The End of Motherhood?

A reporter for German Public Radio recently asked me a startling question: If the U.S. is so inhospitable to working moms, and European countries offer long maternity leaves, job security, and child-care stipends, why are American women having so many babies when European women are not?

Turns out the "total fertility rate" or TFR in Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Russia is far lower than the 2.0 TFR needed to replace the population, according to an article in Newsweek's May 29 issue. In the U.S. the TFR is 2.1 children for every woman. According to an article this past Sunday in The Washington Post, the birthrate is even higher in parts of Utah, Texas and even Loudoun County just outside Washington, D.C. (and doubtless in other pockets throughout the U.S.)

I have two answers. First, motherhood is not a rational business. Most of us don't decide to have children because it is economically profitable or because our employers or the government are urging us to procreate.

Second, we LOVE motherhood in this country. Sure, we have a lot of opinions about what makes a good mom and a raging debate about how to help -- or not help -- working mothers. But overall, we worship pregnancy, fertility and motherhood (even as baseball and apple pie have declined in popularity). Encouraged by the ever-present message that "motherhood is the most important thing a woman can ever do" most of us females want to give it a try. Hence the 80.5 million moms in America today and nearly four million children born each year according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

How would you have answered the reporter's question? How and why did you decide to have -- or not have -- children?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 25, 2006; 6:00 AM ET  | Category:  Research
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My husband and I have chosen not to have children. We just don't see a reason why we should. There is a ton of pressure for us to have them though, but to have kids just to make others happy or to have someone to take care of us when we are old are horribly selfish reasons. I like kids and I respect them so much that I don't want to put a child through that. My wish is simply to be a darn good girl scout leader one day.

I think the decision to have or not have kids depends greatly on your world view. As the Wash. Post article on the Loudoun County baby boom stated, those people they reference in the article were conservatives with very positive world views which encourage them to bring kids into the work. I was born and raised in Loudoun so I know exactly the type of people that article referred too. They live in the comfort of a beautiful, well off subdivision where all of their friends, schools, shopping centers and social connections are within the HOA's walls. They never have to leave that perfectly designed community which is a great place to raise kids and has great schools so yes, the kids grow up to be successful teenagers. But those kids are going to grow up and venture outside of their subdivision and see that the world is not one big perfectly maintained HOA where everyone agrees, everyone is a conservative and you always follow HOA rules. And it's great that the world isn't like that and the kids that grow up and realize that will be just fine. But are the more sheltered kids going to be able to deal with it? I know a lot of people my age (20's) that came from these types of neighborhoods in Loudoun and they have just now realized the world can be a cruel place and they definitely can't afford to buy a home in that neighborhood.

Posted by: scouty | May 25, 2006 7:48 AM

I had my daughter because I love children. Like I have said many times before I am Irish Catholic and grew up with tons of cousins and all my sibling's children. Although I never plan to have more than two children, my daughter and any future sibling are really wanted.

I also lived in Utah for four years and they do have a lot of children there too. I had one friend who was the oldest of 18 children. They have really high family values and love children. They also have relgous reasons for having them too.

In the end it all comes down to what you and your partner want and by the time I hit 29 I was baby hungry!

Posted by: scarry | May 25, 2006 8:04 AM

Is my calendar off? Isn't today May 25, 2006?
And wasn't the date on yesterday's blog off?

Posted by: June | May 25, 2006 8:23 AM

"But are the more sheltered kids going to be able to deal with it? I know a lot of people my age (20's) that came from these types of neighborhoods in Loudoun and they have just now realized the world can be a cruel place and they definitely can't afford to buy a home in that neighborhood."

Children are incredibly resilient and make the cruel worl a much better place, but by all means dont think I am pressuring anybody to have kids. That has to come from one's heart. Dont worry about what the Jone's down the street want you to do.

But, I would suggest that kids who come from challenging environments are often more prepared to handle the cruel pitfalls of life in stride. Sometimes the sheltered are so afraid of failure, or have so little experience with adversity that they may have trouble dealing with the viscious sling and arrows of the world. ...alas every kid and every pregnancy and every day is completely different from the next. Certainty is a myth for 99.9% of even the US population - but that risk is what makes us different from the coddled fallacy of state guarantees that stifles the societies of much of the rest of the world, hence IMHO the lower birth rates even where "motherhood" is supported more than here - by the government that is. Russia and the former SU have horribly low rates, as does France, Germany and Japan. China on the other hand is still in population control mode. Seems that, except in China, social guarantees dont seem to translate into much desire to pass on the wisdom, tradition and legacy of ones heredity and family. Love and children seem to go hand in hand with the American individualist and thrive on the notion that the family can weather even the toughest of economic, natural and social upheaval since the family can always rely on the loyalty, love and uncononditional support of the family unit. Well - sometimes it's conditional. Besides relying on one's employer, government, union or lawyer isnt as much fun. In hindsight I'd venture that we had kids because my wife and I wanted to perpetuate the loving sense of togetherness, and thrill of the challenge in growing our replacements. We were married soon after my father passed on and I spoke at his funeral. Parents need children as much as children need parents as they grow in maturity along their life's spiritual path. I dont know if I was sheltered, but I know I dont live in fear of the cruel world since I have confidence that my family is there for me, and I am there for them.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 8:26 AM

arghh, sorry about the typos, I'll draft in word next time... world Jones' etc.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 8:30 AM

I always dreamed about having a child, but
we just don't know what we want to do yet. I'm almost 35 so for me time is running out - I don't want to have a teenager when I'm in menopause :)

I met my husband almost 5 years ago, we slowly transitioned into marriage two years ago.

We've recently bought a small townhouse instead of renting, so there's now a mortgage to consider and without both our incomes, it would be very difficult.

Also I love my job - I'm a chemistry teacher. It would be difficult to give that up. Sometimes teaching is the best birth control as well :)

If we don't conceive naturally soon, we'll probably look to adoption. There seems to be so many kids out there that need a good loving home, and if we can provide that, then I believe we're doing something right.

Posted by: still trying to decide | May 25, 2006 8:32 AM

The TFR for the US is misleading. The reason it is 2.1 here is due to the large number of immigrating women from third world countries, who continue having larger numbers of children. If you factor them out, the US TFR is actually similar to that of Europe's (but still higher, though). Note the states Leslie mentioned; Texas and Utah, both which have large numbers of immigrants. I suspect Southern California has a very high TFR also. Note that I am not making an anti-immigrant comment here, only stating an explanation as to why our TFR is high.

Interestingly, the children of immigrants tend to follow the tendency of current US citizens when it comes to having children. Those that grow up here have fewer children then their mothers did who immigrated to this country; presumably it is because they see that having large numbers of children are a drain on their affluence and not an asset as they are in many Third World countries.

Posted by: John | May 25, 2006 8:38 AM

I think people in the U.S. do have a greater sense of hope, or 'positive world view' than their counterparts in Europe. Having lived overseas for 4 years, I also think that the living quarters can also be very cramped! But the poster who talked about the HOA must live in a really nice place, because my HOA is a raging BEAST. I believe most HOA's are fairly disliked by the homeowners. As for having a sheltered sense of the world, I really don't think that, in this post 9/11 world (and I hate to trot that out), most kids are wearing blinders. Many of my female students (middle school) talk of worrying that they will be abducted or some other scary thing. If they watch the news or read the paper on any given day they will realize that the larger world is unfair, but usually in their favor. We moved to Camelot to give our children a great childhood. They will be adults for the rest of their lives. I have also thought that college is simply an extended adolescence, so it is normal for those twenty-somethings to have a somewhat rude awakening. And don't worry about real estate! Go do something cool with your life. If you want real estate, there are many more affordable places to live. There is a reason why many people around here are two-income families.

Posted by: aa | May 25, 2006 8:42 AM

A follow up to my first post, in answer to Leslie's general question.

I married 22 years ago and told my wife I did not want to have children, as I felt I was not mature enough to raise them. She had her own reasons for not wanting them, relating back to her childhood and her parents.

About a year ago, though, a good friend of mine became pregnant, and even though she was single and already had children, she was obviously thrilled to have another. Her excitement and determination to be as good a parent as she could caused me to explore my own feelings as to having a family, and after discussing it with my wife, discovered she too had been reconsidering our decision we made long ago. After much discussion and thought, we've decided we'll make the attempt, and hope to become parents sometime early next year. I have a mountain of gratitude for my friend, who inspired me to take this big step with my wife!

Posted by: John | May 25, 2006 8:45 AM

John,

as an FYI, interesting information from Robert Saumuelson's article in this week's Newsweek regarding American TFR and immigration:

"American fertility is roughly at the replacement rate, 2.1 children per woman. Nor does the U.S. rate merely reflect, as some think, a higher rate among Hispanic Americans. The fertility rate is 1.9 for non-Hispanic whites and about 2 for African-Americans, reports demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute."

Posted by: vj | May 25, 2006 8:45 AM

I just wanted to comment on a couple of things. The first poster said "but are the more sheltered kids going to be able to deal with it?" Based on sheer observation as a teacher, it is the kids who have not been sheltered or protected that I think have problems dealing. They are more depressed, angrier and hostile than the over-protected ones. Can you imagine if you KNEW what the world was really like when you were 14? The hell of insurance alone would suck the joy out of your life. The other teachers at my school and I laugh about it and say that if they knew what was ahead they probably wouldn't get out of bed in the morning. And for the first poster, if you don't want kids, that is o.k. It's the millions who have them and don't want them that are the problem. For the chemistry teacher--it's always nice to have your ducks in a row when you have kids, at least financially, but if you wait until you can "afford it" it will never happen. Most people can't afford kids!

Posted by: aa | May 25, 2006 8:55 AM

I tell my daughters that they should never, ever have sex with anybody unless both partners are willing to accept a child into their relationship. Each daughter is aware that I will interview their fiance and if he tells me that he doesn't like or want kids, I won't fork over a dime for the wedding. But I don't have to be negative, my daughters love babies and keep begging me and my wife to make another one.
The desire to procreate is the most profound form of love that a couple can possibly experience. I think to purposefully deny any children from a commited, life-long intimate relationship goes against the intention of God; therefore sinful. And for all you childless couples out there who decide to make a baby through intimate love... I'm telling you from experience... It'll be the best sex you've ever had.

Posted by: Father of 4 | May 25, 2006 8:56 AM

I always knew I wanted kids. And a career too. I wanted 9 children (I was a sports nut and that was nearly twice the number my mother had). I now have two kids and no career. I still yearn for more children, but it wasn't meant to be. It's taken me a couple of years in my late 30s and early 40s to come to terms with this. And, I finally realized that my "grieving" was getting in the way of relating to the two children I do have.

Posted by: Kate | May 25, 2006 8:57 AM

wow. Very interesting posts. I feel even more guilty of not procreating than before!! LOL. I share very similiar thoughts about the risk of raising "bad" or unsucessful children. And the thoughts of "who will take care of us when were old". But in the end..alot of it, is fear of the finacial burden (giving all we have and not being able to live decent in retirement). Very shameful to admit this..however I don't see the economic cushion that my parents had during their family years:(

Posted by: scared and selfish:( | May 25, 2006 8:59 AM

Just the other week the Washinton Post had a bunch of articles about different attitudes about teen sexuality in the US and various European countries. It pointed out that the birth rate for teens in the US is much, much higher than it is in countries like France, England, and Sweden.

So why is it such a surprise that the US winds up having a higher birth rate overall? If we just connect the dots, it's pretty simple- a whole lot of our kids are unplanned. (And I'm not making a value judgment here- just making a connection.)

Posted by: randdommom | May 25, 2006 9:02 AM

Bottom line - there seems to be something about our culture and society that is more encouraging and supportive of childbearing and childrearing than that of Europe. In my mind, this suggests that the common comparisons that are made of whether government policies are "family friendly" or not misses the most important parts of the equation. Those policies, narrowly defined, are generally assumed to be better in Europe. Clearly, though, there's something else in either our political, economic, or social environment that has a much more significant impact on how many children people have.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 9:03 AM

Please excuse all the typos in that post!

Posted by: randdommom | May 25, 2006 9:03 AM

Interestingly, a related piece yesterday at www.OpinionJournal.com described how our society is taking a great deal of fun out of being parents, replacing it with worry and angst. It is a thoughtful and brief read. The link is at http://www.opinionjournal.com/federation/feature/?id=110008417
But I agree that the optimism in our society encourages people to have more children. The more the merrier, I say.

Posted by: G | May 25, 2006 9:13 AM

[Comment - I've been posting using several names -- "BTW" yesterday, "Wow" on other days -- but have decided to consistently be "Proud Papa." It's interesting, gaining an understanding of some of you based on seeing your posts build.]

I think that a large part the thinking on this question is much more basic. I am in my mid-30's, and every unmarried woman that I know mentions that her family is pressuring her to get married and produce some grandchildren. I've done my part to help this by appointing a couple of very happy "GodMothers" and their Moms (God-Grandmothers?) have been involved in my son's life. They are great, incidentally. They love him.

Anyway, my point is, it seems to me that women who have Baby Boomer or Greatest Generation parents seem to get pressure to produce offspring. The guys I know have not been pressured in the same way.

Posted by: Proud Papa | May 25, 2006 9:19 AM

Not my wife's mom. When she was told that we were going to start a family, all she had to say to my wife was "well, I wish you had done it back when your father was alive", then proceded to berate my wife over why she waited so long. The rift between my wife and her mother has gotten so large I doubt once we have a child if my wife would even welcome her to visit.

Posted by: John | May 25, 2006 9:27 AM

I had kids so I could have Legos and Poptarts in my house without seeming strange. Actually, it's great fun! Stressful, sure... but it's the best decision my husband and I made. For us.

Posted by: DC Mom | May 25, 2006 9:31 AM

I agree that the decision to have kids (or not) has little to do with whether it's convenient to our jobs and lives. I think having kids is an expression of optimism, and Americans are the optimistic people on earth.

Posted by: E in DC | May 25, 2006 9:33 AM

Eh, it's just funny how people rationalize their selfish need to have kids to fulfill some weakness in their emotional framework.

The fertility rate going down is GOOD. There's too many damn people around as it it. It was nicer in the US when we didn't have new suburbs ruining all our nice woods and fields, but the yuppies just kept having to breed to fulfill their own inability to be whole persons themselves.

Posted by: ChildLessBy Choice | May 25, 2006 9:36 AM

I've never really wanted kids.

Growing up and watching the same tired debate that this blog is about now may be part of the reason. Do you want a career? Do you want kids? As a woman, you'll have to sacrifice one of these, agree to be insane and stressed all the time, or find a one-in-a-million guy who wants to stay home and can live with society's disapproval. Doesn't seem like a fun game to play. I want a career. Kids don't interest me. No trade-offs required.

Posted by: cs | May 25, 2006 9:40 AM

I haven't wanted children because I simply don't have the desire to give so much of myself and be constantly "on call". I know the sacrifices of parenting, and although I have observed the joys, I've observed a great deal of anguish, too.

I also haven't wanted children because 95% of the parent couples I see are unhappy, overworked, and stressed out. They don't really enjoy their kids, they fight a lot, they deal with family life day in and day out in a way that makes it very unappealing. The couple's relationship usually takes a dive or a radical change soon after the first child is born. I see a lot of mothers become so child-focused that they ignore their marriage and their husband.

I have always wanted a great relationship, travel, time to do my creative work and time to myself (I'm an introvert) and to be financially secure rather than having a baby. Actually, I just never had any desire to be pregnant. No ticking bio clock here, even at age 41. My husband is 35 and likes kids but doesn't deeply want one of his own.

There are two couples I know (and only two) who are happy with their lives and their child (both couples chose to have only one child), have a good balance of the work, and a good relationship. Thinking of them, sometimes I think about adopting a child age 5 or over. My husband and I have a lot to offer a child and I would like to help a child who needs a family. I wouldn't have to work, so I could be a SAHM and not have all the hassles of working moms. It's a big decision. I honestly think that I won't adopt but will become more involved in programs to help kids because I like teenagers and enjoy interacting with them.

Posted by: Beth A. | May 25, 2006 9:42 AM

It may have less to do with culture and more to do with survival. I've lived throughout Europe for 11 years and it's darn expensive. In many places, health care may be socialized but it isn't necessarily better. England is in a hospital and dental staff crisis right now, and gas is $8 a gallon. (They now have travelling dentists, and people line up for miles to get seen, as if it's a 3rd world country.) Taxes have always been high; the simple cost of living, even if you're not right in London, is astronomical.

I don't think parenthood is the single most important thing a person can do. What a limiting perspective. Who knows the names of Mozart's, Shakespeare's, or Curie's children? Huh? Anyone? Anyone? Didn't think so. (Of course, they had parents too, so it's a moot point.) But let's all get off our high horses. For everyone who chooses not to have kids, is unable to have kids, or prefers to focus their efforts on researching the cure for cancer, we need to live and let live. Got kids? Good for you! Love them and raise them well, and mind your own business so I can finish writing this outstanding symphony.

Posted by: kidless international | May 25, 2006 9:42 AM

One other possible factor for the differences in birthrates: I don't have statistics, so others should feel free to confirm or controvert, but from my own observations and experiences, northern Europe overall appears to be less influenced by religious beliefs that discourage the use of contraception. I think the opinion expressed earlier that "to purposefully deny any children from a commited, life-long intimate relationship goes against the intention of God; therefore sinful" is comparatively rare in, say, Germany, France, England, or Scandinavia, but is very prominent in Utah, Texas, and some other places in the US. It is certainly more prominent in our politics than theirs. In addition -- again, correct me if I'm wrong -- but I think that some of those more conservative or evangelical religions are some of the faster-growing religions in this country, so they are becoming more visible and more influential.

Of course, I believe that Ireland and Italy are also experiencing a low birthrate, which seems to be inconsistent with the prevalence of Catholicism, so that obviously is not the only explanation.

I also agree with the earlier posters who noted a cultural difference -- I think there are certain cultural norms that we grow up with and so frame our expectations. Again from my own (limited) experience, the people I knew in France and Germany just didn't quite know what to make of larger families -- one or two kids was the norm, maybe three, but they just didn't understand why one would want a larger family than that. I also grew up in neighborhoods with maybe 1-2 kids per family, so when I made my first Mormon friend in high school, I just didn't understand why they would want to have all those kids. Whereas people I know now who come from larger families wonder why the heck anyone would want so few kids, with so much less love and fun and craziness. So it just seems logical that a society with all sorts of religious and cultural influences that encourage larger families, and where those influences seem to be growing, would thus have a higher birthrate.

Posted by: Laura | May 25, 2006 9:45 AM

I would add that US dependence on the automobile makes it easier to have more bambinos - think of how difficult it is to carry all your groceries, work paraphernalia, diaper bag, lunches AND a small child on Metro or a bicycle!

Posted by: Marty | May 25, 2006 9:48 AM

I read the same article and was wondering if Leslie was going to cover it on the blog. I am glad she did. I am European and I found this article to be accurate and also puzzling. I know for a fact that the life of a working mother in Europe is 1000 times easier than in the U.S. In France, for example, all child care is regulated by the state, and when you place your baby in a day care you don't have to worry that proper security checks were not made or that the day care workers don't have the right training. And it is much cheaper too. Children are so much more accepted everywhere and are part of family activities. Extended families are expected to help out with childcare. I know that my family would have opted to have children regardless of where we lived. I had children late -- in my 30's because when I was in my 20's I felt like the first poster named scouty. So, I can't really answer the reporter's question, sorry Leslie. One personal and NOT SCIENTIFIC observations why this might be. European women are much more into being women, taking care of themselves and looking good. One of most popular programs in French spas is "apres bebe" -- post baby weight loss programs. You would never catch an Italian or Spanish or French woman dropping off her child in daycare/preschool in sweats and without make up. They also don't lose themselves into child rearing to the extent American women do. These are ONLY PERSONAL observations so please don't throw stones.

Posted by: european-american working mother | May 25, 2006 9:54 AM

I have to say that everyone who posts here "always wanted to be a parent", "dreamed of having a ball team", etc. For the undecided and those resolute against procreating, this is for you, I was/still am in a LTR with my partner when we got pregnant by accident @ 26. He always wanted and liked kids, unlike me. I considered abortion because it had been the right decision before he came into my life. I now have an affectionate, beautiful and smart 7.5 y.o. girl I adore. It took a month or two to get used to "it" but she was a great baby. Chaperoning her field trip 2 weeks ago, I realized that I still don't like kids esp. in large groups. It may surprise to hear that I'm dying for 2 more after realizing I was sad after a miscarriage. So, I guess my point is that, as with any other decision, it's possible to live with decisions that seem at odds.

Posted by: db | May 25, 2006 9:55 AM

Simply put, I want (and am finally mentally ready to have) kids. My husband is scared of it, still. But bottom line is, we can't afford it. We live in a small 1-BR and in the crazy housing market we can't afford to upgrade. (I knew I should have insisted on a 2-BR when we bought!) I have $6 and change in my wallet that's all my spending money til next Friday, and I'm going to have to draw on savings or credit cards for the groceries and monthly transit ticket. We're not in financial place where we can provide a good home right now, and it is *killing me* inside because I desparately want to start a family. (I've literally thought about it on some level every day for the last few years) And I'm nearly 32, so my time is running out.

Posted by: NY lurker | May 25, 2006 10:00 AM

I am so glad Leslie posted about this. The comparison between Europe & the U.S. is an interesting one, but one that glosses over a broader pattern: when women can have fewer children, they do. In developing countries, where family planning is widely acceptable and easy to do - the birth rate is much lower than in developing countries. Even with the TFR in the U.S. around 2.1, it is lower than it has ever been. This poses an interesting question for folks who think women should remain in traditional spheres of home and family - if that is the "natural" place for women, then why do women drastically decrease the number of children they bear as soon as they can (when FP methods become widely available)?

Posted by: Just a Thought | May 25, 2006 10:11 AM

I actually answered this question yesterday in response to someone who did not have children.

In our 20's, my wife and I (before marriage and independently) decided not to have children. After talking with some Europeans, I started thinking about parenting and families. My wife told me before we got married she did not want to have kids. Seven years into our marriage, she changed her mind after she saw me playing with other kids and coaching kids hockey. (She admits that part of the reason she thought about having children was to have me spend more time with her. That part worked. )

We both wish we could have one more of our own, but it is too risky for health reasons. I've always believed that God gives you all you can handle, but no more. We lost a twin fairly early in the pregnancy, but that was a good thing in retrospect.

We had a fire at the office yesterday, so I got to go to the playground for a couple of hours with my son. What a JOY! It really makes me wish I had more free time.

Posted by: Working Dad | May 25, 2006 10:25 AM

thanks to the person who posted this:

http://www.opinionjournal.com/federation/feature/?id=110008417

very insightful

Posted by: becky | May 25, 2006 10:29 AM

I would find it hard to believe losing a child, twin or not, was "a good thing in retrospect". It's still a tragedy even if you were able to better take care of just one child.

Posted by: John | May 25, 2006 10:29 AM

I had my first child at 27 and had been married for 5 years. I always wanted kids, I suppose because I love everything about family life. At the time we agonzied over finances, as we did'nt really have any but like other posters have said there is never a perfect time. Things work out. I wish the U.S. had a better childcare system in place and I do find it strange that Europeans with all the wonderful benefits they get are not haveing more kids. I think the American sweat-suit syndrome has something to do with the whole working mom- stay-at-home mom issue. My own thoughts about it are that some SAM's feel les valued by our society and careless (meaning a lessening in caring about yourself) dressing is just a symptom of this. I think some women just get worn down by the drudge aspect of childcare and the persistant attitudes about women in this country. On the flip side, there is an Italian mom on one of my child's sport's team, and she always wears a different coordinated runway sweat suit to pick up her kids.

Posted by: working mom of two | May 25, 2006 10:30 AM

"Whereas people I know now who come from larger families wonder why the heck anyone would want so few kids, with so much less love and fun and craziness."

Not me! I'm the youngest of 7 children (grew up in the Midwest, and we're not Catholic), and I would never want to have such a large family myself. I do indeed remember moments of fun and craziness while growing up, but more prevalent than those are my memories of my parents being exhausted. Dad was a self-employed paint contractor during the day, and Mom worked the evening shift at a local computer parts plant - her job provided the health insurance that enabled us to have glasses and braces.

Despite the two incomes, there was a chronic lack of money. My dad and mom are now 72 and 70, respectively, and they have zero savings. Dad has Alzheimer's and can't work anymore, but Mom will be working until the day she is physically unable to do so. (My siblings and I do give them money, at least those of us who are able to do so, and those of us who live far away pay for their plane tickets when they come for visits.)

In contrast, my husband is an only child. We have one daughter. She is an absolute joy. And neither my husband nor I feel a deep need to give her a sibling. We are comfortable now with our finances and time commitments and don't want to change anything.

I do agree with previous posts (and the OpinionJournal.com piece) about the lack of freedom kids have now and how that puts even more pressure on parents. I had the run of the farm where we grew up. In the summertime I'd disappear from the house after breakfast and only reappear when I got hungry. I can't imagine how my parents would've managed if they had had to supervise us constantly.

Posted by: LoudounLibrarian | May 25, 2006 10:38 AM

For anyone hoping to hedge against a lonely old age by having kids, try visiting a nursing home sometime. I regularly do, to visit an elderly friend. From what I have observed (and the staff confirms), 90% of the nursing home residents, many of whom are severely limited in their ability to ambulate, feed themselves or use the bathroom, have few--if any--visits from their children--even the ones who live in the same town. Extreme old age isn't pretty, and the kids, frankly, are busy with their own families and homes and work lives, and simply can't be bothered, except to blow in for an hour or so around the major holidays. And when the will is read...

Posted by: Profoundly Grateful for Birth Control | May 25, 2006 10:42 AM

I read the article about Loudoun's birthrate with interest - no wonder I felt very out of place when I lived there for a few years. I don't have kids, never wanted kids, and am not comfortable around kids. I have never regretted the decision to not have children in fact know in my heart it was the right choice for me.

Posted by: No Kids 4 Me | May 25, 2006 10:46 AM

My husband and I used to be one of those couples that would always say after having the requisite two children, a boy and a girl, "ok, we're done." Well, as the lady who said that she tells her daughter not to have sex with anyone she wouldn't want to welcome a child with...we were blessed by a third little one almost eight years after our second one, long after we'd given away all the baby stuff and thought we were done. Our child was a birth control statistic and a true miracle, and our whole family has welcomed him with open arms. Our little surprise has become the greatest blessing of our lives, and it just goes to show, as our church priest stated, "sometimes, no matter how much we try to control and plan things in our modern lives, we find out that we're really not in control, and whether you believe in God and try to call it that or just call it destiny -- sometimes things just happen that we can't control, including bringing children into the world."
By the way, I think Europeans are very child friendly. When we traveled through Germany, England, and France with our little ones, I found people to be much more friendly and accepting of them on a personal level than Americans generally are, and their societies do a much better job of linking the generations. Old people are separated completely out from the young or from the middle-age people. When we sat next to a childless couple or single person at a restaurant in Europe, we didn't get the sideways glances or "oh, no, not kids" look that you automatically get from Americans. Kids seem to be welcome everywhere, and in England, they even have sections of the pubs where they are welcome. They seem to be less judgemental of each other's parenting styles, and they have no issues with breastfeeding as people in the U.S. do. Overall, I think European societies are much more supportive of families on both a personal and a governmental level. Perhaps they don't have as many kids because of the high cost of living there, smaller living spaces, and the propensity to take their child-rearing roles very serioiusly.

Posted by: An American mom | May 25, 2006 10:49 AM

I think in our society having a child is something everyone should want and so a lot of women still have babies., because their spouse wants one, its the next step etc. I have a daughter it wasnt planned, but I also always knew i wanted to have a child. So when I found out I was scared, I wasnt ready, I was broke,(BTW I am not that well off now but get by.) I still would not change anything in the world. I have seen in my family and friends people who have babies because it's the next step in their marriage, and think that their child is a burden. That is sad that they CHOSE to have a child and treat that child as a burden. It was a planned pregnancy and yet there is so much frustration. I have seen this a lot., why do these women feel pressured to have a child if it isnt something they wanted???

Posted by: single mom of 1 | May 25, 2006 10:51 AM

I meant to say in my post that the Europeans DON'T completely separate out their elderly from other age groups, and they work to have their eldercare centers linked with young people.

Posted by: An American mom #2 | May 25, 2006 10:52 AM

As a divorced mother of three children, I can honestly say I am very thankful for the children I have. My sons came to us through in-vitro and my daughter was a complete surprise. And just when I thought that I am totally taken for granted, I get a gift like this from my middle child on Mother's Day:

To my devoted Mommy


I have not acknowledged how much of an impact you have had on my young life. I have not given you the respect and thanks that you so much deserve to hear everyday of my life. This tribute is a thank you for all you have done, and I pray that you can understand how grateful I am for your love and presence in my life.

Thank you for giving me life and bringing me in to your life. Thank you for raising me into a gentlemen and constant reminders to do the right thing. Thank you for taking care of me when I was sick and sitting at my bedside all night to make sure that I was going to be ok. Thank you for providing me with constant food even though money was always tight. You never showed your pain and I appreciate that.

Mom thank you for your constant support in all aspects of my life. Thank you for being their during 9th grade year when I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. I don't know what I would have done if you were not there to be by my side and I thank you for that. Thank you for supporting my choice to take AP classes even though we both knew the amount of work that I was going to face. Lastly, thank you for supporting my every move no matter the end results. I appreciate your confidence in my decisions and your support has created the young man that you can call your son.

Thank you for taking care of me when I got hit in the ear with a stick that Patrick threw at me. You were the one to take me in your arms and relieve me in my time of need. You were always the first to take care of me when I was in distress and you deserve all of my love. Thank you for carrying me into the house when I sprained my ankle in the front yard, you came to me when I needed you the most and your love got me through the pain, and for this I thank you.

Thank you for all the sacrifices that you have made in order to put us before anything. Thank you for my Italy trip even when you didn't have the money to pay for it. Even when I told you that I wouldn't go, you told me that everything was going to be all right and that type of love allowed me to experience a trip that I will never forget. Thank you for taking off work to drive us places even though you would be jeopardizing your job. You put us first and that shows how much you love us. I regret not appreciating you enough until this tribute. Thank you for getting us a dog even though you made the sacrifice to clean up all of his messes. Finally, thank you mom for sending me to Atlanta even when money was tight. You made the ultimate sacrifice in spending money that you didn't have and that shows your true love for me. Mom, I love you, and am thankful for everything you have done to enhance our lives.

Thank you laughing with us at the most idiotic stuff just to make us happy. Thank you for laughing through Carlos Mencia and South Park episodes because we wanted to. Thank you for sharing you laughter with me, because your laughter makes me happy and I thank you for that.

Thank you mommy for all you have done and thank you for just being you. I am blessed that you brought me into this world and I consider myself lucky to be your son. Thank you for your constant discipline and never asking for anything in return. I love you mom and thank you for everything and thank you for being you. I love you.


Love,
Baby Joshy

Posted by: Lisa | May 25, 2006 10:54 AM

Is life
a. a series of choices and actions or
b. a series of reactions to what comes your way?

A strict individualist would lean towards a dominance of a. At the other extreme of mostly b. the most passive would describe conditions approaching a victim of circumstance. American culture tends to reward individuals to take advantage of opportunity and persevere through adversity. We all have the right to the pursuit of happiness - not a right to happiness itself. When a person has the ability and inclination to act and is willing to live with the consequences of the decision, our framework allows for that kind of risk taking within a moral framework of rights. Our government is founded on moral rights - more than economic rights.

The social safety net of the Great Society programs has done a great deal of good and the war against poverty a noble one. But it has also instilled (sp?) a sense of entitlement which removes some of the check and balances of economic adversity upon life choices. Famous example is the welfare bias of paying more to single parent families thus adding an economic incentive against the two parent support model. Another problem is that philanthropy can conceivable suffer since citizens can claim that they "pay enough in taxes" to care for the needy. Both are unintended pressures on American society. A conundrum that suggests caution in expanding our government largess to healthcare...

Does anybody else notice the correlation between the incredibly burdensome cost of living (high taxes and the gas price is mostly taxes in Europe) and the bureaucratic government social programs those taxes support? Vicious cycle of tax and spend... and you have to pay the bureaucrat to administer the program too! But for you al in D.C that may be a good thing.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 10:59 AM

the one comment i want to make about samuelson's article yesterday was that he didn't mention that approximately half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned. so if you factor that into the equation what would our birthrate be if we cut the "accidental" pregnancy rate way down.

Posted by: quark | May 25, 2006 11:01 AM

"For everyone who chooses not to have kids, is unable to have kids, or prefers to focus their efforts on researching the cure for cancer, we need to live and let live. Got kids? Good for you! Love them and raise them well, and mind your own business so I can finish writing this outstanding symphony."

Beautiful statement of the "free to be me and you" approach to this. But the point is that childbearing is, and must be, an inportant issue for society. It's still the only way a society can sustain itself from generation to generation (and, by the way, provide care and support for the current generation as they age). No one is suggesting that people be required to have children. But if smoking, driving big cars, education standards and trashing the environment are legitimate public policy issues, then the national birth rate certainly must be as well.

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 11:03 AM

To Lisa: Thank you for sharing your son's tribute. I think that lists all the reasons to become a parent. Those are the things that make me truly appreciate my mother and things I hope to give to my children (now 1 and 3).
It is always refreshing to read positive posts.
Your Joshy brought me to tears.

Posted by: Ellen | May 25, 2006 11:06 AM

I saw an interesting study somewhere about taxation here and in the EU. Considering how much Europeans get back from the governments through services (pensions, health care, subsidized child care, university education etc.) we in the US have a higher burden, because we get less back. Our tax money is spent on things that the average family doesn't benefit from, so we have a double burden: the taxes plus still having to pay for everything ourselves. In Germany, for example, university education is free, so most families don't worry about saving for it. Same for health care I believe.

Unfortunately, I don't have a link to this study, but thought I'd throw it out there to see what others think.

Posted by: vj | May 25, 2006 11:07 AM

to quark: I agree with you. I am hispanic, and in my culture i know a lot of young girls having babies, unplanned, even planned sadly, because it is taboo for parents to teach their children about safe sex.

Posted by: single mom of 1 | May 25, 2006 11:09 AM

I applaud people who can make the mature decision not to have children if they feel that they should not take on that role. However, I'm curious as to why so many of them are reading the 'working mom' blog. Really, I'm just curious, not judging.

Posted by: wdc | May 25, 2006 11:13 AM

OK, here we go. As much as you Americans hate the French, you American moms would really love to have had your kids in France, particularly if you were a working mom. This country (America) has EVERYTHING for kids, from the best parks, playgrounds, toys, etc., but the parents just don't have enough time to spend with their kids (as a family, not just caregiver). In Europe, the "family" is a priority, not just the individual "child" so while in France, there may not be as many playgrounds, nor the latest in child high-tech, there is something to be said about just having "TIME" to spend together. I have two children and not enough time to give them. I'm a single parent so I don't have the option to stay at home. I sure do wish I had a 35 hour work week to raise my children and 8 weeks of paid vacation to spend with them. I'm down to 2weeks of vacation and a min. of 60 hour weeks.

Posted by: french and proud | May 25, 2006 11:21 AM

For those of you who are concerned about the financial aspects of having a child but do want to have them, look at your current lifestyle and whether it is possible to make some adjustments. First, is where you live expensive and can you move to a slightly less expensive place? can one of you quit for a while and live on one income? how do you spend your money right now? Are there things you do that you are willing to give up.

Having a child is quite expensive yes but you can do it -- if you both work, look at different daycare options. We went with the "institutional" daycare because we were most comfortable with that (and we do not have family in the awe. Or is a family member present in the area who can help.
Having a child is a personal decision. Some people should never have children, others have children for the wrong reason (saving a marriage for example). Some people want to keep their freedom -- I remember once my husband and I before kids decided to take a trip on the spur of the moment to California. Today we cannot do that unless we plan ahead. Some people want to continue to have the same lifestyle they had before.
We waited 5 years into our marriage before having kids and i had them at 35 and 39 (2 miscarriages in between) -- and now at 42 I do wish I had them a little sooner (the strange aches and pains coming with lifting little ones and running around with them after a 9 hour day at work) but am glad I had that time with my husband just the two of us.
Hope this helps!

Posted by: typical working mother | May 25, 2006 11:23 AM

I heard a piece covering this on NPR yesterday. It was mainly about the low birthrate in Germany, despite government incentives. The focus of their story was how working mothers in Germany are culturally considered "bad mothers" (forget the german word for it), so many women feel compelled to choose between careers and motherhood, and choose careers.

At least mothers who work in this country aren't judged so harshly by American culture as a whole (it's the opposite, even, in many circumstances...but I'm not trying to open that can of worms)

Posted by: Ingrid | May 25, 2006 11:25 AM

"I applaud people who can make the mature decision not to have children if they feel that they should not take on that role. However, I'm curious as to why so many of them are reading the 'working mom' blog. Really, I'm just curious, not judging."

We read because we are a FREE people!

Posted by: June | May 25, 2006 11:26 AM

To WDC: I also read a gardening blog although I don't garden. I suppose you could call it a curiosity about the world and a desire to be enlightened about the issues. I see my friends and neighbors struggling in their roles as parents, and it's interesting to me to hear various viewpoints so that I understand where they're coming from even though I have never wanted to be a parent myself.

Posted by: Profoundly Grateful for Birth Control | May 25, 2006 11:26 AM

My husband and I decided to have a family because we thought it was a natural progression of our love for each other. And, we've always loved kids, and both came from a strong family evironment. But we were completely unprepared for the surge of love that grew between us and that we felt for our two children. It's one thing to "love kids" in a general way, but when it's your offspring, these dependent kids who look to you and love you unconditionally from the start, the feeling of love is increased exponentially. And, I hate to sound clique-ish, but there's really no way to understand it until you've experienced it first hand. Yes, you need to consider the cost of housing, feeding, and educating your children responsibly, but when it comes right down to it, starting a family shouldn't be an academic exercise. And it also shouldn't be a reaction to pressure from outside sources.

On the flip side, I am a "stay-at-home" mom who works three part-time jobs out of my house, and runs a small business. So, I've got the child-raising thing going on, and the career thing, too. To me, I've got the best of both worlds.

Posted by: Working Mother Loving Both | May 25, 2006 11:35 AM

Don't want kids and don't think they are important, good for you. Get off this blog and go back to writing your symphony.

Posted by: to kidless international | May 25, 2006 11:44 AM

Part of the reason we have such a good birthrate here in the US is that our immigrants have a lot of children. The US-born women are having children at a lower rate than the 2.0 needed for population maintenance, but many of our Hispanic immigrants (among others) have upwards of 4 children.
I don't have children yet, but I do NOT find our society hospitable to mothers and families in general, in comparison to Europe (I lived in Spain for a couple of years). And our society is especially harsh on mothers who have more than 2-3 children, whereas European countries reward those families with 3 or more.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 11:44 AM

To Scouty-
I do not live in Loudoun. I do not have a beautiful, well-maintained home located in a suburban haven. I do not have time or money to afford private schools, camps or multiple teams and classes for my child. I live with my husband, 3-year-old son and baby-on-the-way in a 2 BR townhouse in practically the only decent, affordable neighborhood left in Fairfax County. We pinch and save for day care and maternity leave coming up. We do not have many extras. But we decided to have children because our religion requires us to be open to God's will and because having children is the most beautiful, life-changing event you will ever experience (natural, adoption, foster care, guardianship). I respect those who, for reasons of their own, decide against children. I don't expect everyone to have my beliefs in this country-although I do feel you're seriously missing out on something really, really great. But I'm speaking from experience- I know it's possible to have kids without being wealthy conservatives living in McMansions. That is a short-sighted assumption to make about parents. Children do not need wealth and privilege to be happy, secure or well--adjusted. They need parents willing to devote time and energy to raising them with morals, values and respect.

Posted by: AWB | May 25, 2006 11:44 AM

It also occurred to me that I thought the "2.5 kids and dog" thing referred to what we called the "American Dream." Well, I looked up American Dream and it said nothing about kids.

I am not sure why I thought that, though I am somehow sure the reference comes from some popular piece of literature. I also thought the message was intended to be that Americans could/would/should aspire to that and a "White Picket Fence."

Maybe some of us watched TV in the 70s and internalized the nuclear family with it's multiple children and white picket fence as something to aspire to. Kind of aspiring to have the set of problems that the Brady Bunch had, versus the Good Times family.

While I can't find this family notion linked to "American Dream" in any documented way, until 5 minutes ago I always thought it was. Therefore I assumed that some of the folks in this area (Loudon) were completing their American Dream by sticking a certain number of kids inside their suburban picket fences. Not judging them for that, just a conclusion I was drawing.

Posted by: Proud Papa | May 25, 2006 11:49 AM

When I lived in Utah I didn't see very many immigrants. There was the Latter Day Saints (they don't like to be called Mormons anymore) and the Hispanics who were catholic. I haven't lived there for almost 4 years so maybe things are different now.

Also, I'd like to introduce a word to the person who was talking about Ireland and Italy and how they are catholic, but aren't having as many kids. The term is "culturally catholic" It's what I am as an Irish American. I really wouldn't want to be any other religion, but I love my birth control, am pro-choice, and accept other people's lifestyles.

Posted by: scarry | May 25, 2006 11:51 AM

"In Europe, the "family" is a priority . . ."

Really? Then why do so few Europeans have them?

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 11:53 AM

Scouty:
I didn't get past your comment. I live in Loudoun within "the wall of HOA" and think your characterization of this area is baseless and offensive. If this area is so "conservative" why have the Democrats won 2 contentious local elections in the past 2 years? Tim Kaine won this county when he ran for Gov. I am happy to live the "good life" in Loudoun. We do love our community - we volunteer at school, attend a local church and try to instill values in our kids. I am sorry you find it so restricting. What is so different from our kids growing up and leaving this area and a kid from a small town in Kansas or West Virginia venturing beyond their "walls?" Absolutely nothing - it is called growing up.

Sorry you learned the world is "cruel" at the tender age of 20 something. Some of us learned the world is cruel in our childhoods and teenage years but are happy despite the cruelty. This area does not innoculate anyone from the world.

Lastly, you were being very judgemental in your post and I hope throughout life you accumulate the knowledge that making ASSumtions can be dividing and stunt YOUR growth. This is a life lesson. I also hope that you don't let your bitterness for this area consume you and lead to a choice not to have children that you will regret later in life. No one should make that decision based on others actions.

Posted by: cmac | May 25, 2006 11:55 AM

I knew I always wanted to have kids, no question. Me and my husband both come from big families and we both love that. There is never a "right time" to have kids, but I learnt not to worry, because things seem to accomodate in one way or another. Having a kid was the best thing that ever happened to us. Our life definitely changed, but I certainly don't mind and have absolutely no regrets. My baby is 12 months and recently I found out I was pregnang again. It's not the right moment, as my contract expires next month and I will have to start looking for a job while pregnant, but as I have already said things always seem to work out. Kids are a blessing.

Posted by: ML | May 25, 2006 12:01 PM

"For everyone who chooses not to have kids, is unable to have kids, or prefers to focus their efforts on researching the cure for cancer, we need to live and let live. Got kids? Good for you! Love them and raise them well, and mind your own business so I can finish writing this outstanding symphony."

I happen to have 2 kids AND research the cure for cancer. Media alert - we CAN have it all!!

Seriously, though, I agree that we need to live and let live. I simply do not understand the animosity that some people who choose not to have kids toward people who do. We all support the elderly (through taxes), whether or not our own parents are alive. I don't hear people complain so much about that as I do complaints about having to support the children and their families in this country.

I don't have any problem with people choosing not to have kids. If that's the way they'll be happiest in life, they get my complete support. I wish they could bring themselves to say "right back atcha."

Posted by: cb | May 25, 2006 12:02 PM

I'd just like to point out that, in my experience (admittedly mostly in Germany), children are no less loved or treasured in Europe than in the US. It's just that the idea of a "big" family over there is 2 kids. That stretches the limits of what parents think they can afford, both in terms of time and money. Most of my friends want a kid, maybe two, but marvel at the fact that my brother has 3. I find the American attitude amongst my peer group is that most want to aim for 2 kids, but one or three would be fine.

Posted by: dasgeh | May 25, 2006 12:04 PM

I'm sure someone else has already said this, but motherhood, even working motherhood, isn't so inhospitable to American women. But to acknowledge that would undercut the premise of your book, wouldn't it?

Posted by: Tracey | May 25, 2006 12:04 PM

To Huh?:

I'm going to venture an answer to your question although I'm not European. I think it lies in a difference of definitions - "family" to American's mostly means one's own kids. Perhaps "family" to Europeans means one's spouse, parents, sibling, and finally, children.

If that is the difference, I think it's a positive one. It sounds like the preferable definition for childless people on this blog who feel taken advantage or an underappreciated at work. It also seems like one that would benefit our neglected elderly parents. And finally, I think it's the one adopted by the past-generation "slacker" mom's we praised the other week. They didn't devote every ounce of energy to their kids because they were also caring for their spouses, parents, and community. Better for moms, better for kids, and better for families all around - in my opinion.

Posted by: Becky | May 25, 2006 12:09 PM

Leslie, I think your asnwer to the German reporter was only partly right. I think it's true that Americans have more children because they "love motherhood", along with apple pie, etc. - i.e. because they have a more positive outlook on life. Americans, by and large, are much more optimistic than Europeans who have been pessimistic for generations. So that is part of it. However, the decision to have or not have children is an economic decision, of course! And the fact is, that American families have higher incomes, and have to pay a LOT less taxes on these higher incomes, than Europeans. For all their handouts, Europeans can less afford children than Americans. It's as simple as that.

Posted by: Dora | May 25, 2006 12:09 PM

Certainly no culture can be more "ooey-gooey" over the concept of procreation and parenting than the United States in 2006. Not that I'm anti-children, but honestly -- the way some parents beam at and worship over their little replicas of themselves, goes beyond the bounds of good taste and good sense. Think we could ratchet it back a bit in the good old U.S. of A.

Posted by: Not so impressed | May 25, 2006 12:14 PM

Two reasons why our birthrate might be higher:

1. Sex-ed texts that encourage women to be passive and equate "being womanly" with having children (see snippets from one of last year's Harpers)
2. Lack of real sex-ed/lack of availability of birth control to teens and others.

Posted by: Rita | May 25, 2006 12:17 PM

"Perhaps "family" to Europeans means one's spouse, parents, sibling, and finally, children."

I agree - it seems clear that less value or importance is being placed on having children.

"If that is the difference, I think it's a positive one. . . . Better for moms, better for kids, and better for families all around - in my opinion."

I have to disagree on this one, though. If the birth rate falls significantly below the replacement level, a society cannot sustain itself over time. It also creates generational problems - who cares for us as we age?

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 12:18 PM

comments re Loudon County

I did not grow up there but I grew up in a well to do neighborhood in the South. Residents were doctors, lawyers, etc. During high school there were a series of break-ins and expensive items were taken from homes. Everyone thought it was someone from the "other" side of town. It turned out to be 5 children of these doctors, lawyers etc who ended up in the state penitentiary. looks are very deceiving. Several classmates from wealthy families had hidden drug addictions (god forbid anyone would find out!). Wealth and well manicured lawns do not always equal children who are well adjusted grow up to be sucessful. Loving and supporting your children, no matter what your financial status is probably the link to well adjusted children.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 25, 2006 12:18 PM

Not so impressed:

You seem to be saying that American parents love their kids too much.

Wow.

Posted by: cb | May 25, 2006 12:21 PM

Rita,
Help me here. You said:

"Two reasons why our birthrate might be higher:

1. Sex-ed texts that encourage women to be passive and equate "being womanly" with having children (see snippets from one of last year's Harpers)
2. Lack of real sex-ed/lack of availability of birth control to teens and others."

What are you trying to suggest - that our birth rate is significantly higher than it should be? Do you really believe we would be better off if our demographic trends matched those of Europe?

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 12:26 PM

huh?,
I dont want to speak for Rita, but I made this point earlier. There are a lot of teenagers having kids for not being taught about safe sex and not given the means to have safe sex. There are a lot of children in foster kids, i dont believe this is what we want for our children is it?

Posted by: single mother of 1 | May 25, 2006 12:30 PM

My husband and I had kids after being married for 5 years. During our pre-kids phase, we lived in 3 different countries, traveled extensively, and really enjoyed life. Now we have a different and much less sophisticated lifestyle, but having kids really makes me happy. It's easy to get cynical, and watching our 2 year old experience everything for the first time just gives you a whole new perspective on life. It's great fun and it was the right choice for us. Of course, though, people who choose not to have kids are making the right choice for what they want! I don't think personally that the US is unsupportive of working moms or motherhood, even if Europe has a better deal in general for moms. In fact there is a downside to the European system (as I plan to move back there later this year)- if you are the employer or manager, it's pretty hard to make your business work when any of your employees could zip off for a 3 year maternity leave and you've got to hold the position open!!

Posted by: MCM | May 25, 2006 12:36 PM

"There are a lot of teenagers having kids for not being taught about safe sex and not given the means to have safe sex. There are a lot of children in foster kids, i dont believe this is what we want for our children is it?"

Of course not. But I do not believe that teen pregnancy and abandoned children represent the bulk of the difference between U.S. and European birth rates (please correct me if the statistics prove me wrong on this).

I fully support efforts to reduce teen birth rates. We can debate the best way to accomplish that in another forum. I also fully support efforts to crack down on deadbeat dads, and in general improve the way we treat the least fortunate kids in this country.

However, I also strongly believe that we are much better off with a national average birth rate that approximates the population replacement level, than we would be with one that is significantly lower. (Or one that is significantly higher, for that matter - I don't think we need the strains that would accompany significant population growth at this point.)

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 12:40 PM

I'm infertile. I want children very badly, and will try to adopt.

It's hard no to grieve for missing out on a milestone like pregnancy (I know it's not a cakewalk, but I know lots of my friends who *loved* being pregnant).

For years, I never thought I'd have kids at all. But, upon hitting my early 30s, this became very important to me. My career as a social worker puts me in contact with children and families often.

I want kids because I think I'd be a good mom, and because being a good mom is something I feel called to be.

It transcends rationality.

Posted by: would like to adopt... | May 25, 2006 12:44 PM

Back to Huh?:

Oh yeah, I totally agree with your second point - sorry I was unclear - I didn't mean what you took that last statement to mean at all.

Actually, I was getting a bit off-track. When I said that the broader definition of "family" was better I meant because it encourages parents to not become hyper-child-centric because they're still spending time caring for one another, their parents, their communities, etc; I personally think that you can have many children and still do those things well. It's a matter of teaching/encouraging your kids to be independent and not believe that they are the center of your universe. And in the end, I think that learning THAT from an early age is great for kids. It's definitely what we're trying to do with our kids.

Posted by: Becky | May 25, 2006 12:44 PM

Ohhhhh, I know the answer. From my view here in rural Missouri, anyway, the reasons more American women are having kids are:
1) Many are too stupid and/or lazy to use birth control which, combined with their propensity to screw a lot, means they're breeding like rabbits.
2) Many well-meaning but excessively irritating boomer parents are DEMANDING their grandparenthood and/or heir to carry on the family name (or die of embarassment in front of their grandparent-friends).
3) Women are embracing the status of motherhood, with kids (while they ARE no doubt loved) being used as accessories, conversation starters (and continuers, and enders) and calendar-fillers.
4) Plus, kids mean POWER. We can't have a naked statue in the park, that's where my kid plays! What do you mean the school district won't let my kid pray during class at school, I pay taxes! Yay! We talked Congress into making 12-year-olds stay in carseats! It's a victory!
5) And finally, it might be prudent to analyze how many kids from overseas come into this country through international adoption. International adoption has many more advantages than domestic. A visit to respective Web sites indicates who's holding the cards, by comparison (hint: in America, it's definitely not the infertile parents).
Anyway. Am glad to know there are others out there who are also FINE with being childless.

Posted by: Childless 36-year-old (and fine with it, thanks) | May 25, 2006 12:47 PM

Has the fact that many, many children born in this country are unwanted, unplanned, or born to women living in poverty? Most of these children are not living the good life in the suburbs, they are living in poverty in the cities and rural areas of the U.S.. Over 25% of U.S. children live below poverty, 40% in household making less than $20,000 a year for a family of four. We have more babies here because of poor education and few opportunities to move up.

Posted by: Ann | May 25, 2006 12:58 PM

thanks Ann, that is the point I was trying to make but didnt have the words together!

Posted by: single mother of 1 | May 25, 2006 1:03 PM

re: Ann

"We have more babies here because of poor education and few opportunities to move up."

Poorer education than where?!

Fewer opportunities than where?!

I have travelled in Europe, Africa and Latin America. I challenge you to find a place with better education and more opportunity. I am not saying we cannot make it better. But if it aint broke dont fix it. Have you EVER lived outside the United States?

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 1:10 PM

Eh....there might be a causality issue here. It is possible that European governments are encouraging workplaces to be more mother-friendly precisely BECAUSE the birth rate is worryingly low. If this is true, then over time, we should see the birth-rate in Europe go up. It is hard to answer such questions without looking at good scientific studies. Anyway, I just wanted to point this out. Maybe someone else already did. I haven't read all the comments.

Posted by: SN | May 25, 2006 1:11 PM

"I have to disagree on this one, though. If the birth rate falls significantly below the replacement level, a society cannot sustain itself over time. It also creates generational problems - who cares for us as we age?"

If low birth-rates are a national and not a global issue it would seem that immigration could be an answer.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 1:13 PM

I agree with Beck's comments. I have always thought of my "family" as my big extended family from both my parents. I never thought family only meant the parents and kids, that's not how I was raised. But I think that many people in the U.S. think that family is only themselves and their children, not even the grandparents, really. It saddens me to see how many families I know who have such poor interaction with extended members and get no help or encouragement when they need it. My family consists of one remaining grandparent, aunts/uncles, and cousins. The blessing is that we're all close and loving. Although I am childfree, I have never felt isolated as so many do who seem to think family is only the nuclear unit.

Posted by: KL | May 25, 2006 1:16 PM

"Over 25% of U.S. children live below poverty, 40% in household making less than $20,000 a year for a family of four. We have more babies here because of poor education and few opportunities to move up."

Ann, please check your statistics. I'd suggest the most recent full Census Bureau report, which may be found at:

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty04.html

I don't suggest that child poverty isn't a serious issue (though I would suggest you consider measures that include government transfer payments). I do challenge the notion that we have "too many children." We may not take proper care of the children we have, but as a nation, I strongly believe that we need enough children to sustain our society over time. (Or would you suggest that it's not worth sustaining?

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 1:18 PM

The article that stated for a society to be able to continue, there needed to be 2 kids per member of society. I'm covering for myself and my sister, who at this time in her life, feels she may never have children. I have three, including a set of twins. I think Europeans in general are more accepting of children in public places, restauarants etc. They have the coolest baby prams and neatest things, but yes, everything is so pricey.

I think beaming over your children is a good thing.

I also think it's amsuing that some people are 'unimpressed' with children. Were their parents unimpressed with them?

As it is, having children is a personal thing. Have some kids, don't have some kids, whatever, but if we go back to the basic purpose of life, according to nature, it's to procreate. So really, it's natural to have children and want children *which is why women who really don't want children occasionally suffer ticking biological clock syndrome, they don't WANT kids but the body just starts ticking really loudly for a while... Not saying that it needs to be listened to, just saying that having children is a desire biologically and genetically ingrained in our bodies. We can logic ourselves out of it, but we haven't yet been able to quell the basic biological impulses our cavemen ancestors acted on. They occasionally rear up when we aren't paying attention.

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 1:19 PM

I have lived in England and have many European friends. I had a pretty good education, liberal arts BA and MA, and around most folks in England, France, Switzerland, I felt like an idiot. They learn more in their "high school" years that most of our kids learn in 4 years of college, and there is respect for educated people. I am usually appalled at the ignorance of many Americans I meet and work with every day (here in supposedly "educated" DC!). Even some of the smartest people I know I have come to consider "uneducated". Yes, they can program your laptop to fly the Space Shuttle, but they have little understanding of history, literature, or economics. It seems that most people I encounter here know only about the work they do and little else.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 1:22 PM

"If low birth-rates are a national and not a global issue it would seem that immigration could be an answer."

Legitimate point. It all depends on what you want to preserve. Germany, for instance, faces the possibility that it's culture will be fundamentally and irrevocably changed, as immigration rates rise to a level where new immigrants can no longer be assimilated. If that happens, the new culture that is developed may be a wonderful thing, but something uniquely German will be lost.

Each new wave of immigrants has brought something valuable to the American experience. But in the past, each wave has also eventually be assimilated, and the one-time immigrants becoming "American" culturally as well as legally. I believe that America has some unique, and valuable, ideals and cultural characteristics. I would hate to see those lost because our birth rate dropped to the point where we could no longer sustain them.

Beyond that, it's an open question in my mind whether a large enough wave of younger immigrants (with larger families) would continue to be willing to pay for a social safetynet that predominantly benefited (at least in the short run) native born citizens of a different culture. Remember - if the native born ever become a minority, political dynamics will change dramatically.

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 1:26 PM

"...just saying that having children is a desire biologically and genetically ingrained in our bodies"

Sorry, that's not a given for 100% of women. I have never felt any urge to be pregnant or give birth. I like kids and perhaps would enjoy adopting an older one, but I'm completely physically healthy, age 41, and have never had the "desire" to procreate. There are many reasons I'd like to raise a child, but they are more about giving a child a home and family, a good life and an education, and passing on my money and property.

Posted by: BethA. | May 25, 2006 1:28 PM

Biologically it's NOT having kids that's the choice, really, except for those who are infertile. I mean it's the rational brain that says "put the condom on," otherwise it'd be likely most of us having sex would end up with kids.

So, I didn't have kids until my mid-30s because I didn't feel stable enough or prepared enough; because there were other priorities in my life; because my husband felt the same way. Then one day we each felt lax about it, didn't use a condom, and ended up knocked up.

Posted by: Jenn | May 25, 2006 1:28 PM

I disagree a little with the part on the articule that says how in the US we Love motherhood, and the part that says it is not a rational decision, I'm a working mom, and have a 7 year-old daughter and my first encounter with the consistent problem I believe many working mothers/fathers have, started when my daughter was 2 and I started working, it is not my intention to expect to be treated in a special way because I'm a working mother but in a country and specially in a county like Fairfax, where we leave, that is necessary two incomes to support a household I thought it was going to be a little easier. I LOVE motherhood and I would love to have more kids but YES it is a decision that is made based on economics and posibilities more than on desires unless it is made in an irresponsible way. My point is simple, if I have another kid I would need to be able to stay at home and take care of the baby, why would I have more kids if at less than 3-months I'll leave the baby in a daycare or have somebody provide care for him/her for the most part of the day while I'm working, if I stop working and take care of my baby, then I won't have the necessary income to give my baby the type of life I would like him/her to have so.......
Well this is my story, I tried to find classes for my daughter (swimming, art, reading time...) I could take and attend with her that would be consistent with my working hours which are pretty standard I believe (8:30am-5:00pm) but could only find weekend offerings (that I ended taking), the reading times at the libraries where always in mid morning and most of the better classes would take place in hours I am at work, another, big, BIG encounter was when my daughter started kindergarten, I called the SACC Program (School-Age Child Care) at Farifax county and I was number 186 in February 2004 more than a year before the September 2005 starting school day and was told no to hold my hopes to high, I'm still on waiting list just in case she gets in and I'll be able to save some $200 a month in before and after school care, the county response was just that there is not enought space, my question is where is the taxes money that should go to education? well my problem rised when I learned about the "half day kindergarten program" at my daughter's school, that put me in the situation of having to pay $800 dollars a month for before and after school care for a single middle-class working parent (I'm divorced now) it has been a strugle. I can keep writting about other "encounters" with difficult situations on trying to be a full time working professional and a mom at the same time, but I will never end, my main point is simple, I personally believe the professional/working environement is not parent friendly and I personally also believe that beacuse of the overall situation yes parenthood is a logical and rational decision to make.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 1:29 PM

Oops, I meant to add - so maybe Europeans are just choosing more carefully. :-)

Posted by: Jenn | May 25, 2006 1:30 PM

"My family consists of one remaining grandparent, aunts/uncles, and cousins. The blessing is that we're all close and loving. Although I am childfree, I have never felt isolated as so many do who seem to think family is only the nuclear unit."

No one has said that the extended family isn't very important. Of course it is. But so are children. A grandparent is very, very special. But a grandma, for instance, can't replace a daughter. Trust me, I know - my grandmother turned 100 last fall, and my daughter turned 14 this spring. They are both wonderful people, and have enriched my life. They are both very, very different. And the thing is, my daughter will make the future. Try her best, and she will, Grandmother isn't going to make it too far into that future.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 1:30 PM

I never had the desire to have a child until I was 34 when a sudden strong urge came over me. I got pregnant but still wondered if it was the right thing to do. One night I had a dream of nuzzling up with a baby, my baby, and felt so incredibly full of love that I knew it would be wonderful. I gave birth to a beautiful son and he is the joy of my life.

Posted by: Margaret | May 25, 2006 1:32 PM

Italian and German will be dead languages in 100 years if more babies aren`t born in those countries. Like here, immigrants are having most of the children there, which is fine if they want to face the complete loss of their culture.

Posted by: altrockinmama | May 25, 2006 1:34 PM

"But in the past, each wave has also eventually be assimilated, and the one-time immigrants becoming "American" culturally as well as legally."

There isn't enough time or space for a basic American History and English grammar lesson, but the above statement is SO NOT true..............

Posted by: June | May 25, 2006 1:36 PM

"something uniquely German will be lost"

Cultural change is inevitable! What is "uniquely German" or "uniquely American" and how long has that assumption been in place? Besides, our culture is not "American", it is the culture of the United States.
Having children with a thought toward "preserve the uniquely xxx culture" is ridiculous. Cultures are changing more rapidly than ever. Sure, it's wonderful to pass on traditions, but the culture your kids grow up in will not the be the same one they live in 40 years later.

Posted by: M in DC | May 25, 2006 1:36 PM

This is, by far, the most interesting blog I've seen yet in this column (thanks Leslie). Folks have brought up some very good points, most notably hostility between parents and those who choose not to have children. I've never understood the hostility between the two groups...and it cuts both ways.

As we've seen by the posts, the decision to have or not have children is a deeply personal decision. I got pregnant in college and gave the baby up for adoption; I was terrified to ever have another child. My ex-husband very much wanted children. After eight years together, we had our daughter. After nearly 14 years together, our marriage ended, but I am so grateful that the union produced this child. Single parenthood is certainly a challenge, but being a mother is more rewarding than I ever thought it would be.

So, I had planned my life to be single, not marry, not have children. But I fell in love and all of those things came my way anyway, and I feel so blessed for it. I have a single friend back there in Virginia who wanted more than anything to get married, have children and live that suburban life. She's 39, never married and has given up hope that she will ever have that life. Instead, she has a very successful and glamourous career (photojournalist who travels the world). But she skipped her high school reunon because she didn't want to run into "friends who are married and have four kids."

Sometimes, we don't always live the life we plan, but hopefully we can find happiness, love and joy in the lives we live.

Posted by: single western mom | May 25, 2006 1:40 PM

Thanks Huh? If I am reading this right:

2004
$23.1k p.a. household income poverty line 12.7% of the US 2004 population below this line

37mio people in US below Poverty line
4.6mio are not citizens


12.4mio the 7.8mio families have Children under 18 in poverty
4.7mio of these are 6 yrs old or under in poverty
3.9mio are single parent families with Mom only under pov line
.65mio are Dad only single parent homes in poverty

Any body have data on Germany?

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 1:42 PM

To "still trying to decide".

YOu said that you don't want to have a teenager in menopause; as the mother OF a teenager, I am not sure anyone wants one at any point! ;) There isn't anything anyone can tell you to be prepared for this stage in your child's life.

Posted by: SR | May 25, 2006 1:42 PM

I initially never wanted to have kids. Maybe because I was the youngest of two and never babysat or was around babies or little kids. The procreation bug hit when I was 28 and went to my high school class reunion and saw that my former classmates were having kids and figured if they could do it, so could I. I did know that if I had kids I wanted more than 2 because I always wanted more than one sibling. My husband and I have 3 kids (ages 15, 19 & 21) and I love and adore them as most parents do. My husband was the stay-at-home parent while I have always worked and the kids have turned out pretty good, so far. Of course, not every aspect of parenting has been wonderful...I did go thru a post-pregnancy period where I had what I self-diagnosed as OCD. I had Obsessive thoughts about harming my oldest and youngest and that was very stressful. But thankfully thats over. I think people should have children if they really want them, but never feel pressured to do so, especially if they don't feel committed to putting the effort into raising responsible, happy children.

Posted by: Tone | May 25, 2006 1:46 PM

""But in the past, each wave has also eventually be assimilated, and the one-time immigrants becoming "American" culturally as well as legally."

There isn't enough time or space for a basic American History and English grammar lesson, but the above statement is SO NOT true.............."

Thanks for the (almost) offer to tutor me (I think), but I still maintain that it is true. I did not assert that immigrants had no effect on American language or culture. I did (and do) assert that, even as it changed, the culture remained recognizably American.

Our particular dialect of English has changed, but even though we have absorbed immigrants from around the world, the dominant language of American culture is still English. U.S. high schools have students with faces that suggest biological heritages from around the globe - but from the second generation on, the kids all share the same fads in clothing, music, dance, etc.

Sure, Irish-Americans still celebrate Saint Patrick's day, and many groups maintain traditions from their mother cultures. But you know what - German Americans buy green beer on Saint Patty's day too (and most "Irish-Americans" are just "Americans" on any other day).

So let's celebrate what we learn from immigrants. But if you don't think there's anything in the American social, political and cultural traditions worth preserving, then perhaps you should find someplace else where you'd be more comfortable.

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 1:51 PM

Teenagers. I guess I was lucky that the 3 I knew for many years were great kids. All boys who were sweet and smart and fun. I would rather have them in my life any day than an infant.

I have no hostility toward parents. I like kids. I don't understand their need, however, to constantly tell me what I'm missing in having a child. They have no idea how stressed and unhappy a child would make me. Well, except for my friend who has an autistic child and a miserable life trying to care for her child. She sees and envies my freedom. I try to give her breaks and lots of support.

The one thing that amazed me was that many people, when she told them that her child (age 2) was diagnosed as autistic, told her, "Have another child right away, so you'll have one 'typical' child." Some of these were parents of special needs children. I couldn't believe how selfish that was. Many of them even knew the financial situation my friend is in, and that her marriage was on the rocks. What was that all about?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 1:51 PM


Of course, I should have stated, there are always exceptions, but women are created biologically for the purpose of having children, men are created biologically for the purpose of passing their genetic material on. Biologically we are compelled to have children. It doesn't mean we want them, should have them, or should act on them, but most women I've know, whether they wanted or didn't want children, have felt the tug of primitive biological urges. My poor sister suffers this tug every spring and calls me up to tell me she wants to see the kids. *She solved her urge by babying two big baby puppies* Men pretty much suffer this urge from like, 16 on ha ha ha....

Nature didn't create us to build cultures and civilizations, but for the purpose of life, and procreating and all that jazz. The rest came when we turned on all those nifty neurons in our gray matter... look fire, bright and hot... cook meat... yum...barbecue... I will open restaurant for more seashells and start a civilization based on economic trade and so on.

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 1:55 PM

"Sure, it's wonderful to pass on traditions, but the culture your kids grow up in will not the be the same one they live in 40 years later."

Of course, cultures change. But do you really believe that if you took a time machine back to 1960 and picked up three people - one American, one German, and one French - then dropped them down in May of 2006 and gave them two days in Paris, two days in Berlin, and two days in Chicago (having covered up all signs bearing the names of the cities and countries) that they couldn't tell which country was which?

Lots of things change, but remain recognizable. My kids have changed dramatically in the last ten years - but they are both easily recongizable. My wife has changed (don't press me on how much - I don't want her to hurt me) in the 25 years we've been married, but she is still recognizable as the same woman.

Fess up - do you really believe there is nothing in America today, in what we believe, how we treat each other, or simply in the way we live, that will still be recognizable 40 years from now (or nothing that you would even like to still have recognizable)?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 1:58 PM

I didn't say the culture 40 years from now will be "unrecognizable". Many things will be similar. What do you mean by "culture"? What I mean is that, 40 years ago, Christmas was celebrated and looked upon in a certain way that was thought "American". That style of celebrating the holiday basically arose after the soldiers came home from WWII. We don't really celebrate the holiday in that way anymore, although we might look back on it wistfully and pretend we do. Another example is that most stores used to be closed on Sundays. Now a retail store that is not open on Sunday is unusual and probably due to the religion of the owners. The culture of "white America" has changed a lot in 40 years. I grew up in a small town, and even though I was born in 1962, I can remember how the '60s changed the culture.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:05 PM

BTW just t obe clear, I don't think women who don't want kids should have them, that's unfair, I also don't think people who want kids should be given a hard time.

Also, I only know a few people who could actually 'afford' kids when they had them. Well, they had them, and they managed, some quite well. If people only had children when they could afford them, our population would be in decline as well, and maybe Bush would be doing what Putin is, passing legislature that would pay women to have kids...

Also, we in America, are waiting longer to have children, that pretty much means less children, because if your first kid is at 31, you are less likely to have three more.

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 2:06 PM

"I respect those who, for reasons of their own, decide against children. I don't expect everyone to have my beliefs in this country-although I do feel you're seriously missing out on something really, really great."

And speaking as a woman who is childless-by-choice, I can assure you that all those out there with children are also "missing out on something really really great." I have an exciting and challenging career, a fantastic marriage, numerous creative, spiritual and recreational interests, time to read and reflect and engage meaningfully with friends, and, best of all, the ability to pick up the phone on a Friday afternoon and say, "honey, how about we go skiing in Utah this weekend/sailing in Maine/hiking in Vermont or to show and dinner in NYC?"

The world is a big place, full of more fascinating and invigorating people and places and experiences than anyone could hope to encounter in a lifetime. My friends with children love their children with all their hearts. But, without exception, their curisoity and vitality and generousity (to anyone but their kids) have noticeably diminished. Their marriages are strained. Their conversations have shrunk to nothing more than their own kids and household (and stressful jobs). They seem tired all the time and out-of-touch with the rest of the world. Their excuse for not getting involved in improving life in their comunities by volunteering is that they're too focused on their own families right now. And the irony is that they think it's me that's the selfish one. LOL. Oh well, if thinking that way makes them feel better about their choices then so be it.

As for why a contentedly childless person like me would read this blog: the answer is, I don't. It's only that the title ("The End of Motherhood") caught my eye, and I decided to check it out. I was thinking "hooray! perhaps there will me more childless couples out there for me and my husband to socialize with." The only hardship to being childless that I've encountered is that it is sometimes lonely. Everyone I know has babies eventually, and they invariably drift away (see above). I agree with an earlier poster who said that many people have children simply because they perceive it as the "next step" in life. It certainly seems that way at times, given the herd mentality associated with all-things family-related in this country, but then again, doing something just 'coz everyone else is doing it is hardly a compelling reason.

Certainly not as compelling as 12" of new powder in Utah on a sunny March morning!

Posted by: Life is Good | May 25, 2006 2:14 PM

Life is good, not all couples with children are stressed or have a strained marriage.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:16 PM

I'm a professional artist. Although I enjoy children and feel curious about what it would be like to raise one my creative needs are largely met through work. I read this blog because I'm considering children and am interested in work-life balance stuff.

Like many artists, I need more than the average amount of down-time to function well in the studio. On average (and I'm generalizing here) the women artists I know who are making interesting work do not have children. My artist friends who DO have young children have stopped working almost entirely and it's unclear if and when they'll pick it up again.

Posted by: Friend | May 25, 2006 2:17 PM

"The culture of "white America" has changed a lot in 40 years. I grew up in a small town, and even though I was born in 1962, I can remember how the '60s changed the culture."

Well, I'd really, really prefer not to limit the culture of America to that of "white America" (not that you really intended to do so).

I have a lot of things in mind. A lot of it is pretty basic: our core assumptions about freedom and democracy; a strong belief in fair play and the rights of the little guy; a sense of individualism (and individual worth); the ideal, at least, of a melting pot where we're all equally Americans; a sense of optimism and competance; a shared language; a certain practical and enterpreneurial egalitarianism (as opposed to the more ideological egalitarianism of the French); the sense that we do have a common culture, where people in L.A. will listen to the same music and watch the same shows as people in Atlanta and Chicago; a sense that religion matters, but that we do not dictate a particular religion to anyone.

I believe that the examples you mention - blue laws and certain ways of celebrating a holiday - are pretty superficial. Even so, when you put the style of the decorations aside, many of the things my family does at Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving are the same as my parents did in the 1960's, when my sister and I were growing up. How we celebrate changes over time (my parents would never, ever have brought sushi to a church Christmas party, which I have done), but the holidays - and most of what they mean - remain.

We need those shared experiences from generation to generation, to strengthen families and communities.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:20 PM

quite a few of the childless posters say how their friends with children are stressed, marriages strained etc. That need not be the norm. While my own marriage has changed after having kids, it certainly was not for the worst. Children do not necessarily strain anything, it's what you make of it.

Posted by: vj | May 25, 2006 2:26 PM

Children have added a lot of joy to our lives. Life is good for us, and we often look at our life and our family, and talk about how fortunate we are. We think our children have made our lives better. To us, there is nothing better than a week in a cabin on a lake with the kids in the water, steak on the grill and family friends all around a campfire.
To each of us our own joy and happiness, but you are incorrect, not all couples with children suffer strained marriages or are stressed.

Posted by: to life is good | May 25, 2006 2:30 PM

It's curious to me to see how many people say that we have to have kids to take care of us in old age. Is it really necessary to have huge families so that someone is there to take care of us later? I realize that the pyramid scheme we call Social Security requires the population to continue to grow in order for it to stay solvent. I don't know anyone my age (early 30's) who expects to retire on SS. We all assume it will go belly up long before we retire and so we're making our own financial plans for retirement. But other than that is population growth really necessary for our society? I'm not talking about 0 growth, I know that some children have to be born to perpetuate society but is a birth rate of less than 2 really a big problem? I don't want my children to have to take care of me financially when I'm older. I hope I'll have planned well enough so that I'm able to take care of myself. I realize that I'll still need emotion support, help with decision making, etc as I get older. But can't one or two children (or a favorite niece) do this just as well as 5 or 6 (and maybe even better as there will be less fighting over which child is right and which one should make the decisions).

Seems to me that there are already too many people on this planet. I personally don't want to live in an overpopulated country. I like having green space, having real wilderness areas, being able to afford a house and a bit of land around it. And don't even get me started on the ability of the world's resources to support everyone at the 1st world level. Developing countries (like China) are already putting strain on the world's resources and it's only going to get worse. The solution...lower the population or at least the rate of population growth. Maybe the lower birth rate in Europe has more to do with the experience first hand of overpopulation, crowing, lack of green space, higher cost of living, etc. It also might also have something to do with less religious fundamentalist that think everyone should have 15 kids regardless of weather you can afford to care for them, and with no regard to what sort of future you night be leaving for all those kids.

Posted by: cw | May 25, 2006 2:34 PM

And speaking as a woman who is childless-by-choice, I can assure you that all those out there with children are also "missing out on something really really great." I have an exciting and challenging career, a fantastic marriage, numerous creative, spiritual and recreational interests, time to read and reflect and engage meaningfully with friends, and, best of all, the ability to pick up the phone on a Friday afternoon and say, "honey, how about we go skiing in Utah this weekend/sailing in Maine/hiking in Vermont or to show and dinner in NYC?"

I did not have kids until I hit my late 30s, initially because I did not want to give up all the great things about being single, like freedom, career, marriage, other interests. So I participated in all these things, and then gave some of them up, willingly, because I wanted children. I still have friends, a great marriage, a great career, and creative outlets. No, I can't pick up and go to Utah for the weekend on a moment's notice, but one day, my kids will be grown, and I'll have that too. I'm not saying anyone who does not want kids should have them. People who do not want kids should definitely NOT have them. Kids are too important and too much of a commitment to have them without wanting them. But I also think that having kids does not mean that your life comes to an end. It just grows in a different (and I must say wonderful) new direction.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:39 PM

Good point vj,

The grass is always greener...someplace else. Sometimes my wife and I long for the less encumbered times of pre-parental existence, who better to vent to than that child free 12-inch powder skier that does whatever/whenever with whoever of whom we're momentarily jealous. Then I picture my three year old trying to keep up with the other kids when we say grace before dinner - She always gets the Amen in time with them :o) - or the time I ruptured my achilles and she offered me a band-aid to fix my leg so I could come play etc... I wouldnt miss being a dad for all the snow in Utah. Been there done that. Oh yeah I must have had kids so I could play! btw I am told I regress well.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 2:40 PM

Why are more children per capita being born in the US than in rich EU countries?
Bottom line is that the US is a lot more child friendly then the EU. State benefits are only a part of what makes a country child friedly. Most Germans would be inclinded to think that this is the main part. Their perspective limits them. As does ours, just in different ways.

The US is a lot more people friendly in general if you have a job. We have the jobs. The European Common Agricultural Policy results in food costing the British 40% more than if it did not exist. Kids need to eat. In Germany you can take dogs places where you can not take kids. The population has a tendency of regarding children as not worth the trouble of being around, despite all of the money the state is willing to spend on them. This spending is part of what results in a staggering tax burden.

When you really stop and think about it, the US soccor mom rules!

Having said all of this, It's been long observed (and I agree) that European cities are more livable and safer than most US cities. If this were no so, I would not spend so much time there and would not have been able to formulate this opinion. Please don't take this a general putting down of the Europeans.

All the best,
mikeh

Posted by: mikeh | May 25, 2006 2:41 PM

This is a continuation of my post above about being an artist...

Many parents have written here that parenting is the most important or meaningful thing a person can do with his or her life. Although I'm certain that all the parents here are raising decent children, not all children grow up to benefit society. Some grow up to be criminals and miscreants. And I bet that at least a few of their parents believed that raising them was the most important thing they'd done.

Soo... I question the statement that raising children is the most important thing a person can do. And I wonder what's the most important,valuable thing I can do? Is it raising a child? Or continuing on with the work I love that has great meaning to me?


Posted by: Friend | May 25, 2006 2:42 PM

Their excuse for not getting involved in improving life in their comunities by volunteering is that they're too focused on their own families right now. And the irony is that they think it's me that's the selfish one. LOL.

Having kids and raising productive adults is absolutely one way (and a very important one) of improving life and contributing to their communities. If you can't see this, then you are indeed selfish to judge others by your own narrow and shortsighted standards.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:43 PM

"When you really stop and think about it, the US soccor mom rules!"

Go Team U.S. Soccor Moms...

and the advertisers and marketers love us... they spend so much time trying to get us to buy their products! I think the only demographic they love more is our children!

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 2:46 PM

In response to the person who said ". People who do not want kids should definitely NOT have them."

I don't agree that a strong desire to parent is a pre-req. for being a good parent. Many friends who felt ambivalent about parenting before having children embraced the experience wholeheartedly once their children arrived and are doing beautifully.

Posted by: Friend | May 25, 2006 2:49 PM

As an American who has lived in Germany for significant periods of time (3 yrs in the 80's, 4 yrs in the 90's, and frequent visits since) and speaks German fluently, I would be careful about equating conditions in all European countries. My (German) husband and I specifically decided not to take very attractive job offers that would have brought us back to Germany, to a location that we otherwise liked very much; one reason was our thought that we might wish to have children. Although official government support is there for raising kids, the reality that we have seen for our friends is that dual career couples have it very tough (working mothers by definition are bad mothers--Rabenmutter "raven mothers" is how the phrase is translated). Tolerance for kids in general is far lower than in the U.S., again despite official policy. Daycare is extremely hard to find, kindergarten places are limited, and the school day typically ends at noon, so combining work + family is even harder---there are essentially no after-school programs. We are fortunate enough to have good jobs in the States, and we love our daughter and feel extremely lucky to be able to combine fulfilling jobs (both scientists) with family life. We all love going to Germany to visit my husband's extended family, but we are grateful to live in the U.S. as our permanent home.

Posted by: Happy and Lucky | May 25, 2006 2:50 PM

ack


Soccer not soccor

Posted by: observer | May 25, 2006 2:51 PM

I think that if we define our culture the way (anonymous) did so above: "our core assumptions about freedom and democracy; a strong belief in fair play and the rights of the little guy; a sense of individualism (and individual worth); the ideal, at least, of a melting pot where we're all equally Americans; a sense of optimism and competance; a shared language; a certain practical and enterpreneurial egalitarianism (as opposed to the more ideological egalitarianism of the French); the sense that we do have a common culture, where people in L.A. will listen to the same music and watch the same shows as people in Atlanta and Chicago; a sense that religion matters, but that we do not dictate a particular religion to anyone."

...I would have to say (sadly) that I believe that politics shapes this stuff more than anything. We can move our kids into an area where the inhabitants seem to look more like us or think more like us, then we can teach them our values and send them out into the American landscape to learn even more and to argue for what they believe to be true and right. I believe that the freedom and drive to do this is the crux of the American culture.

What culture did the Pilgrims, Slaves and Native Americans all share? Struggle. Freedom to persevere to usher in change. Pursue that happiness! If we can steel our kids to keep this at the core of their values, we keep what makes us special, even among democracies.

Posted by: Proud Papa | May 25, 2006 2:53 PM

" But other than that is population growth really necessary for our society?"

No one is talking about population growth - the question is whether or not population decline is desirable. I would argue that it is not.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:54 PM

In response to the person who said ". People who do not want kids should definitely NOT have them."

I don't agree that a strong desire to parent is a pre-req. for being a good parent. Many friends who felt ambivalent about parenting before having children embraced the experience wholeheartedly once their children arrived and are doing beautifully.

Agree that you can still be a good parent even if you did not have a strong desire to have children. Most parents go thru ambivalence. What I am saying is that if you feel a strong aversion to kids, you should not have them. Not the same thing.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:54 PM

"It also might also have something to do with less religious fundamentalist that think everyone should have 15 kids regardless of weather you can afford to care for them, and with no regard to what sort of future you night be leaving for all those kids."

Are you kidding - what bizarre steriotype are you trying to foist off here? Just how many religious fundamentalists with 15 kids do you think there are in this country? Have you ever seen a statistic on that? (And as an aside, don't you think that having children and grandchildren is likely to make someone MORE concerned about the future, rather than LESS?)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 2:56 PM

"Go Team U.S. Soccor Moms...

and the advertisers and marketers love us... they spend so much time trying to get us to buy their products! I think the only demographic they love more is our children!"

Yes, that's true. When you don't have to worry about where the money comes from, and have endless time to spend it, it makes for an attractive demographic.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 3:02 PM

Why do so many people say, "I'll never be able to retire on Social Security?" You were never meant to! SS was created as a safety net if you lost your business, your savings, everything you had worked and saved for. It was never meant to be your retirement fund. So start saving! Or have lots of loving and successful kids!

If our "American (ahem, U.S.) culture" is so unique and enduring, then why are so many people terrified that "those illegal Mexicans" will change it if they are allowed to become citizens? Most immigrants that I have met share the core values that you are listing: the desire to work hard and have something to show for their efforts, a religious faith, etc. Also, most want to learn English and know it's a path to better jobs. However, they are working so hard that there is little time for them to study, if they can find a free class. Those who have kids rely on the kids for translation and get by as best they can. Same thing happened 100 years ago.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 3:06 PM

"Soo... I question the statement that raising children is the most important thing a person can do. And I wonder what's the most important,valuable thing I can do? Is it raising a child? Or continuing on with the work I love that has great meaning to me? "

I dont think this blog is going to answer these question for you. I do repect you asking the question. Clearly in life the needs of the self have some interaction with society and our communities. In the greater picture we arent around for very long and are truly tiny creatures living on a small planet. Ever lie down at night and look up at the sky and feel really, really small? I like to do this after a long day of skiing! hahahah

Impossible to quantify most important. Is your art important for posterity? Is the creative process important to you? to the greater community? Have you found wisdom, knowledge, insight you want to pass on to future generations that wont get passed down because the planet is overpopulated, life as a breeder is stressful, life too cruel, cant afford to live in Stepford? etc etc

Some people make crummy parents and have well adjusted kids. Some people would make quality parents and are unable to have kids of their own. Some quality parents have kids that turn out to be crummy people. Some people should just get a pet rock because their cruel to their goldfish. (note to self: feed fish)

Posted by: father of 3 | May 25, 2006 3:07 PM

To the woman who loves her fresh powder in March in Utah, I think you proved your point by the number of people who were compelled to reply (approximately) so vociferously: "No! No! You're Wrong! Having Kids is BETTER. One of my kids offered me a band-aid once!" Any time someone explains how their life isn't adrift without kids, scores of self-congratulatory and self-assuring parents write in to allege you're wrong. Their actions prove you right.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 3:07 PM

Clearly, from all the comments defending it, the End of Motherhood is not nigh.

I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I'd had children in my mid-20s. Then I realize that it's just a choice I didn't make and I'm glad that I have the life that I have now with my husband and my other family members and friends. My friend who decided "something was missing" at age 39 and had a child (after surgery and IV) at 42, only to have a handicapped child, now looks back wistfully and says, "I wanted to be a filmmaker and writer. Why did I give that up? I can't get there now."

So, I can't have kids now, although I could adopt. She can't pursue her dream, although perhaps she will in 10 years or so when her child doesn't need her constant attention.

Life goes on. We're not going to stop procreating. Women who do not have children are still unusual.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 3:12 PM

The band aid example I used was an example that the kid may be begining to care about a person other than self. A characteristic I consider worth sacrificing personal time. It wasnt intended to be an "ewww, isnt that cute" comment.

"No! No! You're Wrong! Having Kids is BETTER. One of my kids offered me a band-aid once!"

Comments such as yours however I dont find help in any meaningful way.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 3:17 PM

"Go Team U.S. Soccor Moms...

and the advertisers and marketers love us... they spend so much time trying to get us to buy their products! I think the only demographic they love more is our children!"

That's a very self-centered statement. If you are a Soccer Mom, you probably watch and read material that is targeted towards you. Therefore, you would think that advertisers love you. However, I am a male with no children and all I watch is sports. So, I rarely see advertising targeted towards soccer moms. It's all targeted to active males.

It looks like the marketers got you right where they want you. They made you feel important and for that, you will gladly spend "your" money.

Posted by: LMR | May 25, 2006 3:19 PM

If parenthood is so great, why do I get a the "It must be nice!" snide and envious remarks when I say that my husband and I are going on vacation to Italy or I buy a new car and not a 10-year-old clunker. No, I don't brag. I schedule vacation time and someone asks, "Where are you going?" They see me park my car in the office lot. Then the "Must be nice!" comes out and shows me just how tired they are of the parenting routine and sacrifices. If parenting is so wonderful all the time and such joy, why am I the only one who smiles in my office?

Posted by: MaryM. | May 25, 2006 3:20 PM

To anonymous who posted "Any time someone explains how their life isn't adrift without kids, scores of self-congratulatory and self-assuring parents write in to allege you're wrong. Their actions prove you right."

Actually, they weren't saying their lives were better than hers, they were saying, and I was saying, for US, having children has made our lives fuller. I don't think, and I don't think any of the other posters think, having children would make her life better. She's clearly happy, clearly doens't want children, and clearly doesn't feel she's missing something.

It was her comment that in her cirlce, couples with children had strained marriages, nothing better to talk about then their boring ole kids, and were generally stressed out where she wasn't. We were disagreeing with that statement.

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 3:20 PM

Father of 3 - Thanks for the laugh. You're right, I don't think this blog's going to answer my questions either. Interesting conversation though, eh?

Posted by: Friend | May 25, 2006 3:21 PM

Any time someone explains how their life isn't adrift without kids, scores of self-congratulatory and self-assuring parents write in to allege you're wrong. Their actions prove you right.

I don't know how you can read it this way. A lot of parents simply said that despite the sacrifices, their lives with children have been enriched. That does not mean that they think that the lives of childless people are pointless. Also, many childless people seem to think that we people with kids all are under stress, have bad marriages, are selfish, have no money or freedom. When people with children say we love our lives, it is seen as somehow an attack of people who don't have kids. So to make people who don't have kids happy, we have to pretend we are miserable?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 3:24 PM

To LMR

I don't have a sense of self importance. I was making a tongue-in-cheek comment to the other posted who said soccer moms rule.
(They are still a huge demographic though)

In my marketing classes, we spent quite a bit of time discussing demographics and who spends what and who spends more etc etc. I think the tweens were the biggest spenders followed by women.

I actually watch very little televsion, I don't have time between school and reading this silly blog, and when I do, it's usually the Sci-fi channel and the history channel, neither of which are geared to women, but still I see a few ads geared to soccer moms. I watch football in the fall, and yes, in between their beer and boob ads, they slip in the occasional 'mom' ad.

So um,

lighten up dude.


Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 3:29 PM

I'm the poster that wrote the "self-congratulatory" remark (sheepishly raising hand). Sorry, in re-reading that came across much, much worse than I intended. I am a parent, too, and I get what a lot of you are saying. I have a sister who does not have children, and she says many times it makes her sad that people with kids feel like they have to imply her life is not as "full" or as good as it could be because she doesn't have children. She said once it's like a greek chorus when she's in a crowd and folks as her if she has children, and she replies no, and that she's completely fulfilled w/o them. I knee-jerked thinking about her when I was reading the responses to the Utah skier. Apologies for adding unnecessary snark to the afternoon board.

Posted by: Amy | May 25, 2006 3:33 PM

Observer,
Just wanted to see if you would bite. Thanks, I was bored.

Posted by: LMR | May 25, 2006 3:36 PM

Kipling wrote about East and West and how the two will never meet (don't remember the exact quote). Same for parents and non-parents. Stop trying to convince the other side the grass is greener.

Posted by: a parent | May 25, 2006 3:37 PM

life is good,

You don't have to justify your position to not have children by tearing parents down.

My marriage is great, my daughter is a wonderful gift, and I too can go where ever I want if I chose to. I also have a great career.

Posted by: scarry | May 25, 2006 3:38 PM

Hi Mary M,

But, it IS nice tho? Isnt it not to have to care about any body else's interests and focus on self improvement and fullfillment w/o the burden of dependants?

Do you feel like its some kind a personal attack when they utter that irksome phrase? w/or without the sneer? I like that word. Sneeeerrrrr.

Must really suck to write that property tax check that pays for everybody elses kid's education! Those kids may be paying the taxes that pay for your medicare so be nice!

BTW, I really like my 1990 beat-up pick up. Dont have motorcycles anymore tho since Italy vacationing new car buyin selfish people never look in their shiny mirrors and never use those little yellow lights that blink on the corner of their shiny new beemers cause their reckless driving made the road too dangerous.

NO wait, it was the giant SUV drivin soccer moms controllin their screamin kids in the back while I was trying to stay out of that HUGE blind spot that made the roads to dangerous to ride any more.

NO wait! It was that illegal immigrant drivin that landscaping truck with rocks droppin off it hittin me that made...

..you get the idea.

nothing personal. But nothing is EVER my fault. ahahahaha

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 3:40 PM

All of this sniping is tiring. I think its wonderful that those of you choosing not to have children are happy and can jet off to Paris on a moment's notice. I enjoyed my pre-kid life immensely but am pleased I had children because they make me happy. I don't understand why you generalize people that have children and why you feel as though parents are taking over the world. I sense resentment from many of you at children. And I am not sure why you think all parents with children are stressed and unfulfilled with their lives. I had children in my mid 30s, am happy I waited and have done a lot with my life. When they are grown up, I will have more flexibility in my life, and its a wonderful thing. Different things are important to different people. I certainly don't envy people who have chosen not to have children and am not jealous of their lifestyle. I make no judgements on the lifestyle people have chosen because it has no relevance to my life. I think people who comment on other people's lives are busy bodies.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 25, 2006 3:41 PM

OH, EAST is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!

Posted by: LMR | May 25, 2006 3:42 PM

To Life is Good:

I second everything you wrote.

Well said!

Posted by: Me too | May 25, 2006 3:44 PM

". . . why are so many people terrified that "those illegal Mexicans" will change it if they are allowed to become citizens? Most immigrants that I have met share the core values that you are listing: the desire to work hard and have something to show for their efforts, a religious faith, etc. Also, most want to learn English and know it's a path to better jobs."

Because of the sheer volume of immigrants, and our apparant inability to control the flow. There are now sub-communities in our country where it is, in fact, no longer necessary to learn English. Many fear that we now have so many immigrants coming in, that our society simply does not have the capacity to absorb them.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 3:57 PM

Okay,

I get people who don't want children and decided not to have children. I get they are happy.

So, go to Utah and ski on a whim.

Spend your money on a vacation in Italy *btw, my friend vacationed in Italy AND she has kids, wow... how'd she do THAT? I thought only childless couples could do that!

and drive your nice car *I think every other car in D.C. is nice, boy, lots of childless couples there, based on the nice-car-to-family-with-children ration...

But um, we're not attacking childless couples here. It seems to be quite the opposite, it seems every childish couple wants to tell us how miserable, poor and worse-off we are for GASP having children.

Are you seeking approval? Permission?

Okay... you do not need to have children to lead a fulfilled and happy life, and yes, you do have some more freedom. Go you.

Do not assume though, that just because people have children, they are envious of what you have, don't have what you have, and are suffering lives of strain, misery and drudgery.

So you are the only one smiling in your office. Maybe they smile when they go home. Maybe they don't like their job as much as you. Maybe they live their 'after work' life that much more. Who knows.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:01 PM

"If parenthood is so great, why do I get a the "It must be nice!" snide and envious remarks when I say that my husband and I are going on vacation to Italy or I buy a new car and not a 10-year-old clunker."

Because vacations and new cars are nice. If anyone said otherwise, that would simply represent sour grapes. That doesn't mean that, as a parent, I regret choosing my children instead. Sure, the trip would be great - my son is better. And the car would be wonderful - I prefer my daughter.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:01 PM

As a stay at home mom of 2 with one in the way, I love life too. I had the added experience of losing my second child to crystallize my priorities. The only thing we leave behind on this planet are our kids, yet they are their own people, not playthings to make our lives "complete." Seeing parents as "selfish" is kind of weird since most of use are pretty devoted to raising our children well.

I don`t think those of us who have kids have anything to explain to anyone, its the natural order, being childless is out of the norm because it takes an effort. Having a baby is what mammals biologically do. Its like somebody who breastfeeds having nothing to explain either, its just the natural thing the body was designed to do.

A great career is one thing, and I can`t jet off wherever I wish, but I can truly appreciate every day as I spend as much time as I want with my sons exploring museums, gardens, anywhere we want to go.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:02 PM

Anyone read Childhood's End?

Interesting perspective on a world without children.

NOT saying everyone should suddenly breed, it's just, what would happen in a world where the children did go away? What would we do? With no future to build?

oooh we could clone ourselves!

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 4:03 PM

"So you are the only one smiling in your office. Maybe they smile when they go home. Maybe they don't like their job as much as you. Maybe they live their 'after work' life that much more. Who knows. "

So well said!
There are some of us that don`t even have to get up & go anywhere except to be with our kids and we smile a lot too.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:05 PM

I learned the hard way that the only thing that matters are the people you love, and how well you love them. Whether that's your child, parent, spouse, friend, animals, etc. Being able to jet off to Utah just doesn't matter.

Just my opinion.

Posted by: Ingrid | May 25, 2006 4:09 PM

Hey, I don't have kids, have never wanted kids, and no, I don't hate parents or families or freedom or apple pie. I think there's a lot of vitriol in both directions - many parents HATE the idea that not everyone wants to be a parent, and many non parents HATE the way that most of society caters exclusively to parents. Live and let live, indeed. I can relate to the resentment of endless talk about families given that, my entire life, I have been smugly told by pretty much EVERYONE that "you'll change your mind when that bio-clock starts a-ticking!" I'm going to be 30 years old in a month and nary a tick. Yes, maybe at 35 I will suddenly start weeping and wailing about adorable lil infants and feel my rapidly decaying eggs betraying my true nature as a woman, etc., etc., and go throw myself off a bridge because everything I've done in life was just a tragic waste, but at this point, doesn't seem likely. I realize that most people want to have kids, love kids, feel their lives would be empty and hollow without kids. But I don't. Can you respect that? Can you respect my autonomy as a human being, to make my own choices, even if they differ from what mainstream culture tells me to choose? Does this make me an antisocial cat-torturing potential ax murderer of some kind?

Not to mention that dating when one doesn't want kids is even trickier than it otherwise is as a single female in DC. But I'm not going to lie about what I want out of life to snare some guy under false pretenses.

And oh, I read this blog because I'm interested in women's issues, and mothers' issues are part of that. I am a woman, I work, and issues about working women are relevant to me even though I haven't fulfilled my "ultimate destiny as a woman" and had a baby.

Posted by: no kids, thanks | May 25, 2006 4:09 PM

"There are some of us that don`t even have to get up & go anywhere except to be with our kids and we smile a lot too."

And parents weep sometimes, too, when our children suffer or make poor choices in life. It's still worth it. Smiling a lot is not the only measure of how worthwhile our lives are.

Posted by: Huh? | May 25, 2006 4:09 PM

Great discussion today. Did anyone else hear the NPR interview a couple of days ago with a woman who had recently moved to Germany? She was shocked when she found out how difficult it was for her to have a child and a career there. Apparently day care is almost unheard of, part-time or flex time jobs are very rare, and society generally looks upon working moms as bad moms. So while they might have some progressive policies like long, paid maternity leaves, better social services, and child-friendly tax breaks they are not necessarily working mom friendly. She said that essentially women can have a career or children but having both at the same time is almost impossible. Might this help to explain the low birth rate? Interestingly this woman was from Sweden where she said almost all families have both parents that work and there are the services to support this. Europe is a big place with lots of different cultures. Grouping all of Europe together may be a bit misleading.

Oh and for those people who say that they'll never be able to afford to have kids, buy a house, etc. Have you considered moving away from DC? I don't have children yet but my husband and I plan to in a couple of years. Before we do though, we're leaving this area. There is just no way we could afford to buy a house at all, much less one in a neighborhood with good schools, where it's safe for the kids to play outside or ride their bikes, and where I don't have to commute in hellacious traffic for more than an hour each way. DC is a great place to live when you're young, can fit your lifestyle in a one-bedroom apt, and a great place to start out building a career. I just don't see how it's possible to raise a family here on a middle-class income. And by middleclass I mean two college educated people with decent jobs, but ones that are never going to bring in a 6 figure income.

Posted by: Moving away | May 25, 2006 4:11 PM

"I learned the hard way that the only thing that matters are the people you love, and how well you love them. "

Very well said. People are more important than things.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:13 PM

To Moving Away:

Smart. If you want to afford a family, move to where it's affordable... We did that with the birth of our second that turned out to be the birth of our second and third. We realized we couldn't afford our modest townhome and daycare with the two of us working, and could barely afford our house and part time daycare. We high-tailed it out West, and now have a house with a yard on one income. Our standard of living went up and we get more for our money here. Although I'd avoid California, costs are higher there.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:16 PM

Just came onto this board, and wow, what is the topic? Oh, right, Motherhood.

"we LOVE motherhood in this country"

What?! What is your evidence?

Posted by: CC | May 25, 2006 4:19 PM

I was looking at those US Census Poverty statistics again:

15.8mio (aged 16 and older) of the 37mio below the poverty line did not work more than one week in 2004. Not one week?! that would account for no income.

They should have sectioned off the SAHM's from that data.

flame on.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 4:23 PM

To Moving Away:

That's exactly what I did after my divorce. It was tough trying to make it there when there were two of us (my ex-husband was very involved in taking care of our daughter while we were married; he was self-employed and had a flexible schedule).

Two years after we split, I was struggling to do it on my own. I decided that there had to be an easier way. I sent my résume out west (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico). I interviewed with the state of Arizona and the state of Nevada. I chose Phoenix. I sold my house in Virginia and bought in a much nicer neighborhood here. The lifestyle is more laid back, and my daughter loves Arizona.

WDC was a great place to jump start my career, and I miss friends and family back east. But our standard of living is much better here.

Posted by: single western mom | May 25, 2006 4:24 PM

"we LOVE motherhood in this country"

"What?! What is your evidence?"

CC:

One piece of evidence: facination with celebrity mothers. Just check out the magazines and blogs devoted to this subject (and one previous column of Leslie's, even). For example, babyrazzi.com

Posted by: Evidence | May 25, 2006 4:25 PM

I challange anyone to name something more important to mankind than a child. I can only think of one.

Posted by: Father of 4 | May 25, 2006 4:26 PM

"Encouraged by the ever-present message that 'motherhood is the most important thing a woman can ever do'... ". "Most important"? What does that mean? If it's true, then why does our culture push women into the workplace? So many seem to HAVE to work, wish they had more time with their children, and would certainly take extra time off or work a less stressful or more flexible job if they could.

At my liberal arts college in the 1980s the attitude was that motherhood was inferior to being a "career woman" and that "having it all" was possible, but first you should have a CAREER and be important in the workplace and make your mark on the world. (I guess then have kids when you're 40.) I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now.

If you really think that motherhood and raising a child is the most important thing you'll ever do as a woman, find a husband who also believes it and ask him to support you for a few years so you can raise your child without the stresses of the workplace. Then return to work, the apparently second-most important thing you'll ever do, I guess.

Funny, fathers are not told that fatherhood is the most important thing they will ever do.

I do believe that, if you become a parent, being a GOOD parent is the most important thing you will ever do.

Posted by: Anne T. | May 25, 2006 4:28 PM

I will jump and add an opinion as to the reason for the hosility between people with kids and people without. Our society really caters to people with kids. Minivans and SUVs, big houses, playrooms, tv shows, movies, recreation, parks, girl scouts, boy scouts, soccer moms, IVF, the internet, Target, Wallmart, Gymboree, Chuck E Cheese. People who have kids are the mainstream of society, like it or not. We do a lot to accomodate them, and we market to them. So I can see how people who choose not to have kids can feel a little out of step, or ignored, or even like we don't respect them. In a way, society does kind of ignore them, and I have seen people who do have children feel sorry for their childless friends. Poor so and so, she does not have kids, so let's invite her to Christmas dinner since she is alone. I also think that as people get older and get married and have kids, their lives change end they no longer have the time to spend with friends who do not have kids, and when they do have time, their focus has changed to their families. So these friends feel abandoned. It is normal. I felt that way way about some married friends when I was single. Then I got married, had kids, and understood. So a dynamic is created where people who don't have kids resent the fact that people who do have kids do not give the childless people the time and respect they feel they deserve. And people with kids feel that their childless friends just don't understand that their lives have changed and have a different focus. Resentment builds on both sides.

I, frankly, think that everyone who is sane and competent and loving should have kids, because we really need normal good people to raise kids. Too many incompetent and unfit people have kids and don't take proper care of them. But I say this tongue in cheek. Live and let live.

Posted by: rockville | May 25, 2006 4:34 PM

Of course parenthood is the most important thing you`ll ever do. Work is work. Anyone can do your job, but not anyone can raise your children.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:35 PM

Not anyone can do any job. And yes, other people can raise your children. What if you get divorced and they have a step-parent? Or you pass away? Are you saying that there's no way anyone can raise your children besides your spouse? That's silly.

Tell adoptive parents and foster parents and grandparent and kind aunts and uncles (Bernie Mac!) that they can't raise the kids they are raising as well as the "real" parent could.

As as far as "not anyone can raise [your] children", basically anyone can have children and anyone can raise them. Raise them well? Not everyone.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:39 PM

Correction:
"Not everyone can do any job."

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:41 PM

That`s what I meant. It wouldn`t be hard to hand over your job to someone qualified to do it, but handing over your kids to just anyone is hard. Most people who want to do it well want to do it themselves. A situation where a family member or foster parent has to take over is obviously not ideal, it means there is something wrong in the child`s home. Having a biological child and then parenting that child well is still the ideal situation.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:43 PM

"Funny, fathers are not told that fatherhood is the most important thing they will ever do."

Talk to a grandfather, and ask what they are proudest of, and what is most important to them - their children and grandchildren, or their careers.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:43 PM

"Poor so and so, she does not have kids, so let's invite her to Christmas dinner since she is alone."

So, a party invitation constitutes abuse? Is there a problem here that a polite "no, thank you - I have plans" won't solve?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:45 PM

This "biology is destiny" talk leads down a very slippery slope....

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:45 PM

No,

But there is always somebody else who can do your job. In the workplace, every employee is replaceable. Very few can claim to be so great, important and monumentally essential to the success of a company that their loss would be the end of that workplace, institute etc. Maybe if you were Einstein, you could say 'nobody can do my job' but how many Einstein's do we have?

When a child loses a parent, that parent is irreplaceable. An employee can be replaced, a parent can't be, and while step-parents, aunts, grandparents can help raise a child, they can not replace a mother or father.

So yes, anyone trained in your field can do your job. You in the workplace are replaceable.

Nobody can replace a parent.


In the workforce, it's usually only days before the rest of your co-workers and bosses have moved on.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:46 PM

Biology isn't destiny, but it is what allows the human race to continue.

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 4:49 PM

"Biology isn't destiny, but it is what allows the human race to continue."

. . . and every now and then, giving in to biology can be fun ;-)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:53 PM

Observer,

True, but I'm just saying that the whole "women are meant to bear children" argument has been used for millenia to keep women out of public sphere, bound to someone else for the roofs over their heads and food in their (and their children's) mouths.

Just because someone was biologically built to do something doesn't mean they should do it. For example, men were biologically built to spread their genes far and wide with as many partners as possible - but I'd guess that there are a lot of wives out there who would object to thier husbands fulfilling that particular biological destiny....

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 4:54 PM

In response to Life is Good's comment about parent friends who don't volunteer, someone wrote:
"Having kids and raising productive adults is absolutely one way (and a very important one) of improving life and contributing to their communities. If you can't see this, then you are indeed selfish to judge others by your own narrow and shortsighted standards."

I agree that raising good kids is a very important part of contributing to communities, but I also think that volunteering is a really important way to raise good kids. Life is Good, and several other posters, have referred to the way families in this country seem to become obsessively about only their children when they have them, not about extended families and not about communities. I think this is a shame, as we are missing an opportunity to teach our children to think about and care for their broader communities, and develop a sense of social responsibility. It's what I hope to do with my son through volunteer work and active participation in the community.

Posted by: MDB | May 25, 2006 4:55 PM

"Our society really caters to people with kids. Minivans and SUVs, big houses, playrooms, tv shows, movies, recreation, parks, girl scouts, boy scouts, soccer moms, IVF, the internet, Target, Wallmart, Gymboree, Chuck E Cheese. So I can see how people who choose not to have kids can feel a little out of step, or ignored, or even like we don't respect them. In a way, society does kind of ignore them,..."

On the idea that the USA is mommy or family centric, I'd say it is in fact not as much as it was. TV has been invaded by adults themes and sex and violence. South Park is not a kids show etc and the advertising during sports are very adult oriented compared to the "less filling:great taste" campaigns of yore. Watching the World Series on Fox is impossible without having the power button in hand for an advert for "Skin" or the "OC." There are plenty of bars, golf courses, ski resorts, tennis courts and hunting clubs etc where it is easy to escape the little people that should be seen and not heard.

FWIW regarding bitterness of ignored friends or couples w/o kids: maybe, after the money thing (paid sitters solve alot of these issues), it all comes down to scheduling. Once kids come along I find it impossible to do much of anything on the spur of the moment. Then school schedules, sports schedules, holiday schedules - etc get priority over friends schedules.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 25, 2006 4:58 PM

I agree.

I certainly wouldn't want everyone to just go back to their biological tendencies. It's our higher reasoning that got us out of the 'women pregnant at 15 gathering berries and men chasing mammals and waving clubs at other tribes; hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

But I think also, that on some fundamental level, we should understand that our biological and natural tendencies or urges do exist. They are sometimes contrary to what we want, or what we should do, or what is 'right' in today's world, but they do exist. We haven't gotten to the point where those urges or drives or desires don't exist.

Nature is still in charge of that department.

What we do have is the power of higher reasoning and thought, which helps us shut the biological urges up.

But again, as one poster said, giving in can be soo much fun.

I don't believe you can say 'biology made me do it' though it'd be interesting to hear a husband make that argument, but I also don't think you can deny that biology might make you THINK of doing it.

Posted by: Observer | May 25, 2006 5:02 PM

Yeah, on the point about childless couples suddenly being unable to socialize once friends have kids, my guess is this goes both ways. After we had our son, we had no problems socializing with most of our childless friends, because they understood that we couldn't go out partying all night, or that if we came over for dinner it needed to be a little earlier than it used to, or that the baby would want to get into their cupboards, or whatever. They were willing to bend a little to accomodate our new situation. Some of other friends however, were not. They only wanted to go out to a nice restaraunt at 8:30 pm for dinner, or only wanted to go out dancing all night, didn't want to come to our house for dinner. So those friends we did see less of, because they didn't want to do the things that would work for us. When our son is older, hopefully we can do more of those things, but when you've got a wee one, it's just going to mean your social life has to be different for a while.

Posted by: MDB | May 25, 2006 5:03 PM

As a woman and wife with no children, I don't feel at all "ignored" by society. Even when I wasn't married, I had plenty of family to share holidays with, or I could travel alone and enjoy my solitude.

I have an enjoyable social life with a wide variety of people, some have kids and grandkids, others don't. As a poster above mentioned, a large segment of our society is "adult oriented". I don't get any message that I'm in the minority or unimportant because I'm not a mom. I guess I don't travel in the circles or watch the media that would enforce that.

The flip side is that my friends who have children often express that they feel "out of the loop" of the culture and wish they had time to do more things for themselves. It's a tradeoff really, and we're probably each happy with our own lives.

I feel that when I'm older I'll do more work with children. When they're older, they'll be looking to vacation at last without the kids.

Posted by: Beth A. | May 25, 2006 5:09 PM

Hey - I agree with the poster earlier today. Having kids is the perfect excuse to have Pop Tarts and Legos in the house. I think we have more kids in the U.S. because we put such a high value on childhood - I'm having a blast reliving mine. While my childless friends will be at the beach drinking Margaritas this weekend, I'll be watching "X-Men" and going to the local fair. So....I'll drink Margaritas at the beach in a decade or so - for now, I'm loving the "X-Men."

Posted by: VA mom o' 2 | May 25, 2006 5:10 PM

"What we do have is the power of higher reasoning and thought, which helps us shut the biological urges up."

I'd suggest another way of looking at it. Civilization and culture are tools for channeling our basic biological drives into productive channels. We don't suppress them, but shape them in a way that results in rewarding, useful lives.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 5:11 PM

One way to solve the socializing problem between childless couples & ones with kids is for the parents to get a little "tribal" with the way they parent. Carrying the baby on them everywhere, breastfeeding, and responding quickly to baby can all make it easier to socialize normally with a little one. Babies who are held often are much more content and easy to be with.
Picture 2 women in a small African village walking towards each other, one has a baby on her back , one doesn`t. They stop & chit chat & the baby is along for the ride. Can you picture the mom telling the other woman, " I have to sit down & read Jr. a story now! Bye" No, being attached to infants is the easiest way to assimilate back into the world. Instead our culture tells us we need a baby bucket (carseat) to lug everywhere, that nursing is a pain, so complicate your life further with bottles & expensive formula. (not meant to be a dig at those who can`t breastfeed, I`m just pointing out that ours is still a bottle feeding culture).

Every thing geared towards babies is about getting more $$ out of new parents and making their lives easier. Yet, if you give into the babies desire to stay close and bring them everywhere, they can assimilate easily and quietly into most outings, parties etc. It doesn`t have to be so hard.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 5:14 PM

I agree that volunteering is a great way to raise kids. My son is in cub scouts, which is a community organization, and he is learning to volunteer and give of his time. The parents who work in the organization also are volunteers. Parents in the PTA are also volunteers. There are lots of ways that people with children volunteer and contribute to their communities. Sometimes we do this in areas that are child oriented, such as schools and scouts and such, and most childless people do not participate in such community groups and don't see the volunteer work we do. So they just assume we don't volunteer or participate in our communties.

Posted by: MDB | May 25, 2006 5:16 PM

Except that in our culture, when you bring baby everywhere, people without babies get annoyed.

We believe in segregation... people with babies to the left, people without babies to the right...

Ever see people bring in their newborns to work? There is an automatic separation. People who want to see the baby or the mom or both, people who run in the other direction for fear they might have to make cooing noises.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 5:17 PM

BTW -- to "Scouty" above - we Girl Scouts welcome all leaders and potential role models for our girls and teens. Working with the Girl Scouts is the perfect opportunity for women who don't want to have their own kids but still want to work with girls/teens. It's a perfect way to a)have an impact; and b)re-connect with your inner goof-ball.

(I know that sounds a bit flip - GS Leaders actually do a lot to help girls develop leadership skills/self-esteem, etc. On the other hand, as a GS leader, be prepared to do things you haven't done since you were a kid - and have fun doing them.)

Posted by: VA mom o' 2 | May 25, 2006 5:22 PM

"Except that in our culture, when you bring baby everywhere, people without babies get annoyed."

Which goes a long way toward explaining some of the hostility between parents/non-parents. While non-parents may feel the world is structured around parents, I am constantly aware of the dirty looks I get for daring to bring my baby into public with me. And no, I don't bring him to fancy restarautns or the symphony, but I bring him to diners and coffee shops, the grocery store and the drug store, etc. If he starts to get loud I immediately take him outside, he doesn't run around. And yet people treat me like I've committed such a huge offense. It drives me nuts. Yeah, there are some really bad parents who let their kids run amok in public, and that sucks. But not all of us do, and it's a shame that people can't be a little more welcoming.

Posted by: Not staying in | May 25, 2006 5:23 PM

Wow--I go to work and all hell breaks loose! To breed or not to breed, is that the question? Some childless people here would like them, but can't afford them, some people don't want them, some want more, some don't want the ones they have, others would be gestating in a heartbeat if they could. I am a mom. I have to say that it is ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. Except when it's not. I was really tired for a couple of years--like ten. I felt drained and like the only creative thing I did was cook dinner. Then suddenly I got a handle on things, got organized, took some vitamins, (really--I had a severe iron deficiency--makes you tired) and decided that I could have it all, but maybe not all at once. There were times when my kids were little and my kitchen dirty and my husband neglectful that I wanted to run away. Times. Not all the time. When I was single and childless, though, I didn't use my time nearly as well as I do now (except for wasting time on the Internet). I am lucky, however, as we still love each other and feel like we will still be able to do things like ski and travel (well, we do travel, but not at the drop of a hat--all very well planned) when the kids are grown. I guess getting knocked up and married in our early twenties was a good thing after all. I have to say, though, that even when I was single, the urge to procreate was simply awful. I wanted to have kids since I was about 12. Even after 2 kids I would love two more, but after experiencing middle school I am glad I didn't. I used to feel so sorry for the teenagers who were walking to the bus stop at 6:30 in the morning. Now all I think is hahahahahahaha! Something funny--my so and I got married very young and have a really awesome relationship, although not without a few valleys. We have been married close to 15 years and have seen friends who were older and more mature marry and divorce more than once. I guess it's because of the stipulation in the pre-nup--'whoever leaves first takes the kids!"

Posted by: aa | May 25, 2006 5:25 PM

In response to this article's question "Why is America so much more child-friendly" -

Because American adults are actually children themselves!! (in terms of their naivete, impressionability, interests, and world view)

Posted by: Someone | May 25, 2006 5:31 PM

"We believe in segregation... people with babies to the left, people without babies to the right..."

No, we don't. People like you add to the divisiveness and misunderstandings. You made a very general statement, and it's not always true. I like my friend's children and enjoy being part of their lives. My friend's kids are always welcome, but if my friend wants a "childfree" evening, she knows she can call me to the theatre or a fancy restaurant.

No, I don't run to every baby that's brought into my office (most of my male colleagues don't either), but I try to say hi to the mom and meet the child. Since I'm not a mom, I don't care about the details of the birth or the baby's feeding schedule, so the conversation is usually short. When people bring their older kids into work sometimes, I enjoy talking to them. What more do you want?

Posted by: Beth A. | May 25, 2006 5:33 PM

Someone made a comment about biology and brought up the concept that back in the hunter/gatherer society, women were at home picking berries and raising children while men were out in the world, swinging their bats and hunting. I had to comment on this. Back in the days of hunters and foragers, there was a lot more gender equity than there is now, the the status of women was much more on par with men than it has been in modern society. Yes, women had the babies, and men hunted for meat, but men were much more active in child raising, and aside from hunting and childbearing, the roles of men and women were more equally distributed. Women were not at home, as it were, barefoot and pregnant and at the mercy of men's whims. They actually had quite a bit of leverage and control over their lives and the lives of their families, and were treated with a lot more respect than they have been in the last few centuries at least. While men hunted, women brought in most of the food by gathering. They were not as dependent on men in the "caveman" years as we are apt to think. In those times, women did not have as many kids in a small space of time as they did once agrarian society set in. Because of biology and the fact that they were so active, children were spaced at about every four years.

Once agrarian society came about, it was easier to cultivate food in a limited space, rather than roam in search of it. Men were out there working the fields, and women were at home, raising the kids and having more kids that were spaced more closely. The fact that women were no longer contributing to bringing food to the table, coupled with the fact that they were forced to stay home to take care of more children, lessened their power in society and made them more dependant on men. This is where their power declined, and the respect with which they were treatd declined. It is worth noting that the hunter/forager paradigm lasted for many thousands of years, while the agrarian society paradigm is much much shorter. So biology does not dictate that women must be barefoot and pregnant and powerless and raising kids. The economics of society has a lot to do with it.

Posted by: rockville | May 25, 2006 5:35 PM

Okay, I had to skim through this (no time to read carefully, so I may have missed an important point), but it was a pretty enjoyable skim, and I couldn't resist the urge to post.

I'm a working mom of one. I went through a time (as did my husband... thankfully at about the same time), where I questioned whether or not I really wanted to have kids. I realized that I wasn't that fond of kids in general, and therefore I questioned whether I'd make a good parent. For me (I can't speak for my husband), it came down to the fact that I felt like I wanted to share something with a child that I couldn't share with anyone else's child (i.e., by volunteering as a Big Sister), that I had (still have) a great relationship with my mom that I hoped to share with a child, and that my mom confessed to me that she wasn't too crazy about kids in general before having children, but enjoyed me and my sister. So, in the end we decided on one (though she is such a very social one, and there are so few children in our neighborhood, that we sometimes regret -- just a little -- not giving her a sibling-playmate -- a poor reason to have a child I know). And indeed, not only do I enjoy my daughter, now seven, very much, but I've developed a lot more appreciation for other people's kids as well. I think I had forgotten what it was like to be a kid until I saw it again through my daughter's eyes.

There's no doubt we've made sacrifices by becoming parents, but truly, we would not trade our daughter for the world. Yes, sometimes I look wistfully at co-workers as they take off for foreign shores, but perhaps my time will come again... or maybe it won't, but I can't everything I want in life, and that's okay.

Perhaps because of my own questions about parenthood, I don't feel like childless couples are selfish... except for those who seem to hate those of us who have children and accuse us of being selfish. It seems to me the world needs both kinds of people in the world -- those who know they should not reproduce and those who do, even if our decisions are not based on precise calculations as to how much each child will be able to give back to society (or not). Perhaps the people who declare parents to be selfish (or, as one poster early on put it, not capable of believing ourselves whole without children... and I'd submit that we do need some sort of loving relationship, though not necessarily with a child, to make us whole) are just lashing back as a result of the criticism they receive for not reproducing. But secretly, those are the people I always wish would have children, just so they'd gain a little empathy for us parents, though I wouldn't wish them on children!

A little kindness to and understanding of each other, a little attempt by everyone, parent or childfree, to assist others around them with their personal struggles, would go a long way to making this world a better place.

Posted by: Minnesota Mom | May 25, 2006 5:36 PM

You know, I did read an article about that, the hunter-gatherer society that preceded the agrarian society, and a case that, in terms of society, the hunter-gatherer society has been, so far, the most productive and successful in terms of gender-equality and that it wasn't a bad life all in all. Our society has thousands of years to go to prove that it is 'better' than the hunter-gatherer.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 5:39 PM

To Beth A.

Take a baby on a plane.
To a coffee shop.
To the grocery store.
Sit down in the waiting area at a restaurant like the outback. (Not to a nice fancy restaurant, that's just silly)

See what happens when it cries.

What we want, is to not have that reaction. Babies are welcome in public when they are asleep. IT's not really realistic, and happily, most mom's get over the fear their child will cry in public usually out of necessity. You just can't live according to your baby's quiet time schedule.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 5:44 PM

RELIGION! The reason that American women tend to have more children then their European counterparts is that Americans by every measure are more religious. This factor still holds up if you take into account the effect of teenage pregnancy or US's immigration. It might not even be the case that the US has more mothers then Europe, but instead that US moms have more children.

The religiously observant (and usually politicaly/socially conservative) are the demographic that tend to have large families. This is true across the specturm, Catholics, Mormons, Evangelical Protestants, and Conservative practicing Jews (I would bet it is also true of Muslims in the US too).

That religousness and church attendence correlates with larger families could have many reasons. Having children is inherently a hopefull act, something about which religion has a lot to say. More conservative belivers are more likely to reject use of artaficial contraception. Large families might be promoted by the religion. Anyone else?

Posted by: NewDad | May 25, 2006 5:48 PM

"The fact that women were no longer contributing to bringing food to the table, coupled with the fact that they were forced to stay home to take care of more children, lessened their power in society and made them more dependant on men."

Hmmm... in general that might be true. But my grandma DID contribute to bringing food to the table (who wrung the chicken's neck?) and she WANTED to be home (she was not FORCED) with her children.

My mom has always talked about how, growing up on a small farm, she and her siblings had so much good interaction with their parents. She said that the farm culture allowed her and her brothers and sisters to see their father and mother at work every day and join in to contribute to "the family". They did all sorts of chores, knew dad or mom was nearby if needed, and all feel that their parents were "equals" and showed a great deal of respect for each other. Grandma has told me many stories about how good Grandpa was taking care of babies. And Grandpa freely admitted that Grandma was the better carpenter.

Mom said that she saw a disentegration of the family unit when men in her area had to leave their farms and go off to find work, thus leaving the kids with no father figure during the day or even during the week.

I'll admit, my mom's family was blessed and unique in many ways. My dad's was, too. They had money and the daughters were all offered college educations just as the sons were -- and this was in the 1900s and 1910. I wish more families had that background of equality. I thought it was the norm until I learned many of my friends came from very different situations where the men had all the power.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 5:51 PM

It's hard enough to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different societies today (if you don't believe me, just start a discussion comparing European social democracy to Japan or the U.S. - leave alone really different systems like that of Cuba, North Korea, China or Iran). It's a fool's errand to try and make definitive statements about social systems from 5,000 years ago and earlier.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 5:53 PM

S from this blog

We are all safe

Motherhood is not at an end.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 6:00 PM

I'm sorry that you and other moms get those bad reactions to your crying children in public. That's sad. But don't then generalize to say that it's only childless people who react that way. Seems to be plenty of parents in restaurants or on airplanes will give you (another parent) hard looks over a crying child. And perhaps the childless college kid in the next row will be the one to try to distract the little one. All I'm saying is, the world is not divided into childless and those with children, glaring at each other over a wide divide.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 6:04 PM

It's a fool's errand to try and make definitive statements about social systems from 5,000 years ago and earlier.

It's actually a field of study called Anthropology. Hard yes, impossible, no, and if you have an open mind and want to learn more about ourselves and our society, it pays to look at other societies, past and present, and see how they worked.

Posted by: Rockvile | May 25, 2006 6:08 PM

Hmmm... in general that might be true. But my grandma DID contribute to bringing food to the table (who wrung the chicken's neck?) and she WANTED to be home (she was not FORCED) with her children.

I am talking on a much larger scale than your grandparents' situation. The fact of the matter is, once women started to have more children spaced closely, they were not able to go out into the world and make themselves heard as much as men. Yes, they were working and contributing in massive ways. But they were doing it at home, often isolated from other women and from others in society. Thus, their power waned in agrarian times.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 6:11 PM

A few years ago, I decided that having children was not a choice for me, so I am childfree. I've never been happier with my choice. I consider myself a generally peaceful, happy person. I'm looking forward to see what new things that life will throw at me. I had a teacher who could name more countries in the world he hadn't been to than ones he had. I'd like to be like that some day. I like myself, and I like my life.

Posted by: Namae Wa | May 25, 2006 6:15 PM

"It's actually a field of study called Anthropology."

I'm not sure the discussion on this board about "agrarian times" vs "hunter gatherer times" qualifies as anthropology, exactly. Though I am not taking issue with the points made, necessarily, it's pretty devoid of any academic rigor. And I would note that these types of generalized discussions often fall prey to the temptation to use minimal information about a more "natural" society to criticize our own, without a real understanding of what those other societies are about or how they really function.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 6:19 PM

I had a teacher who could name more countries in the world he hadn't been to than ones he had.


I don't see what is so remarkable about that. I too can name more countries I haven't been to that ones I have been to.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 6:20 PM

In defense of the poster talking about the hunter-gatherer society:

His main point was valid, there was a vast cultural change when the hunter-gatherer society changed to an agrarian one. The hunter-gatherer society lasted thousands of years longer than ours.

One point mentioned was the devaluing of women in societies was something that came about when women were no longer intermingling with men on a somewhat equal basis. I think they found it was the whole tribe that would chase mammoths off cliffs or some such thing.

Anyhow, in our western civilized countries, women have voices. In too many other countries, women have no voices at all, no rights, et al.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 6:37 PM

Folks, a big part of this conversation is about a fact that isn't true.

"Europeans" have less children than Americans. The problem here is that "Europe" masks a huge degree of national variation: as best as we can measure these things, the French and Norwegians (among others) have as many children as Americans. By some measures they have more. And no, it's not immigrants who drive high (and rising) French birth rates, but native-born French women.

I'd be happy to put in a blizzard of citations and explanations, but this doesn't seem like the right forum. My only point here is that all the speculation about the difference between Americans and Europeans would go away if we changed the conversation to one about the differences between Americans and the French ... because the difference just isn't there.

Posted by: Noel | May 25, 2006 7:52 PM

What a discussion!

I'm a big fan of Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear series, so I loved all the hunter-gatherer stuff.

NewDad -- Religion plays an enormous role, in terms of encouraging large families, and discouraging birth control, or making it inaccessible to women, compared to the European countries cited. I should have mentioned that -- thanks for stressing it.

Posted by: Leslie | May 25, 2006 9:27 PM

No kids for me, thanks. I've never wanted them, and I've got enough genetic issues in my family that having them would likely be a bad idea.

I tell people that, and yet I STILL get asked when I'm going to have kids-- and people always try to change my mind when I say "never."

Posted by: Luna | May 25, 2006 11:51 PM

Leslie-

Why do you say that religion makes birth control inaccessible to women?? Doesn't make any sense. We all have the same access to birth control, religious or not.

My faith just doesn't believe in it.

Posted by: lou | May 26, 2006 9:04 AM

A little off topic - but the thread about treatment of parent with kids in public struck a nerve:

Mild:

As a brand new dad I was strolling my son around 8PM in London when he was about 6 months old in a vain attempt to try and get him to go to sleep. Must have been one of the first times I was allowed to solo (wife night out), when I passed within earshot of a fancy hotel doorman. Sir! Sir! The doorman cried out to me in alarm. Dont you think it's a bit late for the child?

Much worse: Stories recounted to me by my wife. Flying with young children is bad enough...

Son was 3 on a transatlatic flight. A day flight from the UK is a long flight but he was not crying or being loud, but being 3. Curiousity, questions, feet sticking out, laughing and yes he did hold on to the seat back in front a couple times as he tried to see the TV screen. Man in that seat didnt complain or ask to be moved, but suddenly slammed his seat back into Ben and asked my wife if she could keep that kid under control. Ben fell back crying, bonk on the head total scene. Nobody admonished the dolt for his action - but the section was quiet except for the crying child.

Just horrible:

Another time, a stewardess broke a glass in the pantry area between coach and biz class and some glass came back into the coach aisle. She refused to pick it up, as it wasnt in her section, and asserted that somebody would get to it and there was no problem as long as the kids (2 and 1) stayed in their seats. So she waited, but my son was really getting squirmy and wanted to walk a little - the baby was sleeping in the bulkhead bassinet. Still glass. No help. Rude looks from stewardess, "Excuse me could you... turned back. Talk to the hand. So she strapped in the toddler picked up the glass and was again treated rudely when she went into the pantry area when she went to ask where the garbage bin was located.

I emailed the public relations address for the airline a few times, no response. Didnt fly that carrier for about 6 years.

Any advice out there on flying with kids?

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 26, 2006 9:11 AM

"Don't want kids and don't think they are important, good for you. Get off this blog and go back to writing your symphony. "

I didn't say they weren't important, or that I didn't want them. I was trying to say that, for some people, they aren't the most important thing. We need good parents, and we also need good researchers, doctors, musicians, artists. I'm also not saying that these goals are mutually exclusive, as many people have shown in their amazing lives. But, having children can't be *the* most important thing for everyone.

Posted by: tut tut, defensive! ;) | May 26, 2006 10:37 AM

"Any advice out there on flying with kids?"

Yes. Don't. Period. Nothing (and I mean nothing) is more grating than a "child being 3" right behind you on a transAtlantic flight. Everyone on a plane is uncomfortable (in one way or another). Adding a screaming/squirming/shrieking child to the mix and you're talking pure torture. I'm not for segregating children from every aspect of adult life, but airtravel is non-negoitable. I don't leave the flight feeling sorry for the "poor parents." Rather, I feel like I could strangle them with my bare hands.

Posted by: fed up at 14,000 feet | May 26, 2006 10:37 AM

Amen to Fed Up - I heard a great suggestion when you're being terrorized by people with children on flights - tell them unless they get their kid under control, you're going to tell said child that there is so such thing as a certain "jolly holiday visitor" thereby making their air travel just as miserable as yours is.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 10:56 AM

To people who hate kids -
Get off the world. You are an aberration. The world have kids. Transportation is a means to get from point A to point B, and kids need to travel also, you dorks. If you want a stress free, no hassle trip to whereever, charter your own private flight. If you can't stand children, stay home.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 11:05 AM

Mother Theresa didn't have children. The work she did was IMPORTANT to people (children and adults) all over the world. Yes, if she'd have had a child, raising that child well would have been a very important part of her life, but she chose not to do that. Just because I don't have kids doesn't mean that nothing I do in my life is "important". Some people want to focus on things other than raising children, and the work they choose to do might have a great and lasting effect on ALL the children of the world.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 11:13 AM

Read my message again before shooting-off at the fingertips. There is nothing in that post about "hating kids." If there was any "hating" in my message, it was directed at the parents, not the kids. Far from "hating children," I am the mother of three (ages 6, 9 and 11). I flew with them as infants/young toddlers very rarely, but when I did, I made darn sure they were capable of sitting quietly and not distrubing those around them before buying the tickets. That means practice. Children are not incapable of sitting still, but it takes regular practice, effective parenting, and proper planning (bringing plenty of calming, quieting toys and activities). A child who can't sit still is evidence of bad parenting. Period.

I have been on flights with well-behaved children who have sat quietly for sometimes up to seven or eight hours. I had absolutely no problem with those kids or their parents. On the other hand, I have been on three-hour flights on which we'd barely left the ground and already a toddler is pummeling the back of my seat like a jackhammer. And what is the parent doing? Nothing. How am I supposed to feel? Warm and fuzzy? (i.e. "ah, what a cute little rugrat! What energy he has!"). Forget it. I'm going to feel annoyed as heck. Especially if I'm traveling for business and have a stressful meeting waiting for me at my destination.

If you can't raise your children to sit quietly and not to deeply annoy strangers, don't fly with them. Drive or have people come visit you. You are the ones inflicting an uncomfortable situation on others. Why should they have to grin and bear it?

Being capable of procreating does not make you a saint, and it does not confer on you the right to annoy people and make them uncomfortable. Procreating is as much a responsibility as a right. Your responsibility as a parent is to raise your chidlren to show respect for others. You're not doing them any favors otherwise. Instead, you're raising kids that other people will dislike. How is that a good thing?

Posted by: Fed up at 14,000 feet | May 26, 2006 11:24 AM

Don't travel with your kids? So what were my parents supposed to do with the three of us (under the age of 7) when Dad was stationed in Germany? Or Hawaii? Or Italy? Leave us with relatives? Split up for 2, 4, 6 years with Mom at home with us and him at work until his tour was up? Be realistic.
In addition, I think the poster's main gripe was not that people around his kids were unsympathetic, but that they posed a danger to his kids by their rudeness. Would you "suddenly slam your seat back" into a rude, annoying adult, banging him on the head (without prior complaints or requests to knock it off), just to get him to stop kicking the back of your chair and talking on his cell phone? No, that would be wrong. Why is it okay to do it to a child? Same with the rude stewardess, her refusal to pick up the broken glass was a danger to the kids.
I agree with you that a screaming, shrieking, out-of-control child on an 8-hr flight is pure torture, but rude, nasty people just exacerbate the situation. You don't think the parents are mortified and doing everything they possibly can to shut the kid up? Sometimes traveling with kids is unavoidable, and trust me, its no better for us parents than it is for you.

Posted by: Former kid who flew frequently | May 26, 2006 11:32 AM

I think some people want to be annoyed, dislike others, are cranky, and find fault, not matter what. They want perfection or are annoyed. You know what, the world is full of annoyances. Flying is not fun for anyone. There are abnoxious people everywhere. People who talk to loudly, people who spread out in their seat as if they were in bed, people who have flatulence, people who seem not to use deoderant, people who drink too much, people who demand too much. Children can be annoying sometimes, yes. Some little kids cannot always sit perfectly still and be quiet. Some people must travel with such little kids. If you are so miserable that you can only be happy when all around you are exhibiting perfect behavior, then you will never be happy.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 11:32 AM

Interestingly, we're obsessed with motherhood but perhaps not fatherhood or parenthood.

Dan Savage, in his column Savage Love points out (as reported by the Post), that the CDC has released new guidelines which ask all women to regard themselves as "pre-pregnant," whether they're planning to get pregnant or not. But as Savage writes:

"Oddly enough, Bush's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don't urge straight men to regard themselves as existing in a perpetual state of "pre-fatherhood." Smoking, obesity, asthma, and diabetes could seriously hamper a man's ability to do the heavy lifting that comes with fatherhood. But Bush's CDC doesn't seem that interested in regulating the behavior of all those fat, smoking pre-fathers out there."

Anyway, thought it was something worth sharing.

Posted by: Rita | May 26, 2006 11:37 AM

The comments about children not flying are silly. I had friends moving back from London to NYC and are they supposed to leave their children in London?
The man who put his seat back and hit the baby was out of line, as was the flight attendant. If it was bothering him he should have said something to the mother in a nice way before it got to that. Prior to children we would of course get irritated with children if we flew and sat next to them but the trick is to just nicely ask the parents if they could try to occupy their children. Yes, it is irritating to listen to a small child cry or misbehave especially if there is no where you can go. Babies cry on planes because their little ears pop as the plane goes up. Try giving the baby a pacifier or bottle so they can swallow. If they are three, yes, I confess, children can be difficult but find something for them to do so they won't kick the seat in front of them. We bring lots of toys and books and then let them get up and move around the aisles.
On the flip side, I have seen parents (and I have 2 small children) who ignore their children's behavior on planes and don't seem to think there is anything that can be done about it. There has to be a little understanding from the passengers traveling without children and WITH children.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 26, 2006 11:44 AM

Fed Up writes: "Read my message again before shooting-off at the fingertips."

I did, here's what you wrote about flying with kids:

"Don't. Period. "

What a stupid thing to say, especially given that you, yourself flew with kids. Get a grip and stop being so nasty.

Posted by: tired of creeps | May 26, 2006 11:56 AM

Fed up sounded pretty hateful to me.

Posted by: tired of creeps 2 | May 26, 2006 12:00 PM

Re: bringing kids on planes, coffee shops, etc.: I don't think it's unreasonable, hateful, or anything else to expect certain places to be for adults only. Now, I know sometimes people have to fly with babies, and I was actually talking about this with a friend on a recent flight back from London where a kid was SCREAMING the entire way while his parents ignored him. (Of course these were the same people who brought a BAG OF ICE on the plane, put in in the overhead, and were surprised when it proceeded to drip all over my friend's head, so not the brightest of bulbs). We decided that there should be family flights - maybe give a discount, tell parents their kids can scream as much as they want without embarrassment, etc. Then those of us who find a screeching wailing banshee of an infant to be 7 hours of intolerability could choose not to take those flights. Or, there could be "adults only flights" or (even better) "quiet flights." That would rule. But anyway.

As far as coffee shops, do your kids drink coffee? Because they probably shouldn't. So maybe they don't belong there. Would you take your baby to a bar? (I have actually seen this happen, unfortunately). If I go to the mall, or to a family restaurant, or on the metro, walking down the street, to a carnival, etc., yes, I realize children will be there. But if I go to a nice restaurant at 9 pm, why should I expect kids to be there? It's past their bedtimes, they probably don't like the food, and they just don't belong there. Sorry. There are some things you have to cut back on or even give up upon having kids, and one of them is hanging out in adult places (unless you get a sitter). It seems like some people want the entire world to cater to whatever phase of life they happen to be in - if they're coupling up, everything should be for couples! If they have a two year old, two year olds must be welcome everywhere! Once their kids leave the nest, I'm sure they'll turn into entitled old folks who think the temperature in movie theaters shouldn't be so cold, because old people don't like it! Give me a break.

Posted by: no kids, thanks | May 26, 2006 12:47 PM

My comments about not flying with kids were directed at the gentleman whose children seem constitutionally incapable of behaving appropriately on a plane (or rather, the children's parents seem constitutionally incapable - or unwilling -to control them). If you have raised your children properly so as to be capable of flying without enraging others, then go for it. So, to the extent that my previous comment was unclear, I hereby amend it to the pithy statement: if you haven't prepared your kids to sit quietly on a plane, then don't fly with them. I don't see how/why that's so unreasonable. Some parents (apparently those who frequent this list) seem to think it's the rest of the world that needs to change, not them. Pretty self-centered, it seems to me. Grow up and parent your children, already.

Posted by: fed up | May 26, 2006 12:51 PM

Re: flying with kids:

Been on both sides of the issue. The most important thing to me is whether the parents are trying to address the issue. If they're doing their best, I cut them some slack -- no kid can be perfect all the time, and even the best kid might choose to act up at a bad time. It's when the parents don't seem to care that it drives me up the wall -- I had to turn around once and very firmly ask a little boy to please keep his feet out of my seat, because mom was either oblivious or just didn't care. He listened (mostly).

Having been on the other side of the equation, I am hugely focused on trying to make sure my kids don't annoy people when they're traveling (yeah, I guess I could just say "I won't fly with them until they're 10," but I'd like them to at least know their grandparents and great-grandparents who live across the country and who may not be here much longer). We talk about the rules and expectations and conseqences beforehand, and I try to plan plenty of entertainment and snacks, etc. (thank GOD for portable DVD players -- with headphones, of course). Rule no. 1 is to leave the seat in front alone -- no kicking, no slamming the tray table up and down, etc. But it is a hard road, and there are definitely bumps along the way. My daughter is one of those kids who is just in constant motion (the absolute opposite of me and my son). There was one miserable flight when she was about 2 1/2 and the seatbelt sign was on and she flat-out refused to stop kicking. So I had the fun choice of (a) letting her continue, or (b) holding her legs down and possibly provoking a tantrum. I chose (b) -- I'm not sure the folks around me appreciated the choice, but she at least learned the lesson, and we have never had to repeat it. Luckily, most people have at least seen how hard I am trying, so I have received much more sympathy than harshness (the guy in front of me during that flight from hell was especially gracious). Of course, I think flying Southwest also helps, because it at least allows most people who hate traveling with small kids to choose different seats.

Posted by: Laura | May 26, 2006 1:02 PM

I actually had a good experience with flying transpacific with my 2 year old and 2 month old. I had packed upteen snacks and activities for my 2 year old, ordered a basinet for the 2 month old and was ready to go. I nursed the 2 mo. old at take off and landing to avoid the ear pops, gave the 2yr gum and we had a dandy time. They were great. We do need to share the space, but we can wear earphones!

Posted by: aa | May 26, 2006 1:14 PM

Kidless international:

Irène Joliot-Curie (daughter of Marie Curie) won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1935.

http://nobelprize.org/chemistry/laureates/1935/joliot-curie-bio.html

Posted by: Marie Curie | May 26, 2006 1:17 PM

Right on, Laura. I feel exactly the same. And thanks for the clarification, fed up; next time take a deep breath before you "shoot off with your fingertips" or whatever it is you said, and we can avoid getting everyone so worked up.

Posted by: tired of creeps | May 26, 2006 1:30 PM

I meant to say "About Marie Curie" in my signing name.

Posted by: Oops, sorry. | May 26, 2006 1:34 PM

On flying with kids...

I have two words for you: Dimatapp and Benedryl. They work wonders and the other passengers will thank you.

Posted by: Lisa | May 26, 2006 1:35 PM

The End of Motherhood

I'd like to respond to the German reporter's question on why birth rates are lower in germany than the US when maternity leave is so generous in Germany. As an expatriate American and mother of a one year old living Germany, I view the "generous" maternity policy a little differently. Here, women have the right to take off 3 years (unpaid) from work for each child they have. They are guaranteed that some job will be found for them within their organization after they return, though not necessarily the same one they left. Within German society, there is pressure for mothers to stay at home with their children, and a tendancy to negatively view mothers with young children who work.

The result of this "generous" policy and societal pressure comes in the form of unavailable (state run) daycare and significantly more limited job opportunities for German women. I live in a medium-sized german town and have been unable to find daycare for my child (though the situation is apparently better in major metropolitan areas). No daycare begins before one year, and the vast majority do not begin before a year and a half. I am now waitlisted with several possibilities, each of which indicated that I would likely have to wait a year, and if an opening did not come about sooner, that my daughter would actually be too old to be eligible. How is that for "Catch 22"? Informal "day mothers" also have waitlists and generally only work half days, a few days a week.

This situation makes working impossible until the child is three and attends kindergarden (which I've been told also have waitlists). German women I know have indicated that their bosses are not open to part time work. Worse, in job interviews, employers apparently feel free to ask if and when a women is planning to have a family, despite a law to the contrary. Even open-minded men I know agree that most employers will hire a a man before a woman to avoid the maternity leave issue. Such a policy isn't in reality so generous, and from my perspective has only done more to limit a women's choices. And the new female chancellor of Germany doesn't get it. When Angela Merkel announced that she was concerned about the difficult choices working mothers must make, her solution was to offer a tax break. Someone needs to let Angela know that the problem is access to day care and more flexible working options for Moms. Here the US is about 20 years ahead of Germany and this may be exactly why American women have more babies. As for me, I'd like a second, but I'd prefer to wait till I'm back in the US...

Posted by: Lori Pearson | May 26, 2006 3:58 PM

"It's actually a field of study called Anthropology. Hard yes, impossible, no, and if you have an open mind and want to learn more about ourselves and our society, it pays to look at other societies, past and present, and see how they worked."

There is a field of study called Anthropology. Interesting field - but the consensus you get from time to time on grand theories has hardly proved robust or durable. And that's with modern societies that you can observe directly. We really, truly don't know what the social and political structures were 5,000 years ago.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 4:17 PM

On kids in certain places (planes, coffee shops, etc.):

I agree that there are places kids don't belong. Movies intended for adults would be one place that comes to mind. Fancy restaurants also come to mind, though I don't mind if the children are well-behaved and have taken my own child to nice restaurants when another adult with whom I was visiting wanted to go there (such as going out for dinner when my sister graduated with her master's), and of course I would have removed my child if she was not well-behaved. But when I pay for a sitter and go out with my husband and children are running around or screaming in a nice restaurant, that bothers me a lot.

That said, people without children, or people with children who have very quiet temperaments (sometimes, that unruly child on the plane is not being naughty, they are being a spirited three-year-old... and sometimes air travel is the only way to visit family), could stand to extend a little understanding to the rest of us. It is unreasonable to expect parents never to take their children anywhere except to Chuck E Cheese (ugh) or the local amusement park. And, as others have pointed out, grouchy adults seem to feel entitled to pick on children in ways they never would on other adults. I've been on flights with other people's cranky children, and my own child went through a couple of difficult flights (one where she got airsick - PU - and one where I faced the hold-the-legs-and-get-screaming-or-allow-her-to-kick-the-seat dilemma that someone else expressed). But I've also been on flights with drunk adults and adults who fought loudly and cruelly with each other over overhead bin space. And then there was the transatlantic flight with the fat lady who had to keep getting up to go the bathroom.... Incidentally, part of the seat problem is that when you are very small and the seats are crowded together, your feet stick right into the seat in front of you, and you must sit stock still if you don't want to accidentally kick the person in front of you. There was a great essay on this in a recent issue of a parenting magazine (Parents? Parenting?).

Oh, yes, and I took my seven-year-old to a coffee shop today as a special treat... we had scones and hot chocolate. She spilled her hot chocolate on herself (very quietly... I turned around, and she was a mess), but did nothing to disturb anyone else. We sat outside, silently enjoying the spring morning and our treats, when the lady at the table next to us lit up and started waving her cigarette practically in my child's face. So we moved. I rather resented that, but despite my hatred of secondhand smoke, I'm not going to push for outlawing it outside of buildings... so I guess we all have to learn with stuff that annoys us, huh?

Posted by: Minnesota Mom | May 26, 2006 4:20 PM

"Nothing (and I mean nothing) is more grating than a "child being 3" right behind you on a transAtlantic flight."

Sure there is - an obnoxious drunk. A fat man who sits in his seat and yours too. The gentleman who had (apparantly) never been introduced to the concept of personal hygiene. The older gentleman who reacted to turbulance by burying his head in his hands and repeatedly informing the entire plane that "we're going to die."

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 4:29 PM

My husband and I had to choose whether to pursue IVF and scientific methods to try and have a child. We chose not to, not because we did not wish to have children, but because we married late and understood the risk of those children being born with serious birth defects.

We've both been involved in volunteering and mentoring for many years, and after many months of hard thinking, realized that if we accepted our situation and put the resources that would have gone towards IVF or adopting into helping the community and organizations whose work we find meaningful, and if we take advantage of our freedom as non-parents to continue working with older children as mentors, we could enjoy a life rich with a different sort of satisfaction.

Occasionally we feel a twinge of regret, but we felt that spiritually, we could find a deeply satisfying life in acceptance and continuing the activities that brought us together in the first place. The young people we've worked with over the years have remained dear and close friends to us, and have become a wonderful family to us--a different sorty of family, but perhaps no less loving or dear to us.

The urge to nurture and give to others in men or women can be a powerful force for good, and raising one's own children need not be the only outlet.

Posted by: content without children | May 27, 2006 10:49 AM

I do there are those that hold kids to a stricter standard than adults. This comment stuck out --"As far as coffee shops, do your kids drink coffee? Because they probably shouldn't. So maybe they don't belong there."

Have you been to a coffee shop lately? There are a lot of non-coffee alternatives, and Many of the people who go to coffee shops don't drink coffee. In fact, many times, they barely order food/drink -- just sit around with their laptops, books.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 27, 2006 12:42 PM

Father of 4 said 'I tell my daughters that they should never, ever have sex with anybody unless both partners are willing to accept a child into their relationship.'

We should all give our sons the same advice!!

Posted by: experienced mom | May 30, 2006 11:18 AM

Hi everybody,

I'm 20 (no kids yet, of course!) but I want to have a big family, like 10 kids or something. So I wonder...even if you love kids, as I do, HOW do you put up with the unpleasant parts like the noise? I have a really low noise tolerance, it really irritates me, so as much as I like kids, screaming babies absolutely drive me up a while. Ironic for someone who wants a big family, I know. :)

How do you parents deal with this? I know it bothers everyone but it seems to bother me more than most.

Thanks!

Posted by: youngguy | May 30, 2006 1:51 PM

youngguy, you're in for a lot of gravity deying moments. I'm also very sensitive to noise, and the sound of my son crying, or making this weird whiny half-cry that he does sometimes when he's cranky, is unbearable. It's even worse when it's your child because in addition to finding the noise grating, it pulls on your heartstrings like you would not believe. So you're irritated and guilt-ridden/upset/worried/saddened.

So, my three suggestions: 1) realize that for babies, crying is their primary means of communications, and learn to listen to it. If you can learn why your baby is crying, you can take care of the problem, and stop the crying. And hopefully you can learn to anticipate some things, like hunger. Babies give many signs of hunger before they start to cry, there's no reason to wait until they are wailing to offer them food. 2) Carry your babies. Use a sling or something similar that keeps your baby close to you and leaves your hands free. Babies that are carried cry less often than those that are not. 3) Practice some relaxation techniques now, because there will be sometimes when the child is crying and you can't fix it, and then you just have to let it go.

Good luck!

Posted by: Megan | May 30, 2006 5:27 PM

Um... Hamnet !

Actually, that's kind of cheating because it's easy to remember Shakespeare's son's name due to the simularity to "Hamlet". (and thanks About Madam Curie, I didn't know her daughter won the Nobel Prize!).

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