Recently there was an article published in Macleans, a highly regarded, weekly Canadian magazine, entitled ‘The Case Against Having Kids’ (http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/07/24/no-kids-no-grief/comment-page-4/). Written by Anne Kingston, it chronicled the changing attitudes toward the societal imperative to have children. For those of us who frequent childfree internet forums and read childfree blogs and books, it wasn’t a groundbreaking article by any means – in fact, there wasn’t anything in there that I hadn’t read before. What was interesting was the fact that it was a screaming headline in one of the most widely-read publications in the country – and given that dissing parenthood is the last great taboo, it was a bold lead for what is generally a conservative magazine.
The fact that you can CHOOSE to have a life without children is still a revolutionary idea for most people. Women are raised from the time they’re children to be mothers and nurturers, and most are happy to simply drift along in the current of life, ticking off the items on the “life script” – car, degree, job, serious boyfriend, fiancée, wedding, house, kids. There’s a boom in the number of women choosing to be traditional stay-at-homes, as women reject the “have it all” idealism of their mothers and choose to go back to a more traditional life. Men are still expected to be providers and football fathers, the strong silent types, the income-earning heads of the house. The gender roles are alive and well, in spite of all the talk about equality and the changing roles of the sexes.
But life is changing and society evolving. It’s getting harder to keep up in a culture being reformed almost daily by technology. We’re becoming more and more aware that the planet is in trouble. Work–life balance in tough financial times is becoming more work and less life. Middle class wage earners are falling further and further behind in terms of real income, and there is a very real danger that the current generation will be the first in history to enjoy a lower standard of living than their parents. A longer life span for elders caught unprepared for retirement is leading to this same generation being caught in the middle, charged with finding the time and energy to look after parents as well as children. More and more people are becoming aware that children are not a given, that they’re expensive, time consuming, and place strain on already stressed lifestyles – and that in fact, for some there might not ever be a good time to just “go ahead and have them”. The generation that is now of prime child bearing age is the first of the ‘me’ generations – and they’re looking at the scene in front of them and thinking “I can barely keep my own head above water – and I’m supposed to bring a child into this? Woah – maybe I need to think some more …”
The response to the article was swift and generally bitter, leading the author to publish a further justification in the online edition the following week (http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/08/13/the-no-kids-debate-continues/). Among the comments were the usual bingos: “who will look after you when you’re old”, “you don’t know what you’re missing“, “you’re all selfish and self absorbed”. The older generation doesn’t understand – they raised their kids and sacrificed where needed, what’s wrong with people these days? Parents don’t understand – a child will be the best thing that ever happened to you! The white supremacists don’t understand – if we don’t breed enough middle class white children, the” ethnics” will come and take over, and we can’t have that! Nobody wants to hear your “excuses”, however well thought out and logical they might be, and society makes for a tough crowd when it comes to the childfree.
However, within the comments of the Macleans article, those who had chosen not to have children were also weighing in loud and proud. Reading the responses to this article and others, it’s becoming obvious that the tide is turning. The childfree are no longer content to just hang their heads and slink away from the storm of pro-natal scorn – they have voices, and they’re growing in volume. The internet throws up a thought provoking article on childfreedom almost daily, many of them sourced from reputable publications. The New York Times. The Guardian. The Daily Mail. Macleans. Salon. Jezebel. Suddenly, people are asking questions, not only of themselves, but of other people and society as well. Why must everyone parent? Why do people not think harder before they bring children into already struggling relationships? How am I going to afford a child when I can barely afford myself? Good questions that deserve good answers. Once upon a time, those answers were hard to come by. Now the media has started to cautiously embrace the childfree cause, to ask the questions in black and white, and take chances in presenting the alternative point of view. If better informed is better prepared, then this can only be a good thing for people struggling with the logic and logistics of starting a family.
The childfree have many varied and valid reasons for their decisions, and most of them have nothing to do with selfishness – something the world is only just learning. Maybe one of these days, we can speak out without the rest of the world seeing those reasons as” excuses”. And maybe one of these days, nobody will care when the media publishes a childfree article, because our reasons will have gained acceptance and tolerance. I think that day is well on the way. If you’re childfree, know that you’re not a lone voice in the wilderness. Stay strong, and stay tuned!