I 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.