In The Childless Vs. Parents Culture Wars, Nobody Wins

childfreeI am a liberal feminist. I am also a married mother-of-one living in a small, mostly suburban city in the Midwest. Please someone tell me where I fit in with what has apparently become a staggering cultural divide in our country. I’m talking, of course, about the battle between the breeders and the childfree for control of the United States. The battle where whichever side you fall on, you still lose.

You have to understand why I’m so confused about my place in the newest population divide. I just read a nice, detailed report on the growing childless vs. parent divide from The Daily Beast called ‘Where Have All The Babies Gone?‘ In it, Joel Kotkin and Harry Siegel throw around a variety of different statistics without much proper framing or explanation, hoping to paint the picture of our economy crashing to the ground because not enough people are choosing to have children. They really want everyone to start popping out kids.

However, in the process of making their argument, the authors outline pictures of childless adults and parents separated by a lot more than the number of tax deductions they can claim. These two groups might as well be different species. Childless adults are the trendy Liberals. They explain that childfree is ”a burgeoning movement that’s joined cultural tastemakers, academics, neo-Malthusians, greens, feminists, Democratic politicians, urban planners, and big developers.” And apparently for the “creative class” solo living is the new sign of success.

Of course, that means that parents must be the opposite of all these things. They’re suburban conservatives who live life like it’s “straight out of the 1950′s.” You should be thanking these breeders, because they’re growing the generation that will support all of these childless folks in their old age. But you should also feel a bit sorry for the old-fashioned traditional families out there. At least for the moment, they’re being over-shadowed by the Liberal voting block of childless females, demanding more contraception and equal pay.

The way this piece and much of the media seems to address the growing childfree population, and the parents who are bucking the trend, are with cartoon-like characters and over-generalizations. It’s the liberal, urban, atheist singleton versus the conservative Chrisian suburban parent. It ignores that for every individual, choosing whether or not you want to have kids is a personal, unique decision.

Yes, it used to be that having children was seen as inevitable. Now, that’s less of the case. But the choice to have a baby is not the sole defining moment of a person’s life. You cannot know everything about a person based on whether or not they have kids. There are childless conservatives out there. There are liberal mothers. There’s everything in between. And every time we use a single choice to define or stereotype an individual, we all lose. When we give in to those ridiculous caricatures, both sides lose a little integrity and understanding.

Population trends as a whole are a national issue. And I would remind anyone getting too hyped up about our current lackluster birthrate that both our minimal career support for parents and our still struggling economy aren’t exactly encouraging to anyone thinking about children. Not to mention the growing student debt crisis for young people. There are lots of big issues to discuss when it comes to birth replenishment rates and whether or not we’ll have enough young workers to support our elderly.

But all of that aside, choosing to have or not to have a baby is not a trend. Being childless does not turn you into a caricature. And this entire discussion would be a lot more informative and interesting if we stopped acting like there is a right and wrong answer. We each have our own personal choice to make. But acting like that choice is the sole, defining moment of a person’s life doesn’t do any good for parents, for childfree, or for our society in general.

(Photo: Sarycheva Olesia/Shutterstock)

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  • Gangles

    Bravo! As a childless-not-by-choice woman, I have seen both sides of the coin without actually qualifying for either. I have a lot of friends and family who are both childless/free or parents, and every situation and person is different.
    The one thing I have noticed is that the people who feel the need to make strong remarks about why their lifestyle is better or more important are the ones who seem insecure about their decision.
    Parents are no more important to society than people without children, and childfree people have not got excusive rights to creativity, culture or intellectual innovation.
    I honestly believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and while parents provide the individual love and support, children are also influenced and affected by everyone else in society, either directly or indirectly, whether you want it or not.

  • K.

    Totally right–why is it that we pretty much have either Carrie Bradshaw or Michelle Duggar as our choices? I’m a turbo-liberal feminist…who lives like a conservative 1950s Donna Reed. I’m pretty much a SAHM these days, living in the ‘burbs. I cook, I clean, I have ironed my husband’s shirts. Most of the childcare decisions are on me. I read Martha Stewart’s magazine. But I’m also a your basic aging urban hipster, who goes to art openings and composts and owns nerdy-chic glasses. I dunno, I never felt a need to choose myself. I yam what I yam. If there’s no box for it, then there’s no box.

    I also don’t like the assumption that somehow, it’s only childfree femme-nazis who are demanding equal pay and contraception. It’s pretty ANTI-feminist/patriarichal to assume that just because someone has chosen to be a SAHM that she’s also chosen to exempt herself from participating in civic democracy.

  • Andrea

    They are not meant to be written in stone Lindsey. They are generalizations of course, but they hold true for the most part. It doesn’t mean EVERYONE falls into those categories.

    I am a flaming liberal and believe in women’s right. I also live in white-bread suburbia in a red state, I have two children with the man I am married to and I have a pretty “traditional” marriage (I work, but part time and the household duties are divided into “traditional” roles). So, I don’t fit anywhere right? Maybe and maybe not. I may be an anomaly. I may not be common. Who cares.

  • Liz

    In my admittedly small microcosm of the population, I have Mom Friends, Childless Friends & Child-Free Friends. Maybe we’re lucky but there’s no battle between us. I imagine there’s extremists on all sides but those people are usually a very small-but-vocal minority. Where it can get annoying is when people huff at your choices (“To breed or not to breed? That is the question.” “No, it’s not because you should think like MEEEEEE.”) I don’t blame moms for being insulted when told that having kids is ‘provincial’ or ‘old-fashioned’ (or whatever) and the moms I know don’t blame me for not appreciating it when people assume I’m a mean ol’ child-hating witch because I don’t have the urge and believe it’s wrong to take a chance on bringing a child into the world to ‘see’ if it fits. But I wouldn’t like it if people crapped on my choice to cut my hair or wear a short skirt either cos generally speaking, people don’t like it when others give their unasked-for opinion on things that are none of their business. I have had a very very surprising number of parents (both genders) who have whispered to me that – yes, they love their kids now – but if they had it to do all over again, they wouldn’t. They’re not bad parents, they’re just not natural ones. I don’t want to be that person, so I decided not to be – End of Story. I love being ‘Fun Fake Auntie’ though. Cookies for Breakfast & Throw-Up Rides, then I give ‘em back to their parents to clean up & raise & save for college (Haha!); That’s my job & I hope all kids have that ‘Non-Parent Novelty Person’ in their lives. I did – it was awesome.

    Most of the time, I think this stuff gets written about to be controversial for controversy’s sake (to stir things up basically) and the asinine thing is – we FALL FOR IT! Just like we fall for the ‘Giselle lost her baby-weight 15 mins after giving birth so I should too’ or ‘I’m supposed to look like Angelina Jolie and I’m a failure as a woman because I don’t’. WHY?!?!?! Do you see guys concerning themselves with this nonsense? No, not as a rule. We ladies could learn a thing or 2 from our male counterpoints on junk like this.

    My Mom Friends like talking to me about their kids as I’m not fettered with opinions & judgments & no kids of my own to make comparisons to – I reckon it’s hard to admit to other moms that, as much as you would move the Earth for your kids, there’s times where you wanna put them in the post & mail them to Antarctica to live with penguins or drop ‘em at the fire-station & drive away fast. ;-) And when ASKED for advice, I give it cos while I don’t have kids, I used to be one & sometimes I can be more objective. I like hearing about my friend’s lives – if their life includes children, then I want to hear about them. Not on a constant loop but – hell yeah, show me pics & tell me stories or go ahead & complain. And then I can have a turn when I need to vent or need help figuring things out. Same with my girlfriends who can’t have kids – I wanna be there to comfort & support. They’ve been there for me when life has thrown me a curve-ball.

    The one time I kept being told by a very good pal that she “you wouldn’t understand, you’re not a mother”, I reminded her that when we shared a house, I didn’t get half the things she did (like her very very crappy taste in guys at the time) but that didn’t stop me from listening to her problems or trying to help. If she was having a kidney transplant, it’s not necessary for me to have one too in order to be understanding. I won’t get everything but my spine does actually reach my brain-stem. She laughed, caught herself & the issue was over & done with; she now includes me in her Kid Conversations. And that’s nice, y’know? It’s not hard – but too often we make it hard on ourselves & each other. Don’t believe the hype.

  • fluff

    This kind of in-fighting (incl mommy wars and the like) is perhaps among the many reasons why women get no respect, not even from each other. You don’t hear men nagging each other about whether or not they’re going to raise kids, and it’s not as though the subject doesn’t come up. A friend of mine said the other day “So and so is the manliest one among us because he’s the only one who has reproduced.” Could the same joking statement be said amongst women without starting a war?

  • allison

    Why on earth would anyone assume that someone who has a kid/kids be uninterested in birth control choices???? Hell, I’m in a monogamous same-sex marriage (i.e. the most foolproof & fun kind of birth control!) and I still care A LOT about ensuring access to birth control and reproductive choice!

    I can’t remember the exact statistic but a good percentage of abortions are performed on women who already have one or more children at home – and the majority go on to have children later.
    I don’t know any straight people with kids who don’t use some form of birth control.

    What a strange assumption.

    And yeah, married mother of one here, who is also a very urban, feminist, very left-wing artistic type.

  • Stina Wargo Kolling

    Thank you very much for this article. I had to re-read several statements just to make sure that they really imprinted. As a 34 year old married woman who doesn’t even like kids, it’s really becoming easy to paint all moms with the same brush, and you’re right, that’s not the case. (Heck, that’s why I enjoy coming to this website so much: so that I can see and understand different points of view.) You’re very right. This is a great reminder and I needed that.

  • LiteBrite

    Most of these either/or-type articles are written simply to stir up controversy, as someone else said. Extremes on either side do exist, but I think they’re mostly found on the Internet…and the imagination. I think most people, including me, are probably somewhere in the middle. For example, I’m a left-leaning working mom who lives in conservative suburbia. I support easy access to contraception just as much as I support my son’s school fundraisers. I can’t imagine I’m alone either.

    I also have several friends who are childless – including my two closest friends (one by choice; the other by chance) – many who have multiple kids, and a few like me, who have just one. Somehow we all seem to get along and respect the choices of each other. Are we anomalies?

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  • Well…

    Speaking as a childfree person I wouldn’t CARE about anybody having babies if they would A. Leave the rest of us the hell alone about our choice NOT to do what they are doing and B. Stop expecting everything in the universe to revolve around them and their undisciplined children. I’m not saying every parent is bad at it or raising hellspawn but any objective view of the world would show that kids are louder, ruder, and NOT being corrected by their parents nearly as much. this is an issue. Those are the ONLY TWO reason that most childfree that I know of get bent out of shape.

    However, it’s not the same way on the other side of the fence. I’ve seen mothers become apoplectic over me not having kids. For no real reason except that somehow me not pushing a human being out my vagina is seen as not being validating enough of their choice to breed. Honestly, the reason there is a “war” here is mainly coming from ONE side of the camp. Most child free just don’t care if you procreate or not as long as you leave us alone and stop making all your parenting issues OUR issues. If you can manage that, awesome. Also if you can manage to stop artificially creating a war every time you spot a female without a small child attached to her, that would be lovely. If mothers are so happy with their decision, the fact that some of us have opted out should not be a reason to flip out and get shrieky.

  • RachaelMall

    I’m sick to death of other women belittling me, bullying me, mocking me, and patronizing me because I do not want children. I don’t like them, never have, never will. Why is that soo damned hard for people to accept?

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