Friday, September 21, 2012

The Selfish Childless: A Rebuttal


My friend Karen Wilson over at Karen'sChronicles forwarded me an article by Joe O'Connor published in the National Post, and we both were so gobsmacked by Joe's ridiculous remarks that we're both writing responses. I suggest strongly that you read Joe's article first, then read on from here.

Joe starts off his tirade by titling it, 'Trend of Couples Not Having Children Just Plain Selfish.' Well, naturally that's meant to elicit a reaction from the crowd, and I won't deny it had me reading on pretty quickly. Joe is a parent who seems to be attempting to describe the lives of DINKs (Double Income, No Kids) without actually having talked to many of us. He repeatedly attempts to paint a picture of childless couples as yoga-pants-wearing, lattee-sipping, Martha's-vineyarding, yacht-club-faring bourgeoisie. It's a funny misconception compared to the reality of my own life, where Friday nights aren't spent with a bottle of wine, but with a rushed TV dinner after an hour-long bus commute while my husband tries to glue back together the sofa leg that keeps coming off. 


I'm not sure where Joe got this idea that being childless means you've got scads of extra income. I figure having kids is a bit like smoking: you find the money when you've got the need, but if the need isn't there, the money isn't just lying around in coffers waiting for you to buy your next Mazerati. Ridiculous, Joe, to paint an entire 40% of the population with one giant gilded paintbrush--flattering, but absurd. 

I also take great offence to his suggestion that childless couples get to lounge around in their peignoirs on a weeknight because they're not chasing toddlers around a hockey arena. I might...might...have more time in a day than the average parent for throwing myself down upon my fainting couch, but that's not how I choose to spend my time. I have a blog--a secondary source of income, as well as a cornerstone of my career growth--that requires my time. A family made up of aging parents, younger siblings, and close friends with struggles. And a first house, which has been a nightmare of time suckage from Day One. I know Joe would probably rebut that parents have all these same issues going on, but still choose the saintly path of procreation despite the odds against them; but I'd argue that knowing your limits isn't a sign of selfishness, Joe. It's a sign of maturity.


Joe goes on to say, and I quote: 

Having children used to be the point of being a pair. It was the great aspiration — along with finding love everlasting — a biological impulse to go forth and multiply and, later, once your babies reached a certain age, to cajole them about the merits and benefits of doing their bit to join the ranks of parenthood while giving Mom and Dad some grandkids.

Wow, Joe. You just reduced all couplings down to a biological imperative to procreate. I wonder how the same-sex couples out there feel about your statement, because the math would show that you're implying those couples don't even count--nevermind any hetero couples who hooked up while knowing that one of them was infertile. Yes, I gotta say I was pretty astounded with the Victorian-era mindset portrayed by this comment. Make babies, Joe says, and if you're lucky, maybe find some love. Oh, and while you're at it, bestow the same babymaking guilt upon the next generation--because, as he later states, those kids and grandkids care for their elderly. (That's a false Norman Rockwell scene you're painting, Joe.)
My desire for marrying did not stem from the need to find viable male seed. I married Brian because I wanted to have a partner in life, someone with whom to experience the triumphs and the trials; someone with whom to share reciprocal support and affection. Not someone who was eager to get started on 6am little league practices.


Joe does address some of the main concerns that many of us DINKs have about childrearing: the cost, the time, the modern careers that never allow for a work/life balance; these he dismisses with a 'suck it up, buttercup' wave of his hand. The reality is that we are indeed in tough financial times, in a new world of employment with wild employer expectations, and between time and money many of my friends are afraid to get a goldfish, let alone a child. But Joe also eschews the very real concern some of us DINKs have about overpopulation, stating, 

Flaky fears about overburdening our already overburdened planet, personal choice and a bunch of other hooey that serve to hide the fact that happy couples that choose not to have kids are, at root, well, let’s see: selfish.

From my ten years' experience working with underprivileged and street-involved youth, Joe, I can tell you that these 'flaky fears' about bringing more kids into the world are anything but. Should Brian and I ever decide to parent, it will be as a foster or adoptive home for one of these forgotten children. I don't see it as selfish not to create my own genetic offspring; I see it as humble. 

SELFISH? Riiiiiiight.

But let's talk about selfish for a moment. Perhaps, to someone who has been apparently embittered by watching, as he describes them, "childless hipsters dancing through life", I look selfish. I won't even begin my rant about the term 'hipster' and how it's bandied about to describe any person under the age of 35 these days. But the image he paints is clear: that being young, fertile, yet childless is irresponsible and "selfish".
I think selfish, Joe, could be defined as someone who would compel an entire swathe of the population to get breeding. Selfish is seeing your childrearing struggles as the epitome of human experience and martyrdom. Selfish is thinking that you have a right to scathingly wax poetic about a lifestyle of which you have no concept. Selfish is bringing a child into this world because you're told to attain that gold star (something I've mentioned before), when reflection might show that you're not ready, not interested, or not built for parenting. 

Joe goes on to quote one Monica Zeniuk, a childless woman, as saying, 

“The benefits of not having children are in the driveway, in our closet and stamped on our passports.  Kids are expensive. And the marriage mortality rate is huge, without the added pressure of financing a child through its life.”

I don't disagree with Ms Zeniuk's highlighted benefits of remaining childless; it's entirely possible that we will travel more, drive a sports car, and have a longer marriage than some of our childrearing friends. 

But I personally have never considered the financial benefits and leisure time as my priorities for choosing to remain childless. I have, however, considered my life situation, my abilities and wellness, and my lack of maternal interest...and these careful deliberations have led me to understand myself in a way that cannot be judged. It is the simple truth: I am childless because I will not birth a child just to meet a standard. If that's selfish, then I proudly wear the label.

Just as I do not pass judgement on the myriad complex reasons why people choose to have offspring, Joe, I encourage you to also check your own biases and put down your gavel. In a time of mass overpopulation and world hunger, the word 'selfish' here could be a stone you're throwing within your own glass house. Your article reads like a piece of mid-century war-era propaganda, and it's embarrassing more than it is infuriating. We're no longer in an era where we need to produce a male heir, stock our farm with kindred farmhands, nor replace the fallen soldiers in our populace. There are plenty of people, and plenty of kids. You've found your happiness and your bliss; leave us to find ours.


  1. Well that's awesome. So not only does Joe accuse me of not fulfilling my destiny of childbearing, but now I'm failing because I'm not taking advantage of that with Hot Yoga and vacations to exotic locales. As an aside, what does Hot Yoga even mean? It sounds unpleasant.

    1. Its a type of yoga where the temperature in the room is very high, it feels amazing but not for everyone! Next time I attend I will inform all the parents that they are not suppose to be there since its only for us "selfish" people.

  2. brilliant! Joe must be hiding in the basement sfraid where his next b---- slap will come from. Research before writing Joe!

  3. "In Canada, a new normal could be on the rise, a great divide where, standing on one side will be the old guard — the haggard, the proud, the poor-looking schleps with their baby strollers and shrieking brats "
    THis ad me roling.What is more selfish? To keep on bringing forth kids when you know you can't afford them or a conscious decison not to subject kids to constant poverty? No, I am not saying to give them the best of everything but kids are not toys. They need a comfortable existence. Ever heard of Quiverfull? It is a fringe movement that started in the late 1980's enccouraging couples to have as many babies as possible regardless of financial situations. In other words, not having children is not an option. The sad thing is many of the Quiverfull parents almost take pride their kids are living in terrible conditions while childless people get deemed selfish. Anyway, it seems if you don't spend every day cleaning up a toddler mess or 90% of yor income on kids you are seen as less human.

  4. Good rebuttal, and great finishing line.

  5. Just last week my 14-year-old nephew called me selfish for not having children. This was during dinner in a nice restaurant I took him to on our last day of a 5-day fishing trip together. He said if I had my own kids I wouldn't have to borrow my nephew to take fishing. In reality, I take him on these trips because his father is usually too drunk to do so. Teenagers are one of the main reasons I am never having kids.