Readers Write: 'Child-free' or Just Cranky?

They have more money and free Saturday nights, and they never have to deal with a sick baby waking up at 3 a.m., but those people who have chosen not to have children want something else: respect and, in some cases, not to have to their lives or their nice dinner conversations interrupted by children. Sarah Klein's article on the "child-free" movement -- a group of people who have chosen not to have kids and make that a key part of their identity -- drew a particularly heated response from our readers, with some well-thought-out discussion mixed with a lot of vying over the fruitless question of "who is more selfish."

Readers agreed that it's fine if people don't want to have kids. But they disagreed on how much people without children were missing out, who bore responsibility for kids that already existed, and whether there's any real political issue here at all. But is it OK to make a political issue of it?

Some of us, like Susanh, wonder if the whole idea of people without children "under attack" isn't just a tempest in a teapot, similar to the "war on Christmas." "Are the child-free really being victimized by the opinions of the late pope and like-minded busybodies?"

Some of those without children are also wary of turning their "child-free" status into a movement: "Group identification is not important to me, merely dealing with the realities of life," says Samantha Vines. And Saramarie, who chose not to have kids, just doesn't want to fight about it: "All I want to do is teach and spend my summers being a big kid and happy," she says.

Why does everything have to become a "movement?" Larraine asks. "As far as our society being "kid-centric," that's ridiculous. In fact it is far from it. We celebrate children when it is convenient."

Cielo also finds U.S. culture to be exceptionally child-unfriendly. "Lack of adequate public space in many places has made childhood for many seem like a shut-in lifestyle. Private property is off-limits for those wishing to explore nature. … But the most basic reason I feel it is so difficult for parents and children, even beyond horrid health care, is the expectation for one or two parents to take on all the burden of child raising. … As a 'child-free' person, I'd rather help out parents I know when I can and be a positive influence on their little ones than feel "persecuted" and spend time on another 'movement' of those who have time enough for such pursuits."

Bettsoff agrees: "You don't need to HAVE children to take part in educating and raising them."

But the point, according to some of the "child-free" folks, is they feel they're doing more than their share.

"If I don't even LIKE kids, why should I have to care for them?" Kat14 writes. If I wanted to do that, I'd HAVE one."

And Hiroe chimes in: "If a parent is unable to cope with the full responsibility of work plus kids, that isn't my problem."

But maybe it is. Midge reminds us of our codependence: "People who decide not to have children free up resources for the children of the people who do, and can contribute positively to the society in which the children grow up by contributing to education, health care, the government, arts and entertainment, and science with their money, time or career (of course, parents can make such contributions as well). Giving people the choice as to whether or not to have children ensures that, in many cases, the people who do have children really want it and have their hearts in it. In this way, parents, children and child-free adults can coexist quite peacefully."

And Ruby, who has been on both sides of the fence (first getting her tubes tied and then, years later, having it undone) has this balanced wisdom: "One cannot know the strong feelings for your children and the satisfaction unless you have them. … That said, I wouldn't expect someone to adopt a puppy just because I might like dogs. I applaud those who realize it's not for them and are honest about it."

Lunasol makes perhaps the most compelling rationale for why she's chosen not to have children: "Not having children gives me the opportunity to do more for my community than I could if I had them. I give what money I can to children's programs and scholarships. I happily pay higher taxes that will ensure better schools and benefits for children in the inner city where I live. I watch out for the kids on my street, babysit for neighbors and relatives, volunteer for programs for families. I adore children. And they don't have to be mine for me to love. That's what not having children has given me."

Another reader, who had a child in spite of her gut feeling that she didn't want one, talked about the difficulty of that choice: In a painful and honest response, Patti_S writes: "Motherhood is hard, even when you want a child. … Better to admit [that you don't want a child] than to make a child miserable trying to live up to what other people think your life should be."

And Moosehead makes a similar point in relationship to the rhetoric of reproductive rights: "This is but one of the many things anti-abortion people just don't get about humanity: Until (if ever) you want a child, you're not doing any favors to society (or the child, or God or whoever) by creating a life that you, in your heart, do not want to care for. Parenting is damn hard work, and if you're not thoroughly committed, you simply won't have the patience, kindness, discipline or sense of humor you need to raise another human being."

As Ruby points out, "You can be logical about all the reasons [to have] or not to have children (cost, stress, conditions of the world, freedom), but the heart is a separate entity." And mothersmovement posits: "Spare me the rhetoric about overpopulation/overconsumption versus the duty of social reproduction. I suspect the actual reasons people decide to become parents or remain child-free are far more personal and provocative." Rini agrees: "I have always viewed my two children as a wonderful guilty pleasure, not a duty."

Paxhumana reminds that those with children also bear a responsibility to the community as a whole, not just to their child: "Parenting does not just imply a responsibility to a child, but also to the larger community." Newt adds: "All I can say is if you plan to be a parent, really try to make the world a better place for everyone's kids, not just your own."

Betsoff, at least, has a sense of humor about the whole thing: "I COULD be a parent, but I don't think I'd do a very good job of it. Know what I'm really cut out for? Aunt/unclehood. Know what's REALLY selfish of me? Hoping my brother will want to have kids."

Ann83 reminds us that the whole debate is moot for many people. People who live in places where there are not abortion providers, for example, or who live in religious communities where abortion is not an option. On the other side, there are many who are physically unable to have children. "The whole debate is biased [in favor of] those who grew up with privileged backgrounds," she writes. "People who have children should control them as best they can. People who are child-free should accept that sometimes children in public can be a pain, and just ignore the occasional tantrum."

Underneath many of the comments is the underlying feeling of isolation, raised by muggles5 at the beginning of the discussion. "It seems like the underlying issue behind people's anger over this is the atomization of our culture. … We don't want to have "bump" up against other people's choices."

So it seems the issue isn't about whether or not you have children but how you relate to the larger picture. According to hera62, "The main problem with working parents is that working mothers tend to get the bulk of the burden shifted on their shoulders compared to working fathers. This, in my opinion, is a far larger issue than the perceived inequality between working parents and their child-free colleagues."

Kym,who identifies as a "child-free" 40-year-old woman of color writes, "Both the child-bearing and the child-free communities need to stop bashing each other and to start creating a society in which every child, regardless of race, is sacred and worth loving."

Urstrly has this hope: "What I'd like to see is that we look upon every child born in this country as a national asset, deserving of support and attention, decent housing, good medical care and a first-rate education. I wish some of these childless people would involve themselves with the already born but neglected children who form a sort of national underground."

Finally, Susanh has some advice intended to draw those with and without kids together: "If your pet peeve is people wanting you to have kids, don't take it out on kids. If your main concern is a free and equal society, then parents and kids are your natural allies."


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