Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Choice to be Childfree - This Mom Gets it

Yesterday I found an old college friend's Linkedin profile. My formerly flighty chum - who I'll call Stacey - is doing amazingly well.  She has a law degree from a prestigious university, speaks five languages, and has held high-profile positions in major cities all over the world.

I hovered my mouse over the "connect" button, then changed my mind. My own accomplishments seem so skimpy by comparison. But what neither of our profiles show is whether we have kids or not. I'm not sure, but based on  Stacey's globetrotting mobility alone, I'm assuming she must be childfree.

I may have been influenced by the Time Magazine article I'd read just hours earlier at the pediatrician's office, "The Childfree Life - When having it all means not having children." I was waiting for my daughter to emerge from her annual physical exam (parents of teens stay in the reception area) surrounded by little kids banging on vintage typewriters and building towers of blocks at my feet. Hmm, I mused, reaching for the magazine, it's amazing how quickly one loses one's tolerance for preschoolers.

The Time article was fascinating. These days, roughly 20% of American women aged 40-44 don't have children, compared to only 10% in 1976. The main reason for this growth isn't fertility problems or lack of male partners; it's because more women are choosing not to become mothers. Time reports half of the women aged 40-44 who don't have children want it that way.

Why do women choose not to have kids? Watch out, because that's considered to be a presumptive and rude question. No one asks us mothers why we decided to have children. It's assumed that our biological urge to procreate is so irresistible and necessary, we'd never elect otherwise. But let's face it, up until the last few decades women haven't had much say in the matter. If we had sex, we generally got knocked up.

But due to birth control (hooray!) women today do have a choice about motherhood, and it's becoming more common for some (especially women who are highly educated, affluent and white) to say "no thanks." The economics of parenthood are daunting enough. The estimated cost to raise a child today to age 18 is a whopping  $235,000. But the choice is not just a financial decision. Women who choose to be childfree don't feel they're making a sacrifice or missing out on anything by not having babies. They're simply enjoying their lives -  building their careers, traveling exotic locales, having luxuriously long sessions of uninterrupted sex, and reading lots of books with big words.

I bet that's what Stacey is doing right now in Paris or Prague or Tokyo or wherever she's jetting off to next.

Would I exchange my two wonderful children for the glamor and excitement I'm imagining for Stacey? Of course not. But the appeal of a childfree life? I get why some women choose it.

"You should put a picture of me on your LinkedIn profile," said my son Nick, when I grumbled about the 10-year gap in my resume. "Show people what you've accomplished." Aw. That he'd even consider himself my accomplishment is gratifying to the max.

Nick will be back to college in a couple weeks, leaving Emma as my only child at home  - and she's so grown up she doesn't even need me go into the doctor's examining room with her anymore. You know what? In a couple years, I'll be childfree myself. I can still have that life of international intrigue!  But for now, while they're here, I'm gonna enjoy my kids. And try not to nag them so much.

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