The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Choosing Childlessness Isn’t the Problem

Thanks to Jill, for blogging about this otherwise I wouldnt’ have seen it. Apparently, the Slate columnist Emily YoffeYoffe (known as "Dear Prudence") has been taking some heat for advice she gave to a woman wrote that she and her fiance don’t want children, and wrote in seeking advice on how to break the news to family members.

Yoffe’s answer was basically "reconsider not having children," which then started a firestorm of emails blasting her response. If you ask me, Yoffe’s response to the avalanche of emails isn’t likely to warm anyone to her point of view.

What is going on when there is so much scorn for parenthood—the way a society perpetuates itself? Fertility rates are much in the news these days. The United States is rare among developed nations in that it is still producing children at a replacement rate. But many countries collectively agree with the people who wrote to me—that children are a tantrum wrapped in a diaper and not worth the trouble. So, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, among others, are going down the demographic tubes, with shrinking pools of young workers to support growing masses of seemingly immortal retirees.

Excuse me? Scorn for parenting? Why does everyone need to have kids? I got news for Yoffe. Scorn for parenting isn’t coming from people who choose not to have kids. It’s coming from a socioeconomic system that doesn’t support families in the first place.

First off, let me say this. I have a great deal of respect for people who decide early on that they don’t want children, and who thus remain childless by choice. Four years into parenting myself, I can tell you that it’s a huge amount of work. And this is coming from someone who wanted to be a parent. Even when you want it, it’s work. But if you want and welcome the experience, it’s highly rewarding work. And yes, as Yoffe points out, it’s fun. For every moment of frustration or exasperation I’ve experience at least two or three moments of joy and wonder with Parker. But if it wasn’t something I wanted in the first place, I’d probably have fewer of those happier moments.

If you ask me, there are probably a lot of people who shouldn’t be parents, but who fall into it by accident or because everyone from thier mother to the mainstream media is telling them should. And probably a good deal of those situations end up being detrimental to child and parent (and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity). So, if there are people who know in advance they they shouldn’t or don’t want to be parents, and decide to remain childless, I applaud them. The world would be a better place if more children grew up in families where they were wanted.

As for scorn for parenting, like I said it’s not the people who choose to remain childless that are the source of that. Look around you. Wouldn’t a society that values children, families and parenting make sure parents could earn living wages? Wouldn’t a society that values children and families make sure that every family had good, reliable healthcare? Wouldn’t a society that values children provide more access to reliable childcare for parents who have to work to keep their families afloat? Wouldn’t a society that valued families structure work in such a way that parents could work and spend time with their kids?

I could go on, but you get the picture. People who choose not to have children aren’t necessarily "scornful of parenting." It’s a job that isn’t valued much across the board in our culture, and probably because it’s still largely considered "women’s work." (Of course, in our house parenting is a man’s job too.)

I could also go on about Yoffe’s ranting about birth rates as though the human race is in danger of extinction, but that’s another post for another day. For now, if we can fix the above, then maybe Yoffe’s argument would make more sense. But then again, I doubt it.


  1. So, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, among others, are going down the demographic tubes, with shrinking pools of young workers to support growing masses of seemingly immortal retirees.

    Heaven forfend, of course, that worker population should be sustained through immigration–can’t be having people from poor countries coming to have the chance to work in this “Land of Opportunity” we’ve got here–no, no, we’ve got to hoard the Opportunity for our sixty-three genetic offspring.

    Whenever I hear people complaining about countries with less-than-replacement birthrates (and thank Yavanna for it), why is it all I hear is “Ack! We need more white people!” Am I the only one, here?

  2. Agreed. And she’s missing the point – she’s seeing “scorn for parenthood” when it’s actually just “scorn for people who keep telling others to reconsider parenthood” or maybe just “scorn for Emily Yoffe.”

  3. I have no contempt towards those who choose to have children (only those who are bad parents). I can imagine the joy that children can bring into one’s live.

    For me though, I knew since I was a toddler- I did not want to have kids. I only own 3 dolls, and kept them only because they were from Xmas gifts from grandma and I didn’t want here to feel bad.

    Personally, I am just uncomfortable around kids. Never have, never will. Baby sitting was emotional torture when ever it was forced upon me.

    After 33 year of saying “no”, I don’t like kids, I don’t want kids, why to people still persist on telling me to have kids?

    Why would anyone wish for a child to be born to a parent who does not want a child? How unfair would that be to the child? Children deserve loving home- not to be produced for the sake of having them.

    The advice columnist total missed the point. People should not be scorned and looked at as if they have some disease just because they choose not to breed.

  4. Degen,
    I;m so with you. You know if it wasn’t for immigration we would be below replacment level in this country to. (Shhh!! Don’t tell, but most immigrants aren’t from Europe) LOL!

  5. Terrance, thank you so very much for this post.

    I try to be supportive of my friends who have children. For example, I make the effort to take them dinner from time to time, so that neither parent will have to cook. I am well aware that one of the greatest gifts you can give any parent is a little more time in the day. 🙂 I’m glad to do my part for my friends in being part of “the village” they can turn to when raising their child. I even babysit occasionally.

    I don’t know if I’ll have kids or not, to be honest. I’ve never felt the urge. The only reason it even pirouettes across my mind these days is the realization that time is ticking down. I don’t feel the clock ticking, mind you, but I’m aware that the years are passing and that this is kind of like a one-time-only sale: you either buy or you don’t, and there isn’t a second chance.

    However, if I don’t, I’m exactly the kind of childless friend that a parent would like to have as a friend: I am willing to help out by coming to you, and if I babysit, I’ll gladly hand your child back to you at the end of the evening. 🙂

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  7. When I got married, I told my wife that she would always come first, and I meant it. So, how do I find myself in a situation where I am the primary caregiver for my son, while she lives elsewhere?
    To simplify a complicated situation, I’m a natural as a parent, she isn’t. Now, the fact of my son’s autism plays into that equation. It is fair to say that my glass-half-full attitude about life makes facing the challenges raised by his non-typical behavior much easier for me that it is for her, with her glass-half-empty attitude.
    She tried really hard, and she and my son are still crazy about each other. But it was much harder for her to be a full-time parent, that it is for me. She can handle a few hours, and then she’s done. I live for it, even at it’s most frustrating.
    Ironically, I always didn’t care about whether I had children, even though I was the last “chance” for my family name to be continued. She always wanted children.
    So, my experience showed me that you can never tell if you are equipped to be a parent until you actually are one.
    But I respect people who wish not to have children. It is too tough a job to take on, even if you want it. Why set yourself up to blame your kids for your unhappiness, if you find yourself unequal to the task? And my brother is an outstanding uncle, while my sister is an outstanding aunt. That is the role they are most comfortable filling in their own lives, and they excell at it.

  8. People say to me that someday i will regret not having children. i tell them that on that day, i will just go to Wal-mart and it will cure me of my regret.

  9. I think people ought to stop giving others advice or scorning them for their point of view. If you are very happy with having kids, sure go ahead and have some more if you like. Dont tell others to have some too.

    On the other hand, if you do not want kids but end up with kids, there is a possiblity you will resent them for everything that went wrong with your life and no kid deserves that. So, if you have a doubt, dont have them. They are better off never being born.

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  11. scorn for parenthood? scorn for parenthood?? if she means “where i live”, i wonder where that could be.

    i live in a moderately sized west coast american city, and if there’s any scorn for parenthood, i certainly can’t find it. even before my wife gave birth to our lovely daughter six months ago, it seemed every public place was swarming with loaded baby carriages. swarming with them.

    did she mean on the internet? have you seen how many baby stores there are online?? not to mention babies ‘R’ us – there are, like, four of them in this metropolitan region alone…and they are huge, and their parking lots are packed seven days a week.

  12. I have no scorn for parenting. I think it’s a wonderful choice, and I respect people, like my sister, who embrace it whole-heartedly.

    But I’ve known since I was a teenager that I did not have the patience to deal with a child 24/7, so I will not inflict myself on a child that way. Instead, I love my nieces, and spend lots of time with them, and that’s about all I can handle. (My mother just shrugs and says every kid should have a spinster aunt)

    Leave parenting to the people who *want* to be parents. The world would be much better for it.