Is Being Childfree Really Acceptable?

     The other morning, as Cheryl was about to enter our neighborhood Trader Joe’s, a woman with a clipboard asked if she would sign a petition to put an initiative on the November ballot that would, if passed, raise California sales taxes. The revenue would go to elementary schools and to colleges.    

Typical California ballot measure petition. Photo – KCET

Cheryl explains: I told her that I was unfamiliar with the particulars of this petition, so I didn’t want to sign at this time. She persisted in giving me more information than I could ever want, so I told her that I had chosen a childfree lifestyle, and I didn’t want to pay extra taxes to educate other people’s kids, especially when those parents could take on that responsibility by paying their fair share of taxes.  She smiled beatifically, told me she had six children, and thanked me sarcastically “for all you are doing for the world.” I started to explain that many people who choose not to have offspring do so for socially conscious reasons, not because they hate children.

     Forget about it. She turned to me and with that same beatific smile informed me that Jesus Christ was God and that he loves me no matter what I do. I made several stabs at asking her to allow me to finish, and she simply wouldn’t. She said it was a shame that no one had ever told me about Jesus, and wondered why I didn’t want to be saved.

     At that point Cheryl walked away, mentally throwing up her hands.

     This incident, plus a couple of others, has made us aware again of the difficulty facing those of us who choose not to have children: it isn’t really fully acceptable in our culture (and many others) to openly disclose our non-traditional decision.

     Case in point: some of our dearest friends have refused to visit this web site because the subjects we tackle “do not interest” them, or so they say.  How would they know how compelling our website is – or isn’t – without having visited? Most of these friends do have children, or at least have tried. We’ve known most of these children since their births, enjoyed time with them, and in some cases befriended them over the years. Their parents, for the most part, have done successful jobs of raising them. Yet it seems that our web site poses problems for our friends. They often act like our positions – that there are enough of us on this planet and that having kids is a crapshoot – insults them. But wait a minute, shouldn’t we be the ones who are insulted? Why can’t we be open about our decision to be childfree and our reasons to be respectfully heard, which could lead to meaningful discussions without anyone having to have the “right” argument?  For the sake of accuracy, we have occasionally participated in open dialogue on the subject, but it’s all too rare.

     Is the tradition of having children so embedded in our culture that choosing not to have children simply isn’t acceptable? Is the negative judgment about those who choose to be childfree a rumbling undercurrent in our country, much like racism is?

     In an online medical resource for international patients that explains American values, the nuclear family is described as consisting of parents and children. Its purpose is to “bring about the happiness of each family member.” There isn’t anything in this assertion that addresses households without children. It’s as if America has no such families.  (www.americanhospitals.com/questions/american/amervalues.htm)

     In an article about the definition of culture, the term “cultural universals” popped out at me. “These are learned behavior patterns that are shared by all of humanity collectively. No matter where people live in the world, they share these universal traits.”  Raising children in some sort of family setting was number 4 on the list. (http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_1.htm)

     Many American organizations have shared a childfree perspective. To name a few: The National Organization for Non-Parents; No Kidding; The Childfree Network and The National Alliance for Optional Parenthood. Outside the United States, an Australian childfree party tried for political cohesion under the name Australian Childfree Party, as did a British organization, Kidding Aside. In spite of the work these organizations have put into their causes, “the childfree movement has not had significant political impact.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childfree)

     Clearly, having children is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture, so much so that one’s credibility as a good person is threatened if one dares to voluntarily travel the path away from parenthood. Even so, we will continue to tell our truth, and to support would-be parents who have the moxie to think twice before making children.

Comments

  1. Choosing to be childfree certainly isn’t acceptable to many people, but I suspect it’s because some of them –deep down– envy those of us who freely made that decision. They envy are smarts, are “bravery”, and kick themselves for not having the guts to know that having children is an option, not a required life direction.
    Eleanore Wells, Author, The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree

  2. Such an unpleasant experience with that woman! I really wish people wouldn’t presume to speak for Jesus when they are so clearly unqualified to do so.
    Yes, having children is deeply woven into our culture, just as so many other things are. I remember when racial bigotry was not as surprising to encounter as it is today because, it too, was woven into our culture. Nowadays, when someone makes a racist comment, it shocks and offends most people. It has been un-woven from the culture through slow steady determination. The same will happen with issues like having children if people like you keep speaking up.
    I enjoy your website and recommend it to others. Thank you.

    James

  3. Yes, having children is deeply ingrained into our culture. My mother was an independent woman in the 1950s with a union job (railroad) and her own home (which had belonged to Debbie Reynolds’ aunt). But this was not enough. She, being the oldest of five and the only one not married with children, finally gave in to social and family pressure and married, having me a year later. If ever there was anyone unfit to parent, it was my mother.
    Fast forward to the turn of the new century – nothing has changed. I am over 50, never married and no children (by choice). My lifestyle is misunderstood by many in the Ozarks and I am labelled everything from spinster to lesbian. Nothing has changed in fifty to sixty years. Sad really. I am still told by people I meet that it is ‘not to late’ for me to have a family. Um, yes it is. Nature took care of the a few years ago – thank goodness!

    • Joanne:
      We know lots of folks with your lifestyle. Fortunately for them, they live in places where no one judges them for selecting their life choices. Most of your neighbors with kids probably have no idea why they became parents and that probably includes your mom.We guess you have two choices: Either rise above them in your own mind, or move to the Big City. Align yourself with Gloria Steinem (who stayed single into her 60s.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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