Sunday, September 9, 2007

We're here, we're childless: deal with it

"Any dissident is suspect: neurotic, obsessed by her career, selfish or a lesbian." These are the words of author Corinne Maier, as it relates to the French attitude toward the purposely childless. But I would say that's the attitude most of the world over.
Mme. Maier has written a book entitled No Kid: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children, which has sparked outrage in Maier's native France. Maier wrote a guest column for the British newspaper The Daily Mail on August 21st, to explain herself to British audiences. In this column, she wrote:
The world is in the grip of baby mania, with celebrities flaunting their pregnant bellies in magazines, live births on TV and everyone demanding the right to have a baby at any cost.
To be a la mode, the must-have accessory is a baby. If you can't make your own, then a whole business has sprung up to service your needs and now as long as you've got the cash, you can buy IVF eggs, sperm or even children.
Anyone who dares to be different and suggest that being child-free is the better option is villified as immature or selfish. It's a brave woman who will stand up for her right not to have children.

Indeed, but I would venture that it's not just childless women who are brave. To tell people you're a married man and childless also invites varying degrees of suspicion regarding your male virility or your wife's worth. When I first began talking to a new young lady at work, I told her I've been married for eight years. Her eyes lit up. "Oh," she crooned. "How nice." Then, without wasting a breath: "Any children?" No, I told her, matter-of-factly. Her smile disappeared and she looked at me as if I'd suddenly grown wings and horns. "Oh dear. Couldn't you ...?" No, nothing like that, I assured her, before she could even say that filthy c-word: conceive. We just didn't want any. "Oh," she said quizzically, still regarding me like a rare specimen—which, to be fair, I probably am. "Well, children are lovely."
Yes, I thought, rolling my eyes. They're so lovely that there's no length I won't go to avoid them.
If you're prepared to sacrifice, if you've got the patience of a saint, if you're prepared for your life to change beyond your wildest imagination, if you're prepared to fork over a cumulative $100,000 dollars over 18 years to bring a child into the world and raise, nurture and discipline it to the age where it becomes a polite, responsible, hard-working adult, then go for it.
Reason #1: Temperament: But could you parental types please stop assuming that everyone is cut out to be a parent? I decided a long time ago that I would become celibate, with Squirrel's approval. Sex is dangerous stuff, it can land you in hot water—hot water that baby takes his or her bath in. I would not make a good father; I'd be whacking the kid left, right and center. And God help the "little angel" if it ever got wise with me. Remember what Bill Cosby said about "I brought you into the world; I can take you out"? That definitely applies here! Squirrel herself has also admitted that she too would lose her temper too much to make a good mother. Not everyone is endowed with a paternal or maternal instinct. Not everyone has the patience to deal with babies and little children. Fact. Deal with it.
#2: Money:
Squirrel and I both work full-time jobs. We don't have a car or gym memberships or anything frivolous that we waste money on. Yet, we both live from paycheck to paycheck. Mortgage rates keep rising, and we've had no end of things breaking down around here that we've had no choice but to fix. I am considering getting a second, part-time job myself just to get a bit more in the black. Now then, do you seriously think we're in good financial shape to have a kid? We'd have to move, for one thing, and the only place we could afford that would be bigger would be in a slum estate. Sorry, but I'm not moving to a ghetto just to contribute to mankind's out-of-control population! I know the government would give us tax breaks for children, but it just wouldn't be enough.
#3: Quality of life:
If your vision of a great life is children hopping into bed with you in the morning to greet you, fixing them their breakfast and sending them off to school, playing toys or games with them in the evening and all the little things that make up a parent-child relationship, then wonderful. Again, stop assuming that's everyone else's vision of the good life as well. Because it's not. Squirrel and I both like to be free to travel (whenever we can snatch a bargain trip, that is); we like the freedom to go out to eat, to the movies or for a few drinks whenever we like; we both like doing our own thing without anyone else around to disturb us. If this is selfish, then so be it. This is the only way of life we've known for nearly nine years now and we're not willing to give up our free-to-choose lifestyle. We both value our freedom very highly.
#4: Time:
I need lots of sleep. Lots. I need at least nine hours to feel refreshed. I have barely enough time to fit in writing, reading, playing the guitar, running and all the other things I enjoy, with work and my need for sleep getting in the way. And now I'm expected to fit fatherly duties into the mix? No thanks. There's just not enough time in my day as it is without some kid demanding even more of it.
#5: Environment:
Here's what really baffles me. We're supposed to fret over carbon emissions, solid waste disposal, water quality, land space and a myriad of other things that we know humans beings are making worse or are at least likely to be making worse. And yet, as Mrs. Maier states, the world is in the grip of baby mania. Everyone wants a baby, demands a baby, thinks they have a universe-decreed right to a baby. Overpopulation of the world never seems to figure into the list of things that we should be concerned about. If the environment and the health of our planet is such a big concern—and it should be—then our attitude to our birth rate ought to be of some concern as well. But, it's obviously not. Can you say hypocrisy?
#6: Social life:
If you've got a kid, you've got no social life. Period. Being a doting parent means you don't care; your child becomes the center of your life. That's as it should be. There's nothing in the world more irresponsible than a parent that still wants to party.
But there are some people who don't see children as the center of their universe, who don't get all nostalgic or sentimental when surrounded by the creatures. I have often thought that someone with enough capital for a business would do pretty well for him or herself if they started up a child-free airline. Or a child-free coffeeshop. Or, how's this—instead of holiday companies who constantly market themselves as child-friendly with free nights and free dinners and free entertainment for the kiddies, what about a travel company that markets adult-only vacation packages? Instead, everywhere we go, the breeders interact with the childless and think that their precious spawn should be seen, heard and appreciated by all. Call me selfish or immature or—*gulp!*—even worse, a liberal, but rare is the time when I'm out-and-about that I don't fantacize about my desire for a child-free refuge other than my own home to escape to.
Squirrel and I have never fully made friends with couples with kids. We have met and socialized with the odd person here or there who had a kid, but the great majority of people we are friends with have been childless adults like ourselves—people who've never had children, never regretted it and never once felt that it impacted negatively on their lives. The fact is, we just don't relate to parental couples. We don't understand or desire their lifestyle any more than they they understand or desire ours.
I think the breeders—the "children are so lovely and you're nuts for not wanting some" crowd—have some growing up to do themselves. Nothing is more selfish than pushing children on people who just have no longing for them, for making any man or woman feel guilty or worthless for simply trying to life a happy life. For the fact is, some people are perfectly happy to not have children. There are more of us than you would like to believe. And when we see you with your kids—whether you're playing merrilly with them or trying to control one of their zillions of temper tantrums—we do not envy you. We do not look wistfully at you. We do not think, "awww, how sweet." It doesn't even register. It does not make our day that your path crossed ours. We're happy with our own lives, unencumbered by children as we are. We do not even think twice about you.
Deal with it. Start learning to respect people's choices in a free society. We are not endangering the human race by not breeding because you're doing plenty of it for us.
This is not the first time I've had to stick up for childless couples like us. But, assuming mainstream society's attitude doesn't change, I'm probably going to have to keep explaining my position for the rest of my life.
As for you, Mrs. Maier—merci beaucoup et bon sante! We need more women like you. A truly strong and independent woman is one that says "no" to being bullied by society into having children.


kristen said...

Hmmmm....I can see your point of view, but I respectfully disagree. I'm one of those 'marriage and family' types (I wouldn't mind one of my own), but I would never push that view on someone else. I do however strongly believe in bearing children only within the bonds of matrimony; Hollywood is a poor example. All the actresses getting knocked up out of wedlock is so immoral I want to hurl.

It's strange because there are so many good people who want to have kids and would make great parents, but can't conceive. Then there's so many lousy people procreating that really should not be allowed to reproduce because they SUCK as parents. Ironic. But such is life.

I hear often how children really change people. An impatient, selfish person suddenly becomes a different person when he/she becomes a parent. Maybe that could be you ;-)

btw--LOVE that Bill Cosby himself video. Hilarious.

Nightdragon said...

Kristen: Right, but you want children, you're prepared to sacrifice for them and all that jazz. And you've said that you would never push "marriage and family" on anyone else, so that's good. I have no beef with you.

My problem lies with the sort of folks who just cannot bring themselves to understand that some people are happiest without children in their lives, people for whom children would bring misery. Sure, I and other child-free types could love our children, but, like the author Mrs. Maier herself, we might still conclude that having children was a mistake and not something that we considered worth all the trouble.

I just get insulted that there are those who would say, "OK, so you're married nine years and you have no family?!" Wait a minute!!! It may just be the two of us (and the pets), but that's family enough! In fact, my biggest fear is that a child would divide Sq. and I, that it would cause a rift that couldn't be healed. We're much better off having just the two of us.

I suppose I'll never know how much I was capable of changing if I had a little son or daughter that I could teach things and impart dragon wisdom to -- but, here's the thing: I'm OK with not knowing. I don't need to know to be happy. I'm happy just looking after myself, my wife and my animals. That's all I need. Or, to be precise, I've decided that's all I need to be happy. And I am. I do not feel lacking or insufficient in any way, shape or form just because I don't have several rugrats stomping all over the place. (I'll take real rats or rugrats any day!)

I also don't think we should be playing God with all this fertility treatment stuff. Sad as it may be to be unable to conceive when you really desire a family, I believe nature is like a woman: when she says "no," she means "NO." But that's another can of worms, I suppose. But, yeah, you're right, it's all the stupid people having kids, it seems, while the intelligent, responsible folks are the ones suffering from infertility or whatever. I definitely agree on that point.

And yeah, Bill Cosby is a national treasure, he really is. Funny dude. Something else from that performance he said: about how your own father will look on with glee while you're having trouble with your kids. "Say, havin' trouble there, son? (heh, heh)." Remember that? Well, that's not an experience that I'll allow my own father to have. But he doesn't care at all. And neither do I.

Sq. and I are childless and happy and that's the way it's staying. :D

Pam said...

Although I didn't blog about it directly much, one of the major reasons behind the end of my marriage was the child issue. We were happily and mutually childfree in our 20's, and in our mid-30's the husband questioned whether that was enough, and I didn't. It is a change of heart I understood - you can't be sure you'll have the same goals, dreams and ambitions at 21 as you will at 35. That said, it hurt like hell to realize that 1. having children meant enough to him that he would give up on our marriage if I didn't agree and 2. NOT having them meant enough to me that I would let that happen rather than change my way of thinking about it.

In the end, though, the whole experience has made me so much more comfortable with my decision. I learned that it isn't what is "lacking in me" that makes me want to remain childfree. Rather, it is that for me so many other things make the world a wonderful, fascinating place. There are never enough hours in the day to do and experience all that I want to NOW - and I'm both content and selfish enough to realize that I don't want to sacrifice the time I do have for a duty as all-consuming as child-rearing.

I admire those that parent and parent well like crazy - especially my own mother and father. But the only ones who will ever know that are the ones who can be just as respectful of my decision to do something different with my own life.

Nightdragon said...

Pam -- Thanks so much for chiming in here. Your p.o.v. is very relevant and very much appreciated.

I love my father like life itself, despite his ultra-authoritarian ways, because I was aware of how much he sacrificed to raise my older sister and myself. And I was a much bigger pain-in-the-ass to deal with than my more sanguine first-born sister! He worked two full-time jobs for 16 years to provide us with the comfort we came to know and expect. And, it's because he was such authoritarian that I grew up the polite, hard-working 37-year-old I am now. No matter how bad a day I'm having, I always say "please" and "thanks" to people and that's down to my mother and father.

I'm just afraid that I would blur the lines between authoritarianism and harm. Like a boxer knows to walk away from streetfights, I know to not have children.

Also, it's very sad about your marriage but it's obvious that your ex-husband cared more about sowing his seed than about you as a person, so you're better off without him. I'm glad you remained strong and that you've found your life to be full of purpose without him and children.

Good for you! ;.)