The Case for Kids
I first heard the word in my college classroom a few years ago. I was an assistant professor of English at a state university, and, not incidentally, the mother of five children at the time. We were doing the usual around-the-room introductions in this opening class, which served as my forecast and early warning system for the upcoming semester. Several of the women had listed their occupations, their passions, and then mentioned they were also mothers. Then it was Rosalyn's turn. "Hi, I'm Rosalyn, and I've been a truck driver and a commercial fisherman, and I'm not a breeder." Everyone looked at me, silent, eyes wide. I smiled out of reflex, but suddenly it hit my brain like a smart bomb: A breeder? So that's the term now! Like dogs or horses, purely animal-species survival.
When I told an administrator at the college where I taught that I was pregnant and had decided to resign my position, he snorted and said, "This is your, what, ninth or tenth?" So many children, of course, that they are uncountable. The next summer, a neighbor I hadn't seen for awhile came to visit. "How many kids you got now?" he asked, in his usual direct manner.
"Six," I said, smiling bravely.
"Oh! That's too many! What do you have six kids for?" he asked, grimacing. "You gonna have any more?" was his parting shot. This despite the fact that I am nearly 50.
The messages are constant and clear. They are posted throughout the internet, and they descend upon me in my small hometown through almost weekly public accostings. In exceeding the national norm, which currently stands at 2.034 children per household, according to the Population Reference Bureau, I've stepped down the ladder of achievement and broken not one, but several social contracts. First and foremost: If you are an educated professional woman, you will not want innumerable children. Women who are ambitious and smart have better plans for their lives than hosting Tupperware parties and singing "I'm a Little Teapot"with hand motionsat play groups. In the words of Katharine Hepburn, "I was ambitious and knew I would not have children. I wanted total freedom."
To the intentionally childless movement, better known as the Childfree movement (and the related One Child Only movement), I am at best the "other," at worst, the enemy. Both movements are on the rise, posting significant gains in the last few years. "Single-child families have doubled over the past 15 years," wrote Andy Steiner in her article "One for the Planet" that appeared in Utne Reader in 1998. Madelyn Cain, author of The Childless Revolution (Perseus, 2002), also claims a "dramatic increase in the number of childless women over the past 30 years." Cain, who is herself a mother, describes its primary impetus: "The emergence of childlessness means that women are seizing the opportunity to be fully realized, self-determined individuals." One of its greatest benefits is "the spiritual growth that takes place thanks to the availability of unfettered time." The smart, ambitious, fully realized 21st-century woman chooses career. The ambition-less woman has children.
The internet flickers with similar lively ideas and proclamations. The most reasonable of these sites, with "Happily Childfree" scripted as its background, asks in bold print, "Are all parents breeders?" It lists the identifying marks of a breeder (as opposed to a responsible parent), 43 in all. Top on the list: "You give your child some trendy soap-opera-based name or a traditional name with absurd spelling." Thankfully, I'm still in the running for a parent, until I hit number 25: "You believe that every child is a 'miracle' despite the fact that any cat in heat can also produce numerous 'miracles.' " I give up on any test that does not distinguish between a newborn baby and a litter of kittens.