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Why Be Childfree?

June 21, 2013

Unlike other posts I’ve written on the subject of childfreedom, this one is not a rhetorical invite for me to get on my soapbox and explain why having a family is not a good idea for all. I am actually musing, with genuine fascination, on why there is such a growing contingent of likeminded individuals who take the phrase “be fruitful and multiply” to mean that one should go raid the produce section at the local grocery store and bust out a pencil and paper to do a refresher on SAT math.

Intellectually, if you are more of an analytical person who happens to be childfree, the arguments for elective permanent sterilization pile one on top of the other exponentially (which is a good reason to refresh yourself on that high-school math if you are also childfree).

Children are time-consuming. They’re financially consuming as well, with no guaranteed return on investment, as the proportion of financially stricken twentysomethings moving back in with their parents showcases. If you want to make damn sure you will be looked after in your old age, you’re better off making like my friend from Baltimore and setting aside the money you would have spent raising a child and putting it in an interest-bearing account, not to be touched for at least 18 to 25 years.

But it’s only been very recent in human history that assets and liabilities were measured monetarily, and only within the last sliver of our time on species’ prominence could children, in fact, be considered financial liabilities. Hell, even today there are still rural agricultural communities which depend on able bodies of all ages in order to survive.

(Disclaimer on the rest of the post: I am not a trained evolutionary biologist. I only play one on TV. And I’m not currently on TV.)

It’s only been within the past century that infant mortality rates have dropped to the point of being a tragedy (at least in areas with access to modern medical facilities and clean water) rather than a grimly realistic expectation. For all but that atomic-microscope-necessitating sliver of homo sapiens sapiens’ time scale, children were a commodity needed in numbers as large as could be churned out because viruses and bacteria waged continuous war on our ancestors, and only through strength in numbers could we hope to survive.

Which is not to say that there haven’t, since awareness dawned as to what processes led to the creation of babies, been women who would do whatever it took to try and prevent such creative processes from taking place. I remember reading once that Ancient Egyptian women used crocodile dung as an olden-days cervical sponge, which reading made me whine significantly less about the four-way bickering I constantly have with my doctor, pharmacy, and insurance company over the easy-to-swallow and odor-free pills I still take on a nightly basis, voluntary celibacy be damned.

But obviously, enough women decided not to put crap in orifices it would not naturally be in to get the human race to this point. And to judge by the fact that around 50% of pregnancies carried to term in the United States are unplanned, it would appear that there are plenty of women who are okay enough with the idea of kids to make the commitment, even if their hands have been forced.

Evolution, after all, doesn’t have CNN on its RSS feed. It doesn’t read and respond instantaneously to new information. In past millennia, it’s been a life-preserving trait that our bodies glom onto sugars and carbohydrates, storing them as tough-to-lose fat. It’s only been in the age of processed foods, indoor climate control, and lack of a need to run for miles on end to score dinner that such a tendency has come to bite us as solidly in the ass as we bite our Baconators.

Which means, from a strictly Darwinian perspective, that people like me must have faulty wiring. So must asexuals. So must, according to that strict approach, gays and lesbians, although the prevalence of same-sex attraction is so well-documented throughout the animal kingdom that it’s clearly a fully natural phenomenon. Suck on that, Westboro Baptist Church (once you finish screaming at me about my “opinion” that the world wasn’t created in six days six thousand years ago).

But if I am going to dive full-on into a rhetorical nature-nurture debate, let’s face it, the evidence of nurture contradicting nature doesn’t stack up, either. Granted, the youngest person in my family is nine months my junior, so I didn’t spend much time around the younger crowd growing up, and was therefore not exposed to whatever charms and magical powers young children are supposed to exude in order to convert one to their side.

But by this same token, I also didn’t spend enough time around them to revile them the way that I do, either. I can’t recall any one particular incident that turned me off of small children for all time, nor even any specific time in my life when I started to realize that young kids were not for me. I suppose, like my atheism, this aversion has always been with me.

(Worth noting, if [royal] we are to give nurture any weight over nature, that my friend from Baltimore mentions that in the l0wer-middle-class environment in which he was raised, it was the people who spent the most time around younger children–almost never by choice, it was a matter of “someone has to watch Li’l Johnny!”–who were the most averse to having any of their own. It’s easy to see how too much exposure to anything could make you sick of it.)

But any higher powers know how much society perpetuates the idea that everybody wants kids, especially little girls. Even my grandmother talks about how excited she was that she was finally able to buy a doll as a gift for her first female grandchild. Unfortunately for her, I largely ignored my dolls in favor of recreating ski adventures with my stuffed animals and using my dress-up costumes to be a spy, a Greek goddess, or, one time, a prosecuting attorney determining whether one of my classmates was going to Dantean hell (not sure where that came from, seeing as how I hadn’t read Dante by that point).

Which avoidance even in childhood seems to point suspiciously back to being wired that way. Which wiring, again, seems to be in direct contrast with lizard-brain biology. Perhaps evolution is sneakily catching up to us, allowing for elements of the population that are working from within its confines to help control overpopulation?

Or maybe I’m just really screwed up. But at least I’ll be able to limit myself to smiling empathetically when one of my future fellow bluehairs calls me from some assisted-living facility to complain about her kids never call or visit while I sip the mojito my strapping, 20-something male caretaker has brought me on the porch of my Costa Rican beachfront house.

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21 Comments
  1. crispyindeed permalink

    I never cared for having children and I still don’t. I am 26, and well aware that is still young and everyone can say, “never say never,” which is true. But it’s also one of those things that IF (imagine that in a font size 150) I ever do change my mind, it would be a complete shock to myself and the very few that know me well. And IF, I’d consider adopting first… which leads on to the few reasons why I don’t care for having any rug rats and on to having children in general. I can try to understand why women want to have their own biologically, but I guess I could also be bias seeing that I’m an animal nut. In many ways, I see having kids the same as breeding dogs cats… wrong. Ok, maybe that is a little too strong. Call me cliche, but I just simply care what’s is right and fair. I don’t doubt adoption is hard. Yes, the child might have a bad history. But, I think it’s worth it. Just like adoption a dog instead of buying from a breeder. With that said, as annoyed and aggravated to say the least I get when I see/hear screaming toddlers at Target, I don’t need to have human kids of my own to know that is the parents’ fault. It really pisses me off when I see parents don’t pay any attention or even go beyond that to complain their children are misbehaving. Come again? How old is your child? Who is responsible for him/her? And parents wonder why their kids grow up to be the way they are. No creature, human or animal should be punished for their parents/owners actions.

    • Let me tell you, turning 27 doesn’t make OTHER people any less certain that you’ll change your mind. And I’m right there with you…if (and I’d use the same 150-point font, because I’m that certain it ain’t gonna happen) I ever did change my mind, I’d adopt as well. I know the statistics on the number of children in foster care just in the U.S. alone from arguing with ultra-conservatives who believe that abortion should be completely outlawed (not good for the mental health), and I’d find it to be a good way to give back to the community in some way. Also, on a selfish level, I do not ever want to be pregnant. Internet high-five to you!

  2. I was a total tomboy as a kid, I’ve never babysat anyone by myself, I’ve grown apart from my mates as they have been a bit gutted I can’t relate to their kids very well (actualy I do still relate to the things they like on their level ha!) and I decided at the age of 12 I was never having kids – ever.

    Plus the way the planets resources are dwindling I don’t want to put yet another life onto it, for their sake and the for the sake of the planet. This is something 80% of people that I (used to) know just don’t understand and judge me harshly for that reason.

    • I know exactly what you mean about trying to preserve the planet a little. I’ve read projections stating that we’re likely to cap off at 9.5 billion people before widespread availability of family planning helps bring the numbers down. But we’re struggling already with *only* 7 billion!

      My 7+ year-old guests at the ski resort I teach at love my fart jokes. I get to be like the cool aunt or something for a day, and then I get to give them back! That is key, in my book. Under 7, though, I cannot relate to at all. Kind of a problem when you have kids who are going to be under that age for, well, six years and 364 days.

      • Haha! I know exactly what you mean about 7 and over so you can chat about stuff that’s ‘gross’ and ‘cool’ and of course hand them back lol

      • It’s nice to have an audience for my fart jokes…my equally immature cousins have heard them all already! And that ability to hand ’em back is key!

  3. Ray permalink

    I have the UTMOST respect for people that decide not to have children. Hats off to ya! Seriously. I think it’s a wise person who does this. Parenting is not easy, but it is something I chose and I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China. Parenthood is 24/7 FOREVER… 🙂

    • I salute the people who do have the patience and caring for parenthood! But to someone with as big a distrust of commitment as I have, the 24/7 notion makes me curl up in a fetal position. One of my major reasons for not having children is that you can’t bring your baby and a receipt to the hospital and say, “I’d like to return this, please.”

      • Ray permalink

        So very true. 24/7 for life. 🙂

  4. From age 10-11, I was most of the time babysitting my three younger siblings. We’re all in our 20’s now and they’re great and I love them and bla bla bla, but that was enough to make me sick of children, and I never stopped being sick of them. So yeah, never having kids.

    • HA! I wonder if there’s a balance between no exposure to small children and too much exposure that makes people warm up to the idea? This sounds ripe for a scientific study! If only I were still in academia…

  5. Well thought out and written post.

    I think most people who, like you and I, choose not to have children have very different reasons behind their choice. While I am not hardcore against having a child I also am not trying to and at 40 that’s pretty much a life decision already made- that said though I am not on any birth control, we are leaving it up to the universe to direct us in this. Sure, I can still try if I miraculously get the baby bug or hear the thunderous ticking of the biological clock that’s been silent so far but the possibility of a high risk pregnancy goes up at my age.

    My personal reasons are on a more basic level than your more intellectual ones. I simply don’t have that maternal ache or urge that a woman is supposed to have. On top of that I don’t particularly relish the idea of passing on my physical issues to a child who will have to deal with them as well. Also, I don’t like the world as it is right now and think bringing another child into it is just not a wise decision for me. I see the angst and sense of entitlement many teenagers and many young adults in their 20’s have and it truly just drives me nuts.

    Kids can’t go out and play like we used to, in fact, living in Japan now it is like turning America back 30 years to the time when kids could wander around unattended and people actually helped each other.

    If I were to get pregnant I would want to raise my child in Japan. Natural disasters aside it is an incredibly safe and culturally rich place to live.

    • I completely get what you’re saying about that lacking maternal urge. That I have the nurturing instincts of frozen cabbage informs my intellectual reasons for not wanting children. And I have the physical issues and fears of passing them on as well. Type I diabetes is hard enough to control when you’re not pregnant and not simultaneously trying to control your child’s on top of it.

      If you do suddenly develop the baby bug (and I was just reading an article stating that doom-and-gloom predictions of fertility after 35 may not be as doom-y and gloom-y as commonly thought, so you may not have your life’s decisions made for you yet: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/07/how-long-can-you-wait-to-have-a-baby/309374/?single_page=true), Japan seems like as good a place as any to raise kids. If I ever were to have my maternal instincts thaw out, I’d probably try to plead with the Canadian government based on the fact that my grandmother was a citizen. But the world is a pretty frightening place to try and raise kids, so I’m right with you on that count, too.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. I wish more people would closely consider the realities of parenting before procreating or forgoing birth control. Sadly, having children is the social norm and any discussion of why this might not be the right decision for some, is met with hostility. Pregnancy and then parenting is far from the romanticized, blissful, fulfilling experience that our culture tells us. The incessant demands and responsibilities associated with children totally derail and consume your life – people should be ready for this (and really, really want it). I think most are infatuated with the idea of children, unprepared for the realities. In fact, in comparing childless couples to couples with children, with all things being equal, its been demonstrated that childless couples are generally far more happy and satisfied overall. There is a great and balanced discussion of these issues in this article:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/67024

    Thank you, to you, for writing about this issue. Its strange how little this is talked about. Its as if being intentionally childless is not a socially valid option or lifestyle – especially here in the Midwestern, United States. People are shocked and offended when, upon their asking when you’ll be having kids, you politely inform that there won’t be any. I really believe that the world would be a better place (for so many reasons) if only those who are truly prepared pursued parenting, having chosen to do so after carefully considering the reality of caring for children.

    • Indeed. All media stories feature are parents snuggling blissfully with their children, babies clean-scrubbed and wrapped in fuzzy blankets and older children reading or playing with intense focus. You never see the full-force temper tantrums, DVD players broken when curious young minds shoved PB&J sandwiches into them, or the never-ending stream of bodily fluids.

      Whenever I need a reality check, I go to the grocery store or mall. You’re guaranteed at least one visibly sleepless parent on the verge of tears because their kid won’t stop shrieking no matter what the parent tries to do, and passersby shooting death glares in parent and child’s direction instead of doing what I do, which is to smile inwardly and think, “Whatever else sucks about my life, it could be worse. That could be me!”

      I think–I hope–that the childfree movement is gaining wider acceptance across the country and will hopefully be considered perfectly fine in the Midwest. I’m lucky enough to live in Denver most of the time and stay in a mountain town the rest. My neighborhood in Denver is quite popular with the LGBT community and grad students, most of whom do not have or want kids and who plan to move to the suburbs if they do have them one day, and mountain towns tend to be populated by young, transient post-undergrads who need to find some way of supporting their skiing and boarding addictions. But I think as more articles like the NY Magazine one come out and more childfree people make their voices heard, it won’t be a total shocker that there are people who don’t ever want to have children.

  7. I have never wanted children. I am 25 years old now and this hasn’t changed. Not once. The closest I ever got to wanting children was thinking that I was SUPPOSED to want children and feeling guilty and weird for…not. It took me awhile to realize that it just isn’t something I desire and it took me even longer to let go of the self doubt society had hammered into me regarding this. I feel like I was trained from a young age to fear not having kids and to fear not getting married because being a barren spinster is supposedly the worst thing ever. Now, obviously this isn’t the case. Anyone can look around and realize that marriage and/or children does not equal happiness. Not even close. But no one will admit that. And no one, NO ONE believes me or shows any sort of respect when they hear that I don’t want to have children. It used to piss me off to no end but now I just smile and nod (and reign in the homicidal rage when someone tells me they’ll “laugh” when I get knocked up).

    I have also never actually believed in god. It was another one of those things where when I was younger I just assumed I did because I was told I should. Unfortunately (or fortunately) that kind of belief just doesn’t hold up very well. I have finally admitted to myself that yes, I am an atheist. And while I obviously could be wrong, I just don’t think I am. I don’t think there is any evidence out there that proves I am wrong (especially not any of the so called holy books).

    And if I am being really sassy, I feel like religion and children are both used as crutches for a bunch of people who are terrified of dying. They just HAVE to believe that there is something else after life and that someone will always remember them.

    Maybe this makes me really screwed up as well. But I have to say, I’m pretty happy. I see a lot of people who refuse to question the Shoulds of society and they almost never end up better off.

  8. I had a tubal ligation when I was 28 – no kids. At 31, I had a total hysterectomy – wasn’t life threatening issue just annoying and why deal with it if I am not having kids. I loathed dolls but had a bed covered in stuffed animals. I told anyone who mentioned me having kids that it was never gonna happen since I could speak. I am 41 now .. no kids for me. I see a lot of my friends and family suffering through life because of their kids and choices. No thank you.

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