February 18, 2008

The Influence of Culture

I have been researching and writing about the childless by choice in North America for four years. One thing I have learned is many of us are pressured to have kids, or stigmatized because we don’t, because of the culture in which we live.

The culture may be a mixture of religion, race, family, or tradition, but the results are the same. Our decision making and our coping mechanisms are influenced by our culture.
I recently signed a book deal with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, to write a book on the Childless by Choice in North America. Yesterday I was working on a chapter in which I profile couples who have arrived at their decision to remain childfree in very different ways. The couples I interviewed are a very diverse group. Some are children of immigrants from India and the Middle East, some are atheists, some are lapsed Catholics, some are devout Jews. Each of them has found their own unique way of navigating what is very often a pronatalist culture.

As a young black woman, how do you remain childfree in a culture where fathering a child is considered a critical rite of passage for most of the young males of your race? Do you date outside your race, do you remain single or celibate, or do you defend yourself by arming yourself with condoms and praying he knows how to use one, or by going to your doctor and begging for a tubal ligation?

If you are an observant Jew do you pass as infertile, do you isolate yourself, do you lie when asked why you haven’t done your part to produce a child for the tribe. The future of Israel is at stake!

It’s tough. So tough in fact that I have yet to meet an observant, orthodox Jewish woman who is intentionally childless, or a African American couple who remained childfree through a lasting, fertile marriage or partnership. I know they exist. They are out there, I’m sure of it. It’s just that I have not met them, even though I have worked and lived along side orthodox Jews and I have mentored young black women.

Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of knowing so many others, who despite being raised in a culture that assumed parenthood for all their members, became one of the few who resisted the pressure, based on a hard-won sense of who they were and what they truly wanted. (Click here for a short excerpt of a Mexican couple who did just that.)

The decision to remain childfree is not made in a vacuum. You may be caucasian, 5th generation American, atheist, and surrounded by childless and childfree siblings and friends, but you probably still had a parent who hoped for a grandchild one day; who said,
"You would be a good parent if you just put your mind to it."

[Flickr photo by Stephanie Booth - cc]
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Cherry Red said...

I discovered your blog a few weeks ago, and have been visiting from time to time, reading old posts and clicking on the various links. Thank you for being here!

I am a 39 year old woman who is childless by choice. My husband (42) and I have been married 15 years and we dated for 8 years before we were married. We didn't live together--we were both raised Catholic--we just met young and were saving our money to buy a home and pay for our wedding.

I guess you'd call me an early articulator. I've known ever since I was a child that I'd never go through a pregnancy and didn't want to be a parent. My mother said she waited for me to ask her the question, "where do babies come from?" but I never did. I once asked her WHY people had children and also if you HAD to have children, but never where they came from. I guess since I always knew I wasn't having any, I didn't much care.

It's tough having adults give you that all-knowing smile and tell you, "you'll change your mind." like they know your mind better than you do. Well, I'll be 40 in July, and I haven't changed it yet. In fact, that might be the one good thing about nearing 40, people don't tell me that much any more.

At first, the hubby and I told people if we changed our mind we'd adopt an older child--everyone wants the babies. We still feel no real inkling to do that and, at this point, I seriously doubt we ever will.

The tough part is that so many of our friends put off having children to concentrate on college and careers, but have just started having kids in their mid 30's and early 40's. A couple we used to enjoy getting together with are due to have their second child any day now, she's 42 and he's 45 and their first child isn't even 2 yet. We'd thought by now we'd meet people whose kids are older, but it doesn't seem to be the case for us.

Lately family fuctions are odd too. I'm an only child, but the hubby has an older brother and younger sister. His brother has 2 boys, ages 16 and 20. His sister's little girl is 2 1/2. When his sisiter had her daughter people started paying attention to us, to see our reaction to her. It's no secret I am partial to little girls (I don't hate kids, I just never wanted to be a parent) and my niece tickles me to no end, but she deosn't make me want to be a parent and if that precious child doesn't, no child ever will.

Anyway, I just wanted to stop by and thank you for being here. I'm looking forward to participating in future discussions.


LauraS said...

hi Kim:
Thanks for being here, too.

I laughed when read "In fact, that might be the one good thing about nearing 40, people don't tell me that much any more."

Ditto, I loved turning forty, nobody say "it's not too late, you can have kids." My friend had an "unassisted" kid at 42, so I knew different, but I was glad not to be put on the spot.

I'm now 46, still on the pill, glad to be childfree. I never "changed my mind."

BTW, my hubby of 20 years just turned 60. He hasn't changed his mind either.

Teri said...

Laura - Congratulations on your book deal! I cannot wait to read it and review it here.

Cherry Red -- We welcome your voice here. Tell a friend too!

Cherry Red said...

Hi Laura and Teri,

Thank you for the warm welcomes. I have a couple of childfree friends and I will spread the word. I actually found your blog by clicking on your icon on a friend's blog.

To bring the conversation back to culture, I come from a large Italian Catholic family (Mom) and large Irish Catholic family (Dad). I don't really know my father's side of the family. My mother and I are the only people left in the family who consider ourselves Catholic, the rest of the family goes to Calvary Christian churches.

I am the only person on my side of the family who is childfree. Nearly everyone in my family is married by 20 and has her first child within the first year. I have first cousins with 4 and 5 children.

My husband's immediate and extended family are Catholic. My mother-in-law was born in Mexico and moved to CA after she got her degree. (His father is of European decent and was born in CA). Surprsingly enough, my mother-in-law has never said anything about our choice to remain childless. Once, she even told him our decision was smart.

In fact, when his older brother was married, I overheard her telling the newlyweds to wait a few years before they had children. They ended up getting pregnant like 2 months later and she didn't even try to hide the fact that she was angry about it. Proof positive a person's race/culture isn't always a predictor of her opinions on parenting, huh?

When I was a teen, I told my father I wasn't going to have children. I can still hear him telling me, "Oh, Kimberly, don't say that." My father had 3 daughters with his second wife, and he and his third wife adopted a baby boy only 5 years ago, when he was in his mid-50's and she in her late 40's.

It was kinda surreal to have a new brother at the age of 34. But if they're happy, I'm happy.

Thanks agin for the welcomes. Looking forward to more discussions,


PS. What are the rules regarding putting the Purple Women icon on my blog?

Teri said...

RE: the PW&F icon, all you have to do is send Teri an email. Click through on my profile in the sidebar.

It may take me a few days, but I will send it -- I promise.

Placing the icon in your sidebar is possible the absolute best way to promote this blog and greater awareness of our status as women, subtly.

Cherry Red said...

Thank you Teri,

Will do. The icon is how I found you and I'd love to help others find you as well. I'm so glad I did.


Athena said...

As I've mentioned before I am married to a Muslim Egyptian. He is the first childfree Muslim I know of. But I do wonder sometimes if there are others out there.