Why would I breed? life is better without kids
- by HANNAH BETTS
From: The Times August 10, 2013
THE current issue of the American edition of Time magazine shows a happy, relaxed couple, lounging under the banner: “The Childfree Life”. The accompanying article, by Lauren Sandler, is not the most radical pronouncement on the subject that you are likely to read (sample sentence: “Few women spend their girlhoods aspiring to an unencumbered life…”)
However, it attempts to explain why the birthrate in the US is the lowest in recorded history, including the fertility crash of the Great Depression, while the cultural pressure to breed has never felt greater.
“These women are inventing a new female archetype,” Sandler contends, “one for whom having it all doesn’t mean having a baby.”
And this in the land of motherhood and apple pie. When even the Yanks are acknowledging that breeding may be a tad passe without mention of global catastrophe, it seems that a certain tipping point may have been reached.
Meanwhile, here in Blighty, the television presenter Kate Humble, 44, has been expressing her incredulity over the collective interest in her abstention from reproduction. The former host of the BBC’s Springwatch remarked: “My maternal gene is missing. If I had wanted them I would have tried to have them, but I didn’t.”
Humble added that she resolved at 14 not to become a mother. “People are very judgmental, it’s as if I made a selfish decision not to have children, but I never, ever wanted them.”
The comments recalled historian Dr Lucy Worsley’s observations last year that she had been “educated out of the natural reproductive function”.
Worsley, 39, said: “I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy. I don’t think my life is wasted. It seems to fascinate people. I have become the poster girl for opting out of reproduction.”
Contentedly – I might say blissfully – childless at 42, my own life feels rather idyllic. I am stimulated by my career rather than stymied, have wonderful friends, charming lovers, some beloved relatives, and an abundance of sassy youngsters among my allies. I do not define myself by not having procreated; it merely feels irrelevant.
People, largely the more banal stranger, used to ask me impertinent questions about this sort of guff, but increasingly no one does, be they parents or no. These do you/don’t you, will you/won’t you inquiries feel anachronistically last century: all crudely, camply Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw. My decision not to avail myself of my fertility is no big deal – is, indeed, bog-standardly ordinary – and I consider myself no more defined by it than I did being childless at 20.
And so here we are: Humble, Worsley – and, yes, yours truly – all in the same generational cohort (44, 39, 42), all turning up our noses at nappies and their occupants. “Poster girls” we may be, but we are by no means unique. Latest estimates suggest that a quarter of British women of childbearing age will never have a baby.
The proportion of women without children has almost doubled since the Nineties, according to the Office for National Statistics, with one in five 45-year-olds remaining childless.
Among those with degrees and born between 1965 and 1978, the figure rises to 43 per cent, suggesting that Worsley may well have a point.
The only thing that strikes me as shocking about all this is that anyone is shocked by it. In reality, parenting is still largely regarded as women’s work. Men are commended for being “hands-on”, for having baby iconography on their desk and leaving work early for the odd infant appointment. Women, in contrast, remain routinely resented and sidelined for such behaviour; yet still get to do the lion’s share.
“But, oh,” the cultists clamour, “children bring joy, fulfilment, immanent metaphysical meaning.” Well, not so much. The pressure to breed would be more persuasive if those who have ventured there were not forever lamenting their lives. Mothers of my acquaintance routinely use metaphors of war, terrorism, hostage-taking, madness, Satanic possession and natural catastrophe to describe their relationship with their charges – and that’s on a good day, pre-Mumsnet wine o’clock.
A study by social scientist Dr Nattavudh Powdthavee, then of the University of York, argues that the notion that propagation fosters happiness is a “focusing illusion”, and that there is “almost zero association” between having children and contentment. “Parents spend much of their time attending to the very core processes of childcare: problems at school, cooking, laundry. It is these small but negative experiences that are more likely to impact on our day-to-day levels of happiness and life satisfaction.” In short, parenting’s a drag in which women continue to shoulder the burden.
Accordingly, the decision not to view parenting with rose-tinted spectacles is nothing more than logic. Our exquisite educations have prepared us for world domination, not the menial work of motherhood. We have a choice and we are exercising it.
… As for those who find themselves without offspring by chance rather than choice, a 45-year-old charity campaigner tells me: “There are people who don’t necessarily plan not to have them – and certainly do not abstain because they are career-oriented – but happily discover benefits that are a pleasant surprise.” Even when childlessness is not the life one seeks, it often proves far more rewarding than one imagined.
Related posts this blog:
(Link): The Child Free City