February 25, 2006

Children For Gain?

I've had some African-American men act as if I had disrespected their manhood when I told them I had no interest in having children. Unfortunately, we still live in a society where racism and disparity based on race still exists. For some in the African-American community, especially those beset by poverty, having children is a sign that they do have control over something. It is a badge of honor, proof that they are worthwhile.

A couple of years ago, the topic of being African-American and childfree came up on an message board I used to frequent. Several women of color had stated that they were happy to be childfree and post their reasons why they choose the lifestyle. One man was extremely offended. He wrote, "I hate women who won't get with a man and have babies." It was then pointed out to him that some of the women who posted had written that they were in loving relationships, but this meant nothing to the angry man. Another man left several rants about how all African-American women should make having children a high priority in order not to allow other minorities to make gains over us. He also wrote that those of us who choose to be childfree were helping the white man fashion more plans to eradicate the race.

I read those responses and shook my head. What does my not wanting to be a parent have to do with race, economics and politics? It is a preference of mine based on what I am willing or not willing to tolerate in my life.

Has anyone else--regardless of your race, creed, color, religious beliefs--been told that you should have children to keep another race from being the dominate group? To gain economic power for your race? To gain or maintain political power? To raise them up in a religion that is allegedly more correct than other religions?


NikkiJ said...

""Has anyone else--regardless of your race, creed, color, religious beliefs--been told that you should have children to keep another race from being the dominate group? To gain economic power for your race""

No, but it would be interesting to know who gains the economic power. Not women. The research is mounting that shows that if an economically active woman decides she wants to take time out to have and raise children she stands to lose heavily in terms of her career, earning power (several hundred thousand $), and future work opportunities that typically would lead to career progression and advancement. So, many women although they love their work are stepping of the career track into an area where their economic power is severely reduced - raising children. Unfortunately,working part-time and career advancement are still incompatible in all but the most progressive of companies in North America, the UK and Europe. Scandanavian coutries are the exception. Men of course suffer no such limitations.

twiga92 said...

So glad to have found this blog and website! I've been reading through the past posts, and wanted to comment about having children "to raise them up in a religion that is allegedly more correct than other religions". I myself have not gotten a lot of flack for our choice to not have kids. My family and friends have been accepting of our decision. Usually I read about others getting flack for it. My husband and I are Christians and I read on Christian message boards how it is important to have children to raise them in a godly home to then go out and be witnesses for Christ to the world. My response is that there are no guarantees with kids. Just because we had kids and tried to raise them to be Christians doesn't mean they would make that choice.

I am very sure about our decision not to have kids, but sometimes I find it hard to be Christian and childfree. I don't think it is wrong, but I think there are a lot of Christians out there that think it is wrong to not have kids by choice. How sad!

NikkiJ said...

I was raised as a christian and was a very active church goer until a few years ago. I have never had flak from Christians either, but that may be because I'm not an active churchgoer these days. As Christians believe the Bible, and one of the tenets when it comes to children is "go forth and multiply" to them it means this is a good thing. At most Christian weddings being blessed with children is always mentioned as something to expect. I think it's the same with other religions too.

I know a quite a few women and men in my previous church who wanted children so badly, and not being able to have them, prayed every single day and night to God for a miracle that would enable them to have children, when they did, it was of course seen as prayers answered. Sometimes, of course the prayers were NOT answered (as is the way) and it is hard to describe the unhappiness and despair in these cases. Quite close friends of mine prayed for years to have a child. As it happens, they did have one - a boy- and to this day they call him their miracle child. He's about 10 now. It can be heart-rending to see what women who want kids so badly go through (it seems to consume their lives) and some simply cannot accept that they won't have a child and see it as a personal failing. So, I can partly understand why some Christians would feel it unthinkable or wrong for anyone to decide not to have children by choice. That's their view though from their place, and, since I am childfree, I can't identify with them.

And, most stories in the Bible refer to not being able to have children as being in a "barren" or "infertile" state, while having or being able to have them is equated with great riches, happeiness etc. And I'm sure it's not only Christians that call a child a miracle when it's been wanted for so long. As a Christian, praying to God for a child makes perfect sense.

Having said all this, my experience has been that people who believe it is somnehow wrong to decide not to have children are not necessarily Christians at all and don't need to be. Why? because, in general, society very clearly believes that a woman's role, purpose, crowing glory, zenith,raison d'etre or whatever you want to call it - is to have and raise children (even if it isn't said as overtly), and if you step off that path by deciding otherwise you are going against the status quo - both inside and outside the church. So when I meet with Christians, if we do talk about being childfree (unlikely) I don't expect them to be approving, but then, their opinions don't matter to me anyway. You have to follow what's right for you.

ChrisR said...

Eurgh, I really cringe at people who hold these women-as-breeding-stock ideas. Yuck!

It's right up there with 'but educated, intelligent people like you *should* have kids'.

Leaving aside all the nature/ nurture flaws behind that one, the implication is that only 'defective' (poor, less intelligent, whatever) people are having kids. Equally disgusting concept, people!

NikkiJ said...

I find those who believe that a women’s sole “purpose” is to have and raise children pretty ignorant. However, you probably would not be amazed at the number of women who actually believe that. Women with children, no surprise there, but I also have encountered that thinking in women who are trying to have babies. When women say they don’t feel “complete” or “ like a real woman” until or unless they’ve given birth – well, let’s just say they do women overall no favours whatsoever. If they only kept their opinion to themselves it would be tolerable, but no, they too often feel they have to impart it to people who are childfree… with the silent accusation that if you don’t have children you something less than a “Real Woman”.

NikkiJ said...

"It's right up there with 'but educated, intelligent people like you *should* have kids'".

Agree. Being a Brit, I keep up with whatever’s going on over there as well as in Canada, and this article was in the Sunday Times recently. Very interestingly there is currently a debate going in the UK. Your comment made me think of it. It is based around the fact that there is a baby gap, more precisely a gap of 92,000 babies in the UK. Some are worried because not enough babies are being born to take care of all the elderly dependents there are going to be. Not enough women are having children or else they are delaying having children. The issue, as the writer identified, is not that there aren’t enough babies being born. That could be taken care of by immigration. It is that there is a shortage of babies in respectable, middle-class, middle-income families. Here is an excerpt from the article written by Minnett Marin in the Times Online on Sunday Feb 26. When I read articles like this I remember one of the reasons I decided not to have children was the fact that I knew it would be difficult, if not impossible to “have it all”.
(Apologies for the length, but I thought it made interesting reading).

”Underlying all this anxiety seems to be a truth that is awkward to articulate among the bien pensant, but well understood. It’s not that there is a shortage of babies. It’s that there is a shortage of babies in respectable, middle-class, middle-income families. The rich and the poor are having plenty of babies. In upper-middle-class circles it is now a status symbol to have four or more children. Among the poor it is perfectly possible to have babies with or without a man or a job; the state will pay. Although it won’t pay much, it will offer as good a life as any other that seems available.
The women who are not having children are what would have been called in the 19th century the deserving mothers; they are hard working, competent and responsible but have come to recognise that they cannot, as feminism once promised, have it all. They either need to work or want to work, or both, but for those on middling incomes it is not possible to have lots of babies as well. It is too expensive and too risky — expensive in childcare and risky in job prospects. The recent IPPR study put out some rather questionable figures about the high opportunity cost — “the fertility penalty” — to women who have children early, but the point has been glaringly obvious for years.
The call goes up, therefore, for universal affordable childcare subsidised by the taxpayer. A nanny at home is for the rich only. Pressure groups and feminists call instead, with at least a hint of realism, for more institutional care for infants and toddlers in subsidised nurseries. Yet evidence mounts up that this kind of care is bad for infants and young children. Any Martian could look up recent studies which show this inconvenient finding.
Meanwhile, those women who do have more babies are what you might call the undeserving mothers and the extraordinary inconsistency, from a Martian’s point of view, is that they are rewarded for it, just as low-income fathers are significantly better off if they abandon their families.
What (broadly) distinguishes those who don’t have babies from those who do is the real cost of housing. Rich women and poor women on benefits are protected from it and it does not affect their decisions about having babies. By contrast, the middling sort of mother is burdened with a high rent or mortgage. On top of that she is highly taxed (unlike the poor or the rich) and increasingly taxed to pay for less deserving mothers. This is ludicrous. “
End of article.

Anonymous said...

I had to carve out some serious quiet time to read all the comments here. My appreciation for all these comments. This is just what I was hoping would happen. Having more voices, and from differing perspective, nationalities and ethnicities gives us depth and wisdom. This is the best the internet has to offer. Thank you all for participating in this contructive dialogue.

NJ -- I really appreciate that you are both banker and a woman. The economic perspective is the serious side to this conversation. We are not just talking about modern female identity, our livelyhoods (i.e. our incoming earning ability) is very much a part of the decision to raise a family, not to mention limits on personal freedom and achievement. Women are still expected to do most of the child-rearing when it comes time to raising a family. Maybe it's different in Denmark.

Twiga92 -- So glad you discovered the PW website and team blog. Please visit regularly and tell a few friends. I really appreciate your giving us the Christian Childfree side of things. I viewed your Childfree Rants and Rambles blog. We seem to be of like mind! Would you consider becoming a contributor to PW? Perhaps that would allow you to focus on the other blogs you administer? It would be a great boon to us. Please send me an email if you want to explore this idea more.

NJ -- One more thing, I really appreciate the excerpt from the British pub. Correct me if it is wrong, but isn't the McGinty government in Canada trying to support childcare for working "parents" right now? We just had a big election and that was top headlines after election day. Do you think that would level the playing field a bit for parents of middle income?

To clarify, I am an American blogging from Toronto, Canada and California is really home.

We have lots of perspectives on the Purple Women blog!

NikkiJ said...

""Do you think that would level the playing field a bit for parents of middle income?""
It might, but I think it will be a long time before it reaches the level that working parents really want. It seems to me that it is always trotted out in times of elections though, in order to appear the "family friendly" party.

Although Toronto isn't as expensive as London (and I should also clarify here that I'm a Brit who lives in Toronto, have done for the past 4 years)it is getting there very fast. The average asking price for a house in the GTA is now around $cdn 400,000. This is not a "high-end home". A few of our friends are trying to buy houses and can't believe the bidding wars for anything decent (and a lot of rubbish)in the GTA especially in child friendly areas. In desperation, in order to at least get on the ladder they are considering buying condos, or renting. As one of my friends who is a realtor said, a million $ does not buy you much these days. Neither does a million GBP.

Being childfree has given me (and my husband) a lot of precious freedom and opportunity and a lot more choice. We chose where we wanted to buy our home based on us and not childen or future children. So we were able to live right downtown in a beutiful condo. And we saved on the expense of having a car - we don't need one and take the TTC walk or cab. We could have bought a house - but we didn't want to live so far out that we had to have a car. We both love living downtown,something that would have been impossible with even one child. My point is that we sat down and thought about these things, something that I find many child free people do, but people with children seem not to do. More about that later... I would not be surprised if we have many more people deciding to be childfree in the years to come. It's already happening.

NikkiJ said...

I should have said in my last post "that people with childern tend not to do so as much".
I do find that if you talk with childfree people, you find that they have put a lot of thought into their decision not to have children. Whether this is ecomomic, the or otherwise. How many people with children do that? I remember a while back when I was in my decision mode that a woman said to me of having children "well ,it's just what you do isn't it?" And when the cost of bringing up a child is touched on (well over $600,000 it's estimated) the comment is "well, you just manage, muddle through don't you? If everyone thought of the cost, no-one would have babies!" Hmmm - is that a good reason not to consider the cost though? The cost of a car, a house, relocating,even a holiday (vacation) is considered before undertaking them... but it's considered mercenary to think of what it will cost to bring up a child. Interesting, isn't it? This is why I have little or no sympathy when mothers/parents go on and on about childcare, working hours, lack of family friendly VP positions, and the other myriad of things things they complain about.

NikkiJ said...

Teri, your point about the economics is spot on. Women still do 90% of child rearing (and household chores) in addition to holding down a job if they still want to work – and often there is no choice. I wonder that more women don’t consider the economics before they embark on having children. Happily it seems that more young women are doing this, seeing their counterparts struggle with working and raising children, (not to mention the guilt of those trying to do both) and are not liking what they see. Some are re-considering whether to have children, if they want to have a career.

One of my good friends has a very good job she enjoys and two young boys. When she finishes her job, 9-5.30, she goes home to do the Second Shift… yes it is real. I have seen it in action. I say to her I don’t know how she does it. And, she has a live in nanny! (She and her husband can afford it, but she has to work). Incidentally, I think she would go spare if she was home all day, every day with the children, but that’s another story.