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.


  1. I have noticed that theme too Kristyn. I don't understand why people can't just accept everyone's right to live their life how they see fit, without applying some kind of negative theme or stereotype. I do feel like this group bashing is done on both sides...the childfree being labeled as "self-absorbed", "snooty", etc...and mothers being labeled as "breeders", "mombies" and the like. Certainly there are immensely annoying individuals in both groups, but I believe the overgeneralizing needs to stop. Many women fought for a woman's right to choose, and now it seems that no matter what choice a woman DOES make, it will be attacked by her fellow women. Instead of supporting each other and rejoicing that we can all choose our own paths, we are too busy criticizing each other's choices and generating false assumptions about them. And I honestly feel both groups are equally guilty of doing so, and it saddens me. " Live and let live" damn it...:-)

  2. I agree, Shannon! So many people are on one side or the other. I've been guilty of it from time to time, but as I've gotten a little bit older I've given up on making those sorts of assessments. I just wish that people wouldn't apply artificial labels to either side. It's like little kids calling one another names and beating each other down. It's not terribly becoming of adults, for sure.

  3. You know...I was guilty of it too, but mine was towards other MOMS. I used to feel somewhat superior to mothers who chose to stay at home with their kids, because I worked. I despise that old me...she was a real butthole. And I think my subtle smugness towards their lifestyle was a way to bury my own guilt over not feeling like a good enough mother. I really believe any attack by an individual towards someone's life choices is just a defense...a way to avoid facing one's own perceived shortcomings. Your post is good though- at least it might dispel some of the common misconceptions regarding the childfree.

  4. I think we're all like that to an extent, Shannon. Everyone has the capacity to be judgmental. Rising above it is what makes us better people. I've tried to rise above making arbitrary judgments, you seem to have, too. That means we've grown and become better people.

  5. I *can* afford more than someone who has kids and who makes exactly what my husband and I make. We actually did go to Jamaica several years ago (after saving for it), and it was phenomenal. Best week ever. We *do* have a third drink after work now and then and never get around to making dinner, and I spent the whole weekend in stores looking for clothes for summer.

    I truly, really, honestly don't understand what is wrong with admitting to NOT suffering, to being happy, to being perfectly thrilled, in fact, to have more cash and freedom (all other things being equal).

    There seems to be this need to say, "No, I suffer too!" And to interpret "You're having more fun / you have it easier / you get to do yoga if you want to because you don't have kids to take care of" as an insult rather than an observation.

    Granted, everyone who doesn't have kids isn't lying in piles of money while getting honey massages from Ryan Gossling lookalikes, but that's not the point. The point is, why is it necessary that unhappiness, frustration, or difficulty be the measure of value?

    What's the point of being happy and enjoying your life if it's not considered acceptable to do so? The message I keep hearing is, "WANT to be happy, but don't actually BE happy, because someone somewhere isn't, and if they aren't, you shouldn't get to be, either."

    Except, my not being happy won't make them happier (unless they have an addiction to Schadenfreude), so... screw it. I'll take my happy, and I'll take it guilt-free. It's my one life, and I think I'm okay with enjoying as much of it as I can. Including the free time I could use to take yoga classes (if I had any interest in yoga).

  6. Hi, Sylvia. Thanks for taking the time to leave me a thoughtful comment. I appreciate the feedback. And, I agree with you to an extent. I don't think there's anything wrong with being capable of doing those things. I also don't think you should be unhappy, certainly part of the choice to remain childfree is about seeing and understanding what will make you happy--and conversely, what won't.

    I think that my point with this was more that the anti-childfree people are misrepresenting us and the childfree people they're interviewing aren't helping anything by bragging about all the stuff they have. It just puts parents off and many of those people already dislike us, whether it be because of jealousy or an honest sympathy for what they believe we're missing in our lives. Not all parents mind you, but the bitter ones taking in, and writing, those articles about how horrible and selfish we are, certainly.

    Also, I think it's wrong for them to represent themselves as some sort of oppressed group who're at home eating cat food while we're eating caviar. We're a diverse group. Not all of us are better off, but I certainly don't begrudge those who are. I buy myself clothes, which I can afford because I don't have to clothe children. Certainly. And I would love to take a vacation which I could afford, if I saved for it. I just think that there are enough of all types of people in the childfree population that we shouldn't be pigeon-holed into a stereotype that may or may not be accurate. We're not all the same, as childed people who write about how horrible and selfish we are seem to believe.

  7. I'm childfree, and I'm currently suffering through food poison. On a long weekend. Payback I guess for all of the schadenfreude I enjoyed over the years. :-\ In an ironic twist, it occurs to me I have a smidge of an idea of who women like Kate Middleton felt suffering from all of that vomiting and nausea. I feel like a zombie, with a terrible intestinal spasms, and I'm not even with child.

  8. I hope you feel better, Stacerella! I'm the absolute WORST at dealing with nausea. I'd make the most helpless pregnant woman, pretty much ever. I'd be completely worthless and I'd make everyone in my life absolutely MISERABLE! lol

  9. [...] Childfree Is Not a Synonym for Wealthy Some childfree stereotypes are truly pervasive.  You’d be surprised to know how many people think that all childfree people are well-to-do in spite of their career choices.   After all, I’m currently typing on a keyboard made of gold.  (Just kidding.) My keyboard is platinum. I bought it at the annual meeting of really rich people who didn’t have kids.  OK, the last two sentences were jokes.  This hilarious stereotype must have gotten to me.  Maybe I should read this blog post again.  Are all of your childfree friends rich and famous?  I want to know. Please, comment below. [...]

  10. Why is having money bad? Why is it an insult? People are just jealous. Alot of the "luxuries" you mentioned are a normal part of my everyday spending and cant imagine not spending that. I think maybe people with lower incomes have incredibly low standards if they see these things as "luxuries". Childfree or not, money is a good thing.

  11. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having money, that wasn't my point at all. My point was that being childfree doesn't make us wealthy or shallow. And before it becomes an issue, I don't assume wealthy = shallow, but that's the assumption by people who put childfree individuals down. That the childfree are somehow wealthy, shallow people winnowing away life by drinking and vacationing and never thinking about anyone but themselves. We're not all like that, we're pretty normal. THAT is my point.