Friday, September 28, 2007

Advice Columnist Asked: How to Deal With Pressure to Breed?

I'm 30 and feel under huge pressure to have kids. What should I do?
[A]s a 26-year-old lesbian, with a not-so-child-friendly career, I sure don't have a burning desire to reproduce. . . . I am repeatedly asked when I plan to have kids. . .

With a lot of my friends turning 30 this year, I've noticed just how much this landmark birthday ratchets up the pressure.. . .[N]early all girls grow up with - a childhood of being given baby dolls to tote around, while our brothers are given telescopes and drum kits. . . .[M]y life was expected to revolve around childbearing - just as my mom's had before me, and her mom's had before her.
Beth discusses how outside pressures should not play a role in our decision, how we should reflect on the benefits of a childfree lifestyle, and how we romanticize parenthood.

This blogger turns 30 in less than a week. I've been married about two and a half years, and spent nearly all of that in law school. I'm continually blessed to exist in a culture that sees women as more than walking wombs, and the fact that I was given trucks and forbidden Barbie is probably no coincidence. The cultures of BigLaw and New York City seem to exist in a separate dimension from the rest of the world; indeed I expect to face far more pressure to break the 1900 billables mark at my firm than I do to turn a little stick blue.

My heart goes out to childfree women who exist instead in the real world, and have mothers that fantasize about showing off grandchildren instead of opening up their own bookstore. It exists on a sliding scale, and these women in turn can look to women in developing countries who are expected to return home from their honeymoons pregnant. Still, when the pressures are infiltrating even the gay and lesbian community, no one is safe.

Resisting those outside pressures might be easier said than done; even if we don't capitulate, the road ahead might not be easy. That is one of the utilities of online and social networking childfree groups and communities - at least you know there is someone that understands. Luckily for this writer, that included the advice columnist.

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We may as well be invisible

Politics is all about young people

Hillary Clinton talking to the Congressional Black Caucus:
"Everything we do, I believe, is about young people," she said.

Clinton said the greeting most common among the Masai tribe of Africa is not, "How are you?" It's "How are the children." This is the question we should ask ourselves, she said.

I've already turned 30. I'm not really a "young" person anymore. I guess the entire political system will ignore me until I reach retirement age, when politicians can start pandering to me and the rest of my AARP comrades.

Oh, and good work, Hillary. You're talking to black people, so you mention an African tribe.

The worst part is that the ideas she brought up are worth discussing. The idea of making college affordable for people in the future is important, especially when you factor in the perpetually rising tuition costs. It's just packaged in such a way that it sounds both patronizing and condescending.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Biology of Breeding

If you've played Breeder Bingo, you have probably come across the odd idea that the childfree will "non-breed ourselves out of existence". Now that very notion is being endorsed by a scientist at Queens University.

In Is there really a ‘mommy’ gene in women?, Lonnie Aarssen advances the theory that there is a biological cause to childfreedom, brought out finally by birth control and real choices for women. But instead of considering this a trait that will continue (through recessive carriers, or continuing social changes) he hypothesizes that:
The women who leave the most descendants will be those with an intrinsic drive for motherhood. . . . Over time those genetic traits that influence women away from motherhood will necessarily be ‘bred out.’
. . .
In this way future generations of women will inherit a stronger genetic predisposition for mating and having children as a priority in their lives. Dr. Aarssen predicts that an increased desire for marriage and having children, in both men and women, will be an inevitable product of evolution within the next few generations.
On one hand, a genetic or other intrinsic source may be a boon to childfree people; it may indeed lessen the social pressure we face, and the accusation that childfreedom is unnatural. It can also rebut the assumtion that we are going through a phase that will end in regret later in life.

But on the other hand, I can't help but cringe at his view of the future; one in whch pronatalism runs even more rampant, childless (either infertile or the few left) will be further left out of society, and population problems will escalate. But of course, disliking that view of the future does nothing to debunk it.

There is another possibility. Just as many believe the nature vs. nurture dilemma has been resolved in favor of "a little of each", the truth on this specific tendency might be somewhere between the two. The various environments in which we are raised and mature may continue to influence our drives and choices, perhaps even as much or more than our DNA.

Furthermore, our society is by no means a childfree paradise: many with the "childfree gene" may nonetheless have children because of family or societal pressures, or simply because they never question the assumption that they'll be parents. Birth control is not perfect, so many with the gene will get pregnant accidentally. For these reasons alone, the gene may be passed on for generations, postponing the effect Aarssen predicts.

Lastly, the biological contributors may not be a single gene with an on-off switch; there may be a continuum of people from the most child-averse to the worst case of baby-rabies. Those in between will still ultimately be making a decision based on individual circumstances, not on biology.

But perhaps my hesitance is based less on my bleak view of his future or criticism of his conclusions, perhaps it is because his final quote does not inspire confidence:
“The bottom line from a biology viewpoint is: in order to have your genes live on, you’ve got to have kids. If you don’t, then they’re going to disappear,” says Dr. Aarssen.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

UK: Parents-Only Parking Enforced with Fine

Asda's £50 threat to car-park space invaders
For a hard-pressed mum with a screaming infant, there are few sights more annoying than seeing a childfree driver pulling into the last parent-and-toddler space at the supermarket.
. . .
Asda is introducing traffic wardens to patrol some of its car parks and slap £50 fines on those who leave their vehicle where it doesn't belong.
Childfree civil-disobedience protesters rejoice - I don't believe stores in the US have the right to fine for stork or toddler parking. But do stay out of handicapped spaces - they actually need them.

And either this article has been posted on a UK childfree site, or many, many British people are opposed to parent and child spaces. Give the comments a read.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

German Marriage: Seven-Year Terms?

Marriage with an expiration date
A German maverick politician is proposing that marriages must be renewed after seven years.

She told reporters at the launch of her campaign manifesto on Wednesday she wanted marriage to expire after seven years and accused the CSU [Bavaria's Christian Social Union party], which promotes traditional family values, of nurturing ideals of marriage which are wide of the mark.

"The basic approach is wrong ... many marriages last just because people believe they are safe," she told reporters. "My suggestion is that marriages expire after seven years."

After that time, couples should either agree to extend their marriage or it should be automatically dissolved, she said.

It's a controversial idea, and not one which I automatically endorse. But I do see a lot of potential in it. Think about it... with a seven-year term, you can't allow yourself to get too complacent, and find yourself taking advantage of your spouse. More importantly, you're not going to be forced to stay with someone you're no longer compatible with, simply because you're married and don't want to waste the time and energy getting divorced. And maybe people married for 35 years will be looked at differently... as people who actively want to be with each other, rather than "stuck it out" or, to quote Meatloaf, are "waiting for the end of time."

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Working Mothers Feel Persecuted.

Childless women 'hostile to working mums'

Notice the difference between their title and my own? Well, here's why:
Women who do not have children are considerably less sympathetic than men to mothers trying to juggle home and career, researchers have discovered.

More than half of working mothers said childless women were less understanding of the demands facing them, says a survey of 1,500 mothers.
Emphasis mine. Too bad the researchers didn't "discover" the wonders of an unbiased sample. Next project: In a survey of 10 year old boys, researchers "discover" that girls have cooties.
The Working Mothers' Report found that . . .[t]he overwhelming majority — 94 per cent — said juggling home and office life had a deleterious, harmful to body and mind, effect on their career.
. . .
And 66 per cent of working mothers said pushing for flexible working that they knew an employer could accommodate, such as working from home or taking different hours, would have a negative effect on their careers.
Yes, because self-interested employees are always a perfect judge of what employers can accommodate. Does the conclusion imply that there are no downsides to being unreachable during working hours, less productive, and not being there for face to face meetings? Or are they just stating that it is their employer's obligation to accommodate the business costs of these women's choices?
Ben Black, the founder of the child-care providers The Family Care Company, which commissioned the report, said the research found that colleagues also failed to understand the pressures of juggling home and family life.

"Many of the women that mothers work alongside will go on to have children and you would have expected them to be more understanding," said Mr Black, who founded the company following the birth of his two-year-old twins.
I see a clue here.

Also take a look at the comments. They start childfree-heavy, but then turn into more of a debate in recent posts.

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Childlessness on the Rise in Canada

Census finds more childless couples here than ever before
For the first time, childless households in Revelstoke outnumber those with children, the latest 2006 Census figures show.

The statistics released last Wednesday show that in 2006 there were 980 households containing a couples without children in the city and 810 with children. The 2001 Census showed there were 935 households containing a couple with children and 830 without.

This echoed a national trend. Across Canada the Census showed there were 486,040 households without children in 2006 and 432,420 with children. . . .
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Childfree Women and Sterilization

The women using sterilisation as a form of contraception
Once, it was a last resort for mothers desperate not to risk adding to their brood, but figures show elective sterilisation is becoming the contraception of choice for a generation of young women certain they don't ever want children.
. . .
The NHS refuses the majority of sterilisations to women aged under 30 or women who do not already have children.
. . .
"People may say I'm na've and wonder how I could possibly know that ten years down the line I won't suddenly want to have children.

"But the same people don't ask women my age who want to have kids if they think they will later regret having them and hanker after their old, child-free life. Elective sterilisation is still such a taboo and people don't seem able to accept it."

Although she had the approval of her GP, because Charlie was young and didn't have any children, she was forced - thanks to NHS standard practice - to attain the go-ahead from two other doctors at the London hospital where she had her operation.
. . .
Justine James, 28, an academic from Kent, was sterilised privately at a Marie Stopes clinic with 'no questions asked' when she was only 21. Seven years later, she is adamant that the decision has never come back to haunt her.

"For me, not wanting kids was like someone being gay or straight - it's inherent and it can't be changed. I don't even like children, I have no interest in them and I don't enjoy being around them, so why would I want any of my own?
. . .
Annily Campbell, author of Childfree And Sterilised, feels strongly that although women are becoming more confident about admitting they don't want children, society is less forthcoming.

"Having children and not having children should be equal choices, yet one has the blessing of society while the other meets with the greatest disapproval you can imagine."

Whether such disapproval is warranted remains to be seen. Let's hope that this so-called sterilisation generation know their own minds as well as they believe they do.

And there doesn't come a time when Charlie McCann rues the day she was sterilised at barely 30 and wishes she could head out, arm in arm with her own daughter, for a day's shopping.

Sigh . . why the obnoxious ending? The one that pretends that adoption does not exist, or that it is somehow less fulfilling? Although the journalist succumbed to the tradition of throwing in pronatalist claptrap, I applaud those women interviewed for the article.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Childfree UK Village

'There comes a time when you want to live without children'
To buy a property in the village, you have to be 45-plus with no dependent family in tow, and you must sign a contract agreeing not to sell property on to those with children.
Residents include childfree people, but also include parents and grandparents whose children may visit (for up to three weeks at a time). Their reasons vary, from not wanting to listen to people talk endlessly about children to beliefs that it recreates a time past when people were simply more polite to each other.
"Everywhere you go today you are expected to pander to the needs of children," one home-owner, who has asked not to be named, tells me. "They are noisy, messy and destructive, but try and complain to the parents, and nine times out of 10 you will make yourself an enemy," she says. "I have to put up with badly behaved children in restaurants and parks. I want my neighbourhood to be free of that."

There have been legal challenges to child-free communities in the US. In 1977, a couple was forced out of their Florida condominium after having a baby. The unsuccessful age discrimination suit went as far as the supreme court. There have been other successful cases since then, but none that conclude that living without children should be seen as discrimination. In the UK there are those who believe no one has the right to exclude children from any neighbourhood.

Carolyn Hamilton, the director of the Children's Legal Centre, is adamant that such communities should be challengeable under the Human Rights Act. "If nothing else, it perpetuates the stereotype of children as nuisances and criminals."
Yes, and policies precluding pets reinforce the "stereotype" that dogs bark and pee outside.
I am invited in for tea with Marie and David, who have lived in the village for two years. They came from Merseyside to be near "like-minded people", in a community where "children are not seen as the centre of the universe".

"Children and noise go together," says David. "It is heaven sitting out with a glass of wine, not hearing kids screaming and banging the fence with footballs. And there is no litter, because it tends to be kids who drop it."
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'Children aren't key to women's happiness'

'Children aren't key to women's happiness'

Although they won't receive flowers or chocolates on Mother's Day, women who have not had children seem to be just as happy in their 50s as those who did go down the family path.

In fact the loneliest, least contented and most vulnerable women were found to be mothers who were single, divorced or widowed in middle age, according to new research.
. . .
"We confirm that early mothering seems to represent the greatest disadvantage and that is mainly linked to the economics and marital status," Koropeckyj-Cox explained.

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Wrongful Birth

I specifically said *one* embryo!

So, basically, a woman in Australia told the doc she only wanted one embryo implanted, and another doc, the embryologist, put in two. Now she has twins. She and her partner are suing for $400,000 to raise the kid they never wanted.

Thus, wrongful birth.

If this suit is successful, my hope is that legally it will begin to be acknowledged that having a baby is *not* an unconditional positive thing. Nor should it be considered "punishment" for sex. Maybe then we can begin to address the concerns of people who were tricked into becoming parents.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Ask Amy: Friends for Childless Couples

Childless middle-aged pair need to find couple to "date"
Our problem is that we seem to have trouble making friends to do things with, such as taking trips or going to events.

Friends from our "single years" have either moved away or are now fully occupied with raising their children. The new people that we do meet are always "too busy" with their own lives to meet up.
Amy gives some good advice, but I would have told the couple to find the nearest chapter of No Kidding! to meet childless friends. Half my own social network stems from people I have met in various chapters and through the conventions (there is one next month in Las Vegas!).

OK, plug over.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Can a Baby Make You Fall Out of Love?

I wanted to be a full-time mother . . .
. . . Having a baby made me suddenly understand, with acid-sharp clarity, why the divorce rate is so high. I had always blamed poor staying power and selfishness. Now I understood. Having children drives an enormous, invisible wedge between the sexes.

What it does – unless you have a full-time nanny, cleaner and personal shopper – is propel you backwards into the gender stereotypes of the 1950s. Jamie and I went from absolute equality to living on different planets. He went to work: he schmoozed important people, he ate out, he bought new suits. I stayed at home: I cleaned, I washed, I cooked, I shopped, I washed again and I thought about our Oxford degrees a lot. I was profoundly shocked to discover that this was the deal; that there was no other way of continuing the human race. I mean, I wanted to be a full-time mother, but I hadn’t reckoned on falling out of love with my husband as a result.

Little chores that used to be acts of love (pairing his socks, preparing him a nice supper) became venom-loaded. As for the physical act of love, it just didn’t happen. Aside from the exhaustion, neither of us felt loving enough. All the kissing was for chunky-thighed, gap-toothed Oscar.
Scroll down to the comments, which include numerous people who experienced the same thing, sometimes ending in divorce.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lactivists at Applebees

Applebee's targeted by angry nursing moms

It all started when a manager at an Applebees asked a nursing mother to cover up.
Organizers of today's event say moms should be free to nurse in public without being interrupted. They also don't want to be forced to cover up their children with blankets or Hooter Hiders, one of a number of fashionable wraps on the market to cover nursing moms in public.

But businesses say breast-feeding in a restaurant or store makes other patrons uncomfortable, and that they have to consider the needs of all customers.
. . .
Spaulding . . . plans to participate in today's nurse-in to remove the stigma of breast-feeding in public.
. . .
The response from Thomas & King, the owner of the franchise she had been eating at, said management was considering keeping blankets in the restaurants for use by breast-feeding mothers.

"The response is not acceptable," said Lisa Carey, one of the organizers of the Chatsworth protest. "We want (Applebee's) to be breast-feeding-friendly and have a policy in place to accomplish that."
The protests happened at several locations, and a news search turns up some local coverage of these events. As one would expect, this amplified the problem of having several mouthpieces discussing what is already a more complex topic than people realize.

The problem is, that this is not one single issue, but people treat it as such. There are several issues wrapped in this.

1. The ability to breastfeed in public.

This is not at issue here; the Applebees manager simply set conditions (covering up) on that ability. Therefore, all the arguments that relate to the healthiness of breastfeeding, the necessity of a mother being able to do it while eating out, the naturalness of the act are not directly relevant. They only come into play if somehow covering up is a true obstacle to feeding.

2. The ability to do so uncovered.

We don't hear much about why using a blanket or other cover is so difficult, whether some mothers in particular have trouble getting their infants to nurse while covered, etc. Without this information, we cannot really parse out the issues. But since many mothers do cover, we know that at least for some, it is a feasible option.

That then turns the discussion into one of a). what we should do with the exceptions who have a particular difficulty, and b). whether there is a right to do so uncovered just because you want to or are more comfortable doing so.

The former is a much smaller issue, and could theoretically be handled on a case by case basis. I will set that aside for now. As to the second question, we can finally look at what we have on both sides honestly, instead of raising red herrings such as child welfare. The importance of what the woman is doing is only a small part of the calculus that weighs her discomfort on one side, and the unease of people who are bothered seeing an exposed breast on the other. To be honest, I cannot sympathize with either, which is perhaps why I am trying to frame this into piecemeal balancing tests instead of the emotional rhetoric that seems the usual dialog of the debate. So I can't say which side is being inconvenienced more. Assuming they are fairly equal, one takes into account the Star trek "Needs of the Many" consideration, and the fact that the whole situation is the result of the woman's choice to procreate, and comes to the conclusion that the woman should have to cover up.

Yet that is not where it ends.

3. The right to public exposed breastfeeding as political statement.

The huge rows over LiveJournal and Facebook's bans on breastfeeding photographs were replete with cries of "breast milk is a healthy way to feed my child!" Except that no child has ever gone hungry because his mother was unable to upload a picture of nursing to the internet. Likewise, Carey's demand that Applebee's be "breast feeding friendly" implies the same demand in her rejection of blankets. Where the mention of any downsides to covering are absent, what we have is demands for rights unattached to utility, but springing from the idea that breastfeeding is a right unto itself.

There seems to be an undertone or implication in La Leche's statements that because breastfeeding is natural and healthy, the right to do it wherever one wants without any conditions follows. This stems not just for the increased convenience, but from the idea that we need to accustom society to breastfeeding, make people get over their hangups, and encourage other women to breastfeed.

So what we end up with in that instance is the right to bear one's breast for a political statement. Although I know some readers will disagree with this, I'm not so sure this is a bad idea generally. If applied equally to all lobbying groups, this idea may actually fall in the gender rights vein that led Manhattan to allow non-commercial toplessness.

Where I find this idea troubling is where we assume that this speech right always and automatically trumps the property rights inherent in restaurant owners. Unless you own an outdoor shopping mall in California, or a shanty town for your company's employees, the rights of owners usually prevail here. You have the right to free expression, just not in my cafe.

This collides with the more pragmatic considerations when you begin to discuss breastfeeding, since places of public accommodation are restricted in their property rights (just not in matters of free speech). Many states have passed laws mandating that such places allow nursing. But need they allow uncovered nursing?

And so we return to where we began, asking the question of when the issue stops being about the necessity of breastfeeding, and when it starts being about discomfort or political speech. Until we realize this, we will be barraged with useless rhetoric, and will not be responding in kind.

Speaking of which, I shall leave this last quote uncommented, since I cannot do it justice. And now, your moment of zen.
An Applebee's spokeswoman said the fallout from Ryan's experience has provided an opportunity for the company to make nursing mothers feel welcome. Moms say if that means having to cover up with a blanket, then it isn't within the law.

"They just don't get it," Ryan said in an e-mail post about her experience. "It's like saying Rosa Parks has to be in the back of the bus and we will give her a pillow so she will be comfortable back there."
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Boink for Breshnev, Win a Prize!

Don’t work on Wednesdays, have sex instead, says Russian governor
The governor of a central Russian province urged couples to skip work on Wednesday and make love instead.

And if a woman gives birth in exactly nine months time on Russia's national day on June 12 she will qualify for a prize.
. . .
Russia wants to reverse a trend in which the population is shrinking by about 700,000 people a year as births fail to outpace a high death rate boosted by AIDS, alcoholism and suicide.
. . .
On Russia Day this year, a family won a jeep after their fourth baby was born on the holiday. This year a record 78 babies were born on June 12 at the main hospital in the regional capital of Ulyanovsk, beating the 2006 total of 26, said chief doctor Andrei Malykh.

"The scheme is working. People want the prizes," he said.
Ah yes, because that is who we want parenting the next generation - couples who can't manage to schedule sex outside of work hours, and who make childrearing decisions based on the possibility of a TV set.

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Transcript of Disccusion with Daniel Engber

Save the Planet - Kill Your Genes

In the "Global Swarming" article below, a Slate Journalist takes on the issue of cutting the population to save the planet. A few hours ago, he had an online dialog with readers. Either they selected the questions well, or a lot of our kind were in the virtual audience.

They ask whether adoption would be better, and advocate elimination of child tax credits (a point Engber ignores)
Simply put, each child you have in the U.S. has a dramatic and negative impact on the Earth's climate. That's true if the U.S. population were shooting through the roof, and it's true if our population were stable.

To be clear: The question here isn't "how do we reduce the global population?" (That's not an end in itself, after all.) Instead we're asking "how do I reduce the damage that I'm personally doing to the environment?"
He does trash VHEM, and denies ZPG as a goal, and there are some pretty stupid questions in there. Still, it is worth a read, as he skilfully deals with some tricky questions about, among other things, our place in the global population growth.

While you're there, drop by Slate's discussion forum to debate the issue with others.

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Is it time for Americans to start cutting our baby emissions?

Global Swarming
[The author of a new book proposes]: Let's cut the birth rate to one child per couple, for a few generations at least. The population would dwindle by about 5 billion people over the next century, he says, ensuring the habitability of the Earth for the 1.6 billion who remained. . . . Weisman's book has become a mainstream best seller. Could population control be the next big thing in green culture?
. . .
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, cutting back on kids is the best choice you can possibly make.

What's the environmental cost of having a child? In the crudest terms, you've added another version of yourself into the world, which means you're potentially doubling your carbon-dioxide emissions over the total life of your family.
. . .
Our other green lifestyle choices can't even begin to offset the cost of adding a brand-new CO2-emitter to the population. . . . Not to mention the fact that my children might eventually decide to have their own children, who would emit even more carbon dioxide down the line.
This is a lengthy and fantastic article . . Slate is good at more than pithy headlines. It does a good job of debunking the most common counter-arguments to this idea, such as the idea that one's children will be taught to help the environment. He also discusses the fact, and reason that, despite these compelling facts, environmental groups rarely discuss the issue.
Despite these findings, Earth-advocacy groups almost never raise the issue of family size, focusing instead on lifestyle choices with more modest environmental rewards. . . . Even the academics on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have shied away from direct references to population and global warming.
Be sure to browse the comments, which highlight how sensitive the issue is and the fact that some will always frame the issue with parenthood at the starting point.

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Yuppie Dads Display 5-Kid Families as Status Symbol.

Fatherhood 2.0
These days, being a dad is as much about proving your power and wealth as it is about parenting. The ultimate status symbol? Multiple kids. PLUS: A guide to making the most of your offspring, a look at the devolution of the stoic dad, and a video roundup of the fashion faux pas that define today’s fathers.
. . .
Statistics prove that Americans are producing more kids than they used to. Government studies show that from 1984 to 2004, the number of women giving birth to three or more children rose 12 percent, to 18.4 out of every 1,000 women in their childbearing years.
The article posits that the re-emergence of the baby boom among the rich is due to every-increasing salaries. Now that those with outlier wages can afford to have their spouse stay home, why not have more and more?

As someone who aspires to such a career, I'm just all the more tempted to keep it all to myself. Well, OK, that is more a perk than a motivation. But that is one of the beauties of being childfree - you can choose the lavish lifestyle -whatever that means to you - or you can opt out of the crazy hours one must put in to get there, and feel no guilt.

The article may convey dismaying content, but it does not appear to do so in a glowing, pro-natal way. Indeed it credits the baby boom to ego and one-upsmanship.
“Among the hedge-fund guys, it’s a joke,” says one Park Avenue woman. “They all have the trophy wife and the apartment and the four kids.”

Pamela Fiori, editor-in-chief of Town & Country, says a brood can be a prop for a photo-shoot-like lifestyle. “Some people are looking at their children as accessories,” Fiori says.
Of course, this is merely a different flavor of what we have seen before - among Upper West Side career women and soccer moms. The 'bump watch' phenomenon is just the latest in the baby-as-status symbol trend.

I'll admit I have seen this first hand among law firm partners, at least in smaller firms.
That said, no one is giving their children back. Ari and his wife go into withdrawal when two of their five go off to summer camp. “I can’t be in a house that only has three kids,” Ari says. “The silence scares me. Three kids is so weak. It doesn’t feel like you have any.”
You should be so lucky. Maybe that is similar to the sensation I had that my one bedroom apartment in Queens is a palatial wonder?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Family-friendly, or freeloader-friendly?

Family-friendly, or freeloader-friendly?
Dear Annie: My team has been together for about 8 years, with very little turnover. We're pretty close-knit, and I've tried to foster a very supportive environment, where we focus on what we all need as people and figure out how to make workloads balance out over the long haul.

Several folks have started thinking about, and others have already started, families. Our company tends to be relatively family-friendly, with good vacation policies (4 weeks for all non-hourly employees), and leaves a great deal to the discretion of the manager.
. . .
I would love to hear your thoughts on whether the following should be taken as vacation time, or sick time, or what seems fair to an uninvolved outsider. I do think if I give some in this regard, it comes back in spades, but I also think that this philosophy opens me up to being taken advantage of, and there are different expectations around the team.

1. A wife's prenatal visits, if the expectation is that the employee will go to all of them.
2. The little one didn't sleep last night. May the parent take a sick day to try to recover?
3. The little one needs to go to the doctor.
4. The little one is sick. The parent "works" from home.

-Single and Trying to be Supportive
The response is not specific to the single/childfree issue, despite the title. Instead it focuses on general workplace leave policies and procedures, such as the assumption that face time is productive, and working from home is not. However, the following comments disclose that the expert (Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute) has her own agenda.
Something else to remember: "At some time or other, all of us - whether we have children or not - need help from teammates. It could be because your house is flooded, or your mother is in the hospital, or it could be anything. Willingness to cover for each other when someone is in a jam is part of what being a team is all about."

So try to encourage a spirit of generosity, and don't let people get too nitpicky.
. . .
"In practical terms, sick days really cover everyone in the household, not just the employee," says Galinsky. Besides, a parent who hasn't slept all night is unlikely to be at the top of his or her game anyway - rather as if he or she had a really bad cold.
Except that that philosophy allows a person with other household members who are frequently ill will have lower productivity, which leaves single and childless workers to pick up the extra work. Her only attention to the disparity is the statement that those who "take advantage" of the policy can be weeded out. She ignores the fact that differing contribution levels can result occur even without abusing the system. If you ask me, that might be even worse than attempting to justify it.

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Reactions to the Christian Science Monitor Piece

The Daily Herald recently wrote an article based on the CSM Piece. In Children? Or are we 'adult-centered'?, the paper includes local statistics in a piece discussing decreasing birthrates' impact at the polls.

It prompted a reader response: Having children is just another choice
Only at the end, where Vincent Ciaccio stated that if parents and people who have not had kids respect the choices, then we can all move forward together for mutual benefit.

That's exactly what children are: a choice. They are not a debt I owe to society. My reasons for not wanting kids are different from those given.
. . .
It is a health issue as well as a lifestyle choice or trend, as the article refers to it throughout much of the article.

There is a current generation who growing up thinking that the world revolved around them, and they are finding it hard to grow up. I can think of several stories printed in your paper that reflect that, and several letters to the editor.
. . .
The baby looking so adorably in wonder is cute, but it leaves one to ponder if there is a subliminal message being sent: Guilt? Satisfaction?
These photographs do seem de rigeur for articles on the childfree. Perhaps it is due to a lack of symbolism on the other sides. We should put our collective creativity to work in coming up with one.

Although mainly constrained to her first few paragraphs, the reader does make a valid point - we will forever be speaking a different language as long as we ignore the fact that some indeed consider bearing children to be a duty we owe society.

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Why Having Children Isn't Such a Bad Idea After All

A Response to Corinne Maier's Book, No Kid: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children

This response says nothing new, but that is the fun part. The author regurgitates the same tired platitudes we have been hearing our whole lives, but does so with a smug pride that borders between pathetic and amusing. Kind of like the proud look one's cat displays when dragging half a mouse into your home.
We live in a society that worships pleasure.
Erm, what? I'm no expert on French culture, but from what I hear they worship babies as much as everything else. And just like every other society on Earth, they are composed of human beings who seek pleasure, which all living creatures naturally do. What justifies calling that state "worship"?
. . . However, some people can idolize pleasure in such a way that they miss out on what truly matters in life. Corinne Maier is one such person.

Corinne Maier is a Frenchwoman who regrets her decision to have daughter Laure, 13, and son Cyrille, 10. . . . Ms. Maier insists that "your job as a parent comes first, and the romance in your lives is replaced by DIY and dusting." I would argue that this is simply Ms. Maier's choice. Life is nothing but a series of choices, and though many parents choose to put their relationship on hold to focus on the children, I am a mother who has chosen otherwise. My husband and I decided before we had children that we would put our relationship first and incorporate our children into our lives, not the other way around. Instead of hurting our son, this has instead given him a sense of security, because he is blessed enough to know that his parents love each other very much. Parents all around the world have chosen to structure their lives this way!
Then why do countless studies show a significant drop in marital happiness after children arrive? And a spike when they leave? Why are we inundated with articles about trying to find balance, and indicate the great difficulty this presents? I suppose it is not for me to doubt this woman's assertions that she has found some magical solution, but I can sure as hell argue that it is not as easy as she makes it sound. Her suggestion that it is just an individual failure of Ms. Maier is as obnoxious as it is inaccurate.
Maturity is what motivates mothers to endure the pain of childbearing for the greater beauty of bringing life into the world, to pull themselves out of bed in the middle of the night to feed a hungry baby, and to stay home from a social event to care for a sick child.
Or maturity is what allows people to make their own choices, and your acts are difficult ones that nonetheless spring from your own decisions based on what you wanted out of life.
In one sense, economists and writers are a dime a dozen. For each mother who leaves the rat race to focus on raising a family, another young professional will take her place. The world does not value its economists and writers like it values its mothers. Yes, being a mother takes a lot of work, but those who willingly invest their lives into their children reap their just rewards. Those who have parented well find parenting to be the most rewarding job on earth.
Ah, I see. I'm glad that the singular psychology of the human race has been decided and presented so clearly. And what a brilliant way to make one's point! All those who do not find parenting to be rewarding can merely be cast aside as those who failed to do it well. The great tool of circular reason will forever make this assertion unassailable.
All across the ages, all around the world, children have long been regarded as one's crowning achievement. Let us not lose sight of the bigger picture but for a little immature selfishness. It is time the world recognizes that there is no greater calling or more noble task than equipping and nurturing our fellow human race; they may be young now, but the future of our world rests in their little hands.
What brilliant and novel insights! Well, I suppose they cannot be insights, since she does not bother to explain the reasoning behind them. Instead she relies on the assertion of what has "long been regarded".

Wait, what? You can't have it both ways. Either there is universal acceptance of this assertion, or "It is time the world recognizes" it. Unless she is trying to draw a nuance between children as a crowning achievement and a noble calling. Somehow, I doubt such a fine point is within this writer's capabilities. If it is, she is hiding it quite nicely.

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Another Childfree Celebrity - Rachel Ray

Rachael Ray's Recipe for Marriage
She is equally frank about her views on having kids – something she says she has pretty much ruled out.

"I don't have time," she says. "I work too much to be an appropriate parent. I feel like a bad mom to my dog [Isaboo, a pit bull] some days because I'm just not here enough. I just feel like I would do a bad job if I took the time to literally give birth to a kid right now and try and juggle everything I'm doing."
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French Childfree are Fighting Back: More Responses to Forty Reasons

Just say non: mother nurtures French revolt over baby mania
FRENCH women may be top of the European league when it comes to producing babies, but a young mother-of-two and author is spearheading a rebellion against what she calls an oppressive “baby mania” that makes a pariah of anyone who does not want children.
. . .
Partly thanks to government incentives, France has managed to reverse a decline in its birth rate. Its women have an average of 1.94 children, compared with 1.78 in Britain.

To encourage women to work as well as having babies, the French have increased municipal childcare facilities and introduced family allowances that rise with each subsequent child. But women must have two or more children to receive non-means-tested child benefit.
. . .
Maier’s book is the most visible sign that France’s cult of motherhood, fuelled by generous state subsidies, is far from unanimously popular. Another recently published book was called Being a Woman Without Being a Mother.

The groundswell of discontent has also made it to the silver screen, with the release last week of a comedy called I Hate Other People’s Children. It shows how the friendship of three families is ruined when, on a month-long holiday, the parents criticise each other’s offspring.

Edith Vallée, a psychologist, argues that women who choose not to have children are the victims of insidious pressure in France. “Society tells them, ‘You have the right to make that choice’, but it adds or implies, ‘You’ll never be completely fulfilled’,” Vallée said.
I'd love to hear from any of our French readers who have seen the movie. Perhaps we should start a writing campaign to get a subtitled version released in the US!

Have Your Say

The BBC was looking for responses to the book (judging by my voicemail, they still are) and there are a wealth of responses to the questions below.
We'd like to know what your thoughts you have children? If you do, do you regret having them? What do you think about women who leave it too late? And do you think women who choose NOT to have children are selfish?

Corrine says "there are moments when I bitterly regret having kids" - does this sound familiar or can you relate to this? Or do you think her message is too provocative and possibly unfair because she is a mother and has had the chance to at least enjoy that experience?
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Childfree: A Male Perspective

We're Here, We're Childless: Deal With It

Frequent readers will remember this book, which was published a few months ago in France, and has received a considerable amount of attention there. Written by a mother of two, No Kid: Forty Reasons For Not Having Children is a bestseller in France that takes "a dig at the myth that having a child is wonderful."

Since then, the book has received considerable media attention that I have covered in the past, and will continue to include. In the above article, the journalist takes the male perspective, arguing that the author's observations are not just limited to the female plight.
. . . I would venture that it's not just childless women who are brave. To tell people you're a married man and childless also invites varying degrees of suspicion regarding your male virility or your wife's worth. When I first began talking to a new young lady at work, I told her I've been married for eight years. Her eyes lit up. "Oh," she crooned. "How nice." Then, without wasting a breath: "Any children?" No, I told her, matter of factly. Her smile disappeared and she looked at me as if I'd suddenly grown wings and horns. "Oh dear. Couldn't you ...?" No, nothing like that, I assured her, before she could even say that filthy c-word: conceive. We just didn't want any. "Oh," she said quizzically, still regarding me like a rare specimen — which, to be fair, I probably am. "Well, children are lovely."

Yes, I thought, rolling my eyes. They're so lovely that there's no length I won't go to avoid them.

If you're prepared to sacrifice, if you've got the patience of a saint, if you're prepared for your life to change beyond your wildest imagination, if you're prepared to fork over a cumulative $100,000 dollars over 18 years to bring a child into the world and raise, nurture, and discipline it to the age where it becomes a polite, responsible, hard-working adult, then go for it.
The journalist recounts at length his own reasons for being childfree (well worth the read)
I think the breeders — the "children are so lovely and you're nuts for not wanting some" crowd — have some growing up to do themselves. Nothing is more selfish than pushing children on people who just have no longing for them, for making any man or woman feel guilty or worthless for simply trying to life a happy life. For the fact is, some people are perfectly happy to not have children. There are more of us than you would like to believe. And when we see you with your kids — whether you're playing merrily with them or trying to control one of their zillions of temper tantrums — we do not envy you. We do not look wistfully at you. We do not think, "Aww, how sweet." It doesn't even register. It does not make our day that your path crossed ours. We're happy with our own lives, unencumbered by children as we are. We do not even think twice about you.

Deal with it. Start learning to respect people's choices in a free society. We are not endangering the human race by not breeding because you're doing plenty of it for us. . . .
Well said, Mr. Manning.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

ABC: Married, Successful and Happy to Be Child-Free

More and More Couples Are Choosing to Not Have Children

The story begins with a recap of the Pew Research Center Survey indicating that people no longer think children are vital to a good marriage.
Laura Carroll, author of "Families of Two," explained that many couples are beginning to see marriage as a commitment to their personal connection more than anything else.

"Folks that have children might think the decision is wrong because the bottom line is they do not understand how someone would not have a burning desire to have a child," Carroll said.
. . .
And it's a choice that child-free couples feel they must defend.

"People with children say, 'They're the biggest joy we have in our lives.' To that I say, that's for you. That's good for you, but I'm fine the way I am. I have no regrets," David Smith said.
This story was a precursor to the video below. (Which is why it shares so many of the same quotes?) It seems that the feature on Good Morning America was in response to the attention this article received.

Perhaps best of all, they have opened the floor to Comments. I'm afraid that as this article is over a month old, the commenting has slowed, but there are over 500 to pour through, and the childfree are good at reopening threads. :)

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Good Morning America on the Childfree

The reporters' reactions seem somewhere between the truly understanding and the typical shock. I suppose all things considered, tolerance is a good start. For a morning show, at least.

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Oz Fertility Expert Encourages 18 Year Olds to Plan for Children

Warning to plan for babies at 18
WOMEN need to develop reproductive life plans - similar to career and financial planning - to avoid being left childless, Australia's leading fertility expert says.
. . .
"There needs to be medical opportunities for people, when they are 18, to sit down with a doctor and help them with their plans, just like a financial planner would."

His report, titled "Empty cots and silent Spring in an age of plenty: What our lifestyles are doing to our reproductive health", recommends programs to provide counselling and risk assessment to "optimise a person's pregnancy potential".
. . .
"Currently, if an individual is worried about their fertility, they can consult with their GP and a Medicare rebate is payable," a spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Abbott said.

Professor Norman is a keynote speaker at the week-long conference on "fertility preservation".
On one hand, the reduction of IVF and other invasive and dangerous fertility treatments is a positive thing - society and children bear the cost of multiple births and the lifelong health problems caused by these couples' choices.

But on the other, this seems to make the all-too common presumption that everyone wants children. I suspect this program will not be counseling 18 year olds with the view towards them making up their own minds on the matter.
Professor Robert Norman has called on the Federal Government to provide Medicare rebates to encourage people as young as 18 to establish a plan with their doctor on when they want to have children and how they will achieve it.
When and how. No if. Hopefully, the individual physicians doing the counseling would not bring Prof. Norman's obnoxious assumptions to the table. It is probably moot, though, since it does not appear that the program has much support. Still, it is very telling of where we are as a society that these presumptions go unquestioned in the media.

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Nearly every fourth man childless in Denmark

A new study shows that more than one out of five Danish men never have children because they do not find the right partner
Danish men have a hard time finding the right woman, which is why more than 22 percent will never experience fatherhood.

That conclusion is based on the results of a study from the Danish National Centre for Social Research (SFI), which found that 22.7 percent of men 44 and over have never produced a child.
. . .
In contrast to the men, only 14 percent of Danish women of child-bearing age have never given birth. Those women who have passed on the baby experience typically did so in favour of their careers, according to Christoffersen.
I'd have to see the original study, but it sounds like they are leaping to conclusions here. They don't seem to entertain the possibility that even some of the childless Danes just don't want children. I'm going to call on our resident statistics-debunker, Vinny. But for now I'll tentatively conclude that something's rotten in Denmark.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tax and the Childfree

Fresh out of my first day of tax law class, here are two articles that mention the tax code as it relates to childless people. I come across these too frequently to post, but one of these articles seemed particularly focused on the subject.

In the UK: Cameron's family tax breaks 'will leave unmarried couples paying more'
Labour has warned that millions of childless and unmarried people would face higher taxes under a Tory government under plans floated by David Cameron.

The Tory leader, who has promised to reward marriage through the tax system, pledged that "every pound" of new green taxes to combat climate change would be spent on cutting "family taxes".
. . .
Labour ministers seized on his remarks, claiming that people not in traditional families would miss out on the compensatory tax cuts on income while paying the new environmental taxes. Mr Camer-on's commitment to cutting taxes for married couples with children had come under fire during a Newsnight interview earlier in the week, when the journalist Stephanie Flanders challenged the Tory leader on the issue: "I'm not married, I have a small child," said Ms Flanders. "Are you saying the Conservative Party would like me to be married?"

After a moment's pause, Mr Cameron said that he was not interested in running other people's lives but added: "I am unashamedly pro-family. For me it comes absolutely first.". . .
Bloomberg, in Washington Speech, Calls for Expanded Tax Credit
Bloomberg, mayor of the largest U.S. city, said that while improving public education was the single most important anti- poverty goal in New York, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit could help. He suggested lowering the age of childless adults eligible to receive it to 21 from 25, and raising the income eligibility to $18,040 from $12,120.
. . .
The mayor said he would make eligibility for the expanded benefits conditional upon such socially desirable behaviors as working a 30-hour week for at least half a year for childless individuals or one parent in married families with children.
. . .
Single and married couples without qualifying children who don't meet the work requirement would receive no Earned Income Tax Credit, he said.
. . .
For a married family with one child and $22,000 in joint income, the proposed treatment would result in a benefit of $3,700, instead of the current $1,598, he said.

A married couple with no children and income of $22,000 would get a tax credit of about $2,000, compared to nothing under existing law, he said.
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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Other people's children are bad-mannered, Dutch parents say

More than 75 per cent of Dutch parents say other people's children are irritating and find them bad-mouthed, anti-social and disrespectful
Two-thirds of Dutch parents favour a stricter upbringing for all children. Nine out of 10 parents believe schools should be stricter and more disciplined also.

Four out of five parents think society is degenerating. The only way to counter this trend is to teach children a sense of responsibility, social behaviour and solidarity.

Parents say having children increases their overall well-being, the survey found.

At the same time, many complain of a lack of time and one-fifth of all parents admitted to being jealous of childless people.
"Admitted to." Does this merely convey the begrudging nature of such a statement, or might it imply that even more feel this way, but won't own up to it?

Of course, jealousy takes many forms. It could be a partial jealousy - an overall happiness with their lot, while wishing they did not have to make such sacrifices to get the total. It may well be regret.

What I do know is that it is far more accurate then the charge that childfree people are jealous. Aside from the infertile, who I do hope are not the real subjects of these attacks, we have the option they don't - the ability to change our minds.

Not that we ever would.

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Business leaders: Treat non-parents, parents alike

Experts say equitable time-off policies foster good will with workers
With schools around the country back in session, parents who work at small businesses will be asking for and receiving time off for soccer games and class plays -- possibly leading to some friction because other workers don't have such ironclad reasons for leaving early.

Business owners and human resources executives say companies can avoid such problems with equitable time-off policies -- in other words, by recognizing that all employees regardless of their personal circumstances need a work-life balance. Encouraging an atmosphere of mutuality and good will among co-workers can also head off conflicts and resentments when one staffer leaves early.

Colleen Haviland, founder and president of Xsell Resources Inc. and Ready to Hire, two businesses in Willow Grove, Pa., sees no difference between giving parents time off for a child's game and giving childless workers time to go to sporting or theatrical events.

"No matter if it's children or any type of other commitment, we all have a real life outside of work," Haviland said. "Everyone needs to support each other in their real life in order to have synergy in the workplace."
Amazing. While I have heard in the past that caring for elderly parents should be given respect, never before have I seen an article imply that even theatre-going and other 'optional' pursuits should be given the same respect. From the perspective of 'equal work' without regard to why the employee is leaving, this makes sense.

An argument could also be made that we should not be judging the value or necessity of how we are using our time off. It is possible that a certain amount of time away from the office is psychologically necessary, that being no less true for childfree folks. More controversially, one could say that even the 'necessary' time off for sick children and parent-teacher meetings are instead the results of choices made long ago, and part of the outside pursuit - parenting- that that person has chosen.

If parenting brings people, pleasure, shall we treat a request to see a little league game the same as a request for time off to see the Mariners? Does it matter that the Mariners won't miss us if we're not there, if being missed is part of the hobby of parenting?

Perhaps not. But it helps to start shifting perspective this way. The assumption that parents' needs are paramount is so ingrained, often this childfree person doesn't bother arguing it, as this article has.

See a similar, but lengthier article here and here.

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