Happiness is fluid, of course, but I've never been willing to bet two decades or more on the idea that maybe, eventually, an experience will be "good" for me. I'm not afraid of missing out on something by not having children. If anything, I'm afraid of the flip side, of having so many things to do in life that I'd never be able to balance it all. I feel lucky to live in a time and place, supported by a like-minded partner, when making that decision is possible. I wish that freedom for everyone, the freedom to make choices about not just what might be good for each of us, good for society, or good for the planet, but choices based on what we truly believe will bring us long-term happiness.
At some point in discussions about being childfree, the inevitable "I don't contribute to overpopulation" argument shows up. It's one of the most complicated for an environmentalist like me because taking that stance immediately implies others do not care for the world in the same way that the speaker does. That's a subjective assessment that is just not true.
Last week, a good (lesbian, childfree, professor) friend sent me an article from an issue of the Palgrave MacMillian journal Feminist Review from 2003. I've tended to stay away from these sorts of pieces in this series because I don't assume I'm writing for a specifically scholarly audience. That said, the article is a great overview of some dense, theoretical issues facing childfree feminist women, specifically in the scholarly research/analysis context, and I thought it was worth mentioning.
As a childfree person, I feel like I often have to defend against the stereotype that childfree people hate children. Based on the comments from my last post about being a childfree person who actually likes kids, it's clear that this still surprises people, no matter how many nice intentionally childless folks they meet. Since I'm also vegan, I'm sort of used to people acting surprised when I say that no, I don't care what you eat, and no, I don't care if you have kids. I get that I'm making two non-normative choices, but I also get why both make people defensive: Because these sorts of choices in particular come with the implication, however incorrect, that my behavior alone casts subjective judgment on that of others. But why are some childfree people overtly nasty and others not? In my case, there's a story behind it.
Since I've pretty much always known I didn't want to have kids, this has come up for me a lot over the years—specifically when talking to people who also like kids but don't want to have their own. In my personal and professional life, I've met daycare staffers and school teachers who, like me (only to a greater extent), totally dig children but want to work with them, not give birth to and raise them. I have a good friend who worked for years in a nonprofit with at-risk girls and young women who has no desire to ever parent. Their good work is vital to so many young lives. So why can't that be enough?
Last week, Time published "Kid Crazy: Why We Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood." This piece focuses on studies from the journal Psychological Science about parenting, and the take-away is the same as the New York article (so much so that it's mentioned in Time): childfree couples are happier, parents have it rough, and those who think they don't are sort of delusional. ("Delusional" is not my word, by the way; that's from the meta title Time chose for the article on their website and one tossed around in the article, based on the study findings.)
Some women I've written about before, celebs like Jennifer Aniston, sidestep the issue all the time instead of owning their ambivalence (or however they feel! Just own it!). Barbara Walters and Oprah talked about how it is a difficult thing. So why don't we hear more women talking about the flip side of having kids—or rather, why don't we have more proud childfree role models out there?
A fairly obvious question that I haven't addressed during this series is whether women have the right to be sterile. It seems like sort of an obvious one (if not with just one obvious answer) until you consider how we frame other discussions about women's health.
When I think about the idea of celebrating children, I come back to the same question again and again: Why shouldn't an intentional choice be celebrated? When feminists talk about reproductive justice, it's often within the context of not just the ability to, say, have an abortion, but to raise a child the way you see fit, or to give birth on your own terms. The very notion that we should be in charge of our own bodies—that if possible, we shouldn't just wait for things to happen to us—is central to a conversation about rights, health, and justice. Don't you think intentionally opting out is worth a few streamers and noisemakers too?