Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

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.

21 Responses to C’mon, Tracy – Not Having Kids Doesn’t Make Us Selfish, Immature or Bad People

  • Kate says:

    Love it Sarah!
    So many valid points. Thank you for writing this!

  • Danielle says:

    LOVE IT!

  • Jennifer says:

    Thanks for writing! Totally agree.

  • Rachel says:

    When a former college roommate was expecting her second child I ran into her at the mall. When I suggested getting together for dinner she flat out told me “I only hang out with moms now”. That really put the nail in the coffin of our friendship, though that friendship had actually been slowly dying ever since I got engaged and didn’t immediately start planning a for babies like she did.

    I don’t get why I’m selfish for not having kids. Ask anyone why they HAVE a kid and the answer is “I wanted one.” Want. How is that not selfish? If anything I care too much about my hypothetical child(ren) to bring them into a world where their parents aren’t sure they want them. How would that be fair? How could I do that to another human being? How could I willfully mess up someone’s life like that?

    Ok, rant over. Love the blog, keep up the awesome posts!

    • Megan M says:

      I dated a guy a long time ago who really wanted kids (really, we were doomed from the start). I asked him to explain to me why he felt so strongly about it. He said that he wanted to raise good people who would do something good for the world. I suggested that that seemed like an awful lot of pressure to put on a kid: “You must make the world a better place or else all my effort was wasted.” He said that I was being too literal, and that it could be just as simple as the kid helping an old woman across the street one day. To which I said “Why don’t you help an old woman across the street yourself and call it even?” He didn’t have a lot to say about that, and, not surprisingly, we didn’t last much longer.

      But those are the reasons I’ve heard for people having kids. “I want to create life.” Go be a doctor instead and save the lives that we already have. “I want to raise good people who will have an impact on the world.” Go do something yourself that will have an impact on the world rather than putting all that pressure on your kids. “I want to leave something of myself behind.” Plant a tree or write a book. All of the reasons people give end in glory reflected back on themselves, so they really shouldn’t talk to me about selfish.

      Look, I’m thrilled that other people are having children. Someone needs to run the world when we’re gone (not to mention take care of me once I’m in a nursing home). I just don’t see why I get judged for not making the same choice as everyone else. I’m not actively doing anything to make the world worse, and in fact, I’m probably making it better by not having an unwanted child who I’d be crap at raising. It’s my personal choice and really doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else, and yet people seem to take it as some sort of personal affront.

  • nikkiana says:

    Well said.

  • SB says:
  • Sarah Effie says:

    Thank you for all the positive comments, everyone. It’s also completely cool if you don’t agree with what I wrote. I just felt that the childless/childfree voice needed to be represented.

  • Kallie3000 says:

    I find it completely perplexing that these kind of articles even have to be written. Like, don’t people with children have at least some child-free friends? Is it really that uncommon? And don’t child-free people have friends with kids? I want kids, and my best friends are all child-free. Granted, those friends seem to live in fear of the day I actually have children, so that sucks. Why can’t we all just get along??

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Amen, sister!! It’s so bizarre to me that we keep doing things that put us on opposite sides of this big wall, and everyone seems to be so concerned about providing that their choice is the best one – when it really should be different for everyone.

  • Serious_about_Smoothies says:

    thank you for this post! and for providing a counter point to the Jezabel piece. I think it is so interesting how all these =mommyhood under sieage= articles start really defensive against being put in the stepford-wife/mom category. Like she said “I was cool/Now I”m lame–I laughed at jokes before/now I don’t” I was glad to see you (and actual moms) proving the binaries wrong in their comment section. I do agree that giving birth is a transformative experience… but transformative does not equal an improvement (look at pregnant Snooki!).
    I also clicked on the CO2 emissions reference. Yikes! But not only do American babies contribute enormously in depleting natural resources… so do Americans who are overweight ( or well, first world nations with first world problems who have (and worship) first world babies.

  • lauren says:

    Love times infinity

  • Jenn says:

    I think the parents that call the childfree selfish are lashing out because 1) they came across ONE childfree person who dislikes children and rubbed them the wrong way and 2) they are jealous of what they no longer have. I mean really, I can’t think of any other reason why someone would call someone who decided not to have kids selfish. To me selfish is doing something for yourself that AFFECTS OTHERS. How does not having kids affect anyone except the person deciding not to have kids?

  • Dee says:

    Parents believe that because they had a kid, they are special now. PARENTS, YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL. I don’t have a kid for reasons out of my control. I AM NOT SPECIAL.

    I guess I could come back with an argument about how these people don’t have cats. YOU’RE SO SELFISH YOU DON’T HAVE A CAT?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

    And that built-in karma thing really rubs me the wrong way. WTF?

  • maya says:

    you raise a good point. i’m a firm believer that the childless are best equipped to help the most number of people (children or otherwise) in their lifetimes, due to the greater availability of time (and mental sanity) at their disposal. In terms of humanitarian change, childfree is the most efficient way to achieve maximum impact (think about the number of kids you could tutor in just one day in lieu of breastfeeding a single infant!). It’s a rather \’utilitarian\’ argument, but i think a sound one nonetheless!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      It’s a totally excellent and very important point. The world would be utter chaos if EVERYONE had a child.

  • Renee says:

    Thank you for this. I only wish it had gone a little farther.

    Since having kids, my sister has turned into a first class tyrant. Her anger is off the charts and I think a lot of it is because parenting is so much harder than she expected. She admitted to me once that she has on occasion wished she hadn’t had kids. I feel compassion for her being in such a terrible situation, but I refuse to be a whipping post for her. She recently told me she is trying very hard to forgive me for not having kids (uh, thanks?) but what she actually does is fly off the handle at pretty much everything I say and do, claiming it denigrates her role as a mother. Even asking, in casual conversation, if she saw a movie (that came out before she had kids!) gets her blood boiling. Our relationship is virtually non-existant now, which is too bad, since she has few friends and seems to hate her husband with a passion. Needless to say, she doesn’t make parenthood look appealing. :(

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Oh no, that’s terrible! It’s so sad to hear about people being so unhappy about a life situation they have no real option to change. Hopefully once the kids go off to college, she’ll regain a little of her formerly positive disposition. That might be the best you can hope for now!

  • Brynhild Tudor says:

    I’m a single childfree-by-choice woman and I’ve gotten the selfish/immature insinuation many times, particularly when I was chatting at my fitness club to a staff member who had 4 kids about what I was going to do that evening. After telling her I’d probably read books or watch documentaries, she said in this condescending, patronizing, snide tone, “you need to have some babies.” WTF? While I think that response is just wrong, all the spouses and parents sided with her and hinted they were more compassionate than me by stating that she was just having “a moment” in public, and that when she got home she’d “be sweet as pie to her husband and kids.”

    OK, I have empathy for people who get stressed by an incessant daily grind, but on the other hand, parents fail to acknowledge that they chose a life of 24/7, 365 work with no vacation days. That’s what they willingly signed up for before they chose to have kids, and one of the things that irks me about this society is that it gives in to a parent’s demand for compassion which is subtle code for “cater to us.” A helping hand once in a great while is one thing, but when society is continuously doling out bonuses, paid leave, perks, tax credits, discounts and financial incentives to parents, I have to ask: parents, how much compassion do you want? Society’s giving you plenty of that already. Society pretty much lets you take your kids everywhere and you still complain. Celebrities on talk shows and commercials in the media glorify parenting and make parents look like saints, but they never give us childfree people airtime, because apparently we don’t contribute anything to the world (hint hint.)

    Furthermore, if you don’t want a never-ending job, why bother signing on for it in the first place? I can understand why anyone would be tired doing the same thing day in and day out, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna give you a lift all the time when you’re down or help you out when you’re busy when that busy-ness never ends. You chose that life, and those are the inevitable consequences. I’d be stressed out if I did anything 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But if I know that factoid about myself, I simply avoid taking a job where I’d be required to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And if I hear one more time about parents saying how much they love their “me-time” and how much they wish they never had to return from vacation, I’ll scream. If you loved your life so much, you don’t need a vacation to appreciate it. You can enjoy your life and take a break from monotony without declaring to the world by your mannerisms and speech that you wish you never had to come back to it, which makes it look like you really do hate it.

    Lastly, if parents are having a “moment” in which they vent their frustrations about their life circumstances, I seem to be witness to a whole lot of public “moments”, and why would I voluntarily subject myself to a life where I’d be constantly tired, frazzled and harried in the name of martyrdom when I don’t want that? I often compare parenting with being an ER doctor. Emergency room medical personnel are on-call 24/7 and that’s not even counting the financial and emotional drain that med school puts them through. Yet I never hear them complain to their friends about how much they hate their lot in life. Of course, parents don’t call it complaining. They term it is “that’s what friends are for” and they get their ego fix of sympathy and reassurance from others, which doesn’t permanently solve the problem, because if it did, they wouldn’t have anything to “talk about”.

    I’ve been mulling over the immaturity comments, and I think the bottom-line reason for them is this: In America at least (I don’t know about other countries), the socially accepted definition of being a “mature adult” is doing things you don’t want to do, whether it be permanent, temporary or on occasion. Being childfree, I don’t do things I don’t want to do. Therefore, by society’s standards, I am immature. Does that make sense?

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I hear that “moment” thing a lot as well, and I always seem to be witness to those moments, which makes me wonder how many of the 1,440 moments in a day AREN’T “moments”. Maybe just the ones where they’re asleep…

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