Friday, October 20, 2006

Childfree News and "Like it Is" revisit the famous Ann Landers Survey.

If You Had It To Do Over Again Would You Have Children?

The popular blog "Like it Is" revisits the Ann Landers poll from the 1970s in which 70% of parents said that if they had to do it all over agatheytehy would not have children. The blogger, BritGirl posits that:
[M]any of the observations made by parents who wrote to Ann are, in my opinion, just as relevant today. In fact, today it seems even more difficult than ever to be a parent. And, as HCF points out, this was not a scientific survey. It didn't need to be.
Indeed, has anything changed since the 1970s that would alter the responses?

Well, perhaps. I would argue that in some respects, childrearing is easier now - with the advent of greater government and employer-provided benefits (such as daycare and tax breaks) coupled with a changing social climate may indeed affect the results.

Granted, I was a mere tot in the 1970s, but I do remember that it was far less acceptable to take one's children everywhere (such as fancy restaurants) and therefore parenting put more of a social strain on people. They had to either stay home or hire a babysitter for many things that, today, would be a matter of dragging the child along. Of course, this is countered by the fact that bringing a child along is no easy thing.

Indeed, perhaps the trendiness of mommy-hood that has lead to high-end SUV strollers and soccer moms makes some aspects of parenting more difficult by raising expectations of just how much you must provide for your child and just how full that child's schedule should be.

However, it may have the opposite effect in equal or greater force - the trendiness may mean that social acceptance has been increased as a benefit to being a parent. Perhaps the fact that one would lose their mommy clique at Starbucks may mean that if they had it to do all over again they wouldsacrificeafice their status symbol - I mean child.

Lastly, it well may be that parents today were more free to choose that route. The 1970s were actually a period of declining births, due in no small part to the advent of feminism and birth control. Those who had their children before these came into full swing were then left with those children in the age of the Feminine Mystique - where women were starting to have careers and to have identities outside of mother. indeeddeeed the social impetus was shifting in that direction) In contrast, those who have children today had the full force of birth control and feminism in place before making the choice to parent, and are not faced with any such changing climate. Indeed they are faced with a climate even more accepting of their role as mother, SAHM, etc.

BritGirl continues:
The point it makes is very simple.

Many people do not enjoy parenthood but they will only admit it under the cover of anonymity.
This is very, very true. Indeed I would agree it is even more true today. However, that might effect the survey as well - we might be in an age of such rampant pro-natalism that women will not admit regret, even on a survey. Perhaps the mentality has taken ovemucho mch that women have internalized it.

However, it is possible that the modern thinking encourages women to parent, but that a significant number end up regretting it. In other words, perhaps the atmosphere puts forth attitudes about parenting that are difficult, if not impossible to internalize.

Unless you have a nanny, of course.


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Mercurior said...

if its easier how come they dont have time to be with their kids.

childrearing is now big business, and the parents are glad to have the kids out of the way, you have creches from zero to 5 then school, then college, then the parents let the tv or computers look after them till sleep, so parents only really see the kids for maybe an hour a day..

Anonymous said...

BritGirls says: "perhaps modern thinking encourages women to parent, but that a significant number end up regretting it"

A statement like that is so counter to popular thinking that is does need the validity of a scientific survey to back it up. Ann Lander's column, created quite a stir and it is interesting that people still remember that particular one and lived to blog about it.

Interesting also that we do not know about any studies that have duplicated the results and publicized it.

To your point about internalizing it, I had a relevant conversation with a 40-something female relative of mine, in which she raised her voice as she explained to me very firmly that some women are just driven to have children, that it is almost instictual, unquestioned. Since she had just given birth to a baby, her third, I opted not to point out that the drive she refers to may be in part due to societal pressure. Wise me thinks.

Pro-natalism seems to be global. I cannot think of a single country that does not want more children, more future leaders, more tax base, except perhaps the poorest that cannot take care of even their current constituents, those with bad human rights records.

On the upside, there is a doctoral candidate doing research on this subject right now and her survey closes on Halloween 2006. There is a link on the Purple Women & Friends site if you want to weigh in. Alas, no, she does not ask about parental regret...too bad!

Anonymous said...

Firstly, big thanks for publishing the survey on Childfree News - and for your comments.

You raise some interesting points. Although I would agree that there is now childcare (although how available inexpensive Childcare is is debatable) and other government tax breaks, it seems from what I see that childrearing seems to be even more difficult today, not easier. There are different types of pressures - as you say - the higher expecations.

Women now have more choice than ever with respect to whether to have careers, or work, along with bringing up kids.They also can choose not to have kids, although many still seem unaware of this.

Unfortunately though having kids often means not having a career (or at least being able to contribute economically as a non-parent can). This brings other pressures, such as the guilt trip, financial, and not least the scorn that working mothers get from the SAHM. That's just from the economic angle.

Then of course, there are the demands of kids themselves. Listening to some of the parents I know I wonder how they manage.The number of "requirements" they must have or do for their kids is truly amazing. The kids are in charge,in a way I never was when I was growing up. And don't dare say anything by way of discipline to your kids these days... they can and will tell you they're calling Social Services or Child services or whatever the agency happens to be called. I know this because parents have told me. Some have even said to me that I'm wise to not have kids. There are some honest ones who will tell you - if they trust you.

I believe there are a significant number of women who go into parenting believing the myth. Yes, even as Teri mentioned, the myth that women are "driven, instinctively" to re-produce. They prefer to think that rather than take responsibility for their choices. And they may very well wish they hadn't bought the hype - too late. To me there is no excuse for them. If people stop, think and consider the real deal of childrearing, instead of reading about celeb mums and believing the popular pro-natalist media and society hype, and giving in to societal pressure, there would probably be a few less regrets.

If childfree people can consider and decide, so can all women.

They will probably never tell of their disappointment. It probably is internalised as you say. So we will never really know... although we do really. I can read between the lines. Instead, they'll likely join the "muffia" ( the mummy mafia) trying their level best to convert their still childfree peers to parents. By telling them how wonderful and satisfying childrearing is and how shallow we are for not joining the club.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the Ann Landers poll is junk science, and professional statisticians have used it as an example of such. And to her credit, Ann Landers herself didn't pretend it was scientific. A scientific survey by Gallup found that 91% of parents would have children again if they were given the chance.

Interestingly, another study found that of 25 women - an admittedly small sample - who described themselves as "childless by choice," only one said she would have children if she could do it over again. So it seems that most women are intelligent enough to know what is best for them, whether it's to have children or not.

Emily (