There’s a line in the movie 500 Days Of Summer where (don’t worry, I’m not really giving anything away here) one of the characters suggests a more honest message for the inside of a “Congratulations on your new baby” greeting card should be “I guess we won’t be hanging out as much anymore.” Funny. True, too.
Nellie and I are at that age where most of our couple-y friends are having kids. We’re pretty fortunate in that a) we still get to see them, and b) very few of them — and none of those closest to us — ask us when we’re going to start having kids. Good thing, too; I never know quite what to make of that question. Does it imply that the inquiring party is really anxious for us to reproduce so that they’ll be able to relate to us? Or that they simply can’t think of anything non-childcare-related to ask us? I suppose it could be both, depending on the person. In any case, the answer is “probably never.”
So, why is that?
A few weeks ago the Maclean’s cover story — “The Case Against Having Kids” — listed anecdotes and evidence for abstaining from kids, including the following:
- “[A]mong people 55 and over… the childless by choice are more content, have higher levels of well-being and are less depressed.”
- “[T]he salaries of university-educated women plateau after childbirth and then drop, while fathers’ incomes are unaffected.”
- “Daniel Gilbert, who holds a chair in psychology at Harvard and is the author of the 2006 best-seller Stumbling on Happiness, reports that childless marriages are far happier.”
Both those stats have to be qualified. The 55-and-older study subjects who have a ‘good’ relationship with their children are happier than those who don’t, although the article doesn’t point out whether they’re happier than those without children. As for the second point, procreation is linked to income as well as education, though the article doesn’t state which link is stronger. In any case, these are just broad stats…they’re not reflective of the choices each person makes when thinking about having kids.
I can’t comment on the following, as it seems to do with the so-called biological imperative — or lack thereof — that I only hear referenced in the case of women:
Many women knew they didn’t want children as children, a claim backed by research in The Childless Revolution that explores the notion that the impulse not to have children is genetic, like being gay. Most were clear-eyed that the choice required a new anchorage. “Children were not a way of ensuring happiness or endowing my days with meaning,” the poet Lorna Crozier writes. “That hard task was mine alone.” The American author Lionel Shriver, who never wanted children, writes in “Separation From Birth” that her greatest fear “was of the ambivalence itself”: “Imagine bearing a child and then realizing, with this helpless, irrevocable little person squalling in its crib, that you’d made a mistake. Who really, in that instance, would pay the price?”
Interesting, certainly, but in my case I’m pretty sure it’s not biological. I’m not even sure wanting children is biological. I think there are plenty of people who want to have kids, to raise them, to have families, to teach a new generation. I also think there are plenty of people who do it because they think they’re supposed to. It’s what you do. You grow up, you get married, you have kids. I suspect the former are the ones who, when they pass 55, are more likely to have good relationships with their kids. The latter, I imagine, are more likely to be among these folks:
In 1975, Ann Landers famously asked readers: “If you had it to do over again, would you have children?” Seventy per cent of respondents said “no.”
I would never criticize someone for wanting to have kids. Some of the quotes in the article suggest parents are environmental terrorists for introducing another body into the earthly mix, but I think that’s a pretty big stretch. If people come to a conscious and informed decision about wanting kids, as our friends did, then I have confidence the kids will be raised well and the parents will be richer for it. But then there’re the hordes of people have kids out of some sort of imagined life stage obligation. The same thing happens with other big decisions in life — buying a house, getting married — and quite often it all works out. But in general, I would think that doing something you don’t necessarily want to do is setting you (and your kids) up for failure, and it strikes me as odd that other people are incredulous that I haven’t already taken this leap with them.
So here’s why we haven’t had kids: we just don’t feel the need. I don’t feel as if my life would be augmented by having a child — and I freely admit I may be wrong about that…parents are fond of telling you that you don’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you are one — and I don’t feel the guilt of our parents’ generation whose post-war mentality made child-bearing an act of National imperative. I enjoy my life a great deal, and have enjoyed it more as each year passes. Some parents have called me selfish for thinking that way, but far more have looked us dead in the eye and told us that have kids will ruin your life. I think both statements are nothing more than projections or rationalizations of that person’s personal feelings and regrets. I think that each individual, and each couple, has to decide whether they want kids, and whether it makes sense for them.
And hey, it’s okay that we won’t be hanging out as much anymore. We completely understand, and think you’re doing a great thing. We’ll find ways to entertain ourselves, come play with them now and then, and eventually be the cool uncle and aunt who buy them beer and condoms.
Kidding. Ha ha.
Seriously, though, beer and condoms are fine, but we’re not buying anybody cigarettes.