Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Gift of Life (I hope you kept the receipt)

In reading the response to a childfree author's review of a parenting book, I came across quite a few of the common "bingo" responses directed at the non-childed.

One responder wondered if childfree people like me felt guilty about being given the gift of life, education, childhood, etc. but was not going to pay that back by having children of my own. (The question was phrased in such a way to suggest I should feel such guilt.) Presumably I am supposed to feel guilty that I am not returning the favor. Returning it to my parents, society, the species, the universe, I’m not sure which.

What I hear in that argument is the suggestion that I was born with the obligation to reproduce. I would have to ask my mother about that, I guess. My take on that: if I was given something that came with such massive, life-altering obligations, I would not consider that a gift. To my mind, a gift is something given generously without strings attached. If giving it means the recipient goes into debt, then that is hardly a gift. When I get a new ATM card from my bank, I would hardly call that a wonderful, selfless gift from the bank.

Being born is a gift in the sense that I never asked for it. I never signed a contract and never gave my consent to the social contract that having a pulse requires me to get someone pregnant. It’s sort of like being kidnapped and then legally obligated to pay my own ransom. Or being kidnapped and then sentenced to jail because I was involved in my own kidnapping.
Also, I have zero children, which means my children don’t exist, so it seems odd that I would owe something to people who don’t exist and who never will exist. It also seems extreme to pay my gift forward by burdening my children with the same debt that I was burdened with. Presumably my children would take on the same debt to reproduce, like a chain of debt that passes down through the generations, like serfdom or chattel slavery.

I keep hearing that this is what’s wrong with this country, that this generation keeps putting the next generation in debt with our actions today. At least, that’s what I associate with political conservatives, ironically many of the people who expect that I should feel guilty that I am not reproducing, not putting my children into reproductive debt.
If there is a debt to society that is to be repaid by reproducing, then what is the message to those who are unable to have children? Are they tragic figures who will take a horrible debt to their graves? If I'm supposed to feel guilty for choosing not to have children, it sounds to me like childless people are supposed to feel shame for being failures. That sounds pretty heartless to me. I don't believe that's true.

If choosing not to have children is by definition ungrateful and selfish, then I guess that means that Mother Teresa was just a self-centered, ungrateful waste of space. (The only thing I have in common with her is that I’m childfree. It’s an extreme example, I grant you.) Everyone who becomes a priest, nun, or monk must simply be a selfish loafer unwilling to sacrifice anything for others, too stuck in their carefree lifestyle to do the responsible thing. F***ing party animals.

Life is a gift. Know what else are gifts? Freedom, rationality, common sense, foresight, a sense of social responsibility, choices, opportunities, the ability to plan, independence from peer pressure, birth control technology, and knowledge of human reproduction. Not to mention travel, career opportunities, financial independence, pleasures of life, free time, peace, and quiet.

There are thousands and thousands of people who worked for centuries to make sure that people could have more control over their reproductive choices.  I’m grateful for their sacrifice, and I honor them by being thoughtful and responsible about my reproductive decisions. It would be a slap in the face, a rejection of scientific knowledge, to make an ignorant, irresponsible decision one way or the other.

I do owe my parents quite a bit. They shaped me into the person I am today. After teaching me to be a responsible, thoughtful person, I want to respect their sacrifice by making the best decision for myself. And, if I can learn from their mistakes and not follow in the footsteps of their mistakes, that truly is a wonderful gift.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pity Accepted

I have heard people say that they feel sorry for childless or childfree people. I have mixed feelings about that. It sounds condescending and patronizing. It sounds like someone saying he knows what’s good for me more than I do. It sounds like an insult disguised as warmth.

But, okay, I hereby accept the sympathy of the childed. I accept that I am a valid recipient of your pity. My life lacks the purpose or rewards that a life with children brings. Thank you. I welcome your sympathy.

Now, let’s see what we can do with that pity. I would now like to explore how far it goes. I hope in your mercy you will be willing to extend the same income tax breaks to me that parents get. After all, the phantom children that I am supposed to have deserve just as much consideration as other children do. I hope in your appreciation for how empty my life is that you will be willing to let me take the same time off work that you do. I hope you will remember my piercing loneliness and not mention your children in every conversation that you have with me. I pray that you understand how much I envy you, so please limit your complaints about how hard it is to be a parent.

Or, as I saw on a postcard recently:
"I don't envy you because of your baby. I envy your maternity leave."

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Children Integer

(I've been following numerous threads on being childfree and what that means. As a result, I have a few things I'm mulling over for this blog.)
Everyone has a number of children. My number is zero. Other people choose (or have) one, two, three, etc. Many people who have more than zero decide to stop at the number they have. Some stop at one, two, three, etc. I have decided to stop at zero. Zero is the optimal number for my life. When people ask me if I have children, I think I’ll tell them “I have zero children.”

Some people arrive at the number after considerable thought, some do not. Some overthink it, some don't think enough. In some cases, the optimum may actually be a different number than the current number. I would say if you are going to be off, better to err on the side of underestimation -- better to have fewer children than you can handle than to have more children than you can handle.
I like to think this could be a bridge between those who are childed and those who are not. Can't we just see this as a number, just like any other? 

A number is a number is a number. Mine is zero. What's yours?