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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Intentionally Child-Free

While there are any number of reasons why a particular couple might not have children, The New York Times recently profiled intentionally childless individuals who find parenting to be a selfish option.

In “No Kids for Me, Thanks,” Teddy Wayne interviewed several people from both coasts with a range of perspectives on the choice not to have children. It is unclear how many of his interviewees are married or in any type of relationship. (Only one mentioned being married.)

In particular, over-the-top parenting styles are mentioned throughout the article as causing the rise in the decision to be “child-free.” Meghan Daum, editor of an anthology on the decision to not have children, said, “It’s undeniable that watching this culture play out – the helicopter parenting, the media fixation on baby bumps and celebrity childbearing and –rearing – is overwhelming, and it’s natural that people would react against it.”

Intentionally choosing to avoid children is the only “solution” proposed in the article. None of the interviewees mention crafting a different vision of parenting or hoping for less societal pressure when it comes to raising children.

Instead, the focus of several interviewees appears to be the “stuff” associated with parenting, rather than the children themselves. Anna Holmes, a contributing writer to the anthology edited by Daum, wrote about “the creeping commodification of childhood in the form of must-have status symbols – baby carriages, sleeper clothing – and the economic inequalities and educational failures that find parents signing up their toddlers for placement in private elementary schools years in advance” as accounting “for some of the aversion I have for the demands of modern American parenthood.”

Author Kate Bolick noted, “From the outside, parenting today seems so harried and overwhelmed with Disney and plastic junk. Or you can be really rich and buy handmade Swedish wooden toys and curate your child’s life.”

“I think about having to attend or host children’s birthday parties, and it seems exhausting and unappealing,” Andrea Dickstein said.

Perhaps this is why contributing author to the anthology, Geoff Dyer, once remarked after being ousted from a game of table tennis to make room for a child’s birthday party, “The only thing I hate more than children are parents.”

Contributing author Laura Kipnis wrote about her “profound dread of being conscripted into the community of other mothers — the sociality of the playground and day-care center, and at the endless activities and lessons that are de rigueur in today’s codes of upper-middle-class parenting.”

One aspect of the to-parent-or-not-to-parent wars are competing studies about who is happier – those with or without children. Wayne mentions studies purporting to prove either side of the debate, noting that statistics and perceptions are used to sway people in one direction or another.

Childless men and women frequently are accused of being “selfish,” say the contributing authors to Daum’s anthology. “It’s the parents who are selfish,” counters Dyer, citing larger vehicles and using more resources. Regarding “any environmental consciousness, the needs of their family get ahead of everything else,” he said. “In terms of behaving in a civic way, I feel my behavior is always exemplary.”

The article notes that childless adults are more likely to serve as community volunteers. Additionally, their taxes support other people’s children, for example by contributing to public school education.

“The fact is, everybody is selfish,” Daum said. “It’s like saying, ‘You breathe.’ Parents and non-parents need to think of themselves as partners. Kids need all sorts of role models, and not have every adult they know be somebody’s parent. We need to reframe the conversation, otherwise it just becomes, ‘Who’s more selfish?’”

All love bears fruit, and all people are called to grow in selflessness. The way in which God calls a particular couple to fruitfulness and selflessness may or may not involve raising children, but the intentional blocking of procreation is different from the inability to conceive or the discernment to abstain during times of fertility.

The New York Times piece never delineated between those who are intentionally “child-free” and those who have been unable to have children. It is an important distinction to make, especially as the word “selfish” is sometimes hurled at anyone not (yet) a parent.

For Infertility Awareness Week in late April, Catholic blogger Jenny Uebbing shared guest posts from other Catholic women on her site. In a post entitled, “Being Fruitful,” Molly Walter wrote, “It is not what is produced that makes you fruitful, it is the possibility, the opportunity. It is blooming where you are planted. It is opening the most fragile part of you and saying ‘God, do what you will.’ It is about understanding that blessings don’t only come in the shape of babies, and that the Sacrament is the marriage itself, and is not dependent upon the children that may or may not be given.”

The selfless surrender embodied by Walter is a different approach than anthology contributor Dyer, who tells the reporter that a $150,000 prize he recently won won’t be used to financially support possible children, but instead “it’s bought 20 years of beer drinking.”

About the author
Emily Macke serves as Theology of the Body Education Coordinator at Ruah Woods in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her Master’s in Theological Studies at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, and her undergraduate degree in Theology and Journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emily shares the good news of the Catholic faith through writing, media appearances and speaking opportunities, which she has done on three continents. She and her husband Brad live in southeast Indiana.