June 14, 2006


My Mommy War: The reader said she didn't want children. I urged her to reconsider. Here's what happened next (Emily Yoffe, June 14, 2006, Slate)

Hundreds of people have written demanding an apology and a retraction for the "disgusting," "offensive," "hurtful," "appalling," and "shocking" reply I gave in a recent Dear Prudence column. The letter I got was from a woman in her 30s who was about to marry a wonderful man, and they did not want children. What should she tell friends and family members who were asking when they were going to have kids? I gave some advice on how to fend them off—then added five sentences to this effect: Now that her life circumstances were changing, I wrote, she might want to re-examine this decision not to have kids.

I expected my answer would annoy people, but I was surprised by the fury of the response. You would think my reply was the equivalent of running around the streets with a turkey baster full of sperm, impregnating happy childless women. [...]

The majority of letter-writers were not single but happily married and professionally successful—the people you'd expect would make wonderful parents, and in a previous generation probably would have. Many didn't just write about the adult pleasures of their childless (or "childfree") life—travel, restaurants, undamaged upholstery, sex in the living room—but expressed contempt for those deluded enough to want to reproduce. As one woman wrote: "My husband and I are childless by choice and I heartily encourage all younger friends to consider it. It is the most wonderful lifestyle, free of whining and sniveling and mini-vans."

What is going on when there is so much scorn for parenthood—the way a society perpetuates itself? Fertility rates are much in the news these days. The United States is rare among developed nations in that it is still producing children at a replacement rate. But many countries collectively agree with the people who wrote to me—that children are a tantrum wrapped in a diaper and not worth the trouble. So, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, among others, are going down the demographic tubes, with shrinking pools of young workers to support growing masses of seemingly immortal retirees.

It's not parenthood they hate but other people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2006 6:15 PM

"The United States is rare among developed nations in that it is still producing children at a replacement rate." Red staters are the producers. Pretty soon, the Blue Staters will depopulate, like Europe; the Red Staters will expand to fill the gaps. The trick is to keep Red Staters from adopting Blue Staters' anti-children philosphy after they moved to the Blue States.

Posted by: ic at June 14, 2006 6:55 PM

Parenthood is other people. That's the point. And a great point it is, or we wouldn't be here.

Posted by: jdkelly at June 14, 2006 7:16 PM

It's always amusing, in a schadenfreude way, to see liberals get a full-on blast of liberal "tolerance" when they wander off the reservation.

"It is the most wonderful lifestyle, free of whining and sniveling and mini-vans."

Jesus! The hatred and misanthropy just drips off the page. What do you *do* with people like that? Wait for them do die out?

Posted by: Bryan at June 14, 2006 7:56 PM

Move to America.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2006 8:00 PM

The blue states are filled with people who couldn't stand their small town and couldn't wait to move to the big city. They would tend to be unhappy, perhaps rotten kids. They don't want to deal with the whining and sniveling they dumped on their parents. The hate they show to themselves and children is overt, and leads happy families to move to red states, where they can raise a family in peace. Seems pretty clean.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 14, 2006 8:47 PM

It isn't just other people they hate - they hate themselves, too.

Wanting to have children, and learning to love them, is probably the best way to break our rooted selfishness. The metrosexual crowd, the tranzis, and the people who talk derisively about 'breeders' - well, they prefer their selfishness. They desiccate themselves.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 15, 2006 12:24 AM

> It is the most wonderful lifestyle, free of whining and sniveling

The comedy goldmine is to think how these same folks would (do) react if (when) a conservative used (uses) this phrase in any context apart from children.

Posted by: Guy T. at June 15, 2006 1:17 AM

All anecdotal, but I am beginning to notice that lots of people in my age group (mid-fifties)who either don't have kids or whose kids are long gone seem to be slowing down physically, even the ones who do all the healthy exercise things. You can see them slowing their gait, starting to fuss with their change in stores and developing delayed smiles of recognition. Those blessed with kids are still multi-tasking away at ramming speed and often seem to enjoy laughing and teasing more. There is also frequently a humourless ponderessness in the conversation of the childless as they talk ultra-earnestly about the latest crazy health scare or American imperialism or whatever. It sure isn't easy to imagine them having sex on the living-room couch, but I'm taking care where I sit when I next visit them anyway.

Posted by: Peter B at June 15, 2006 6:31 AM

You know you'll love your baby, but few realize the sucker punch you get when that little blob of cuteness grasps your finger and smiles at you for the first time. The connection is instantaneous and lasts forever ... and it goes double when it's your grandchild.

My brother wasn't too enthusiastic about his single daughter adopting a baby from Central America, but I knew what would happen when he held her for the first time. True to form, he's become a prototypical grandpa waxing eloquent on her many charms.

So this is what the purposely childless couples can't understand. Having a baby in your life changes the world for you in ways you can't imagine or predict.

Posted by: erp at June 15, 2006 7:55 AM

What caught my eye was the sheer vituperation directed at the writer for making a very neutral observation, that someone might change their mind about something. An entirely value-free comment, as any of us might change our minds about anything. It's not enough for these people to just decide not to have kids -- perhaps emphasizing that everyone has their own way, and kids are just not for them -- they need society to validate their choice and ONLY their choice by sneering at "breeders." Defensive, aren't they?

Posted by: Lisa at June 15, 2006 11:05 AM