The current issue of TIME magazine discusses people who choose not to have children.
Writes Yahoo! Shine writer (and mother) Beth Greenfield,
What does “having it all” mean? Not having kids, according to the latest sure-to-be-controversial issue of Time magazine.
I don’t know why it’s “sure-to-be-controversial,” since it’s not like childfree people want to poke people in the eyes with sharp sticks as part of their childfree lifestyle, but I guess it’s time to accept that one person’s decision to not have children will raise “controversy” hackles in others.
In a Yahoo chat session between Greenfield and Yahoo! Shine Senior Writer Sarah B. Weir (Greenfield recorded the chat), Weir makes no effort to conceal her negative perception of childfree people (well, women, really), beginning with her description of the couple on the front cover as “lazy yuppies” (surely a different reaction than she’d have had if the subject were, “Parents take a vacation”).
Weir’s responses are so passionate that I had to insert myself into the conversation. After all, who knows more about being childfree than someone who’s childfree?
In the following faux transcript, I respond to Weir’s original remarks, copied directly from her commentary in “Is Being Childfree Selfish?” (a question that alone makes me want to giggle, because that conversation is so tired – and decided, the answer a confident “no”).
Sylvia, Childfree Woman (who was able to go to Jamaica a few years ago thanks to the extra cash): Is it the smiles? The sand? Their age?
Do you have that reaction when you see anyone lying happily on the beach, or just people who don’t have children?
SBW: The matching swimsuits reek of self-satisfied, in-your-face DINKS [double income no kids].
Sylvia, a DINK: My husband and I never wear matching clothes. But we do see a lot of parents dressing themselves and their kids in matching clothes for pictures. Should we assume they’re smug, too, and trying to be in-our-faces about their happiness? We hate happy people.
SBW: As a working mom myself, … I wonder why I, feminist that I purport to be, have a knee-jerk reaction when I hear that women (and also men, but less so) don’t want to have kids. The other day, my husband said that one of his colleagues, in her early 30s, definitely doesn’t want to have kids. I immediately went to “selfish, narcissistic.” What is that about?
Sylvia, in her late 30s and definitely doesn’t want kids: Beth asked, “Do you think it could be partially that you are envious of her gall?” I second that. Except, strike the “gall” part, because there’s very little that’s particularly bold about not wanting kids – or even (heaven forbid) admitting it out loud. So, just the first part, about you possibly being envious.
SBW: I wouldn’t ever give up the experience of being a mom. I think it’s that, somewhere back in my primitive brain, I see it as “natural” to have kids, and weird not to have that desire. Of course there are many reasons—economic, environmental—that might make it extremely reasonable not to have kids.
Sylvia, a perfectly natural woman: Thanks for allowing that there are “reasonable” reasons, but we don’t need any reasons. Granted, some have them – financial, environmental, etc. – but others, like me, just. don’t. want. them.
Like you (but on the other end of the spectrum), I would never give up the experience of living a life without children, and I think my life experience of never having wanted children often makes me wonder why anyone would choose to have them. But, even while I wonder, I also understand not everyone is like me, so I never think of people who make different choices as “unnatural.”
SBW: I have two stepkids and one daughter, but sometimes I feel somewhat selfish—and lazy—for only having one biological kid. Like, you aren’t a “real mom” unless you have four! At the same time that birthrates are dropping, I’m seeing a trend in rich parents and celebs (like Heidi Klum or Reese Witherspoon) popping out three or four. In a way, in our culture, being a “real mom” is equated with being a “real woman.”
Sylvia, a biological female: The selfishness angle is one people often use to attack the childfree, and even women who only have one child, but it’s not a logical approach. Our decision to not have children (or yours to have just one biological child) hurts no one, takes nothing from anyone. You wanted to have a kid (yes?), so you had one. We want none, so we have none.
The couple on the TIME cover – why does their happiness vex you? It can’t be just the matching suits. (Although, some people really hate that matchy-matchy cutesy stuff. I get it.) Is it that you are so convinced that your way is the only way that you assume anyone not doing or wanting what you do or want is “wrong”?
SBW: That’s a good point. We sometimes project our decisions onto others as the right or only way to go. There’s so much underlying pressure to have kids though. I’m sure it’s hard to be childless in a society that still promotes the nuclear family as the absolute norm. And European countries are actively promoting higher birthrates. Did you see that British fertility campaign photo of the old-looking pregnant TV presenter saying she wished she’d have kids earlier? Scare tactics.
Sylvia, a woman who’s been pressured to have kids: Well, you’re doing your part. It’s reactions like yours to the TIME cover that add to the pressure society heaps on women to procreate. Could that maybe (I’m being sincere) be why you feel like you’re not a “real” mother unless you continue to have more kids? This brings me back to the envy Beth mentioned earlier. Could it be you sneer at us because we had the “gall” to not cave to the pressure and live the life we’re told we’re “supposed” to? (And that, worse, we’re really, really enjoying it?)
SBW: I do wonder if some women who are adamant about not having kids will have a late change of heart, which can be so traumatic. Another thought about this whole topic is that the dialogue for women in our age bracket has been so motherhood-focused—the mommy wars, working moms, stay at home moms, etc. Maybe now the dialogue is going to shift from that to “Why have kids at all?”
Sylvia, who has always wondered “Why have kids at all?”: Oh, don’t worry about women changing their minds later. There’s always adoption. And it beats changing your mind after having them, you know what I’m sayin’?
Seriously, though – we’re just as competent at decision making as you are. We don’t need other women worrying that we’re making the wrong choice. Just like you don’t need us questioning whether you’re going to be truly happy with kids.
SBW: I’d like to hear more from those who chose not to have kids.
Sylvia, happy to talk: What do you want to know? Maybe these 60 seconds will help answer a question or two.