Usually, I’m one to defend the millennial generation from those who are endlessly trying to discredit us (ahem, baby boomers). But sometimes, I read a piece of crap like this and remember that sometimes, young people truly embody their stereotypes: condescending, spoiled beings who don’t fact check and depend on emotional, self-centered rhetoric to feed their agenda.
Before you exit this article and write a spiteful comment based on the paragraph you’ve read so far, let me make one thing clear: this is not an “attack” on anyone of any age group not wanting to have children, either right now or at any point in their lives. There’s nothing morally wrong with choosing to not have children, or choosing to have a family through adoption or surrogacy rather than childbirth. That’s not what this article is about.
This article is about the way you defend your choice. I get it, it isn’t pleasant to have dinner table conversations with relatives who are a little too concerned with your reproductive life. No one enjoys it when someone else suggests that you’re going to end up being “unfulfilled” in life. But you really need to chill with your rhetoric. On the one hand, some of it is annoying. No, you aren’t “technically” a parent because you love your pet a lot- it’s perfectly okay to value your pets as family members, but it’s disrespectful to the millions of parents who have sacrificed in ways you can’t and don’t personally understand when you decide your own responsibility to your animal friends are equal to them. Making the annual trip to the vet clinic and paying a bit extra for senior-friendly dog chow isn’t anywhere near the social, emotional and financial sacrifices actual parents have made- respect that and be quiet.
On the other hand, your rhetoric can unintentionally reinforce and validate some very negative stereotypes and skewed beliefs that affect everyone in society. So, please, next time you have to explain to someone that no, you aren’t really worried about your biological clock ticking away, here are some things to consider to help you come off as loud and proud instead of condescending and rude:
The Superiority Complex
First and foremost, can we discuss the superiority that some- actually many- young people have when they discuss not having children?
I would like kids one day. I go to university. I am in an arts program. I enjoy the idea of living in a city.
I happen to be proud to be an arts student in a city who wants kids without going out of my way to make others feel bad. I don’t say things like, “yeah, being an arts student is tough, but it could be worse, I could be a science major”. When it comes to my friends who didn’t pursue post-secondary and instead went into a field like retail, I never suggest they’re “selfish” because they could be studying nursing or law and give back to society in ways their management position never could. I don’t talk to my friends who are happily living in non-urban areas about how I would kill myself if I ever had to live where they do. It’s almost like I can be satisfied with my own life without trying to create a narrative where my lifestyle is the only valid one.
No one is denying that being childfree doesn’t come with its own advantages. But to many people, not having those advantages is a worthwhile sacrifice. For example, I can obviously see why one would choose not to have a job if they have their expenses covered by a spouse or parent. But I would still choose to have a job and be working- even though that means investing 40 hours of my life, dealing with a daily commute and going to anxiety-inducing interviews. Just like you probably wouldn’t go out of your way to make someone with a wealthy partner feel bad because they choose to work, you shouldn’t make people willing to put in the effort to have healthy family feel the same way.
You’ve made a valid choice not having kids- but your superiority doesn’t validate your choice, it just makes you a dick.
Focusing On Overpopulation- While Being Hypocritical
Just admit it. You don’t want kids because you’ve never really been a huge fan of them. Or you absolutely hate responsibility. Or you’re deeply afraid of commitment. Or you’re a busy person. Or you’ve always been scared if you get handed a baby you’ll drop it and you definitely don’t want to drop your own baby. Or you think you’ll be a bad parent. All of these are valid reasons. But don’t pretend you’re making a choice to lower your carbon footprint.
First of all, if you really, truly cared about the environment, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. You’d be out in the wilderness living off the land. I’m not saying you can’t be environmentally conscious and exist in the modern world, and I’m not saying your at-home efforts to create a better planet aren’t valid. But let’s just be honest: you have to be more committed to eco-consciousness than remembering to recycle every once in a while and going thrift shopping to let it be such a prominent aspect of your life it controls your reproductive choices. If you didn’t decide on your job, your housing, your schooling, and your shopping routines based on environmental reasons, you didn’t decide to never start a family ever because of it. You decided for other reasons- which is totally fine.
But don’t go toting your choice to not have kids as a symbol of your eco-sainthood. When you decide that not having kids “compensates” for your other unhealthy habits- eating meat, driving a car, leaving your AC on all summer- you’ve just done exactly what baby boomers think you do: blame everything on other people. You’re making the choice to live your own existence callously and without regards to the world around you while deciding that the true solution is eliminating the opportunity for other people to do the same. Because the real problem is others not you. You deserve to live your life in as damaging a way as possible, but the babies being born every day are ruining our planet. It’s a deeply hypocritical and selfish mindset.
Also, think about overpopulation on a more critical level- our planet is not overpopulated. We have the resources to sustain our population, and with technology improving every day, we have the opportunity to ensure better farming practices, better housing practices and better transportation practices that can give every person in the world access to basic needs while also lowering our carbon footprint. That’s not the problem. The problem is overconsumption. That’s not a global issue- it’s a Western issue. We all want our McDonald’s and our shiny new phones and our houses with big yards and picket fences. That’s more dangerous than a family of eight in Africa peacefully living their lives. And you, as a Westerner, are actively contributing to overconsumption, even if you choose not to add to the population.
Lashing Out About Parents’ Social Media Posts
This one is just annoying. It’s not reflective of any deep rooted social issue*. It’s just something I don’t understand. We get it. You are satisfied being childless- but if you actually can’t stand to see other people satisfied with their life, I think you may not be as confident with your own choices as you may think.
Come on, we’ve all dealt with endless posts and Snapchat stories of blurry, crowded parties and videos where there’s always someone with the background screaming something incoherent. We all have to deal with those girls we went to high school with who update you on literally every aspect of their life. We have to deal with tabloids who mistakenly believe we actually still care about Taylor Swift (I said it). Yet I never see as much rage as someone who goes on Facebook and has to see baby photos. Facebook isn’t providing you with content you’re interested in? When has Facebook ever provided you with content you’re actually interested in?
Shut up and let people be happy with their lives. Think of it like college majors- we all know at least one engineering or pre-med student that makes snide comments to all other majors. It doesn’t actually say anything about the hardworking students in other programs- it just reflects poorly on the snobby student. Hating on people for choosing to have kids doesn’t actually mean their days must be boring or hard or they secretly hate their lives- it just means you aren’t as confident as you try and act.
*Unless you are the awful type of person who likes to suggest young women, single women or poor women who have kids must be “sluts” or failures.
You Can’t Have It All
Yes, the unfortunate reality is that it can be tough to navigate both parenthood and a successful career. There are a lot of barriers to having both- jobs that demand travel, working so many hours you have little time for any personal life, even the fear of being discriminated against. For this reason, many people are deciding to forgo having kids, especially the younger generation, which is already struggling to find decent work without children.
But the reality is that “you can’t have it all” isn’t a good thing. It’s not something to say almost like a boast- you can’t have it all meaning I’m gonna have a great career with lots of money while you face systematic discrimination and struggle to make ends meet, continuing a vicious cycle that often targets already oppressed communities. Don’t say it like you’re proud of it.
The reality is, every worker should be able to “have it all”. They should be able to raise children in a safe, healthy environment while also contributing to society through the workplace. Why? Well, first of all, because it’s the decent thing to do- people have children for a number of reasons, and we shouldn’t act like their productive lives have ended. But also because it helps society as a whole.
Let’s start with the decency thing. Compare parents to workers with disabilities. At first, you may be appalled and offended by the comparison- obviously, people with disabilities can’t choose their conditions. But, remember there are so many reasons why a person ends up a parent. They may have ended up taking care of a child that isn’t theirs, they may have faced unplanned pregnancy and for completely valid moral, philosophical, social and religious reasons, chose parenting rather than adoption or abortion. But even for those who did choose parenthood, remember that people with disabilities do have the option of being unemployed and accepting monthly payments from the governments. They have that option, but many still choose to work, for very similar reasons to parents. People with disabilities may be unable to survive on the little money the government offers- and almost all parents need a source of income to evade death. People with disabilities may need something to fill their time with- and parents need another aspect of their life than just childrearing.
We should give both these groups proper accommodations: the ability to go on leave when they are unable to fulfill both their parenting duties and workplace duties, flexibility in scheduling (contributing to the workplace doesn’t need to happen on a 9-5 basis!), and a general understanding of the hardships of parenting and their repercussions- like a parent coming in tired and slower than usual.
On a societal level, accommodating parents also makes sense. It sounds cheesy, but our children are the future. They will be the leaders, educators, doctors and lawyers of the future. They will be the ones taking care of you in the nursing home and making important legislative decisions. They’ll be providing the tax dollars that will ensure your retirement. You can talk about how the population is ruining us all you want, we need a next generation to ensure our society doesn’t crumble. We can choose a world where we don’t support them in their youth- give them less opportunity and time with their parents, and leave them financially unstable because it’s hard for parents to work and take care of their kids, or a world where we do support them. The world where we don’t means more tax dollars spent on medical bills, prisons and welfare programs. It means less educated people- and therefore less professionals and less educated voters. It means higher crime rates. A world where we do support them means lower crime, an educated generation equipped to help us continue to solve the problems we face, a world with a stronger economy. Protecting our kids starts with supporting our parents.
You might think it’s no big deal to discuss how parents “can’t have it all”, but it is a big deal. You’re talking about a huge injustice as though it’s a casual, even positive construct.
False (and Deeply Problematic) Rage About Parenting “Privileges”
Like in this article, some childfree people truly believe parents are the lucky ones- receiving all sorts of unfair and unnecessary benefits, while the childless go punished.
You can’t get trashed at your college Halloween party because your parent co-worker already booked the night off- visibly pregnant mothers lose out on job opportunities regardless of their merit and work ethic. You had to pay to bring your non-human pet on board an airplane- they face constant judgment and discrimination if they don’t fulfill the perfect role of a parent (i.e., have the audacity to have tattoos or be gay or be unmarried or be low income). You have to sometimes hear a young child who is still learning to use logical reasoning and communicate their emotions go on a tantrum in public- that parent has to deal with the tantrum while aiding their emotional and intellectual growth so they eventually stop tantrums while having condescending non-parents roll their eyes at their attempts to calm their children. It’s like, totally equal oppression.
I’m not saying you won’t face your own hardships- like I said, it sucks that older people make comments about your life, or that you sometimes have to take one for the team and work the crummy Friday night shift so your co-worker doesn’t have to blow half her grocery bill on after-hours daycare costs. But stop pretending parents are a privileged bunch. Stop pretending they can just “control” their young children, and thus you have the right to judge struggling parents for not doing this “job”. Stop pretending like work accommodations are unjustified- they aren’t going home fifteen minutes early to have a party. Parents aren’t getting small tax breaks because the government hates you, it’s because children obviously raise the chances of ending up in poverty, and children can’t help it if they live in a low income household, so tax breaks mean that children who are completely unable to support themselves have more access to things they need, which in turn means less poverty, which means a better world for you. No, taking time off work to do a home reno or write a novel isn’t as valid as parental leave. Your workplace is not obligated to accommodate your personal life- your desire to have a better home or spend a few months living it up without any responsibility. You are there to fulfill your duty to them in exchange for money, not have them make your life better for no incentive whatsoever. Providing leave to parents is not a matter of giving them time off on a whim- it’s accepting the fact that parents are tied down to societal and biological obligations outside of their own lives, and it benefits all of us if we allow them to fulfill those obligations. If you don’t like how a child is behaving at a restaurant or on an airplane, don’t request that they move. If you are unhappy with your location for any reason, you have the right to move yourself to make yourself happy. You don’t have the right to move others to make yourself happy. That’s selfish and it’s segregating and it makes people feel like shit.
This is one of the most damaging stereotypes of all. I hear it a lot when young people explain why they don’t want kids (“there’s already too many unwanted kids”), and it’s especially upsetting to hear feminists saying these things. There are plenty of ways to argue in favour of reproductive freedom- but the concept of “unwanted” children isn’t one of them.
Firstly, it’s untrue in America- there are actually more families who are interested in or would be willing to adopt or foster children than there are kids in the adoption system. In fact, an estimated two million LGBTQ people in America would be willing to or are considering adoption, whereas under 700,000 children are in the foster or adoption system every year. Overall, there are more than enough people willing to adopt for every “unwanted” child.
Secondly, it’s blatantly dehumanizing to suggest some lives are not wanted. It’s telling kids around the world- kids who are in foster care, are from abusive families or were just unplanned- that if their biological parents didn’t “want” them (or rather, were unprepared for them or placed them into adoption for their own wellbeing) they aren’t wanted anywhere by anyone. It also reinforces the idea that adoptive parents are less valid than biological ones- if a child isn’t raised by their bio parents it means they’re automatically “unwanted”, suggesting they are the only parents who really have a say in whether or not a child is worthy or not.
There’s a lot of reasons to not have kids- but the number of “unwanted” kids isn’t one of them. Do you want to really solve the “unwanted” kids problem? Donate money or volunteer for a foster or adoption agency. “Adopt” an orphan overseas by donating monthly. Help fight for legislation that makes it easy for the families who want to adopt to do so. Any of those actions are more helpful than selfishly pretending your own reproduction choices were made in the name of the societal ill that is (allegedly) “unwanted” kids.
Reinforcing Negative and Harmful Stereotypes
Yes, we know you don’t want kids. No, you don’t have to go onto some rant about how some people shouldn’t have kids at all because they’re “stupid”/poor/disabled/uneducated/unmarried. Don’t coyly suggest the world would be better if more people “kept their legs shut”- you know that idea is mostly applied to parents we as a society feel unfit to procreate, and that has real life repercussions.
For decades, we’ve judged older parents, young parents, student parents, single parents, immigrant parents, parents of colour. We’ve created the harmful anti-Black stereotype that is the welfare queen. We’ve even gone as far as to attempt eugenics- forcing certain people against their will to have children while denying others the right.
Does not wanting kids automatically reinforce these negative beliefs? No. Does acting like not having children is the only ethical, fulfilling, responsible choice? Absolutely.
It’s important to stand your ground and defend your personal decisions- but please, try not to do it at the expense of parents- especially young and low-income parents.