Time magazine published an article recently called “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.” Since I don’t subscribe to Time and the library is only open for two hours every second Monday of months that end with “y” I didn’t get to read it. But I can guess what it might suggest, subtly or not. Child-free life is the way to go. Kids bog you down, demand things of you that you don’t want to give and just generally suck the life and well-being out of you. Movies, books and pop culture in general tell us loud and clear what society thinks of children. They’re insane little monsters, eating excrement, throwing rocks, screaming at and disrespecting not only their parents, but also anyone they can. And parents are the dumb bystanders, unsure of what to do, just tolerating the presence of their monster-offspring because who doesn’t want and love kids, right?
Well, a growing number of well-educated couples, that’s who, childless by choice and loving it. And what’s not to love about a life without little people? From the outside looking in, nothing really. The front cover of Time pictured a couple outstretched on a sandy white beach looking like they haven’t a care in the world. Isn’t that why couples remain childless – so that they can go swimming in Costa Rica whenever they want to?
I can’t tell you what goes on in the minds of a childless-by-choice couple, but as a childless-not-by-choice married gal I can give you a small insight into the “carefree” life, sans chitlins. The following are just a few of the perks that we DINKS (double income no kids) enjoy right now, and some of what we have to look forward to down the road.
There’s lots of it. Oh sure we have the same amount of time in a day as any other couple with children but there’s significantly less demanded of me and my time. I can generally do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it. I can pick up and go camping or to the mall at the drop of a hat. Although this might seem like a desirable position to be in, in many ways it isn’t. Time can stretch out in large expanses before me if I don’t plan enough to sufficiently occupy me. I can easily waste hours and hours web-surfing or shopping, who cares? And with little to distract or require something real and honest from me, legitimate demands begin to become huge annoyances. Boredom can easily set in and selfishness can breed more selfishness especially when there’s nothing but myself to check my own behaviour. Since we’ll all be making an account of every moment of our lives when we come before our Maker, those of us without kids will have a few spare moments for which we will have to account. God help us.
One of the biggest perks of being childless is thought to be the larger disposable income that most imagine they would have if they didn’t have to buy diapers, RESP’s or trips to Disneyworld. Many parents might dream of the lives they could have had or were “supposed to” have had if only their pesky kids didn’t need braces and private school. But the thing that many don’t think about is that people in childless situations are just as in debt as the next person. Perhaps they get out of debt sooner, or perhaps they sink themselves further into debt buying the things they want. Childlessness doesn’t equal financial acuity. And in reality, what is it you really want? If a guy badly wants a boat, he’s going to make it a priority to acquire one, whether he has kids or not. Or if a woman is focused on going to Venice, she’s going to work at going to Venice whether she’s had a kid or not. I once knew a family that were severely impoverished, the husband being out of work for long stretches at a time, yet on a surprise visit to their place one day they brought out a $24 cheesecake. It wasn’t anybody’s birthday, just a plain old Tuesday. Cheesecake Tuesday. People spend money on the places and things they want to spend money on, whether they have an extra $24 or $2400. It’s just easier to spend more money on the things you want when you don’t have money-sucking leeches living in your home.
I live in a home fairly devoid of noise and commotion. I wake up in the morning and spend an hour drinking my tea and beginning my day with little to distract me. Much of my day continues in the same way. For all of you out there that are green with envy at the thought of even 8 minutes of quiet let me tell you it’s not always the picnic you think it is. Yes it’s reasonable to want 10 minutes of noiseless non-chaos but in this situation, it’s all or nothing. Either you have kids or you don’t. If you have them, you get noisy chaos (generally speaking). If you don’t, you get a lot of quiet (generally speaking). Think of all the little sighs and gurgles your baby makes that melts you into a puddle on the floor. And think of the first time your toddler says “I wuv you daddy” or hums an absent-minded tune. Those noises are missing too. There’s so much to love about a noisy home. It means there’s life there.
Friendships – or lack of.
Most people have kids and very few parents have time for friends who don’t have kids. So when you are of the childless persuasion you tend to lose friends, not because you’ve done things to hurt one another, but mostly because your outlooks on life have changed and common ground seems to wane. Parents don’t have much time for doing non-kid-type things like shopping or movie-going, and non-parents generally don’t want to hang out all day at the playground watching other people’s kids throw sand or eat ice cream. Sure there can be some adult conversation in there, but it’s usually scattered and interrupted with cries or whines and attention is drawn elsewhere and trains of thought derailed. Childlessness means doing much of what you used to enjoy with others, alone. It means having to make an effort for what used to be effortless – making and keeping friends. None of this is horribly bad. It just is what it is.
Yeah, nice perk, eh? It’s a scary thought; dying alone, so scary in fact that couples in some cultures have kids almost solely for the reason of security and care in their old age. I’m not saying that your children will always take care of you. They may not. But the chances are pretty good that one of them will take you on. For those without kids, the outlook can be pretty bleak. Some will have close friends that are willing and able to take care of them if need be. Some have family – brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces – who can take them in. There’s always the long-term care facilities that I’m sure will tend to me as if I was their very own. And there’s always your spouse, if you’re “lucky” enough to go first. But hey, who’s thinking of death when you’re busy “having it all”?
There’s more. Kids require you to ‘man-up’, mature, become an adult and deal with your shortcomings. You are forced to stop swearing around them, work out the issues in your marriage because of them and have less of what you want so that they can have more of what they want. Not so for couples without children. The norms we live by have to be self-imposed and often can be rationalized away much easier than if there were little ears and eyes around to learn from our example. It’s hard and we have to work at unselfishness in a different way than our parent-friends. Because all humans are selfish, each one of us is all about ourselves – what I want and when I want it, and that attitude can spiral out of control if left unchecked. I find articles like the one in Time just re-ignite that fire of self in our hearts and make us pine for a different life, a life where we get to ‘have it all’ and give little to nothing in return. But there is always a compromise, a trade off that might not seem apparent now, but will hurt down the road. I suppose you have to ask yourself, am I willing to make the sacrifices that ‘having it all’ requires?
Sarah explores authentic Catholic femininity on her blog The Feminine Gift.