proportion that has never given birth, 18% in 2008 since 1976, when it was 10%. And there were 1.9 million childless women ages 40-44 in 2008, compared with nearly 580,000 in 1976.”
Perhaps Betty Freidan’s revolutionary book The Feminine Mystique was even more apocalyptic than once realized, especially and inherently when she wrote:
“Chosen motherhood is the real liberation. The choice to have a child makes the whole experience of motherhood different, and the choice to be generative in other ways can at last be made, and is being made by many women now, without guilt.”
While it is understood that both men and women have an evolutionary biological need and feel the pressure to plant and nurture their genus before leaving the planet, modern medicine and revolutionary changes in politics and societal culture has drastically changed people’s ability to choose paths they now deem as more important or advantageous than child-rearing.
But we don’t believe people when they tell us their reasoning for a childless life. We think they are lying, have suffered some horrendous abuse and ultimately, some of us even make it our life’s mission to save others from what we are convinced must be an empty, pathetic life.
The good news is that the tide of philosophical thought and attitude has slowly been changing when it comes to whether or not having babies makes for a worthy or not worthy human being.
According to a 2007 Pew Research Study, only 41 percent of adults said that children were very important for a successful marriage, a decline from 65 percent who said so in 1990. And The General Social Survey reports that “most adults disagree that people without children lead empty lives”, a share that rose 59 percent in 2002 from 39 percent in 1988.
Still, barely a day goes by when I do not overhear rude gossip and ignorant commentary about those who choose to remain childless, especially in regards to long-term committed couples.
To those who continue to bash and judge those who have made the choice not to have children, I ask and pose the following questions and points of thought:
What if these childless people are truly introspective and have thought deliberately and selflessly as they have taken on this unpopular stance? Nothing, after all is more selfish than having children just to keep the status quo.
We have all come across parents who have no business having children and the children who suffer as a result. We have all seen horrific stories of mothers and fathers who could not handle parenthood. FYI, the leading cause of death among children under the age of five is infanticide, the murder by their own parents.
This is not to say that all unwilling parents will become evil or dangerous, but it does inevitably follow in some cases.
I am one who willingly became a parent, and there resides my ability to be present and at peace, despite the hardships. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a mother. As a little girl, I only wanted baby dolls to play with that I named and took care of, dreaming of the day when I would one day have real babies to call my own.
But what about all the girls and boys who have always known in their hearts that they did not want children?
Three successful females in my family have made this decision. I do not know exactly why, but I suspect from their behavior that it is because they are enjoying the heck out of their lives just the way they are and don’t want to rock any cradles at all.
Their decision not to bring children into the world should be as respected and lauded, as they have the self-awareness to make an unpopular choice, and surely face disapproval on all fronts.
As a modern society, the very idea of choosing to stay childless is perhaps the last taboo and a decision that is allowed to be fiercely judged and frowned upon openly with utter disregard for those chastised.
One is expected to obtain a law degree before practicing law, a medical license before giving doctorly advice, and a driver’s license before operating a motor vehicle.
And yet, getting pregnant and impregnating a woman is a decision often decided upon as a result of societal and cultural pressure and expectations, whether or not the prospective parents are happy about the idea or emotionally and financially equipped to raise the said child.
If you happen to have children and harshly judge others for not having any, perhaps you might listen to what they have to say. Either that, or realize that it is really none of your business.
From some people who have decided not to have kids, here are just a few of their comments verbatim:
“I don’t believe I could be responsible for another human being.”
“I believe that there are too many unwanted children who should be taken care of before any more are brought into this world.”
“I want to be able to travel without being tied down.”
“I don’t have any patience when it comes to children.”
“I can’t afford to support a child.”
“I love my career and don’t have the time.”
“My pets are my children.”
“I have never wanted to be a parent.”
“I love just being an aunt or uncle.”
“The world is too screwed up to being any more kids into it.”
Whatever the reason, those who choose not to have kids should be respected for knowing their limits, understanding their own needs and desires, and making a conscious and responsible decision.
If you happen to already be a parent and love being one, there are numerous causes more worthy of getting worked up about; one of which is to appreciate your own children instead of worrying about those who don’t not want any of their own.
Some of the greatest people you and your children may have the pleasure and gift of knowing may be those without any progeny at all. Among them are some of our finest authors, teachers, artists, philanthropists, thinkers, leaders and role models.
Your children will learn a great lesson from you through your own acceptance that all people have a right to make their own life decisions.
As for me, I plan to to continue to enjoy, lament, suffer, rejoice and be present in the day-to-day experiences of motherhood, knowing full-well and with intent that it is my decision and choice to do so. I also have a feeling that if I did not have any children, I would surely still get on somehow and with much fulfillment and purpose, as do so many wonderful, loving and brilliant people that I know.
Either that, or I might have become the crazy cat lady of my town as I have the feverish need to take care of all innocent creatures.
No offense at all meant for my 11 and counting . . . cat-loving childless friends.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel