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An American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she is, or can be, or wants to be."
September 20, 2012 7:41 AM   Subscribe

In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. The Atlantic explores why not wanting kids is totally normal.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (168 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17

Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiit. Thanks, Dad.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:45 AM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Potential parents need to be aware of what they're really in for. They should have to watch this video, for example.
posted by resurrexit at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Damn. I'm childfree by choice and have no regrets. This article makes me even happier about it.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [26 favorites]


My understanding is that a lot of these older-child relinquishment cases were resolved with the children being reunited with their families, and the caretakes getting a higher level of mental and childcare support than previously.

Maybe older-child relinquishment is socially taboo, but I do think we need a method to identify when parents need support, and the structure to provide that support, before children are neglected or abused.
posted by muddgirl at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [44 favorites]


See, the lede is a troll to the actual content of the article, which is kinda a bummer.
posted by k5.user at 7:50 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The normalization of not wanting any children is the natural consequence of normalizing "I only want [x] kids." If it's normal to want a limited number of children, why isn't it acceptable to want no children?

A sad consequence of this mentality is when people intentionally have one or two kids, and then, once those kids are at child-bearing age, consistently pester those kids to have grandkids. If it was normal for you to limit your number of kids, grandma, why isn't it normal for your kids to do the same?
posted by resurrexit at 7:56 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


See, the lede is a troll to the actual content of the article, which is kinda a bummer.

Yeah, it's a really ridiculous mismatch - "People were abandoning children... and even upper-middle-class white moms struggle with parenthood!"

I mean yeah, they're both important issues, but with structurally different causes. The grandmother dropping off her grandkid is not struggling with social pressure to "have it all."
posted by muddgirl at 7:57 AM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


God, that's horrible and wrong.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:57 AM on September 20, 2012


Seriously, this is wrong. If you have a kid, you are responsible for it, rape being the only exception.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:01 AM on September 20, 2012


Parenthood means that your own interests are less important than the interests of your child.

You either find that fulfilling or don't. It doesn't surprise me that many people don't, and I'm personally divided on it.
posted by jaduncan at 8:01 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Self sacrifice is for suckers, said my mom.
posted by Senator at 8:02 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


It doesn't even matter if you find parenting fulfilling, raising the child is still your responsibility. Mind you, our society could do a heck of a lot better job of providing support, especially to the people who need it most.
posted by kokaku at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Dad.

Now consider what kind of person would do that, and now how sure you are that the children weren't better off as abandoned wards of the state.
posted by jaduncan at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


I spent my first seven years as a father telling my wife that "I love my children, but I wouldn't be a father if I had the chance to do it over again." It nearly led to divorce because she couldn't deal with the fact that I didn't share something that was such a fundamental part of her life.

In staving off the divorce, I went to therapy and was prescribed stimulants to control my ADHD. From the very first dose, my relationship with my children changed. One of the most common symptoms of ADHD is an inability to ignore stimuli, and as you can imagine, there is a lot of stimuli with two young boys in the house. With medication, I was able to hang out around the house and not feel overwhelmed by the noise and motion and energy. Now I can't imagine life without my sons.

I am absolutely not suggesting that people who don't want their kids all have ADD or any other neurological disorders. I am just amazed at how quickly my relationship with my children improved when I took care of my own mental health.
posted by bpm140 at 8:05 AM on September 20, 2012 [80 favorites]


Ironmouth, I'm curious, why would rape be an exception? Rape is horrible, but cases where people have access to abortion (like not one of the more backward states where they might imprison a woman for trying to get Plan B in a pharmacy) isn't having the child still a choice? Surely no victim can be expected to "own" their rape, the criminal owns that...but don't they own that choice? Don't they retain that agency?
posted by trackofalljades at 8:05 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It doesn't even matter if you find parenting fulfilling

Once that little head pops out, sure. The time when you decide if you want to do it shouldn't be that point or after.
posted by jaduncan at 8:05 AM on September 20, 2012


If you have a kid, you are responsible for it

What if you live in a state with abstinence-only sex education and have several kids that you're struggling to financially support? Which kids should you let starve to feed the other ones?

What if your kid is a drug addict and you are caring for her children but your social security benefits stretch less and less each month?

What if you are struggling with depression and have violent ideations and don't have the mental health support to work through it?

For some parents, giving up their kid may be the best option they can see. We can either condemn them or give them better options.
posted by muddgirl at 8:05 AM on September 20, 2012 [69 favorites]


Now consider what kind of person would do that, and now how sure you are that the children weren't better off as abandoned wards of the state.

Yeah, I should emphasise that that really wasn't really meant to express anything more than a sort of visceral horror I experience reading that sentence. The issue is complex and I'm not sure how I feel overall, but that's just such an awful image.
posted by ominous_paws at 8:06 AM on September 20, 2012


Was The Atlantic ever any good, or did I only imagine it was once?

I mean, this: American culture can't accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother.

...Has nothing whatsoever to do with (for instance) the anecdote about a man dropping off his family of nine children under the new rule.

This is such a confusing muddle of unrelated topics, oversimplifications, and false-equivalences, I actually feel like my mind is a little less organized now for having even tried to read it all (I gave up about two-thirds of the way through, fearing dementia was imminent).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


I am just amazed at how quickly my relationship with my children improved when I took care of my own mental health.

bpm140, speaking as a child of someone who would never have accomplished that kind of introspection, this complete internet stranger would like to encourage you that it sounds like you're going to be a fantastic father for children to grow up with.
posted by trackofalljades at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


Seriously, this is wrong. If you have a kid, you are responsible for it, rape being the only exception.

Except that if you are a woman, responsibility means something very different than if you are a man.

But, aside from that what you are saying is wrong. We wish that parents were totally responsible for their kids, but in the end we are all responsible for all kids.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


"One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. "

Is it wrong that I find that one hilarious. The 17 year old would probably know where his father lives, works, family friends etc.
Next door neighbour:"Hey Joe, whatever happened to the 9 children you had. I believe you had one of the for like 17 years"
Joe:"Oh, just got rid of 'em. Wasn't working out. "
NDN:"Cool"
posted by Damienmce at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


Was The Atlantic ever any good?

Yes, before roughly April 2005.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


There is a bit of a functional difference between avoiding having kids up front (birth control, abstinence, abortion) and ditching kids outright who've been part of your family for years and years. The latter makes the abandonment issues and trauma associated with divorce sound like an amusement park.

Marriage is entered into voluntarily. Kids didn't volunteer for anything.
posted by delfin at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nobody tells you the negatives before you get pregnant
oegjojegjaeflac',ldac;lmvds;lml
posted by MangyCarface at 8:10 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am absolutely not suggesting that people who don't want their kids all have ADD or any other neurological disorders. I am just amazed at how quickly my relationship with my children improved when I took care of my own mental health.

Somewhat related: Pot for Parents.
posted by Alt F4 at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The idea that parents blithely drop of their kids because their irresponsible is 100% akin to the idea that all women get abortions because they find babies/pregnancy to be 'inconvenient' and would rather be able to afford mani-pedis and go to margarita night with the girl friends.
posted by muddgirl at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


Seriously, this is wrong. If you have a kid, you are responsible for it, rape being the only exception.

Doesn't this logic just further punish kids with parents who refuse to take on responsibility? Try all you want, but you can't force people to raise their kids well. There's a lot of wiggle room between "good parenting" and "CPS takes the kids away" where a parent can still do an awful but not necessarily illegal job.
posted by griphus at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Whenever I read these dystopian stories where—to drive home how dystopian a dystopia it was—they have all of the children being collectively raised by the state in crèches, it always sounds kind of wonderful to me. Possibly I am the only one.

The family unit can be a really dysfunctional organization when the people who are in it don't want to be there. It would be nice if people who don't want kids didn't have them, but when they do, forcing them to raise them unwillingly for 18 years seems like a terrible idea for everyone involved.
posted by enn at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2012 [24 favorites]


I've always been clear on one thing: I never wanted children. I have many reasons, not the least of which is that there are already plenty of people on the planet. At 43, I'm wickedly happy with my decision. I love my time, energy, sleep & money. Our dogs keep us plenty busy & we don't have to send them to college. We get to save up for and take wildly delicious vacations all over the world - something we are passionate about & couldn't do if we were paying for kids.

What I never understood what that people felt they needed to comment, judge, cajole, or even feel sorry for me - they just automatically assume everyone desperately wants offspring. They can't imagine that someone would want something different than them.

In my 20's & 30's, I'd get the irritating response, usually with a knowing nod, "Oh, you'll change your mind, just wait, you'll see"

Recently, one of my co-workers presumptuously said, "Oh, Trixare4kids, it's so sad you can't have kids, are you going to adopt?" Upon telling her I simply didn't want them, she said with an exaggerated sad face, hand on her chest in concern, "Oooooh.. you don't want children!? That's soooo sad!! You must be soooo lonely! You don't know what you are missing!!"

I just smile & nod... and laugh myself all the way to the bank.. and to Tahiti, Israel, Great Britain, Costa Rica, Paris, London, Italy, Cuba (shhhh!), Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, China... etc.. etc...
posted by trixare4kids at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2012 [86 favorites]


Mixed feelings about this. Had there been infrastructure in place to handle it, I don't necessarily have a problem with shunting children from disinterested (at best) parents to those who are more willing to provide a functional family structure. As a resident of the state at the time, I did have a number of private chuckles as the "we must save the children" crowd came to the realization of what their short-sighted, feel-good legislation facilitated.

One particularly sad case involved a mother who flew her teenaged daughter to Omaha. The daughter, having a clue as to what was going to happen, bolted after landing. It was a few days before she was found.

Adding fun to the mix, at the same time Nebraska was in the process of privatizing its Health and Human Services work. Total cluckerhump, that.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:16 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Children's Behavioral Health Oversight Committee, which was created in the wake of the Nebraska law's amendment, talks explicitly about what kind of people drop off their older children at hospitals:

"After the law took effect in July 2008, 36 children and teenagers were left at Nebraska hospitals; no infants were left. The stories that emerged from these events made it clear that the state lacked adequate, effective services for families trying to deal with children’s behavioral and mental health problems."

It goes on to say:
"Senators changed the law so that it applied only to infants, but they also began discussions in earnest with the executive and judicial branches on Nebraska’s juvenile mental and behavioral health system. In the 2009 legislative session, senators introduced a number of bills to provide and expand services [which are listed later in this document]."

The committee's first report to the Nebraska governor is short and worth reading.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


If you have a kid, you are responsible for it, rape being the only exception.

There are about 90,000 reported rapes in the US per year. Rep. shit-for-brains Akin notwithstanding, about 5% of those will result in pregnancies so what do you propose we tell the 4,500 or so kids per year whose parents you will generously let off the hook?
posted by localroger at 8:18 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Hairpin has a great interview with the author.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 8:25 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Related news: Innu parents want to give up children to get them away from solvent-sniffing.
posted by No Robots at 8:25 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Senators changed the law so that it applied only to infants, but they also began discussions in earnest with the executive and judicial branches on Nebraska’s juvenile mental and behavioral health system. In the 2009 legislative session, senators introduced a number of bills to provide and expand services [which are listed later in this document]."

Hey there -- whatever they're drinking out there in Nebraska? Pennsylvania legislators will have what they're having, thanks!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


tl;dr: Having kids isn't for everyone no matter what societal norms may have conditioned you to believe.
posted by usonian at 8:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've done work for organizations that provide legal advice to low income people and this was a call we got regularly. Moms (always) of 15, 16, 17 year old kids. The moms had no help, the kids were running wild, dealing drugs out of their homes, not going to school, sometimes abusing the moms, bringing dangerous people into the home, etc. The moms would just be at the end of their ropes and not know what to do. It was never a case of "oh I thought parenting would be fun but now it isn't so can somebody take my kids away lol." It was always "I don't know what else to do and I'm afraid for my safety or the safety of my other kids and nobody can help me, what do I do?" We could try to point them to any assistance that might be available to them, but basically the answer was always "No you can't abandon your 16 year old. You are stuck with them no matter how bad it gets." No good guys, no bad guys, just people in bad situations.
posted by ND¢ at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2012 [53 favorites]


Given that your twitter photo has you as a white guy I'm guessing this is just fucktarded dog whistle racism and you assume that nobody on here has seen The Wire?

I actually have never seen the Wire, and I favorited that comment b/c it made me chuckle. I assumed the father was white, cuz you know, it's Nebraska.


Seriously, this is wrong.

Thanks for instructing us.

the ingrained expectation that women should want to become parents is detrimental and unhealthy

To the individual. But not THE COLLECTIVE.

To me, this article was not about motherhood, but about wife-hood. It's like Nanny 911. Yeah, raising kids is hard, but raising kids ALONE is impossible.

And raising kids with a BAD partner is even worse than that b/c you have the additional baggage of not having the freedom to make all the parenting choices you want to make.

American culture can't accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother.

I don't buy this anymore. Not one bit.

Once you factor in the abortion rate and pregnancies that end in miscarriage, we're left with the rather surprising fact that one-third of babies born in the United States were unplanned.

Actually, I'm surprised it's not higher. Sex is funny business. As usual, it's all about sex education and contraception.

"I love my son, but I hate being a mother. It has been a thankless, monotonous, exhausting, irritating and oppressive job. Motherhood feels like a prison sentence. I can't wait until I am paroled when my son turns 18 and hopefully goes far away to college."

Even a half-decent partner would thank you in one form or another.

There's also a whole taboo part of this thing, where moms can't say this sort of shit out loud, because, hey, your kid is standing right there.

And 13-year-old kids aren't really kids anymore. That's one big whole separate thing.

So yeah, don't have unprotected sex unless you're planning to have a child. And don't pick jerks as parenting partners. Follow those 2 rules and you'll be fine.

/mostly happy father of 2
posted by mrgrimm at 8:31 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


disinterested (at best) parents

I'm sorry, but this is one of my pet peeves, and having seen the word misused for the third time today on Mefi, I just couldn't take it anymore....

"Disinterested" means impartial. "Uninterested" means you don't give a shit.
posted by Alnedra at 8:34 AM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]



American culture can't accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother.

I don't buy this anymore. Not one bit.

Notice, however, that that was deemed worthy of a news article.
posted by echo target at 8:36 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's not true and it hasn't been since 1660.
posted by muddgirl at 8:36 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


(Um, the disinterested vs. uninterested pet peeve.)
posted by muddgirl at 8:37 AM on September 20, 2012


"One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. "
Is it wrong that I find that one hilarious. The 17 year old would probably know where his father lives, works, family friends etc.

It does sound kind of like he was bluffing on an empty threat, and it went a little too far. Like, maybe he was driving to the lake for the weekend, but traffic was bad and his nine kids were getting all raucous in the back seat of his specially-modified 12-passenger van, and somehow it turned into "if you kids don't pipe down, I will turn this car right around, drive it to Nebraska, and leave you as wards of the state!"
posted by Mayor West at 8:40 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I spent my first seven years as a father telling my wife that "I love my children, but I wouldn't be a father if I had the chance to do it over again."

Believe it or not, my father admitted something very similar to me, years ago. And believe it or not, I totally got it.

I never considered it an insult (and he didn't want me to; he said it had nothing to do with me personally). I also think he was a pretty good parent; both my parents were kind of laissez-faire but I think that helped me be independent. I think he's on the self-centered side (and so am I, which was usually where our minor conflicts fell while I was growing up) but I think that self-centeredness also helped him have a clear view of himself, and I quite admire that. He was also a social worker for over 30 years, and part of the reason he was a good one was because he wasn't a bleeding heart and was capable of the emotional detachment needed to deal with really abusive and neglectful parents.

His admission probably made me feel OK about the fact that I never really wanted children either, and I've never really gotten any social pressure about that fact because I've been able to be straightforward and up-front about it. I'm sorry that a lot of other people don't seem to have that option.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:42 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Disinterested" means impartial. "Uninterested" means you don't give a shit.

disinterested
adjective
1. unbiased by personal interest or advantage; not influenced by selfish motives: a disinterested decision by the referee.
2. not interested; indifferent.

I used this in accordance with (2). Not interested, as in not interested in being a parent any longer. I also qualified it with (at best). The intent being--giving the parent the benefit of the doubt, the best one could say is they were no longer interested in being a parent.

So maybe dial back the prescriptivism?
posted by Fezboy! at 8:42 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just smile & nod... and laugh myself all the way to the bank.. and to Tahiti, Israel, Great Britain, Costa Rica, Paris, London, Italy, Cuba (shhhh!), Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, China... etc.. etc...

As much as you may personally find your own smile deeply satisfying, rest assured, for many of us, our children's smiles are worth infinitely more than any amount of jet-setting we might otherwise be doing. Some people find parenting makes them less invested in continuing the adolescent preoccupation with examining the fuzz in one's own navel and find that change in orientation to be indescribably personally and emotionally gratifying.

But I'm all for the idea that no one ought to feel pressured into having children. It's a very serious choice to make--but not necessarily a death sentence or ticket to grinding misery either. And I can honestly say I feel I have a much better understanding of my fellow human beings after having been so closely involved in observing and guiding the early development of a couple of 'em myself, and I think there is a value to society in that.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


I am absolutely not suggesting that people who don't want their kids all have ADD or any other neurological disorders. I am just amazed at how quickly my relationship with my children improved when I took care of my own mental health.

Or, to take the devil's advocate position, having two children can be sufficiently overwhelming that otherwise fully-functioning adults may need to be medicated to survive the experience.

My framing it that way is largely trolling, of course, but there's some truth to it as well. Becoming a good parent involves molding yourself into the kind of person who can spend a couple of decades structuring your life around your child's best interests. A lot of variables going on there: restructuring your finances, your family activities, your spare time, your hobbies, your future plans, your choice of residence. Your willingness to educate, to nurture, to put up with unwelcome behavior, to discipline, to forgive, to accept hardship and headaches and hordes of disruptions in the name of making sure Junior ends up all right.

Or you could just get married and bang out two kids right away because That's What All Parents Do.
posted by delfin at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Telling people I work with that I

(a) love kids and love spending time and working with kids,

and

(b) don't want kids

...it's like I wrestled them to the ground and pried their jaws open and jammed the Red Pill down their throats. Most of them seriously can't parse that both things can be true simultaneously. I don't know if this is a Quebec culture thing or a general North American thing (from much of the above, I'm starting to think it's broader than I assumed).

Either thing is fine. Saying both things is tantamount to declaring that I am not only a unicorn, but a vampire unicorn that must eat space jellyfish to survive.
posted by Shepherd at 8:46 AM on September 20, 2012 [31 favorites]


I don't actually see this as terrible. If people feel that they don't want their kids anymore, does anyone actually think it will be better for those kids to be raised by people that hate them?

This whole once-it's-outside-the-womb-it's-yours-forever thing has always struck me as just wrong. Sometimes people make decisions not to have abortions because of access, or because of being pressured by religious folks, or what have you. Sometimes people are unable to deal with the costs or expenses of raising a handicapped child.

That said, I agree that the difference between what I thought would be in the article and what would was in fact quite vast.
posted by corb at 8:46 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just smile & nod... and laugh myself all the way to the bank.. and to Tahiti, Israel, Great Britain, Costa Rica,

What would be really nice was if having kids wasn't so bankrupting (due to wage stagnation and health costs, etc.) that I could, like my parents did, take my kid on trips all over. My parents could support 4 of us on my Dad's salary (mostly) but we only have one and struggle. It would be really nice if the sacrifices of parenting did not include going to the brink of bankruptcy, given that we do need some people to do it and all.

Or in shorter terms, it would be cool if the reward for not having kids was just the satisfaction of doing what you wanted to do, not the relief that you avoided bankruptcy.
posted by emjaybee at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


It's not just that the article is confused, it's that there's something inherently gross in a middle-class writer co-opting really tragic things that happen to the socially underprivileged and turning it into a parable about the stresses and strains of middle-class life. It's like you don't preface your story about having the 'flu with some remarks about cancer. It's not a competition, and it's OK to write about subjects that aren't The Biggest Of All Possible Deals: the 'flu really honestly sucks, and feeling ambivalent about your own kids and your status as a parent is a really difficult thing to go through. But you have to be really involuted and blind not to see the mismatch, or to assume that people dropping off their secondary-school-aged children under safe haven laws had problems that map neatly onto the problems you and your friends talk about at dinner parties.
posted by Acheman at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


mrgrimm, your advice seems to be that planned pregnancies and a happy partnership are the only way to avoid the hardships of parenthood?

So if we calculate the rates of unplanned pregnancies, factor in the divorce/separation rates of couples with children, consider the situational and emotional effects of poverty, (forget any variables such as illness, special needs, financial issues, etc.) and then top the whole thing off with the divisions of labor/childcare between genders...

Yup, that sure does seem like some really good, widely applicable advice there. Good thing you were able to warn that poor, overworked mother about all the dangers of not being a smug man in a conversation about the difficulties of being a woman and the implications of motherhood.
posted by Vysharra at 8:52 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


For an article that mentions Fathers and Grandmothers dropping off children, the rest of it sure seems to focus a lot of Moms and their problems/dissatisfaction with parenthood.
posted by _paegan_ at 8:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


.. focus a lot ON Moms...
posted by _paegan_ at 8:54 AM on September 20, 2012


I've rarely had anyone seriously question my desire not to have kids, even the people who started with, "...you'd be such a great mom!"

I have, on occasion, felt a little guilty, though, about not trying to adopt some of the many older kids out there who've been abandoned.
posted by ldthomps at 8:58 AM on September 20, 2012


Related news: Innu parents want to give up children to get them away from solvent-sniffing.

Holy fuck, that is the saddest story I've read in awhile.
posted by desjardins at 8:58 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am another American woman who intentionally and repeatedly chose not to become a parent. Fundamentally, it all goes back to my German-immigrant grandma who explicitly told me, while I was in my mid-teens, that being a mother was "slavery" -- her exact word choice. She elaborated that once you have a baby, your own life disappears 24 hours a day, until that child becomes an adult. "You become a slave to your child, and there is no getting out of it." I thought long and hard about that not only on that day, but often throughout my reproductive-possible years. I've had multiple abortions due to my own stupid carelessness, and once, a failed condom. I definitely have no regrets at all about having had abortions. I love my freedom, my time, my sleep, my myriad interests, and I am proud that I haven't contributed to the human overpopulation that is gradually destroying all other higher life-forms on our planet.

I have been the recipient of snide comments about being 'childless' a number of times in my life. I always took them as evidence of the low intelligence of the commenter. I knew they were just envious of my freedom. Other than that, I perceive no social or legal discrimination against me as a woman without dependents. The only discrimination I have been aware of is the special income-tax breaks for those raising children. I feel that women who have chosen to NOT contribute to the overpopulation problem should be economically rewarded for that choice, in their income tax experiences or in another venue. Humanity as a whole needs to overtly recognize that if we do not remedy human overpopulation, our species will simply not survive much longer. We are the 'fruit flies in a sealed jar' experiment, carried-out on a grand scale.

I agree this article is a poorly-conceived and poorly-executed mishmash representing the author's inability to think long and clearly. It is unfortunate that it wasn't rejected by the editor until these deficiencies were remedied.
posted by Galadhwen at 8:59 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh and you know, I actually am one of those abandoned kids, in a certain sense: my birth mother and father effectively abandoned me to the care of my grandparents after my first year or so of life. (Probably for the best since, among other things, I was once covered from head to toe in ant bites in that first year because they somehow hadn't noticed they had left me lying in an ant bed on a picnic outing.)

And from my POV, I can tell you this much: it's a nasty, cruel trick to play on a kid that can potentially leave them questioning their worth and feeling perpetually like an only somewhat tolerated house guest wherever they go for the rest of their lives, so please at least give some consideration to the very real human beings on the other end of these kinds of choices.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:01 AM on September 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


"I love my son, but I hate being a mother. It has been a thankless, monotonous, exhausting, irritating and oppressive job. Motherhood feels like a prison sentence. I can't wait until I am paroled when my son turns 18 and hopefully goes far away to college."

This is my worst fear about parenting. I would never have even considered keeping a pregnancy with my previous partners because I didn't trust that they would be willing to share the burden with me. I guess a lot of it depends on your attitude, though. I tend to look at the concept of "family" as one of stoic duty and don't expect it to provide me with meaning, emotional gratification or fulfillment.

Maybe expectations are part of the problem, especially for women? If you draw boundaries around certain areas of your life (like, say, career, hobbies, outside friendships, alone time) and say "This is important to me, I will not give this up for parenting," people will think you're a selfish monster. Men don't seem to face the same social censure for wanting to maintain parts of their pre-child identity.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:02 AM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Some people find parenting makes them less invested in continuing the adolescent preoccupation with examining the fuzz in one's own navel and find that change in orientation to be indescribably personally and emotionally gratifying.

Wow, are you really calling childless people immature?
posted by desjardins at 9:03 AM on September 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


No--I'm saying I was personally very immature before I had kids.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:05 AM on September 20, 2012


And I've always had problematic navel-gazing tendencies, which my children have in part helped me snap out of.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am sympathetic to the kids on the other end of these kinds of choices (which is why I'm not advocating for free child abandonment for all!) Personally, my 'come-to-Jesus' moment on this issue is when I realized that sometimes the children on the other ends of these stories end up, not abandoned, but dead. Surely relinquishment is better than murder, and surely a supportive community of mental health and childcare support is even better.
posted by muddgirl at 9:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I find it a little sad that there is not any consideration that some of those older children needed to become wards of the state. There are a lot of reasons that a parent may want to abandon a child and most of the ones I can come up with are all very compelling reasons to remove a child from their current situation.

On preview, what muddgirl said.
posted by Vysharra at 9:07 AM on September 20, 2012


Wanted babies seldom end up being abused by their parent(s). Unwanted babies often end up being abused by their parent(s). That abuse may be physical and/or emotional. Either way, it is psychologically crippling for life. 'Make Every Baby a Wanted Baby' should be humanity's guiding motto.
posted by Galadhwen at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


This explains that "father and son" trip to Nebraska my dad wanted to take me on a few years back.
posted by orme at 9:10 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


(I feel I should note that I'm intentionally not touching 'child delinquency' as a cause for relinqueshment with a 10-foot pole, because I don't think you can separate child delinquency from a parent's inability to provide proper care for whatever reason. In my experience, a 'problem child' is way less of a problem for some families than for others. My upper-middle-class inlaws would never have felt the need to relinquish a child for the same behaviors that other families would.)
posted by muddgirl at 9:12 AM on September 20, 2012


This is my worst fear about parenting. I would never have even considered keeping a pregnancy with my previous partners because I didn't trust that they would be willing to share the burden with me.

This is one reason I don't have kids myself -- not because my partner doesn't trust that I can share the burden, but that _I_ don't trust that I can share the burden and continue to share it for the next several decades. (Legal responsibility may end at age 18 but practical responsibility keeps on rolling.)

It can be a surprisingly difficult concept to articulate.
posted by delfin at 9:13 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, but looking at the issue of child abandonment within the context of lifestyle choice, in the sort of crazy-quilt way this article muddles all those different issues together, is a mistake. Eliding the two issues too casually--the personal choice not to have children, and the inability some existing parents have to manage their responsibilities and lives due to adverse sociological and cultural factors--is a mistake. That's what I'm responding to, not the idea that choosing not to have children is necessarily a bad thing. (Though I personally feel I'm better off for having opened myself up to that potentially life-enriching and consciousness raising experience. At the same time, that's because I'm relatively privileged and can manage having kids for the most part--the same benefits wouldn't necessarily come to someone in more adverse--or otherwise fundamentally different-- circumstances.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


so Nebraska has, like, an AWESOME foster care system, right?
posted by changeling at 9:15 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think you can separate child delinquency from a parent's inability to provide proper care for whatever reason.

Maybe. It seems like peers have a greater influence here, anyway. Even kids in the same family can have different outcomes when it comes to drug abuse, criminal behavior, etc, depending on what sorts of peer groups they fall into.

Or, in other words, there are plenty of future Jesse Pinkmans out there.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:15 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but looking at the issue of child abandonment within the context of lifestyle choice, in the sort of crazy-quilt way this article muddles all those different issues together, is a mistake.

Oh yeah, absolutely.
posted by muddgirl at 9:16 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know what saulgoodman means. One of the most unexpected benefits of having kids for me was the great psychological relief of not always thinking about myself. It sounds strange, but having someone else come first in my thoughts felt really freeing.
posted by Malla at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


Or, in other words, there are plenty of future Jesse Pinkmans out there.

I'm not saying that rich kids can't be delinquents. I'm saying that the more privilege a family has, the easier they can pay for support structures (like the cliched 'military school'), or alternatively absorb the social and financial cost of delinquency.
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sadly no it does not, changeling.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:20 AM on September 20, 2012


I'm saying that the more privilege a family has, the easier they can pay for support structures (like the cliched 'military school'), or alternatively absorb the social and financial cost of delinquency.

Agreed, muddgirl.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:21 AM on September 20, 2012


Notice, however, that that was deemed worthy of a news article.

Heh, that is a very low bar.

Good thing you were able to warn that poor, overworked mother about all the dangers of not being a smug man in a conversation about the difficulties of being a woman and the implications of motherhood.

Thanks. I tried.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:24 AM on September 20, 2012


Wanted babies seldom end up being abused by their parent(s).

I don't mean to be all internet-pedant about this, but is this something you know to be true because of research or is it just what your learned experience tells you? Because my learned experience suggests something totally different and I am curious if I am totally off the mark. I am not disagreeing with your overall point.
posted by jessamyn at 9:34 AM on September 20, 2012 [21 favorites]


Seriously, this is wrong. If you have a kid, you are responsible for it, rape being the only exception.

Not all people who have kids are going to be good or even passably decent parents. I feel really sorry for the parents and grandparents who just can't handle the stress of caring for their children and grandchildren. They don't drop their kids off because they're fundamentally shitty people---they do it because when push comes to shove, they're in crisis and just can't handle it anymore. It's not like they can afford to send the kids away to boarding school.

It isn't the fault of the kids, obviously. But I don't think it's a fault. There are parents who are ill-equipped to handle problems their kids bring into their lives. There are kids whose parents bring problems into their lives and these parents are ill-equipped to know how to deal with their kids because they are mentally ill or disordered in some way or fall into mental illness unexpectedly. Sometimes the kids end up having to take care of their parents. Parents aren't always able to just become decent parents just because someone wagged a finger at them and said, "But you're the parent so step up!"
posted by discopolo at 9:37 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that rich kids can't be delinquents. I'm saying that the more privilege a family has, the easier they can pay for support structures (like the cliched 'military school'), or alternatively absorb the social and financial cost of delinquency.

Seriously. You can ship your kid off to boarding school and all kinds of programs, whether those boot camps that cost a hundred thousand dollars and have ex-military guys scream and abuse you, or a summer program in Switzerland or Argentina or wherever, or an in-patient drug rehab facility.
posted by discopolo at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2012


Wanted babies seldom end up being abused by their parent(s).

Not all unwanted children started out as unwanted babies.
posted by delfin at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


During the thread about the professional princess (still love that job title), there was talk about upper-class parents essentially sub-contracting out the job of caring for children to other people. There was a great deal of criticism for parents who employed others to do the majority of the caring for their children.

I think this article adds something to that practice. Rather than simply not desiring to be involved in their children's life, could some of that behavior be seen in the context of not wanting to "be a slave", as Galadwen's grandmother put it, to your child(ren)? One of my coworkers just had his first child, he was able to take 2 week off (paid) of paternity leave, but now is already back at work. The experience sounds utterly exhausting. Looking back at my childhood, I am amazed at how much work I was for my parents.

I am not one to pine for the good old days of cholera and women as chattel, but I do wonder if some of the loss of self in becoming a parent is due these days to not having a community to help share childcare with.
posted by Hactar at 9:41 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


jessamyn: Perhaps that quote was referring to the part of the article surrounding this quote in the op's link?

For the "emotional" support rating, they developed a scale measuring the "warmth" and "responsiveness" of the mother, how much time the family spent together, and how much time the father spent with the child. Across the board, children who were wanted got more from their parents than children who weren't.

Not quite saying the exact same thing but maybe Galadhwen extrapolated a bit? I could be off here of course.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:41 AM on September 20, 2012


Thank you, Isingthebodyelectric, for posting that interview. I loved it, especially this part:

"I love my daughter more than anything and anyone – but I don’t see raising her as my life’s mission or the most important thing I will ever do. It’s the most important relationship I’ll ever have, I’m sure. But Layla isn’t a work product, you know? I want her to feel loved and important and to be an ethical, independent kid. I do that, and I can help her be the person she’s going to be, without making “mother” my primary identity."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:44 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it's plausible that "making every child a wanted child" could reduce child abuse somewhat.

I think it's pretty implausible that it could fully prevent child abuse. Which is I think maybe also what jessamyn is getting at. "Wanted children" might suffer less abuse statistically speaking, but some percentage of them still do suffer, and for them the comparative statistical unlikelihood of their abuse doesn't make it any less awful.

I mean, in general, lots of people genuinely want to be in situations that they're not actually emotionally capable of handling well. That situation could be "marriage," could be "parenthood," could be "friendship," could be "it's complicated," whatever. Fuck, lots of people own cats who suck at cat ownership. Lots of people own cars who suck at car ownership. Lots of people want to be occasional social drinkers who just aren't capable of maintaining themself at the level of "occasional social drinker." In a sense, it's the single biggest problem with being human. We like things we're bad at, we want things we can't take, we hope for things that would turn out to make us miserable.

Still, that said -- I do find it plausible that better sex ed, and better access to birth control and abortion, could reduce the rate of child abuse. And child abuse is bad enough that even reducing the rate at which it occurs would be worth it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:50 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


There are parents who are phenomenal at parenting. And there are people who aren't great at creating and enforcing the best family dynamic. The latter are probably incredibly ashamed because they seem to believe that they are solely responsible for not being able to deal with their kid.

What would probably help would be some kind of program that helps parents reestablish a healthy relationship with their kid, so the parents don't have to be ashamed that they can't control their kid or deal with the stress of a troubled kid.

But my feeling is that parents believe that the kids are really reflections of themselves and to admit they can't handle parenting the kid they have is their own fault. I can see how that might be a barrier to taking positive steps or believing that things could get better and less stressful/depressing.
posted by discopolo at 9:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm a fan of reproductive justice which has a little different focus than the more commonly talked about issues of choice and respecting agency. It is basically the study of the intersect of obstacles, difficulties, disabilities, and circumpstances that impede empowered choice in the area of family planning. That little discussed issue that there are many poor women (or men) who want to make the choice to have children and do not have access to resources to do so in a healthy way. Degree of wantedness and preparedness to parent are fairly complex, plenty of people plan children without much education or capacity to understand the cause and effects of rearing environments on child well being and outcomes. Or without realizing how seriously incapable of being a good parent they might be. Or without caring.

Planned children most certainly do get abused, and some of them do wind up unwanted at later times. Or wanted but simply without getting parented. Even if we shamed every poor woman who ever gets pregnant into having an abortion there would still be people who wind up not liking parenthood as much as they thought. And even more... who love their children very much but simply get overwhelmed and need help. For people with money there are services to help parents with these kinds of issues and they include housecleaning services, babysitting services, mother helper services, mental health services, healthy prepared (expensive but easy) food, etc etc. I'm not sure that asking all poor people to become wealthy before having children is really a decent solution to this lack of access.

"But my feeling is that parents believe that the kids are really reflections of themselves and to admit they can't handle parenting the kid they have is their own fault. I can see how that might be a barrier to taking positive steps or believing that things could get better and less stressful/depressing." Well another problem is that programs that are interventionistic do tend to be very hard on parents for being bad parents. Sometimes what society/the system is really doing is, is shaming people for raising children while being poor- when people with money and the same issues could afford to get help much sooner, not to mention tend to have better education about identifying there is a problem and what types of support might be available.
posted by xarnop at 10:05 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Atlantic is really good at trolling the public, isn't it?

There is one really good comment on that article that discusses all the reasons why modern parenting is harder than in the past, despite our material wealth. I can't reproduce it all so I'll just link it.
posted by zipadee at 10:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, this a million times: "We sometimes expect fathers to shirk their responsibility; but when mothers do it, it shakes the core of what we've been taught to believe about women and maternal instinct."

Men can walk away from their family obligations with fewer consequences. There is still such a strong cultural narrative about "maternal instincts" and "biological clocks" that insist women have some innate ability and desire to parent. This myth is so harmful. It prevents us from really addressing how we can make parenting better for both genders and marginalizes women who have never felt these sort of feelings.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


Agreed, discopolo.

What would really help get to the root of these problems though (not that we could ever hope to achieve perfection in this area), IMO, is if our producer-biased economic system with its heavy emphasis on workforce mobility and "flexibility" didn't seem to be practically designed to stress out families and cause communities to be in a state of near constant flux as industries/jobs come and go or simply relocate at the drop of the hat to meet the short term profit-seeking goals on the production side. To me, that's one of the root causes of these problems in the US. That and the constant explicit and implicit encouragement we get from our ad-driven popular culture to privilege personal fleeting impulses and pleasurable sensory stimulation ahead of nearly everything else.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whoops, here is the correct link.
posted by zipadee at 10:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whenever I read these dystopian stories where—to drive home how dystopian a dystopia it was—they have all of the children being collectively raised by the state in crèches, it always sounds kind of wonderful to me. Possibly I am the only one.

Because state-run middle schools and high schools are such healthy social environments for kids?

I can't see how the solution to families having trouble raising kids would be to throw all the kids together so there's an even smaller adult:child ratio.
posted by straight at 10:20 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I make it a point to read all the divorce questions on AskMe, especially the ones involving small children, aggressive lawyers, and angry, bitter exes. Next to the IUD, it's my favorite form of birth control.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


The United States isn't unique in this shift. Elsewhere in the world: Japan's population is in decline, as 36.1 percent of Japanese males between the ages of 16-19 said they had no interest or even despised sex, a jump from 17.5 percent in the 2008 study, and more Japanese men and women are preferring pets to children, with more discussion of studies showing that young Japanese people are having less sex and are less interested in sex, which doesn't completely address the decrease in interest in children. Europe is also hit by a decrease in fertility, as younger generations "dismiss marriage" and children.

Now, if more studies would look at attitudes towards marriage, families, and children instead of sex, because sex can be a wholly separate activity from making babies. Sex is fun, couples can have sex many times a day if they so wish. Does this mean they want many babies? No, they're enjoying an activity between consenting adults.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:54 AM on September 20, 2012


Which kids should you let starve to feed the other ones?

This is a common mistake.

It's better to fatten up the one to feed the others.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:56 AM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Next to the IUD, it's my favorite form of birth control.

A few years back, there was an article in New York magazine about children and happiness that I'm too lazy to find right now. They interviewed a scientist doing research on couples with small children, and part of the research was to install cameras in the homes of the subjects and just record footage of the parents' daily interaction with their children. The scientist said the footage was the most potent form of birth control they'd ever encountered.
posted by griphus at 10:56 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait I found it:
...researchers collected 1,540 hours of footage of 32 middle-class, dual-earner families with at least two children, all of them going about their regular business in their Los Angeles homes. The intention of this study was in no way to make the case that parents were unhappy. But one of the postdoctoral fellows who worked on it, himself a father of two, nevertheless described the video data to the Times as “the very purest form of birth control ever devised. Ever.”
posted by griphus at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I make it a point to read all the divorce questions on AskMe, especially the ones involving small children, aggressive lawyers, and angry, bitter exes. Next to the IUD, it's my favorite form of birth control.

Well, you can't live your life in fear that that's the only eventuality. There are way more smug Mefites who think their kid is the greatest and most gifted kid in the world (especially the toddlers) and they have the best marriage in the world and their spouse is the greatest person on the planet (they have everything figured out about everything).
posted by discopolo at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In case that was at me, FLT, the problem I was referring to is the problem of children becoming unwanted after birth and families feeling incapable of managing their own parental responsibilities, not the problem of declines in rates of childbirth. Those are very distinct, separate issues (not so's you'd know it from the muddled mess of an article in the OP).

The scientist said the footage was the most potent form of birth control they'd ever encountered.

Tell 'em to come see me pretending to be Harry Potter on the way to school with my son in the morning next time.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2012


There are way more smug Mefites who think their kid is the greatest and most gifted kid in the world (especially the toddlers) and they have the best marriage in the world and their spouse is the greatest person on the planet (they have everything figured out about everything).

Nothing is perfect, but don't piss on people's parades just because they're not your parades.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are way more smug Mefites...

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't assume its smugness fuelling MeFites opinions that their spouse/kid are the greatest things since sliced bread. In fact, whatever the hell it is, it's something to strive for.
posted by griphus at 11:02 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


36.1 percent of Japanese males between the ages of 16-19 said they had no interest or even despised sex

There's got to be some other cultural thing at work here... I mean, so far as I'm concerned, an uninterrupted sex life is one of the greatest reasons not to have children.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:03 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the article: "I love my son, but I hate being a mother. It has been a thankless, monotonous, exhausting, irritating and oppressive job."

That's true even if you love being a mother. I feel like the canonization of motherhood, combined with the ability to control fertility and decide NOT to have children, has led to this being a much more unacceptable sentiment to express in society -- in the 1920s, let's say, most women didn't have much, if any, choice in the matter, and didn't have to like having 8 kids to care for; today, you CHOSE to have those kids, so you'd better like it. In realistic literature from before WWII that talks about women's lives as mothers (which is rare), it's sometimes a little startling to see how often women are depicted as NOT liking their children much and not wanting to bother "mothering" them as a normal thing. (Of course it's also romanticized and sanitized and canonized, but not so exclusively as it is today.) But parenting, and in particular mothering, is thankless, monotonous, exhausting, irritating, and oppressive. Some days I feel like I've done nothing but manage other people's bodily functions for the last three years. And I LIKE being a mother and generally don't mind the day-to-day monotony too much and have a supportive environment around me. But good God would I like a day off.

And I feel like I can only say those things because I DO like being a mother. For those who hate it, I think expressing those feelings becomes scary and threatening, and puts you at risk of serious social and sometimes legal judgment, and that makes it even harder to get support when you are flailing.

"Becoming a good parent involves molding yourself into the kind of person who can spend a couple of decades structuring your life around your child's best interests."

I'm not quite sure how to express this ... I feel like in some ways this is a result of a hugely individualistic society that's severed a lot of long-term family and community relationships? Like it's sort-of weird for me to conceive of the idea that I have a "best interest" that's different from my family's "best interest," or that their best interest is different from mine. I mean, when we're in a long-term interlocking network of (mostly healthy) relationships and responsibilities, perhaps I'm giving up something by taking a year off of school to care for a sick grandparent (as my husband did), but I'm also gaining things, and over the long term, those mutually supportive networks of relationships are a good thing that provide me with more than they're taking away. (Obviously that's not always the case, especially when relationships aren't healthy or there isn't a large enough network of people so that too much strain is put on particular parts of it.) So, yeah, I put off things I'd like to be doing and my monetary resources are made much more scarce by having children, but my people resources grow by nurturing those relationships.

Which isn't to say everybody should have children, or that family is the only source of "people resources" (it isn't and shouldn't be!). And people are definitely right when they say, "It is not in ANYBODY's best interest for me to have kids/care for these kids/do this thing for my kids." But I don't really feel like I'm structuring my life around my kids' best interest at the expense of my own; I feel like we (as a family) SHARE best interests and that what's good for one of us is (most of the time) good for all of us, and while I give up some resources in order to have and care for children, I also gain resources by doing so.

If that makes sense?

"The stories that emerged from these events made it clear that the state lacked adequate, effective services for families trying to deal with children’s behavioral and mental health problems."

" It was always "I don't know what else to do and I'm afraid for my safety or the safety of my other kids and nobody can help me, what do I do?" "


Yeah, I see these discipline files for kids who have committed criminal acts at school, or who have gotten themselves to expulsions, and sometimes it's shit parenting, but a lot of times it's just a total lack of support for kids who are spiraling out of control and parents who can't handle it. I mean, parents are not experts in childrearing and frequently need help from people who ARE experts in it. Upper-middle class parents have a whole lot more access to those experts (in person or in books). And a lot of times it's a mutually destructive dance of parent problems and children acting out -- parents' relationship struggling, child starts acting out at school from the problems at home, parents divorce from the stress, child become chronically truant in response, parents escalate inappropriate disciplinary responses (the only thing they know to do), child reacts in ever-more problematic ways, parents react, children react ... it's bad. And there were SO many points there where support for the family could have helped head it off -- marital counseling, divorce counseling for the child, education about discipline and support for adolescents acting out violently, a change in environment for the child, a break for the parents -- so many things could have helped.

What most of these kids who get in serious trouble have in common is a total lack of support to help with serious family, emotional, behavioral, educational, or medical problems.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


"you CHOSE to have those kids, so you'd better like it."

Thank you for putting this sentiment into words. I've been struggling to word this myself. I agree that there's more condemnation for women who find parenting difficult because "no one forced you to do this". It's also part and parcel of our over-reliance on 'choice' as the sure path to happiness. If something you choose doesn't work out the way you expected, then you have only yourself to blame. Again, it steers the conversation away from how our social structure can better support all the propaganda about parenting being "the most important job" etc.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Some days I feel like I've done nothing but manage other people's bodily functions for the last three years. And I LIKE being a mother and generally don't mind the day-to-day monotony too much and have a supportive environment around me. But good God would I like a day off.
THIS. It is profoundly unnatural and cruel to expect women to be with their own children all the time and like it. It seems to me to be so UNLIKE what childrearing has ever been throughout history. Always, always, there were other women (and some men) around -- family, extended family, servants, neighbors, friends (allomothers, to use a general term) to share the incredible psychic and physical burden of feeding, wiping, washing, dressing, comforting, amusing, protecting, teaching, cuddling, etc. one (let alone more!) child.

It is only in this century that mothering has become so isolating and stressful because it is a 24/7/365 JOB that you don't get paid for, that has no career track, that people sneer at, no benefits, and the US Labor Department doesn't think adds a single PENNY of value to our country's GNP.
posted by jfwlucy at 11:29 AM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


I understand that the author may have thought she needed a sensationalistic opening (Nebraska's Safe Haven law/s) to get to her main point (not every woman wants to have children, and that should be perfectly acceptable), but I'm really not comfortable with her using safe haven laws as evidence of women not wanting to be mothers.

Safe haven laws started out as a political tactic of the anti-choice movement (the first one was enacted in Texas, 1999) to spread the myth that teens were irresponsible in their sexual choices because of their exposure to sex-education in schools. After the "dumpster baby" incident happened in 1997 (a pregnant teenager went into labor at a school dance, gave birth, and abandoned the infant [who eventually died]), the anti-choice movement seized on the story and used it as an example of the need for abstinence-only education policies. They proposed legislation for "rescue sites" for recently-delivered infants to continue this message, and were successful in convincing policymakers and the public that reckless teenage infant abandonment happened on a regular basis and was the product of sex-education. This is why Crisis Pregnancy Centers (anti-choice centers that misinform women about reproductive health care, including abortion) are government-sanctioned drop-off sites (with fire stations, police stations, and hospitals being the other drop-off sites) in a number of states.

The "safe haven" movement was also a pet project of President G.W. Bush (he'd pushed for and eventually signed into law the "Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendment of 2001," which used funds from TANF for "marriage promotion" programs and funneled money to Crisis Pregnancy Centers for "safe haven" promotion).

tl;dr: "Safe haven" laws were a political tool of the anti-choice movement, capitalizing on the hysteria around the "dumpster baby" issue in the late 90's. They shouldn't necessarily be associated with women/motherhood, since they're effectively hollow programs that do little more than perpetuate anti-choice myths.
posted by rockfalls at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


Can I really be the first to mention that it takes a whole village to raise a child?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows is right. Even from the outside, it's obvious mothering--particularly an infant--can be tough going, especially in the absence of help from immediate family or a personal support network (fathering, depending on level of engagement can be, too, FWIW). But I know for a fact my wife would be quick to point out there are also some pretty great personal rewards. And by the time a kid gets to be a little older, unless things went wrong somewhere along the way, most parenting duties become a lot lighter. We recently had a second child, though initially I was reluctant to--partly because my son had finally reached an age where the drudgery of his day-to-day care was outstripped by opportunities for positive interaction and play and it was actually realistically possible to get a little time to pursue outside interests again. But even though our six month old daughter is still the drooling, incompetent, utterly dependent mess we all are when we first start out in this world (and there's no doubt it's sometimes really tough on my wife, who often has to nurse her through most of the night), she's also got a great smile and absolutely makes me and my wife fall in love with her all over again every time she catches our eye with that sublime and absolutely authentic look of love and adoration she can seemingly conjure up at will. But yes, being a parent is very stressful and difficult. I don't mean to understate that. But so are most pursuits that people really derive deep, long-term satisfaction from and make a commitment to--whether it's being a teacher, being a doctor, playing golf, hiking, white river rafting or whatever. I just want to offer that some people can and do get real satisfaction and fulfillment out of being parents. Not that everyone could, would or should, just in case I haven't been clear, and/or my own personal enthusiasm for my kids has obscured that point.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:45 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, I'm extremely uncomfortable with this point from the article:

If policymakers and people who care about children want to reduce the number of abandoned kids, they need to address the systemic issues: poverty, maternity leave, access to resources, and health care. We need to encourage women to demand more help from their partners, if they have them.

1. Why no discussion of society encouraging the partners to help more?

2. The "if they have them [partners]" part of the last sentence reads a little too "after-thought-y" to me (as in, "Oh, and we should totally tell women to tell the guys to help out more." [in author's mind: hmm, wait, there might not be a guy around...] "That is, if there is a guy there.")
posted by rockfalls at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Part 2 is just realistic. In many cases, the woman may not have much of a choice about whether a partner is involved. As for number 1, I agree, there needs to be more of a social push to encourage the non-maternal partner to contribute. But that's going to require a complete social shift and it's difficult to begin guessing how to engineer that.

I'm watching The Wire again, and this thread is reminding me how disappointing I found it that Kima ended up becoming a deadbeat dad much like McNulty. She gets it a little more together as the show goes on, but the way she checks out of the relationship after her partner has the baby always struck me as rather cruel.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2012


Wanted babies seldom end up being abused by their parent(s). Unwanted babies often end up being abused by their parent(s).

Do you have any cites or statistics for this? Because without framing or support, that statement reeks of a pile of really problematic assumptions.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am one of those who decided never to have children, I suppose I may live long enough to see the downside of that decision but that is not the point I wanted to make.

Some younger friends of mine had a child who is now about 2, and for 2 or 3 days/nights a week they get to leave it with their families/grandparents. Across the road from me live an older couple who have 2 daughters, both daughters drop their kids off to be looked after pretty much every day. The savings in daycare costs must be significant.

What can make childcare less intolerable is having access to a reliable support network. This, I suppose is one of the downsides of postponing pregnancy until later in life, the grandparents may not be there or may be unable to help.
posted by epo at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saulgoodman, I think you got a little pushback because it really doesn't need to be said that many (most?) enjoy parenting. It's obvious, and yet always brought up during topics like this.
posted by agregoli at 1:15 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was very much a wanted child and loved very much. But I was still abused. Stress can do fucked up things to people and the cycle of child abuse is hard to break.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:18 PM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Fair enough, agregoli. Maybe I've got a blind spot here, because it doesn't/didn't seem obvious to me. Is there really still a lot of pressure from society for people to have kids these days? I honestly wouldn't know, as my family were mostly out of the picture by the time we had our son, and the circles I ran in up to that point tended not to be the family-minded set, so most of what social pressure I felt went the other way (sentiments like, as a close friend once put it to me after learning his girlfriend was pregnant right out of high school, "what a loser way to go!").
posted by saulgoodman at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2012


[Please stop with the small-text asides, if it shouldn't be in the thread, take it to email. It's having the reverse effect that I think you're intending.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:35 PM on September 20, 2012


I'm really disappointed in this article. I mean, I think it had some points to really drive at, but it was sort of an all over gloss over of several different aspects of both this law and society's expectations of people, and I think it would have done much better as a series looking at all the various points the article was trying to look at.

*The Nebraska law and the effects of the law on its own is really worthwhile to look at---especially the ensuing legislation to better support parents in Nebraska because of the unintended consequences of the law

*The needs to assist parents not just of young children but of older children as well, and especially addressing the resources of lack thereof of children with special needs

*Where do parents turn when they have tried to be good parents and are failing and recognize that or can't do it any more or are otherwise struggling -- either because the children are also struggling or because of something within the family dynamic. How do these issues get addressed?

*What has the country learned from Nebraska and what efforts have been undertaken in other states after Nebraska's law was implemented

*The expectations that people even have children and what happens when parenting doesn't turn out as planned (no one expects to have a child with autism, for example --- I certainly didn't, and yet, I have a child with an autism spectrum disorder)

There was a lot touched on in the article --- but none of it in any deep, analytical way that would make for a really compelling piece. But a full series on each item addressed in the article? That'd be some powerful stuff.
posted by zizzle at 1:35 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is there really still a lot of pressure from society for people to have kids these days?

Yes. And virtually no cultural models for couples who do not have children. Single women who do not have children are still basically stuck with nothing more evolved than "spinster."
posted by DarlingBri at 1:37 PM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Whenever I read these dystopian stories where—to drive home how dystopian a dystopia it was—they have all of the children being collectively raised by the state in crèches, it always sounds kind of wonderful to me. Possibly I am the only one.

Isn't this how things are done in kibbutzim? (Kibbutzim being Israeli communes, not dystopias.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:40 PM on September 20, 2012


I think much of the complaints about the article come down to the fact that it's an excerpt from a book. It covers a lot of ground and doesn't have a great transition, but that's a common problem with articles that are just excerpts.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:52 PM on September 20, 2012


I most definitely feel trolled by the lede, The Atlantic. However, it did end up coming full circle for me, since reading Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's works has made me interested in social programs, historical and contemporary, for abandoned children, which is why I went to the article in the first place. Despite a single pithy quote from Dr. Hrdy in the article, her work is very insightful about cross-cultural (which the Hairpin interview with Valenti touches on) and cross-primate species maternity.

Like so many other women in their 30s, the looming question of "will I or won't I" in regard to motherhood is fraught with anxiety (thinking about it as a choice makes me nervously tear up). No matter how many people tell you parenthood is wonderful, awful, or what you make of it, there are no answers. I'll be reading Jessica Valenti's book, and probably now re-reading Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's books, looking for something balanced and realistic.
posted by peacrow at 3:34 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jessica Valenti--I wish someone had warned me that this wouldn't be journalism.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:49 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


AFAIK, I was a wanted baby, but I was born with severe medical issues and I was a lot of fucking work for the first year of my life, and more than the average amount for the next 10. I am sure my parents were like "fuck this, this sucks" at certain points.
posted by desjardins at 3:52 PM on September 20, 2012


saulgoodman: Is there really still a lot of pressure from society for people to have kids these days?

I take it you've never been a woman in her late twenties (and, presumably, beyond).
posted by troika at 5:36 PM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


More seriously, I can't have kids. It's a lot of pressure off (and whenever people ask me about kids, saying "Sorry, medical impossibility" goes over a lot better when I don't finish it with "and I'm perfectly happy that way"). I am a knot of shitty genetics and it's almost certain that any spawn of mine would be way, way worse off. I, personally, find that deeply satisfying.

Adoption is an option, of course, but yeaaahhh I'll probably stick to cats.
posted by troika at 5:54 PM on September 20, 2012


There are way more smug Mefites who think their kid is the greatest and most gifted kid in the world (especially the toddlers) and they have the best marriage in the world and their spouse is the greatest person on the planet (they have everything figured out about everything).

Nothing is perfect, but don't piss on people's parades just because they're not your parades.
posted by saulgoodman


Isn't that what you just did when someone mentioned how happy they were not to have children?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:59 PM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I watched a very cool thing on tv the other day/week, about people who are finding themselves with no other option than to relinquish their kids to the state because of the utter lack of actual help anyone will give them.

SBS Breaking Point.
posted by thylacinthine at 6:11 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wanted children can still be abused.

The parents of a wanted child want the best for their child.

They then become very angry with the child when he or she fails to meet their expectations.
posted by bad grammar at 6:14 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Sorry Jessamyn--I think you're right.)

No troika--good point. I definitely haven't! It's funny; this thread prompted me to ask my wife if she had ever felt social pressure to have kids (since her family is very big, very Italian, and very Catholic, and since she is a person of the feminine persuasion, and so, likely to have had a very different experience in this department than me), but like me, her first reaction was to say that she didn't think so--but then, she did qualify that further to say she did get occasional nagging comments on the subject from the only aunt I'm still in touch with after we were married, but like me, she said she never felt any pressure from her peers (nor from her family). In fact, in our immediate social circle, we were the first to have a baby, and we were already in our mid-thirties by then, so we're probably kind of an edge case.

Isn't that what you just did when someone mentioned how happy they were not to have children?

Nope. One person talked about what made them happy, and I talked about what made me happy, and I'm pretty sure we can both be made happy by different things (and, as the original poster did, even relish in the sources of our happiness!) without annihilating each other like positive/negative antimatter.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:15 PM on September 20, 2012


Saul, you know how it felt like someone was pissing on your parade by calling some mefites smug? That's how your comment felt to some other mefites, myself included! You saying that's not what you intended doesn't make it less so.
posted by troika at 6:36 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm happy with one kid but the brigade of 'have another' has started. I have a number of childfree friends (of varying ages) and most of the older women are quite vocal about being happy with their choices, and supporting me to make my own choice of an only child.

But the pressure to have children is vastly different to the pressure of being a parent within current culture. Apart from the work, the actual pressure is not nearly as overwhelming or oppressive (from my experiences as previously childfree). Yes people comment - they do that regardless of your reproductive choices. From my very lax observances I would say having two children, two to three years apart, of different genders is the least likely to get commentary. You still get it though. But it's just commentary, it isn't the society-wide pressure that comes with parenting.

When you are out having a coffee as a childfree person, you are just out having a coffee. As a parent, with your child, you are not. You are a 'rolemodel' so you're having to act a certain way, you also have to corral/entertain a child, you are often being judged (for good or bad) by the other patrons, you may be having to make a choice about breastfeeding in public, or bottlefeeding. If you're a dude it's different but there are still overwhelming aspects of how our culture treats parents.

Add that to the overwhelming nature of parenting, particularly when teenagers suffer from mental illness or drug abuse, and that's where a lot of the 'abandoned' teens come from. I've spoken with more than one single mother whose son/daughter physically dominated them from an early age and without concrete societal support (which costs money) that is a death spiral for most families. Not to mention just trying to get help can be expensive, dangerous and have enough hoops to make it useless. As a friend pointed out - how good is a 'life skills' class for at-risk teens during school hours? It presupposes and enforces their non-attendance at school. It gets 'help' at the last minute, with no real prevention.

The current 'wisdom' pushes you to the breaking point before offering any sort of help, then denigrates you for having left it too late. There has to be a better way.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:09 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, I'm sorry for that troika, but I did take a little bit of umbrage to the gloating tone of the original commenter I was responding to and the implication of those remarks that not having kids entitles one to "laugh all the way to the bank" over those of us who do. Besides, what's wrong with me saying I actually enjoy having kids if there's nothing wrong with others saying they're glad not to have them? Why does there always seem to be this kind of underlying subtext when issues like this come up that if others don't reach the same conclusions or make the same life choices we do, they must somehow secretly disapprove of or by their very existence represent a challenge to our own? At no point did I criticize anyone else's choices here, so what's so smug about my speaking honestly about how I personally feel about parenting and about my kids? Or about my saying that I personally feel I'm less self-absorbed (and less self-bored) than I used to be in no small part due to my kids, and that that makes me happy?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:10 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You seemed, to me, to be strongly implying that people who hadn't had children were in some way not as far along the path to adulthood as you were, and I think that is what was bothering people, though I think you explained yourself further on. I agree though, less sneering on all sides would be helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 PM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Dude, there's nothing wrong with you having kids, with you being enamored with your kids. It's great to see a dad so positively into fatherhood. The issues some mefites seem to be having with your comments is that you appear to not be able to take happy childlessness as anything other than a comment on your own situation.

You took umbrage to the gloating tone of "laughing all the way to the bank" but don't see anything wrong with responding "Some people find parenting makes them less invested in continuing the adolescent preoccupation with examining the fuzz in one's own navel." It, along with some of your other comments and asides in this thread, very seriously come off as incredibly judgmental, especially when you accuse other mefites of pissing on your parade for mentioning that some parents are smug. I don't think a single person in this thread would begrudge you the happiness that your children bring you - again, it is absolutely wonderful to see a father so psyched about fatherhood - but choosing a different path doesn't make a person automatically lesser, or have lesser experiences, than you and yours. And while I think you'd agree with me there, some (a scant few, really) of your comments give a different impression.
posted by troika at 7:34 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am very happy that my 19 year old daughter (OMG, nearly 20) believes in a life (mistyped as laugh - there's a Freudian slip for you) without mothering.

It was/is so very hard being a parent, though I did the best I could. I thought I picked a good partner, and even, someone who was genetically blessed. I was wrong on both counts. I did the stay-at-home parent thing to meet my own set of values, though I felt unfulfilled, and empty. I spent loads of time with them, and tried to be patience. I tried very hard to raise my children to be successful, contributing citizens, and failed completely with one of them altogether (nearly 22, has only had intermittent casual work that other people have found for him). I did do parenting courses. I did read books, I did seek advice from others. Maybe my poor kid is unsuccessful because I'm a sucky parent. I don't know.

I like not having the responsibility of kids now. I can stay up, sleep in, go out, go away, swear, drink, eat bad food, not share my food, not share my cash (okay, that's not true - I still have to pay my kids, not sure how that works - hey, wait! before you start using that as a reason why I've got a bludger, it's the student getting Distinctions and finishing her degree that's getting the money).

Also, I would have loved to be able to drop off my kids (temporarily) to a place that could teach them things that I was clearly failing at. Perhaps they would have been better off if I could have left them permanently at such a place, but it's all moot now.

So, I will happily say "Shut the fuck up," to anyone who blames someone for poor parenting without knowing the whole story, to anyone who assumes a good choice of partner is easy, to anyone who thinks having or not having children is the ONLY and/or the BEST way to live.
posted by b33j at 7:53 PM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


My sister (has not had children yet) described her boyfriend to me as "such a good father" because he travels once a week (three hours return drive) to see his daughter, every week.

When I shared this with my mother, we laughed ourselves sick. Imagine living a carefree single life and having people say "she's such a good mother, she sees her children once a week!"
posted by Catch at 8:13 PM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


This Counterpunch article by Berman is rather long, but if you have time, read it. It may help to explain this troubling story. In short, many of our political, social and psychological problems can
be understood in terms of interrelatedness. One problem; not many.
posted by kozad at 8:16 PM on September 20, 2012


Sorry again troika and Jessamyn... What else can I say? I never intended to comment on anyone else's actual/potential happiness/unhappiness with their own situations; only to contribute my own experience that, among other things, parenting can be satisfying and has caused me personally to feel generally less self-absorbed (though this thread now seems to present a very contradictory picture)... I didn't mean to suggest that anyone else (that is, anyone other than my own formerly even more self-absorbed self) would necessarily see the same benefits I have, or even see them as benefits). I still don't fully understand how I gave such a strong impression that I regarded other paths/fortunes as "lesser." It seemed pretty clear to me that the original comment I was addressing did take the view that parenting is a lesser choice (who "laughs all the way to the bank" if they don't think they came out with the better end of the deal? From my POV, it was that original comment that very distinctly derided one path as lesser, so I felt it was within bounds to respond to that implicit claim)... But this is getting beyond silly so I'll just stop digging my hole now.

b33j: Sorry to hear you've had such an awful time of it; in a few years time, as the kids get older, I might be less chipper about the parenting experience myself. Right now I'm just grateful to have some immediate family in my life again, but who knows how it will all work out in the end? Thanks for basically saying so articulately in that last sentence what I've been foundering and digging myself into such a hole trying to figure out how to say myself.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:37 PM on September 20, 2012


I don't know how to feel about this.

My father (after my mother left us), posted beside the phone the number of the local child protective agency. He reminded us, frequently, that we, his children, lived with him only at his pleasure. At a moment's notice, he told us, he could collect us all up and give us away to the "orphanage" that he assumed would accept the rubbish of his loins.

So, one day, my sister, sixteen-years-old, called him on it.

So my older sister, dressed her best dress, carrying a suitcase with what little she owned, was carried away by my Dad to whatever agency or foster home that would accept her.

I was sad and bereft.

Hours later, Dad and my sister returned. As it turned out, it wasn't possible, then, to discard your offspring simply because they were inconvenient.

I understand the impulse of this abandonment law. I've worked in a Humane Society shelter, and I would rather have kittens and puppies brought into our care instead of cast into the street to suffer and die.

But I would have lived a very different life had I been confident that my father couldn't have simply tossed me away like garbage, because I didn't live up to his expectations.
posted by SPrintF at 9:42 PM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I didn't read b33j as having an awful experience. Not a fantastic rainbows and fairy farts one, but it resonated with me. Even though my daughter is 3, I absolutely empathise with the idea that maybe someone could do this, could have done this better than me. No-one can love her the exact way I love her, but I have my failings. We all do, it's part of parenting and being human and having human children. Sometimes things don't go the way you expected or want.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:59 PM on September 20, 2012


Saulgoodman, your comments where typical fodder in childfree related threads. As Jessamyn pointed out, some of your comments were not about you personally, but couched in "some people" terms, and strongly implied that childfree folk are immature. I know that's not what you meant, but that's what came across. I'm sorry you felt threatened by someone expressing that a childfree life was awesome for them, but your defense of parenting wasn't at all necessary.
posted by agregoli at 6:29 AM on September 21, 2012


but your defense of parenting wasn't at all necessary.

Well, I found the comment to which Saulgoodman was responding to be incredibly derisive and gleeful in a "Look at me, suckers! Hahahahaha!" kinda way. I also found that comment to be very, "Oh, those poor parents who don't have any enlightening and character building experiences like traveling the world!" as well. And I think Saulgoodman was responding to that one comment in particular and in good faith. What was the point of that comment in the first place?

His "defense of parenting" was no less or more derisive than the comment he was responding to. And I don't understand, why in a thread about child abandonment, the first comment was even necessary. And I think Saulgoodman has handled explaining his position quite well, so I don't understand why he is being given the talking-to here and the person who posted the original comment --- which I did find to be over the top, incredibly obnoxious, and not terribly useful or constructive to this discussion --- isn't falling under the same scrutiny.

Just my reading on the matter, anyway.
posted by zizzle at 7:45 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Shrug. That comment is standing at 6 favorites, so it can't be that off. The article is about more than child abandonment.
posted by agregoli at 8:39 AM on September 21, 2012


(That's 66 favorites)
posted by agregoli at 8:40 AM on September 21, 2012


so it can't be that off

Off from what, exactly?
posted by zizzle at 8:42 AM on September 21, 2012


I mean -- I guess that's the point I don't get. Person came in to explain he/she never wanted kids and chose not to have them and why and look at all the great things he/she gets to do without kids, hahahahahaha!

And so what......?

I mean, I have kids and love my kids and really don't care if someone else has kids or not. Different people lead different lives. I don't resent people who don't have kids, and I try hard not to get judge-y about how other parents parent. But that comment definitely had subtext criticizing and judging parents in it, which I shrugged off and didn't really pay much mind to, but when someone responded to it, people got all riled up on the quite appropriate call out on that subtext.

And you see my previous comment, you'll see that, yes, I see the article could have been about more than child abandonment but in the end wasn't really about much of any of the number of issues it touched upon.

*shrug*
posted by zizzle at 8:49 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Saulgoodman, I think you got a little pushback because it really doesn't need to be said that many (most?) enjoy parenting. It's obvious

I don't think it's obvious at all. Read the conventional wisdom on parents and we're all miserable, at least part of the time.

It's obvious that parents put on a show of being happy, but I think there are people out there who would find it hard to believe that any of us are really happy with kids.

Becoming a good parent involves molding yourself into the kind of person who can spend a couple of decades structuring your life around your child's best interests. A lot of variables going on there: restructuring your finances, your family activities, your spare time, your hobbies, your future plans, your choice of residence. Your willingness to educate, to nurture, to put up with unwelcome behavior, to discipline, to forgive, to accept hardship and headaches and hordes of disruptions in the name of making sure Junior ends up all right.

At times I don't even strive for "all right." My main goal becomes "KEEP THEM ALIVE."

That said, despite some confusion, children aren't pets. They are actually real people, and even though it's not the 1800s, they can still do chores and actually contribute to a household (tho I laugh as I write that). My oldest (a serious girl) has been helping me take out the trash since she was 2 and setting the table since 3.

Excepting "spare time" which is the second biggest rub, all of those parental factor above PALE in comparison to the difficulty of dealing with a genetic amalgam of you and your partner with a mind of her own. And I haven't even had to deal with puberty yet. !!

And really, I think most of the dissatisfaction with parenting comes from the fact that you might not like your kids very much as people. Not that you dislike them, but they you might not be friends otherwise. That's a pretty big mindfuck.

Anyway, I thought of this thread last night as I sat across from my wife at dinner and she says, "Are you sure you don't want another one?"

I looked up from my meal briefly, didn't say a word, and looked back down.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:50 AM on September 21, 2012


That comment is standing at 6 [ed: actually 67] favorites, so it can't be that off.

I like "favorites" myself (I've given like 20,000) but they're not a great measure of anything.

The Hairpin has a great interview with the author.

That was good in parts, but the interviewer was all over the place. I'm not sure how she can conflate "attachment parenting" (which pretty much everyone (rational) agrees with fundamentally) with "anti-vaccination" ... that's pretty lame.

Also, "Roe for men" males, if you don't want kids, it's not that hard: always wear a condom (which is actually easier when hard).
posted by mrgrimm at 9:01 AM on September 21, 2012


Hmm, not my experience. I hear way more comments like saulgoodman's than the opposite, that parenting is enriching, has made them grow as people, etc. Which is great! I didn't make the comment in question, so I don't think I have to defend it.

(As my own aside, I've always thought that the gamble of what kind of person you'll have when you have a kid was incredibly scary and something people don't always consider. It's getting a roommate for at least 18 years who you've never met - ack!)

Favorites aren't approval, I am aware. But it shows the comment wasn't considered inappropriate by many, IMO.
posted by agregoli at 9:03 AM on September 21, 2012


(Anyway, this is starting to feel like MetaTalk territory, I apologize for contributing.)
posted by agregoli at 9:05 AM on September 21, 2012


IMO Saul comes across as trying to convince himself that he has made the right decisions.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:15 AM on September 21, 2012


I mean -- I guess that's the point I don't get. Person came in to explain he/she never wanted kids and chose not to have them and why and look at all the great things he/she gets to do without kids, hahahahahaha!
And so what......?


I think there's a very common instinct for people to take extra pleasure in things which they otherwise can't enjoy, when the opportunity provides. So when there's a constant societal and cultural expectation weighing down on you that "People have kids. That's what they do. If you don't want to be a parent, you're immature and stunted. And by the way, you'll change your mind, so it doesn't matter what you think now." (And yes, this is a regular thing. I'm a 21 year old straight cis-male, and I still get an earful regularly about how 'I just believe that I don't want kids because I haven't grown up yet and don't want to be tied down, so just I wait. I'll change my mind.'.); there's an instinct, when the opportunity provides and there's a place where people can actually voice this belief, to relish it.

So don't look at it like gloating. Look at it like "I can actually say that I want a life without children! People don't look at me like I just grew a second head! Yes!". I think there's a similar dynamic at play with regards to religion or politics some times (depending on the region), or 'non-traditional' sexuality, or many other things which are socially stigmatized, but become a part of identity because of that stigmatization.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think we're all generally a little ambivalent about the life choices we make at the end of the day and love to find and flock together with peers that affirm and reinforce our choices so we can drown out our own little nagging doubts. That's why we so often behave as if we see others different preferences and choices as a threat to our own, even when they aren't, and we shouldn't.

But I won't apologize for criticizing anyone who takes pleasure in rubbing their own childless happiness in the face of existing parents who might be out there struggling against adverse economic and personal circumstances (or hell, like my own parents, against the temptation to rejoin the party with their childless peers and just blow off the whole parenting thing in favor of more fun things like shooting heroin), trying as best they can whether joyfully or stoically to make their relationships with their kids work and to help them develop into decent people by suggesting that those silly parents, too, might know the meaningful satisfaction of slumming it as a third-world pleasure tourists if only they could just abandon their kids or travel back in time to undo their kids' existence, freeing themselves up to join that secret elite of sophisticated and fun childless people who do "exciting" things like sneaking off on clandestine trips to Cuba sometimes (shhh!).

I'm not sorry at all to say that seems to me like a really obnoxious, self-centered and shallow way to approach such a serious topic, and even 1,000 favorites for that sentiment wouldn't be enough to change my mind. And I think the fact that there's so much support for such a vile, cruel sentiment anywhere goes a long way toward explaining why so many parents struggle and don't feel they get the support they need from the community--and yes, even seem so eager to drop their children off on some stranger's doorstep like a box of kittens.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:46 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


IMO Saul comes across as trying to convince himself that he has made the right decisions.

Normally, you might be right, but my life circumstances have left me with no living family other than my kids. I don't just adore them--I relish them as my closest living blood relatives--and I think that makes my situation very different than some folks. I never said my lessons applied universally!
posted by saulgoodman at 9:48 AM on September 21, 2012


So don't look at it like gloating. Look at it like "I can actually say that I want a life without children! People don't look at me like I just grew a second head! Yes!"

Then why on earth not just say that?
posted by zizzle at 9:53 AM on September 21, 2012


Zizzle -- because once released, the pendulum swings. A lot of people really are culturally oppressed by expectations around childrearing, and I don't think it's unreasonable for them to blow off steam around it.
posted by KathrynT at 10:09 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not you, saul, but some parents gloat about how their lives are better than the childless too...people are definitely coming at this from different angles. And its not like all parents are feeling struggle and all childfree folks are carefree. I'm sure there's plenty of blissful parents and unhappy childfree people as well.
posted by agregoli at 10:44 AM on September 21, 2012


(And I'm really not seeing the comment as "vile" or "cruel" unless we're talking about different comments. That person spoke of their own happiness, just like you did, saul. If that's rubbing it in parent's faces...I don't know what else to say.)
posted by agregoli at 10:52 AM on September 21, 2012


"I'm not sure how she can conflate "attachment parenting" (which pretty much everyone (rational) agrees with fundamentally) with "anti-vaccination" ... that's pretty lame. "

There's a LOT of overlap between the attachment parenting "movement" and the anti-vax crowd. Many of the leading attachment parenting advocates are or have in the past been anti-vaxxers (Mayim Bialik, who always writes about parenting as Mayim Bialik, Ph.D.), or cater to the anti-vax crowd (notably Dr. Sears and his book about vaccinations and its "alternative" schedule, which all caters to the anti-vax nonsense out there and provides anti-vaxxing parents support for many of their ideas, such as "doctors don't understand vaccines" and "vaccine-preventable diseases aren't that bad" and - quote from the book - “I also warn [parents] not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we'll likely see the diseases increase significantly.” -- protect your child, but screw all those other kids!). If you frequent any attachment parenting message boards or forums or groups, you'll find that while not all attachment parents are anti-vaccine, a huge quantity of anti-vaccine parents are in the attachment parenting movement. This talks a little bit about the exclusion of pro-vax parents in local API support groups.

It's to the point where a lot of local AP groups are splitting into two (here's one in Seattle) over the vaccination issue. Some of the pro-vax APs are now calling what they do "gentle parenting" because "attachment parenting" HAS become so linked with the anti-vaccination crowd.

Frankly if you follow the "official" Attachment Parenting movement at all (API, various celebrity advocates, books, speakers, conferences, etc.), it's surprising you HAVEN'T seen how the anti-vax crowd has really come to dominate the AP space. That, and the reaction against it, have been a really big deal in AP circles the last two years or so.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:52 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Dr. Bob Sears, not William)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:52 AM on September 21, 2012


I have to agree with the AP stuff - it is linked with a whole lot of anti-science stuff. Which is why my friend's midwife, upon hearing about me breastfeeding, using cloth nappies, cosleeping and doing babyled weaning, was puzzled as to why I would have ever chose *gasp* hospital birth or *double gasp* vaccinations!?! In her mind those two things are part and parcel of the other choices and that's when you start getting issues because it becomes a club and a clique, rather than support. With all the nonsensical ticky boxes to fill out.

Which is why I don't have a mother's group now. And would love to not go to playgroup either.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:16 PM on September 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I won't apologize for criticizing anyone who takes pleasure in rubbing their own childless happiness in the face of existing parents who might be out there struggling against adverse economic and personal circumstances

Having kids is The Expected Thing. You don't have to defend having kids - having kids is the norm. For many women, choosing not to have kids is something they get shit on for constantly. To have some dude come in here and criticize us for being happy about not having kids? It's angering. It's not particularly novel, but it's still angering. I mean, no one expects you to apologize for it, but don't think that you're enlightening us with some grand life truth that has avoided us all up until this here thread.

A side note, some people that don't have kids view *that* as a struggle. Maybe keep that in mind next time you go on about your children's smiles - two sides of the same coin.
posted by troika at 2:43 PM on September 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


At the time we received our first - let's say "happy surprise", I was dreaming of the Danube, and on the point of booking flights. Ha!

Now we have two kids, and we muddle along. Motherhood for me has been a range of experiences from those 'life-enriching and consciousness raising' joyous moments, to hiding, snarling, in the potting shed for just. two. minutes of privacy. As for personal change, I haven't seen my navel for years.

But I, personally, loved trixare4kids' comment, it made me smile.
I didn't read any defiance of parents there, rather, of the widespread attitude that other people's reproductive choices are fair game for questions and criticism. Perfect strangers feel a right to be staggeringly nosy and rude. Friends and family dig harder and deeper into your personal business.
(Having a child makes no difference, just replace "when are you having a baby?" with "when are you having another?".)

So good on you, to anyone who loves the life they have and made their own choices to get there, and I will join you in raising two fingers to those who will not mind their own business.

And does anyone want a 'Rough Guide to Romania' 2008 edition?
posted by Catch at 5:04 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


29, female, healthy, happily married, above average US household income, ZERO plans to have children, ever.

This confused jumbled mess of an article was frustrating for me to read but very telling in its content. The comments both here and on The Atlantic brought up a lot of stereotypes that I find problematic.


We recoil in horror at the thought of a woman abandoning her children, but it's acceptable to publicly shame a woman who doesn't want to have children in the first place. Or to call out someone who enjoys the opportunities afforded a childless adult/couple as selfish and immature.

Upon finding out that I'm married and that my husband and I don't plan to have children, the most common response is "why not?" followed by "WHY NOT?!?!" or "Oh, is there something *waves hand vaguely in the direction of my womb* wrong with you? ...or him?"

My response is always "Well, neither of us have ever really seen ourselves as parents, we both have a lot of life goals that would take time away from raising kids, and we feel that being a parent is the kind of job you shouldn't undertake unless you can really dedicate your whole life to it."

My favorite reply to that is "Wow! I wish more people were responsible like you guys!" but I don't hear it often. Most of the time, people press me about my mental and physical health, whether I was abused as a child, (really!) if maybe I'm not confident my marriage will last, or what on earth I plan to do when I'm old without kids to look after me.

I'm not saying this to solicit pity for my situation- I've got a great life and people's stupid reactions to my life choices are an annoyance at worst. The reason I'm saying this is because I'm not the only one who has been fed the idea that not having children is sad, and not wanting children is insane.

Forget for a second the political landmines of contraception, sex ed and abortion. What if it were just okay for a woman not to have kids- no explanation necessary, no eyebrows raised? What if deciding not to have kids was as shocking a decision as renting an apartment instead of buying a house?

I'm not saying it would solve the problem of overwhelmed/regretful/unprepared parents, but it might make a dent, and it sure as hell wouldn't cost us anything.
posted by Wroughtirony at 9:50 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having kids is The Expected Thing. You don't have to defend having kids

Not in my world it wasn't. It really wasn't. Very much the opposite. But I suppose my peer group/family situation wasn't typical. I suspect human experiences are too unique to generalize from a whole lot in most cases.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:06 PM on September 22, 2012


I suspect human experiences are too unique to generalize from a whole lot in most cases.

While we may not be able to generalise about individual experience, we certainly can generalize about human experience. This is what we have statistics for. 46% of US households have children under 18 at home, and that's a historical low, caused by baby boomers beeing too old for kids and too young to die at an appreciable rate. Less than 20% of US women never bear a child. If having children was not expected in your peer group, that was decidedly atypical.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:11 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite reply to that is "Wow! I wish more people were responsible like you guys!" but I don't hear it often. Most of the time, people press me about my mental and physical health, whether I was abused as a child, (really!) if maybe I'm not confident my marriage will last, or what on earth I plan to do when I'm old without kids to look after me. - Wroughtirony

You realise the corollary of that is that having children is irresponsible, right? And just how offensive that is to people who have your kind of lifestyle AND have children? And that it also assumes that having a meaningful career/travel/hobbies/whatever is incompatible with 'good parenting'? And that, in and of itself, is a judgement laid upon parents every day, by themselves and by others?

Own it. Just say "I/We don't want kids." - when you start with reasons you start with judgements and reveal your own bias. I refuse to ever go into the whys and wherefores about not having another child because I know it's hurtful to friends with more than one, it's entirely to do with me and my bias, and how I view the world. I have talked about it in depth with my partner and a bit more with one friend (who has two kids himself) but I avoid the conversation because I know my decision is right for me but it also incredibly subjective, judgemental and non-conducive to good conversation and good feelings.

As for the 'defending having kids' it is dependent a lot on age, class and environment. I had to justify, many times, my decision not to have children when I was in my teens/early twenties because my socio-economic environment at that point meant that by 23 I was the only one in my peer group who was not a parent, unmarried and not planning either of those things. After running like hell away, I stopped getting hassled about that and started getting congratulated. come my late twenties and marriage I started getting asked (rarely) when I will start. After having one I field the "Where's the next one?" question on average once or twice a week, with varying overtones of concern, demand or bewilderment. I know my childfree friends say that this time of life is the worst for it, as far as social commentary goes. I also know that the social commentary on being childfree is not nearly as pervasive as the commentary on parenting and that is because of the demographics: most of us will reproduce.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:04 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


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