The Normalization Of Not Having Children

Love, Family

In the US today, more couples are choosing not to have children than ever before.

Between 2007 and 2011 the US fertility rate declined 9%. Childlessness has doubled since 1970 among all racial and ethnic groups. In the 2004 Census the proportion of child-free women aged 15-44 was 44.6%, and it has increased since then.

The United States is on the leading edge of this cultural shift.  It is becoming normal to not have children, in spite of historical and evolutionary pressures.

“The cultural bias against childless couples is so strong that husbands and wives cannot choose non-parenthood freely — they know they will be branded selfish, shallow and neurotic” appeared in Time magazine in 1972.

This set of adjectives is recycled in 2015 with Eliza Berman’s Time article entitled “‘Selfish, Shallow and Neurotic’: How the Conversation on Childlessness Got Started”, and revised for the title of Meghan Daum’s essay collection “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids”.

I'm ready to hear more compassionate terms for those of us who for whatever reasons have not had children.

We're almost half of the population, and we're not any more selfish than most parents. Sure, parents are likely to put all of their energies into their children, but how is that not selfish?

The defense and support of one’s progeny is self-serving in many ways. Really, all people are selfish. We have to be. If we don’t take care of ourselves, nobody else is likely to. If we don’t give our energies to what we care about, it might not get done.

The problem with having children is that can substitute for other significant work. Children take so much time and energy that most parents justify their expenditure by believing that their children are the most important thing in the world. Their emotions and animal bonding say so.

But what if they are not? Individuals may be important, but perhaps not the most important thing. There are other worthwhile endeavors besides parenting, for instance, one could invest in other projects that beneficially impact life on earth.

Among childless women, there is a collective resentment that arises around Mother’s Day each year. We all have mothers. We know that having children does not automatically make you a superior human.

Not having children does also not make you a self-absorbed twit or an object of pity. A little kindness all around would do wonders for my attitude about misbehaving children in public spaces and parents who are either helicopters, or neglectful.

This resentment could be construed as sour grapes. Some would say that I want what parents have, hence my bitterness. Truthfully, I want it all, but nobody gets that. We take what opportunities we have, and live with the results. Each life has different blessings.

Jesus of Nazareth had no children, but his insights persist.

There are reasons to skip childbearing, ranging from earth’s diminished resources and world instability, to the pursuit of advanced education and a meaningful career. Having babies is one way to acquire an intimate bond with another human being. 

If a woman has unhappy relationships, lackluster employment and no inspiration to do something creative in the world, a child is an easy route to fulfillment. (Except for the fact that children are a huge stress on a marriage.)

The Evolutionary Imperative is that we must procreate to perpetuate our species. Animal instinct drives us to be sexual, and sexuality automatically generates offspring in fertile couples, it's simply biology. 

Nations and religions encourage procreation, and dogma is perpetuated by the enculturation of new generations. The survival of our species, nations, and religions, depends on other things too.  Without clean air and water, food and safety, no amount of birthing babies will save us.

The moral high ground of the future will be based on evidence, not on faith. There are too many opposing faiths — they cannot all be right.

It is possible to believe things that prove to be false. As US society absorbs the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and adjusts to the endurance of the 1973 legalization of abortion, we are learning just how painful culture change can be.

The passing of generations is often necessary to complete cultural paradigm shifts. Our ability to respect people whose lives we do not understand will serve us well in the search to find common ground and a fruitful collective future.  Childless adults will play a large part in the world we create.