If your parents never had children, chances are you won’t either.
- Dick Cavett
Remember the Seinfeld episode where the Long Island couple wanted Jerry and Elaine to “Come and see the ba-a-aby!”
That cry is being heard less and less because too few people are having kids, and the trend is creeping upward. A non-child-rearing population is taking over in ways that our forefathers would have been scared to see coming.
A close female friend and I have had the same running joke for years. When asked about our prospects for having children now, one of us chuckles: “No pets, no kids.” It’s that simple.
In years to come, being kid-free will have less of a stigma attached and elicit some wicked pangs of jealousy from the world of the nuclear family. We people with no kids get to do everything, and yeah we get it, the kisshugwarmth from a kid is cool and all, and still people wonder all the time if the cleanup followed by terror is worth it. What fresh hell!
If you, like me and my partner, are running on the selfish track you find it hard to fathom what it’s like to be with a child, or even a single adult, 24 hours each day. So here’s my tale:
Three of my closest women friends had babies in their forties after swearing off the thought. They all got happiness — each of them has regrets that she shares with me only under alcohol. One of my friends actually said, “You don’t like kids” to me, knowing full well that’s not true. But I like them in your home. I don’t mind being insulted, but I’ve held strong. You tell people like me that it’s “all different” with children, and I’m sure it is — in ways that can be understood when you’re there.
Even those so-cool parents — with a sitter on deck — don’t live their former lives; they pretend to. Well, I hope they pretend. It’s either that or they’re not really good at parenting. One faker I knew had a babysitter “on deck” (living in his apartment building) so he and the missus could stay out drinking till 2; the baby was months old. He is all about the “possession” and I’m thinking spending nights with the kid is a positive of procreation!
I don’t prescribe to guilt, so “got to do it” never appealed to me. And then, sadly, many friendships take a hit as soon as the kids push out. It is good that new “urbitudinal” moms are closing their wombs to kids. Witness this press release from 2007 out of the University of Florida:
Women view childlessness much more favorably than men do, likely because parenting places greater demands on mothers, especially those juggling work and family responsibilities, a new study finds. Can you imagine this: a woman takes off an average of 11 years from career for family!
Parenthood — 11 years of dedication. I can’t get why one word makes people feel so warm and cuddly. I’m told, however, that parenthood has different consequences for women than for men. So says Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox — a sociologist whose intriguing study is found in Journal of Marriage and Family. “Although fathers have become more involved in childcare and housework in recent decades they provide fewer hours and generally less intensive care on average than mothers,” she said without any irony.
A release about her study put it well: “Results suggest that women regard both childbearing and marriage as being less central and more optional in women’s lives” (Koropeckyj-Cox).
A lot of people have decided — see upcoming statistics — that they don’t want to be the ones who mutter “You would understand if you had a child” to their pals. Based on U.S. census data, 44 percent of women aged 15 to 44 are turning away from rearing children. By the year 2010, that figure is projected to have risen to a child-free movement that has statisticians worried. In Europe, it’s been a slow buildup, and the next decade looks scary.
Whereas the United States has a 2.0 fertility rate (the average number of children that a woman is expected to give birth to), Italy has for years had a 1.2! European countries are taking steps to address the specter of sharply uncompetitive workforces. The Italian Labor Minister announced the government will offer incentives to keep people at work past the minimum retirement age of 57.
Spain has a doozy of a birthrate problem. According to the WHO, its fertility rate a few years ago was 1.1, the lowest in Western Europe. In North America, a newish study by David Foot, a demographer at University of Toronto, says that as more women are getting highly educated, they wait longer to have kids — sometimes until they no longer have the desire.
I speak (and I shake my head with delight) of a politically incorrect movement that has started around the world called Childfree. This crazy change of pace differentiates those who choose from those who simply cannot. One of my favorite organizations is called No Kidding! International, a nonprofit club just for singles and couples who are standing firm.
Jerry Steinberg calls himself “Founding Non-Father”; he claims that people are starting chapters everywhere, with their own hilarious lingo, too, such as bratley for bad kids and PNB for parent/not breeder, a way of acknowledging someone did it right.
As you know, unruly children make the kidless nuts! Pals complain about their messy homes all the time. I tell them: “I didn’t tell you to have them.” I am, however, stating the unobvious: “I’m friends with you. I’m not friends with your kid.”
There is a kinder and gentler side to this post, and for that I turn to Lisa Groen Braner, author of The Mother’s Book of Well-Being, who explains that something happens to parents, and new moms in particular, that makes motherhood an all-consuming experience. “Friends need to be patient, during the first year especially. The mother [and father] gets sleep-deprived, she may be nursing. Her whole perception of the world is altered. And the moms need to understand that not everybody finds talking about babies all the time completely fascinating” (Beth D’Addono, “Can This Friendship Survive?”, The Star-Ledger, August 3, 2003).
To paraphrase an old folk song: “What shall we do with the childless?”
A couple of years ago I got invited to a first birthday party. I like parties, although you wouldn’t have known it from the hissy fit I pulled that afternoon during that nightmare. Everyone was someone who owned a kid. I ran from the room. Naturally, I was the topic of conversation for the rest of the guests. And some days later, as if on cue, I overheard a childfree lady talking to a buddy: “I said I’m not able to make her three-year-old’s party, and boy did she think I was evil. She snapped at me big time: ‘Can’t you just drop the gift off and leave?’ Is that what it’s come to?”
For millions who choose to remain without offspring, it’s our yucky freedom after all. We find it strange when people inform us what great parents we’d make because this is not about the kids. It is about friendship. If a bond is real, it survives distances, fights, kids, illness, and even death. It doesn’t matter who takes residence in your home. You were there before, and you will be there when the nest gets emptied out . “A friendship is like a garden. You have to tend it and water it. Or it dies.” (Thank Sondheim for that tweet.)
I appreciate your putting your kid down while you read my diatribe. And remember there are more like this at home: Try my book, 2011: Trendspotting The Next Decade, from McGraw-Hill.