Sunday, May 19, 2013

Childfree Is Not a Synonym for Wealthy

I recently set up two Google Alerts: childfree & childless. Which means that I receive emails, for each alert, directing me to recent articles. It's brilliant. I can't imagine why I didn't do this sooner. Unfortunately, it's also left a bad taste in my mouth. More than half of the articles aggregated are about how the childfree & childless are a selfish lot who're destroying the world. This time it's because we're not producing future taxpayers to take care of the elderly. Um, okay. But that's not what's bothering me. That's old hat in every sense. People have been shouting from the rooftops that we're selfish and abnormal for a long time. One article even went so far as to say that we "lack an essential humanity."[1.]

What's bothering me is that so many anti-childfree articles suggest that we're all a bunch of world traveling, fancy cuisine eating, high rise living, party people who have nothing better to do than to go to "hot yoga" and take "shopping trips to New York."[2.] The ones that cap their articles with pictures of couples drinking wine and enjoying life. And the pro-childfree articles, the ones that defend us, sometimes aren't really defending us. Many of these are making the problem worse by interviewing those kind of childfree people. The ones who say things like "The benefits of not having children are in the driveway, in our closet and stamped on our passports" (refer to footnote #1). It's ridiculous. We're not all a bunch of wealthy, snooty people who're buying Louboutins and jetting off to Paris for lunch.

And let's get this out of the way, because inevitably, someone will say it. Yes, those kind of childfree people do exist. The ones who have more money than they can spend because they're not spending it on children. The ones that take expensive vacations three or four times a year and stay in childfree resorts. The ones who waste their money on six bedroom houses they can't possibly need. Okay, I get that. So does everyone else.

Now come back down to earth, where we're real people that struggle, too. I know just as many childfree people who struggle to make ends meet as I do parents who're constantly taking their children on vacations and buying them fancy toys. For many of us, the idea that we can afford more only works in fantasy. In realty we're affected by the bad economy, our retirements aren't somehow impervious to taking a huge hit just because we don't have kids, we struggle to afford medical insurance and pay our bills, to pay back our student loans, to take vacations. We're not all running off to Jamaica to lay on a beach and write our memoirs. Some of us suffer from the same problems people with children do. And I, for one, am grateful that I don't have children who're suffering because I can't afford to feed them.

But here's the thing. The argument in these articles, from both sides, has a built in fallacy. They say that some people don't have children because they feel like they can't afford them, then turn around in the same breath and say people without children are all swimming in more money than we know what to do with. It can't be both ways. It cant be that we're regular people who look at our budgets and can't see where children will fit, but we can somehow afford a personal trainer, martinis in upscale clubs every night, and a BMW. Those sentiments are completely incompatible. If we don't have them because we can't afford them, then we're not buying Coach handbags, either. The saving grace here is that most childfree people don't chose to forgo children because of money. Most of us chose to remain childfree for much more personal reasons. It's a point most of these articles miss when they're slamming us for our selfish, wealthy ways.

Even still, it's problematic that these articles paint us in a light that suggests that we're snobs, snubbing the basic human process of having offspring while giggling over our champagne at the poor, poor saps who fell for procreation. We're not snubbing anything, many of us just understand that unwanted children are a terrible thing. Every child deserves to be loved 100%, not resented for taking something away. But that's an argument we've all heard, repeatedly, so I don't need to elaborate. Nor do I need to point out that the world is much less kind to the childfree. We don't get tax breaks, we pay taxes for schools and services we don't use,  and when we need help, we don't qualify for some of the basic human services available to struggling people with kids. It's as though, to the government, we don't exist at all. Save for tax time, of course. And we have to invest in our retirements, we won't have children to use as a safety net when we're old. We also don't consume as much as people with children. And so on.

But all these articles seem to care about is that we can afford more. Even when we can't. Yes, my husband and I have a few small luxuries. I get my nails done when I can afford it, but while I'm there I sit and listen to women chatter about their children all around me. Sometimes they even bring their terrible two year old to the salon. We go out to eat regularly, where we're almost inevitably seated behind or beside a couple with small children. We take in a movie now and then, where the kids who're sitting behind us relentlessly kick the back of our chairs for two hours while their parents ignore them. Our best friends eat out regularly and they have three kids. My point here is that while there are people who suffer, all around us there are families who aren't. So, to paint us as some sort of selfish entity who can afford more than those who have sacrificed such luxuries for their children is unfair.

Ultimately, children are just one factor in a complex net of factors. They're expensive, I get that. I recently read something that says it costs average parents with average children about $1.1 million dollars over 18 years to raise one child. Yikes! Okay. But remember, being childfree doesn't make us any more capable of making money. It doesn't make us any less susceptible to expensive illnesses that we struggle to afford treatment for. It doesn't make us any less human or any less open to the same exact factors that affect other humans. We're not all wealthy or even well off just because we don't have children and childfree people who say we all are, just because they happen to be, are much more a part of the problem than they are the solution.