Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What to expect when you're childless

The Herald - Ireland
Dublin medical professional Eileen Reilly (40), single and childless, has struggled with the realisation that she may never have a baby.

"I think a lot of women without children feel less valued by society than women with children. They feel they are viewed as 'less than' or invisible. The standard expectations are that you go to school, get a job, meet a partner and start a family ... in that order!" Eileen says.

"If your life doesn't follow that course, it makes you different. If you are single and childfree you can be made to feel as if you haven't quite become a grown-up, or you're not a proper woman. If you have chosen to not have children you can be viewed as selfish or uncaring, not a proper woman cause you don't want kiddies," Eileen feels.
 Ms. Reilly is childless, but I think her observations are relevant to both camps - childfree by choice and not-by-choice.  The article goes on to discuss the CBCs, and discusses the typical issues of how society treats us from an Irish point of view.

The specific idea that we're not treated as grown-ups is a big issue for a lot of childfree people.  Men who don't want kids (or marriage, or either) are assumed to be in an unending adolescence.  Clearly their shirking their duty to procreate (or marry)  only because they are immature and afraid of responsibility.  Nevermind that such men often have a mortgage or important careers.  Even if they don't - so what?  If a 35 year old man wants to live alone and play video games and drink beer, why is it anyone's business but his own?  I don't buy into the idea that any man owes society some sort of obligation here.  With so many men shirking responsibility to the kids they fathered, I think we should be applauding those smart enough to know they don't wish to care for, or support a child.

As for women, I think our issues are a bit different, if only because the media doesn't realize we also drink beer and play video games.  It isn't that we're in some unending girlhood, which would require a lot more time spent at the mall and on the phone.  It is more that we're in this limbo of young adulthood, transitioning directly into to spinsterhood if we're also single.  There's a part of our essential identity that we're forever lacking, forever seen as a driven career woman in the style of a 1980s ball-busting feminist or just some mysterious "other" that isn't quite what she's supposed to be.

I think this is changing, though.  Here in NYC, childfreedom is becoming more normal and more common, and I am usually treated as a full adult from my friends and family (for them, the transitional point was graduating college).  However, through the miracle of Facebook I can see firsthand how my 30-something childfree friends who live elsewhere are still treated as children.  I hear tales of childfree adults sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving, and read derisive comments by family members on their walls.

We New Yorkers are often trendsetters, are we not?  I remain hopeful that my experiences will someday be the norm and not the exception.

1 comment:

Vinny C said...

I think for some, without the major life milestones, it's difficult to put people in a recognizable box so they know how they should relate to them. There's probably a host of reasons for this, from psychologists putting us in "stages" we can get stuck at, to the general institutional ideas in which if you're not making forward progress (going to a next grade level, getting promoted, etc) that you're stagnating or even being left behind. So if you're 35 and playing video game and drinking beer, and you don't have kids, somehow you're still in an "early 20s" stage. And if you're doing that but you have a kid, it's ok, since you still achieved that milestone.

We have this idea, which may be particular to Americans, I don't know, that if you have the potential to do something nominally positive, you have to do it, regardless of whether or not it will make you happy. You like your job, but don't want to advance? There's something wrong with you. You can have kids but choose not to? There's something wrong with you. It's like the tall kid in high school; if he doesn't want to play basketball, we're kind of annoyed at him.