C’mon, Tracy – Not Having Kids Doesn’t Make Us Selfish, Immature or Bad People
Jezebel put out quite a doozy of an article with some jabs at the Childfree a couple of weeks ago, and when one of my readers drafted a lovely rebuttal, I thought this would be the perfect time to start hosting some guest posts. More to come later on about how you can guest post on Maybe Baby, Maybe Not, but for now, the stage is Sarah’s…
C’mon, Tracy – Not Having Kids Doesn’t Make Us Selfish, Immature or Bad People
A guest post by Sarah Stanfield
As a childless by choice woman, I was offended by Tracy Moore’s recent Jezebel essay, “Yes, All New Parents are Lame and Selfish, But C’mon, Man.” It stereotypes childless people as less moral than those with kids, permanent party people, immature, obsessed with image and overall, selfish human beings. C’mon Tracy. I thought that 40 years after women’s liberation and the gay rights movement, we’ve learned not to judge people for their life choices. And while I understand that Moore feels attacked for her decision to become a parent, it doesn’t give her a right to bash childless people.
Right from the start, Moore establishes herself as morally superior for being a parent. She had baby and “…suddenly was filled with earnestness, concerns about chemicals and safety hazards, a newfound interest in organic foods and a desire to experience conflict resolution.” She became “the most deeply caring, meaning-finding optimist you ever did see.”
I won’t dispute that having a baby can make you care a bit more about the world around you, at least in terms of how it relates to your child. After all, as the Mama or Papa Bear, a primary part of your job is protecting your cub. I get that, but what does it mean if it takes such a life-changing event as having a baby to force you to become a better person? There are plenty of examples of morally impeccable people who don’t or didn’t have kids, such as Julia Butterfly Hill, Gloria Steinem, Ralph Nader, Rosa Parks and pretty much any saint. They apparently didn’t need to have kids to be good people.
According to Moore, as a parent, your childless friends will complain that “…you don’t get all gussied up and hit the town like you used to. Your alcohol tolerance is for shit and you’re not even fun anymore.” Forgetting that anyone with eyeballs can see that a new parent is exhausted and not in a party mood and probably wouldn’t say this in the first place, the implication here is that childless people, because they don’t have a kid to ruin their buzz, are alcohol swilling party people, up for a night on the town at a moment’s notice. “Fun” seems to be inherently connected to alcohol in this context.
I’ll agree that not having a kid allows you a lot more spontaneity. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to spend that freedom on a booze and party bender. I’ve been to plenty of dinners where both the parents and the childless bow out early; the parents to get up for work the next morning, and the childless because, well, they too have a job the next day. Yet over and over I hear parents talk about how now that they have kids, they can no longer party like they assume their childless counterparts do. Maybe, because those parents were epic drunkards before they had kids, they assume everyone else is that way? For the record, I’m as “lame” as Moore claims to be in her essay. I don’t drink, never go clubbing and spend most evenings at home reading and writing.
Despite the fact that many childless people, like those with children, no doubt have grown-up jobs, own their own houses (at least outside of major cities) and are fiscally responsible, there is still this notion that we are less mature and “complete” than our counterparts with kids. We see a version of this when Moore, wondering why certain “antagonistic feelings about new parents persist,” writes “Is it because we are Ghosts of Your Future that you childless people aren’t ready to face?” What is it we must face? My guess is a future full of babies. Apparently, all childless people are merely waiting in life’s anteroom, working up the courage to take on the responsibilities of being a parent so that they can greet the world as bona fide adults.
Another common stereotype of the childless is that we are all obsessed with surface. Moore’s essay is replete with this assumption. According to her, parents make the heartbreaking sacrifice of being cool to avoid engaging in “parental neglect.” They are no longer able to name-check hip bands, which is okay, because “…having a baby is definitely the most efficient way to earn karma points,” enabling one to become a deeper, better person who doesn’t care about haircuts or a legacy that entails anything other than becoming an ancestor (are we in the Middle Ages here?). Actually, most people become less “cool” after they reach age 30. It comes with having more responsibility, whether part of that burden is a kid or not. Some non-child-related responsibilities included a demanding job, paying off loans for the master’s degree needed to get that demanding job, caretaking for aging parents and nursing a friend with a long-term illness. Not having a kid does not mean you don’t have legitimate, pressing responsibilities that will also likely reduce your cool factor.
Speaking of karma points, the grand daddy of all stereotypes of childless folks has got to be that we are selfish. Moore sums up this whopper with a bright pink (It’s a Girl!) bow: “Not having a baby is totally selfish, too! Because you don’t make any new yous to keep paying for stuff and shouldering the cost or whatever. You know, like the whole giant oneness thing. You’re just a big old taker.”
In the context of today’s environmental problems, this is patently untrue. It’s pretty well established that a major reason for climate change and the depletion of natural resources is because there are too many people obtaining the “stuff” causing the resource drain. This is especially true in America, where, according to Mother Jones, one American child generates as much CO2 as 106 Haitian kids.
That CO2 comes from the sheer amount of products it takes to raise an American child. While I don’t believe that the debate over parenting versus childlessness should be framed with so subjective a term as “selfishness,” the idea of the childless being selfish just makes no sense in our times. Honestly, I think every parent should thank the first childless person he or she sees. Each one of us, by not having a kid, has essentially canceled out the carbon footprint of someone’s child. Sorry to say, but it’s U.S. parents who are the takers here.
Also, I’ve never been able to fully grasp what is selfish about not having a kid. I suspect it has something to do with the sacrifices parents perceive themselves as making, such as giving up their time, a good chunk of their freedom and in some cases, a decent relationship with their spouse, to raise a child. I guess we childless are supposed to be selfish because we generally don’t have to give up these things. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t giving back to children in some way, whether by caretaking for them, paying school taxes or simply by inviting the neighborhood kids over for lemonade on a hot summer day. Also, if you’re becoming a parent purely out of some notion that it entails a noble sacrifice and is the most selfless thing you can do as a human being, you may be the one with the image problem, not your childless friends.
I admit that when it comes to parents versus non-parents, I suffer tunnel vision. I feel like every time I see something in the media about parenting, it’s celebrating and, on occasion, glorifying, the institution. Beyond new celebrity Moms cooing in Star and US Weekly that having a kid feels better than winning an Oscar and making $25 million a year, I’ve read missives claiming that parenting does everything from aligning your moral compass with that of Mother Theresa, improving your productivity at work and, my favorite, saving you from life as a crackhead. Yes, I sometimes overlook anything positive the media says about childless people. Moore seems afflicted with the same myopia, believing people judge her negatively as a new parent. But it’s no excuse to dredge up hurtful, offensive stereotypes of the childless.