As we entered the new century, not that long ago, the most common European standard for a family was still 2 plus 1, just as it had been during the last couple of decades. This marked a significant change from the preceding period, which was the era of the baby boom. Sadly that image is changing with more and more couples taking the kid out of the equation entirely. Together with my partner, Jana, I was asked to write an article about voluntary childlessness, and for some time we have been struggling to choose the best format for this article. We decided that a transcript of our conversation on this topic would be the best option.
Lukasz: So, here we are, with glasses of wine and a couple of months of a relationship behind us, and they ask us to talk about NOT having children… About voluntary childlessness which comes when a person has the physical, environmental, and most of all financial capability to have children but chooses not to. Please, tell me my dear, would you like to have children?
Jana: Yes, but later on, when life is more stable.
L.: When will you know that the right time has come?
J.: When I am satisfied with my life, but I am not talking only about my career, it is more about a position in society. To be able to have a job, which will not only provide an income but also fulfillment and pleasure. Otherwise, I am afraid that I am not going to feel comfortable and balanced.
L.: You mentioned work and your own career, but let’s say for the sake of this discussion that it takes two to have and raise children, so what if the partner has all that?
J.: Well, let’s put it this way, you never know what surprises your life has for you. No matter what happens: accidents, health issues, cheating, or anything else, you have to be secure. You need to have a plan B.
L.: What you mean is that the threat of single-parenting falls under that “plan B?”
J.: Yes, of course. The word “threat” is a perfect term, as not everyone is ready for such a big responsibility. I think that in many cases it is exactly that risk that keeps people from having children. They are afraid of not having a good partner, of being alone with the task, looking at all the obstacles that might come. So, they end up convincing themselves that they are more stable without children.
L.: That’s true, and what is more, I would say, that those who choose childless lives are cowards.
J.: Isn’t that too strong a word?
L.: You need to understand that when I say “cowards,” I mean educated, well brought up, financially well-established young healthy people, who openly admit that they do not want children. At the same time, I can find rational considerations supporting their decisions, because, historically speaking, there’s no surprise in the contemporary retreat from building a family due to the global economic situation. The current crisis can be compared to The Great Depression of the 1930s, when people started to delay marriage and the incidence of people choosing childlessness increased greatly, from 10 to 20 percent. On the other hand, our society went too far, and pages like childfree.net are quite scary. On such sites people, who consider themselves to be “childFREE – free of the loss of personal freedom, money, time and energy that having children requires,” find support from others like themselves and encourage those who haven’t chosen to act the same, which should be discouraged by any means.
J.: Exactly! What is interesting is that they put the emphasis on money! Are people really so obsessed with it? Of course we need to note that the transition that we now see in the modern world, especially the Western reality, is based on many and various factors: growing individualism and consumerism; the weakening of traditional imperatives and basics governing family life; secularization of culture and family life; less moral stigma; rising number of women’s movements; sexual revolution; educational trends; technological improvements in birth control supported by legislation (e.g. legalization of abortion in some countries); women’s need for economic independence (fight for employment and wages, delay marriage and fertility to establish careers, personal welfare). There are many more examples to give, but most of them have one thing in common – money.
L.: The deeper essence of this problem is also demonstrated through such projects as “Childless by Choice” (http://www.childlessbychoiceproject.com/) under Laura Scott’s supervision. As the author pointed out, the choice to be childfree can be influenced by even more factors: “peers, partners, parents, siblings, fears, hopes, ideals, dreams, belief systems, the world around (…), and (…) sense of self.” With that in mind I would add the above mentioned “cowards and egoists.” What really interests me here is the fact that this discussion has risen up in the most developed countries, whereas the more traditional and less industrialized parts of the world are still seeing kids as the way to live a happy and successful life.
J.: I agree, but you have to admit that “producing” children just to have a workforce that can provide for the family is some sort of pathology.
L.: Of course. What we, as a society, should aim for is finding a balance.
J.: I’ve noticed people in “our” part of the world can be thrown out of balance quite easily, as they get manipulated by the media and follow the example of celebrities. There are some high profile people who strongly stand behind traditional family values – that’s true, but lately the opposite voice is louder. Like Cameron Diaz, who said in an interview for Cosmopolitan that she thinks, “women are afraid to say that they don’t want children because they’re going to get shunned… I have more girlfriends who don’t have kids than those that do. And honestly? We don’t need any more kids. We have plenty of people on this planet.” I am sure that a lot of women listened and many will follow. Just like with fashion. Oh, I just remembered, that I once read an essay that wrote that those who stay without kids are more energetic and stay young longer, while all the parents are, if I’m not mistaken, “worn out, wrinkled, and exhausted.”
L.: That’s funny, but if people who are raised in the most protected reality see the matter this way, then it means there is no hope. The most developed part of our society will continue to age, giving space for others. It is up to us right now to design the world of tomorrow, and children are an essential part of it. They are our tomorrow. I really hope we do not need another war for the developed world to wake up, and we do not need another post-war baby boom to sustain the future of nations.
J.: You seem dark, and gloomy, but what about those who just want to be free from any burdens, from thinking about the future. Don’t they deserve some respect?
L.: From my side? It can be acceptance, it can be understanding, as freedom is incredibly important for me as well, but respect? Sorry, but no. There are many examples to show that being a parent doesn’t stop people from, for instance, travelling. In Poland there is a big community of “adventurous families,” who share their experiences and promote cherishing family values and not giving up on dreams (http://www.klubnomadow.pl/ ). It stands strong as an opposition to people like some Facebook users and members of the “Childfree” group, who post notes like: “our cats give me fulfillment and take care of the slight maternal instincts I have,” or “I want to keep travelling with my husband even longer,” or “I want to come home to a peaceful house at the end of the day and have a martini.” Is parenting and being free easy to combine? Of course. So forgive me, and I hope our readers will do as well, but respecting people who are saying that children would become their cage is out of the picture for me. Are you afraid that kids will stop you from having a career, from being free? Use the example of those who succeeded in being parents and doing all the rest at the same time. You like to repeat the words: “You never know,” and my answer is: “There’s always a way.”
J.: In general I agree with you, and I need to admit that I do not even know anyone who is actually voluntarily childless, do you?
L.: Yes, and in those cases I see clearly that their choice comes from two main factors. One is overthinking, which is so typical for overeducated and intellectual types (which is a great paradox). Overthinking personal and individual future, money, freedom, and so on. And the second one is fear. Being terrified of parenting.
J.: At this point in my life I can partially agree with the second reason, as I think I need a little bit more time to be ready for children, to be able to raise them to be good people. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine not having them… [after a short pause] I am happy that we were asked to talk and write about this topic.
J.: It needs to be discussed in public, because we cannot escape the fact that with every year, if nothing changes, the bigger part of our society is going to take the kid out of the equation. Unacceptable is the situation where your surroundings pressure you to go one way or the other. Did you know that voluntarily childless people in the 1970s were described even by scientists as “deviants,” because they were not doing like the vast majority? That’s sick. As Polly Vernon wrote for The Observer: “Childlessness is going to be a feature in many of our lives; we need to start seeing it as a choice, a valid option, rather than a failing.” It shouldn’t be taboo. The other question is IF our society can afford not to have children? But let’s leave that question open.
L.: For the readers to decide?
J.: Yes. For everyone to make their own choices.