Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Kid Debate

During the last couple of weeks, Maclean's Magazine has highlighted a raging debate between the "childless by choice" faction and the "why would anyone choose not to have children?" faction. Ann Kingston’s cover story article, The Case Against Having Kids (Aug. 3), has stirred such a pot of emotion that over 1000 people have weighed in with their commentary, mostly to rage against the argument that having kids is not the be-all end-all of life. The basic premise of the article is not so much that having kids is not a good idea, but rather that couples are unjustly judged as being selfish and unnatural (almost defective) if they choose not to have children. Kingston mentions a number of books that have recently flooded the bookstores about the subject, starting with Corinne Maier’s No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children. Throughout the article she cites other similar books, and identifies a number of celebrities and prominent people who have decided not to have kids and are proud to proclaim it. The point of the article seems to be that the “childless by choice” are finally standing up to the “ignorant masses” who judge them.

Because of the strong reactions elicited from this topic, Kingston wrote a subsequent article:
The No Kids Debate Continues
. Here, she recaps many of the comments posted by readers including one from a woman who chose to have kids and now regrets it. Parenting is not what it’s cracked up to be, she implies. “Clearly the subject struck a nerve,” Kingston writes. “Parents were outraged.” One woman commented, “I presume you’re going to give equal space to “The Case For Having Kids.””

What surfaced for me when reading these articles, and many of the comments, was how intolerant and judgmental each side was of the other, and how both sides seemed to be missing a very important point. Having children or not having children is a personal decision and who am I, or anyone, to presume what is right for someone else? My choice to have children and another’s choice not to have children should not be judged—period.

I have wonderful friends who have chosen not to have children because they have embarked on a different kind of life journey. They work hard, travel extensively, enjoy their country home, and get pleasure from other people’s children. For them, this is the right decision. Years ago, Oprah publicly declared that she did not want to have children because she knew she couldn’t be a good parent and thrive in her life's work. Katharine Hepburn made the same decision decades earlier. For these women, it was the right thing to do.

I know people who don’t have a lot of money but chose to have four children. They both come from large families, they love each other, and they adore kids. For them, this was a great decision.

I know a woman who is married to an older (set-in-his-ways) man and although she would love to have a family, she does not think it would be good for their marriage, or for the child. For her, this is the right decision.

All these people have made the best choice for their own lives. What is there to judge? I’m amazed and appalled that the topic has caused such controversy. All the arguing about, and judgment towards each position seems futile. And it dismisses the fact that some people don’t even have the privilege to choose.What seems to be missing entirely from the discussion is the fact that the “child-free” (as they like to call themselves) and the “child-ful” are extremely fortunate to even have a choice. How extraordinarily grateful they all should be. Those who decide to have children (and are able to) should be thankful every day. And those who choose not to have children should be grateful they can still enjoy an intimate relationship without worrying about conceiving a child they do not want. Thanks to birth control, we now have power over our own child-creating destiny. Fifty years ago, physically, sociologically, and for some, theologically, there was no such choice.

Many people are desperate for children, but cannot have them. Infertile couples, singles, and same-sex partners, are often devastated by their limited options. These are the people for whom I have great empathy, not for the folks ranting about their right to remain childless. And for those who claim that having children is the only life worthwhile having, they should consider their good fortune in being able to fulfil their own personal dreams.

1 comment:

  1. Well said once again Carla - at one time I was sure I did not want children, but time and age changed my tune and needless to say, I'm happy it did. It is a very personal choice and not one to be judged.