A friend on Facebook brought this article to my attention. Ross Douthhat recently wrote for the New York Times that childfree people like me and those who postpone parenthood do so because:
Parenthood is “the last binding obligation in a culture that asks for almost no other permanent commitments at all.” In this sense, it isn’t necessarily that family life has changed that dramatically in the last few generations. Rather, it’s stayed the same in crucial ways — because babies still need what babies need — while outside the domestic sphere there’s been an expansion of opportunities, a proliferation of choices and entertainments and immediately available gratifications, that make child rearing seem much more burdensome by comparison.
This has two consequences for young, reasonably affluent Americans. First, it creates an understandable reluctance to give up the pleasures of extended brunches and long happy hours, late nights and weekend getaways, endless hours playing Grand Theft Auto or binge-watching “New Girl.” Second, it inspires a ferocious shock when a child arrives and that oh-so-modern lifestyle gives way to challenges that seem almost medieval, and duties that seem impossibly absolute. And the longer the arrival is delayed, the greater that shock — because “postponing children,” Senior points out, can make parents “far more aware of the freedoms they’re giving up.”
Once again the complexities of choosing not to have children or postponing children are glossed over. No mention is made of people like me who didn’t marry until I was 36. No mention is made of women like me who have significant health problems that would make pregnancy a living hell of pain. No mention is made of being financially secure enough or grown up enough yourself to start a family (as the daughter of a man who never grew up, I wish more people who wanted to live as perpetual teenagers would NOT have children). No, we’re just selfish people who want to have endless brunches and have marathon viewing sessions of our favorite shows (and no one ever had a child for selfish reasons: “I just want someone to love me”).
I’ve recently written about being childfree at Christian Feminism Today with my post, God Places the Solitary in Families in which I make the point that just because I don’t have children of my own doesn’t mean I’m not a parent:
This year I experienced something I thought I would never experience: empty nest syndrome. I never thought I would feel the emptiness that comes from a child leaving the nest for one simple reason: 10 years ago I decided that I did not want to have children.
What I didn’t know was that a few years later I would fall in love with a young British man who started coming to church when he started college in Chicago. Taylor and I bonded over being writers and our mutual obsession with Dr. Who. For three years we read each other’s writings and talked about everything. Somewhere along the way I realized Taylor was my kid; I had “adopted” him. In June he and his girlfriend moved to Seattle, and I became an empty nester. I can’t believe how much I miss my kid.
I also wrote a post a few years ago on my reluctance to write about my choice not to have children. I admitted I was selfish, but not because I want to spend my free time brunching it up:
I know there are those who will think I am selfish for not having children, and you’re right. I am selfish. I know how much time and energy it takes to raise kids. I know how large of an investment it is, and there is no return policy. I do not want to spend my time and energy raising kids. I want to spend my time and energy writing books. I am going to give birth and create new life: I’m just going to stick to giving birth in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.
(I’m happy to say that an article based on this post will be published in the June issue of Gather Magazine.)
Yes, I’m selfish for not wanting to have children, but not because I want an extra hour to brunch with the girls. I’m not having children because I want to do the same thing Ross Douthat does while his wife spends twice as much time taking care of their children. A Pew Study last year reveals that women spend twice as much time caring for children as men do. As I work at home and my husband works elsewhere, guess what would happen to my writing time if we had children? I’m 43–middle aged, with health problems. There’s no way I would have any energy to write once I finished with childcare. Don’t get me wrong: my husband would help all he could, and he would be an incredible father, but he works 50 hours a week outside of the home. I work at home. Do the math. (I have to admit when I see my husband with our nieces and nephews I feel a little guilty for not having children because he really would’ve been an awesome dad. But I don’t feel guilty enough to undo the tubal ligation, give it a go then be in unbearable pain for the last half of my pregnancy.)
The decision to postpone having children or not to have children at all is so much more complex and complicated than brunch and TV shows. It has to take into consideration the age the couple was when they committed to each other, the health issues of each person, where you are financially, and if you’re cut out to be a parent. Not all of us are. I’m not. I’m the first person to admit, I’d be a horrible mother. I’m glad I know that about myself. The decision not to have children is a complicated one that takes a lot of soul searching and years of discernment to make, and it should not be demeaned by an assumption that I would rather have time for one more mimosa than change a diaper.