Saturday, October 22, 2011

Relationship Narratives: Loosening the Chains of the Nuclear Family

I've been in a back and forth with a 24 year old guy on Evan Marc Katz's blog whose ideas I find quite "conservative." Here's the comment that set me off.

I think a lot of us in this generation are often self centered and care so much about our happiness rather than look at the big picture ahead. If our parents had our mindset we wouldn’t be in this world to exhibit our selfish and hedonistic proclivities. It perplexes me that a lot of intelligent and innovative folks do not see the need to pass on their genetic code and chose to die with it.

I was in agreement to some degree with his first few sentences, but that last sentence is just ridiculous. I responded with this:

There are 7 billion people on this planet already. I don’t think everyone needs to be making more babies, especially if they aren’t inclined to parenthood in the first place. It’s insulting to suggest that those who choose to not have children are selfish and hedonistic. The two issues are completely separate. And frankly, there are plenty of selfish and hedonistic parents in this world.

And he comes back with the following:

What matters to us isn’t the 7 billion people around us. What matters is those we could actually feel and call our own.
It seems to me you want to enjoy the luxury of having a love life while inadvertently depriving someone else of that. Imagine if some else had deprived you- oh!!.. we wouldn’t even be having this discourse.

To which I responded with this little diatribe:

You’re trying to guilt and shame me, buddy. And I’m not going there. Just because we can reproduce does not mean we must reproduce. I am not bound by some divine contract to give birth to a child solely because I was born. Cultural and/or religious narratives that say we must have children to be consider worthy as adults are just narratives to me – stories people pressure and oppress each other with.

If I choose to have children, it will be because I love and am committed to someone, and we both want to bring a child in this world.

I find many of your comments sexist, to be blunt. You seem totally ok blasting women who choose to focus on aspects of life other than family, but I don’t get the sense that you hold men to similar standards. Furthermore, you’re speaking in a manner of such absolute certainty that is clearly not backed up by much experience, which many here have picked up upon, and are quite irritated with. How could you possibly know that each one of us has a “soul mate” out there? Or even more so, how could you possibly know that those who don’t find a good match simply didn’t believe in soul mates and refused to “accept” the right person?

Life is a hell of a lot more complicated than your narrative suggests it is. What about adopted children? What about people who can’t conceive children? If everyone is so focused on building nuclear families, who will build our communities, volunteer, build the small businesses that drive our local economies, grow the food we eat? Who will support the elders who have lost their children, or who have children that can’t/won’t help take care of them? Who will tend to the environment around us all? Who will do all the things that are not necessarily tied to nuclear family life, but ARE necessary to having strong communities?

There are a few ways to look at this. Stephen, the author of the comments I am responding to, is heavily wedded to a particular form of the nuclear family narrative, where focusing on having and raising children is more important that most everything else in life. Certainly, he's still fairly young, but plenty of older folks are devoted to this same story. Which is totally ok - for them. When it actually works for them.

But - and this is one place where I break from the mainstream - I actually don't believe that the majority of us really want that kind of focus. Many of us say we do, but that's because the nuclear family with mother, father, 2.5 kids, and a house story has been pressed upon us to the point where it's hard to see another way.

How many of you have never pictured yourself as a parent?

How many of you have built well-rounded lives filled with love and joy, in a form other than the nuclear family?

How many of you with children either have, or would love to have, stronger connections with your extended family? Perhaps strong enough to regularly share parenting "duties" with aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents?

How many of you have close, intimate friends who are - in your mind - part of your family?

How many of you are - like I am - passionately drawn to serving in your community, to giving your time and energy to larger social causes?

I think we all could benefit from asking more questions about why it is we think what we think about relationships, and how those narratives might be limiting our lives.


  1. Thanks for taking that guy on- I've been too busy to do much commenting. I'm one of those who loves kids, but never saw myself being a mother. Since there are plenty of parents out there not worthy of the name (although that poster apparently considers them superior simply by virtue of having reproduced), I figure there will always be plenty of kids who will need my love and attention. Not to mention, there are plenty of other important projects that can benefit everyone to keep us busy!

  2. I have exactly zero desire for children. Interestingly, I'm dating someone with zero desire for children who has an interesting perspective: she had kids, then gave them back. She was a step-mother during her former marriage, and now that she's out of it she has zero desire for any children of her own.

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