There’s a lot of baby angst going around these days. The concern is that women no longer feel compelled to have kids, and growing numbers are deciding not to. The purveyors of panic believe that America is doomed if this continues. That’s not my exaggerated gloss. They really do say that women’s decisions not to procreate “may spell disaster for the country.”
Previously, I pointed to the critics who used data to show that the sky is not actually falling. Then I dissected the approaches the panic-perpetrators used to try to coax women to do their baby-making duty. (Mocking, shaming, threatening, and bribing were the primary tactics.)
Here I want to address a different question that seems to have gotten lost in all of the discussion of the so-called fertility crisis that is part of a global post-familialism. Supposed those who are urging women to go forth and multiply actually succeed?
The authors of the baby-angst articles would be delighted if more women did their patriotic procreative duties for their country. They seem to see only upsides of that. I think they are missing a lot.
Time is not an unlimited resource. Women (and men) who put more time into parenting have less time for everything else in their lives.
If we target women who are not so sure they want children, and shame, threaten, and bribe them into having kids anyway, how much potential good have we obliterated? How many of those women who have kids – and the men and women who raise them – would have spent more of their time doing the kind of work that would help not just a few kids of their own, but many more than that? How many would have made contributions to society (not just to children) that may have lasted for generations?
The last chapter of Singled Out includes this paragraph:
“Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential women in the world. She has fame, fortune, celebrity, and power. In an interview, she described as the greatest moment in her life the time when she brought thousands of gifts to South African children, many of whom had been orphaned by AIDS. At one point, 183 of the children all opened presents at once. “The joy in that room was so thick you could physically feel it,” Winfrey said. The interviewer, thinking inside the mythological box, asked a conventional question: “But why not have it all?” Oprah Winfrey is not one to be boxed in. “If I were a wife and mother,” she replied, “I wouldn’t be open to this experience. I wouldn’t have had the space in my life to embrace the world’s children, because I would be caring for my own.”
You don’t need to be Oprah Winfrey to make contributions to society that would never had occurred if you spent your time on just your own children. Some people – mostly women – give up other pursuits and other dreams when they have kids. The terrific teacher who would have nurtured classrooms full or children, or mentored generations of college and graduate students, is probably going to be a wonderful mother, but if she leaves teaching, her decision is a loss to all those who would have benefited from her talents and dedication.
The scientists, innovators, investigative journalists, physicians, activists, therapists…the list is endless…who turn away from something they are good at, and which has the potential to offer value beyond what accrues to just one family, may be benefitting their family if they give it all up to raise kids. But the implications of their choices are not all positive. They and their children gain family time and the nation gets more kids, but there are losses, too.
There was something else missing from the story of the purported impending disaster for America of women’s declining fertility: the implications for the kids.
Some adults would be terrible parents, and they know it. Do we really want to goad them into parenting? Other adults might not be awful at parenting, but raising children may simply be something they have little interest in doing. What happens if those kinds of people are guilted into the bearing and raising of children? Will reluctant and grudging parents raise happy and healthy children?
[Note: For some essays that call out the scolding of adults with no children rather than engaging in it, check out Section III of Singlism, "Singlism's cousin: Stereotyping and stigmatizing of adults with no children."(Paperback is here; ebook is here.)]
Unhappy mom photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 25 Feb 2013