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.
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.