Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Social Pressure to Have Children

People who don't want to have children still seem to get a fair amount of flack. Especially women. Even queer women. I have noticed that tied to the drive to gain same sex marriage, there is also an underlying current of reproducing mainstream-looking family units, where two women or two men function quite similarly to mainstream opposite sex couples. The 2 children, house, nice lawn, "normal jobs," and white picket fence kind of vision.

Seven billion + humans on the planet and still, the social pressure to reproduce is strong. Entire religious and political movements want to restrict or outlaw birth control options. And all abortions, regardless of the reasons.

This, here in the U.S., supposed home of liberalized sexuality and individual freedom. It's more a tangled mix if you ask me. A push towards liberation on one side; a push towards "restoring" or maintaining patriarchal norms and controls on the other. With the majority of people lost somewhere in between these two poles, trying to figure out who they are, and what they want.

Consider these lines from the following post:

As a feminist, I feel strongly that I should have a choice in how I live my life as a person. I don't want to feel that someone else is making a decision on my worth or identity based on the fact of my genital parts.

I have a friend who chooses not to have children. I've witnessed the 'just give it a few years, you'll see' remarks (honestly, I should have given him a little kick in the shins for that one... but I punked out for social etiquette... and we were at a birthday party...).

Her decision is a great environmental decision, no matter how you slice it. The reality is that babies pollute. Instead of made to feel awesome (as she should) by her choice, she's judged for making a decision that is best for HER self and her body.

As if she were born to make babies. As if her uterus defines her entire point of existing.

Being in my mid-30s, I have been asked about children as well. And yet, as a man, it seems like I'm given more of a pass. Perhaps because people think "he's got more time. Maybe he'll want children in his 40s." Maybe I will. In fact, I have considered having children in a couple of relationships I have been in over the past five years. But I'm still on the fence. And honestly, the point about the environmental consequences has always weighed heavily on my mind. It might be a bit crude to say "babies pollute," but I have always wondered "how many humans is enough?"

Don't get me wrong. I love kids. I spent a good chuck of my 20s working with children in various learning settings. One of those places being a treatment center for children who had been removed from their homes. Seriously neglected children. Physically and emotionally abused. Some sexually abused. My job was to help these kids learn the basic social skills needed to get along with others, and to get their personal needs met as well. It was quite the sobering job. When people with children claim a sense of superior understanding about parenthood simply because they had kids, I immediately think of Paige, John, Samantha, Brianna, David, and dozens of others I worked with over the years. Their parents were an absolute train wreck. At 25, I already had a better sense of caring for their kids than they did.

Many of the children I worked with at the treatment center would go on to bounce around in "the system," never finding anything resembling a permanent home. They're the forgotten ones. When Americans, especially white Americans, think of adoption, they think of African babies, or Asian babies. Not the suffering kids living in a facility down the street. Adoption also seems to be a last resort option for most. Something considered because of age or infertility. What's that about?

But beyond all that, I also happen to believe that people can live full, vibrant lives without being parents. Direct parenting is only one way to influence the lives of young folks. My life to this point has absolutely not been lacking because I don't have children of my own. And that will be true if the rest of my life remains "childfree."

Human life is so much more than simply our ability, or lack of an ability, to have offspring. There are far too many of us on the planet to be placing the biological drive to reproduce above all else. If anything, we are much more in danger of overpopulation than dying out as a species from lack of reproduction.

So, I want to support the development of a society that moves beyond the function of our genitals, and beyond shame and guilt narratives, and supports a wide variety of decisions around children.


  1. Love this post! I found a link to your blog on EMK's and I am happily amazed at your balanced writing and perspective. I'll be back here often ;)

    I am myself on the fence. I subscribe to the "babies pollute" theory, I am less and less certain that I would want to rear a child in the world as it is today, I sincerely believe that we need to adopt existing babies rather than have more and I have no burning need to procreate. Having said all of this though, I sometimes wonder whether I have what it takes to adopt (probably not) and whether I will regret my decision not to have children when I'm too old to have any. And from a social perspective, I also wonder whether I have some of a responsibility to help raise a normal-ish human being (biological or adopted) because I will rely on *someone's* children in my old age (doctors, nurses, etc).

  2. I appreciate your views on the social pressures to have children. I do agree with you that our world is overpopulated and also have asked myself: is it fair to bring a child into this world to one day face an even greater strain on the world's resources? As someone who is still unsure about whether or not I truly want kids, or if I say I do because that's what "I should do",it's refreshing to read your perspective. I'm a primary school teacher, so I do feel that I am influencing kids lives already - sure, not in the same way as a parent, but I am still having a positive influence (hopefully!) on their development. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. Your article is great and really helped me. I am a 35 year old man with a wife of 10 years. She does not want kids. I am on the fence. I am trying to discover what is making me lean one way or the other. Is is society? Is there a real human urge to reproduce? Am I romanticizing the thought of kids? Am I being selfish in hopes of "having someone" in my older age? My sibling has 4 kids. I see their reality everyday and it often isn't pretty. All this will come to me I guess, but I appreciated the insights.