Talking to Meghan Daum About Selfishness, Being Childless by Choice
It’s not just Southern Baptists and evangelical Christians who have turned the nuclear family into an idol – secular society does so as well. This interview discusses that topic, among others.
- … By email, Daum and I discussed everything from why childless-by-choice people are often forced to produce a “why?” for the (sometimes) well-intentioned crowd who demand an explanation for their decision to not procreate; the hubbub around egg freezing; what drives people to remain child-free; and why the phrase “child-free” itself needs to be retired.
- … [Interviewer Question]
- It’s ironic that so many parents and want-to-be-parents have opinions about childless-by-choice people—and yet if a childless-by-choice person so much as elicits an opinion about children, it’s seen as extremely rude. Do you think there will ever be a happy meeting point between the two sides?
We must get away from the idea that parents and non-parents are adversaries. I think this notion is in many ways a media creation—nothing generates clicks like incendiary articles along the lines of “I didn’t know real love until I became a parent”—but unfortunately this kind of logic has seeped into the public consciousness and became part of the conventional wisdom.
I’ve written about childlessness by choice periodically over the years, always emphasizing the point that choosing not to have kids is actually a way of showing respect for parenting (at least good parenting) and is ultimately good for kids because it creates a society in which kids are truly wanted.
And I can’t tell you how many otherwise smart, thoughtful, educated people have said to me, “You know, I never thought about it that way until you put it in those terms. I always just assumed people who didn’t want kids were selfish.”
That message is so ingrained in the culture that even people who question lots of other things often never think to question it.
This book is coming at a time when it seems that fertility and parenthood have been placed on a very high pedestal. Is that a coincidence?
I think that shift is happening for a lot of different reasons and on a lot of different levels. For starters, women are delaying childbearing until quite literally the 11th hour and that results in fertility problems that demand technological interventions that make the stakes very high and would drive anyone mad.
We’ve also got a culture where social media, particularly Facebook, has made the nuclear family unit into a form of public relations.
Jennifer Senior, who wrote the terrific book about contemporary middle and upper middle class parenting, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, has cited the work of the psychologist Jerome Kagan.
Kagan’s theory is that, starting in the 1980s or so, people started using parenting as a way of expressing their moral and civic virtue. As participation in churches or civic organizations decreased, we began to see a rise in a kind of showmanship around parenting. I think that makes a lot of sense.
It’s a way for people to say, “This is who we are, this is what we believe in” and even, of course, “This is how we’re superior to others.” Seems like a lot of pressure to put on kids.
- … Finally, if there’s one thing you’d want your readers to take away from Selfish, what would it be?
That this is not a discussion about choosing not to do something as much as a discussion about all the different ways there are to be a responsible, caring adult in the world. “It takes a village” is a cliché by now, but I have to say it’s also true.
It’s actually good for kids to grow up in a world where not every adult is someone’s parent. It’s good for parents to live in communities where not every person is wrapped up in raising his or her own kids.
So this book—and this whole conversation—is for everyone. It’s for people who’ve already made this choice, for people who are on the fence, and for people who have kids. I’d go so far as to say it would make a great Mother’s Day gift. Then again, flowers are good, too.
(Link): How Christians Have Failed on Teaching Maturity and Morality Vis A Vis Marriage / Parenthood – Used as Markers of Maturity Or Assumed to be Sanctifiers – Also: More Hypocrisy – Christians Teach You Need A Spouse to Be Purified, But Also Teach God Won’t Send You a Spouse Until You Become Purified
(Link): Totally Obnoxious Parent: Childless Couple Who Donates to Childrens Charities Lambasted by Snotty Adult Sister for Not Showering Her Kids with Christmas Presents – Parents Who Discriminate Against the Childless or Childfree