Laura Scott interviewed me & lots of other childless by choice people for her book Two is Enough. And some of her conclusions appear on the website of Marie Claire, archived from the October edition of the print magazine.
The article, entitled "To Breed or Not to Breed?" and written by Abigail Pesta, busts some typical cultural myths about childfree people (while perpetuating one myth that bugs the hell out of me). Here they are, and here are my own musings on 'em...
For some other myths, coming from the opposite direction, check out this interview with Christina Gombar.
Agreed. What was not mentioned is this: many women DO get walloped by the biological clock. And it fucking sucks. It's a nightmare, particularly if you enter it unprepared, as I did. So I wish that these much needed conversations about non-babymaking would include that point of view as well. Also, I'm not really sure what the "maternal instinct" means here—hormonal urge to reproduce? Or more of a nurturing thing?
I guess there's only so much you can expect from a one-liner summarized in Marie Claire! Still, though... everyday magazines are the ideal place for opening up the conversation. I'm glad this article ran.
PARENTHOOD MAKES YOU A BETTER PERSON. "Better than who? Oprah? Gandhi?"
Thank you, Laura Scott. Better than who, indeed! I think parenthood can make one a "better" person, whatever that means, exactly, but so can many other things. Seems to me that because a majority of people procreate, parenthood affects a huge number of people, and often brings out their more mature or loving or ____ side.
If that huge number of people all shared some other activity in common—say, being an organic farmer—then we'd have a stronger notion of "Organic farming makes you a better person." Everyone who isn't an organic farmer would get beaten over the head by that cultural value: that by missing out on the most important, character building experience, organic farming, everyone else is less of a person. Sounds silly, doesn't it? Well, that's what it feels like to hear the cooing of 5 billion parents insisting that their life experience is more valid than non-parents' life experience.
Maybe next time I hear this oft-repeated trope, I'll answer this way: "If parenting makes you so much more mature, and so much 'better' as a person, then why are you such a judgmental asshole?" Guess I'm cranky today.
PARENTING IS, BY DEFINITION, REWARDING. For many, yes. For all? No. Says Scott, "Dr. Phil surveyed 20,000 parents, and a third of them said that if they knew then what they know now, they probably wouldn't have started a family."
I've heard this statistic, and it's great to have it circulating in public! For me, step-parenting has been ridiculously rewarding. Probably bioparenting would be rewarding. But it might just kick my ass and wreck my life. There is no way to know ahead of time. It's nice to see people admitting that children aren't necessarily the solution to everything, and acknowledging that ignorance sometimes fuels the decision to start a family.
IT'S DIFFERENT WHEN THEY'RE YOURS. "If you don't like being around kids, you're unlikely to be more tolerant if they're yours—especially when they throw a fit at Walmart."
I'd love to see some stats on this claim. The people I've talked with do get annoyed with their kids, sure, but those who started off kid-averse (and who were afraid they wouldn't like their biological child) totally fell in love with their bio-children. I've also observed that adults with children in their lives sometimes soften toward strangers' kids, too, like a fit-thrower in Wal Mart.
PARENTING IS THE PATH TO MATURITY. "Our parents were raised to think this, and society clings to the notion," says Scott. "But let's face it: Having kids doesn't guarantee mature behavior." Ever see a dad go berserk on a Little League ref?
I look forward to reading the book... maybe she defines this word we throw around so readily, "maturity." Things like "maturity" and "better person" are perhaps being conflated with "change in priorities" in general conversation? ?
A BABY WILL STRENGTHEN THE MARRIAGE. "Research shows that marital satisfaction goes way down—particularly for women—after the birth of the first child," she says. "It doesn't return to honeymoon levels till the kids leave home."
I'm amazed any couples survive the first few years, from all I've heard about the sleepless insanity of it. Again, this might be in the book as opposed to the short article, but there's also a good survey or study out there: older people who hadn't had kids reported the same happiness and satisfaction with their lives as those who'd had kids.
YOU'LL REGRET NOT HAVING KIDS. "Studies don't show any widespread regret among the childless by choice. A lot of thought goes into the decision," says Scott. And if you need a kid fix, you can always be a mentor.
STOP IT WITH THE "KID FIX" AND "MENTOR" BULLSHIT, PEOPLE. Anyone who's done enough research on this subject to write even a short, breezy article should know better. Listen up, writers, advice columnists, and other well-meaning folks: DO. NOT. EVER. tell a person of any gender who doesn't have children, but especially a woman dealing with the biological clock, to be a mentor, work with kids in foster care, volunteer at an orphanage, join Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or any of that other horseshit advice people dole out so frequently.
Some grieving or confused childless/childfree people should practice the technique called "selective avoidance" instead of torturing themselves and triggering their hormones & psychological grief by spending time with other little ones. Getting a "kid fix" from babies or toddlers provokes days or weeks of sorrow, anger, confusion, doubt, questioning my choice not to have a baby, etc. etc. And I am not alone in this.
(I've talked to a lot of women who grow out of this phase thanks to menopause... but still. Sheesh. I am so fucking sick of hearing this one. Talk about bad myths!) I do look forward to seeing the studies Scott cites here. Another thing that would be interesting to define: the word "regret."
KIDS OFFER SECURITY WHEN YOU'RE OLD. "Grown children are often hundreds of miles away," Scott notes. "To really guarantee your well-being, long-term health insurance is a better bet."
Being with my grandmothers just before each of them died was an amazing experience. Both of them spent their last weeks at home. Both of them were visited by all their kids, their grandkids, and great-grandchildren. I can imagine being old and simply not having any young people in my life to come hold my hand as I move onto whatever's next... but let's face it, we all die solo. No one can take that final trip for you. I personally would think that a very selfish reason to have children. So they can take care of you in your dotage, and cry when you die?