Soon after I joined LiveJournal, I signed up for a community for people who are "childfree". I've never really liked this chic new label "childfree", because it sounds like an appellation one assigns to spearmint gum somehow.
I found a few folks there who were earnest communitarians about the unique issues with which those of us who chose not to have children are faced. I also, though, found more than a few folks who made it almost a hobby to post derogatory information about children, including various epithets with a simian-based metaphor about childhood.
Now being "controversial" about kids and "hating" kids is a common sentiment these days, which I frankly discount in the main when I hear childless people make those expressions, because in a world where there are few genuine rebellious things one can say, then a chic "hatred" for kids is one of the few provoking modes of speech left. It's kind of a swastika on the Harley helmet kinda thing, I think, for suburbanites without Harleys.
But the "childfree" folks came to be the first community which I "unjoined", because frankly, bashing children in print is a pretty boring and rather distasteful read. Heaven knows that some of the posters there had correctly assessed they had darn good reasons why they were and should be child-free. But my attention span only runs to so many "do you know what that carpet runt did to me at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store?" or "let me tell you about that baby that burped on the plane!" posts.
I also find that the 'political' aspects of the childfree movement do not interest me very much. I think there's darn good reasons to give tax breaks and some unpaid leave here and there to folks with kids, and the fact that we childless folks get a bit less does not make me lose sleep at night.
But I do find that although we did not choose to have children, I come at this issue from a different place than many "childfree" folks. We are not of the "we hate kids" school of thought. We love kids. We are not of the "tried desperately but couldn't have any" group. We are not of the "we'd be terrible parents" camp.
I think we could have been good parents. Stated simply, for reasons of our own not particularly interesting or relevant to the public at large, we just chose not to have children.
I suppose on some level I should feel some great species longing that all these wonderful strands of uniqueness that are me (and the much more wonderful strands which are my wife) will be lost to the gene pool. Certainly, when I was a younger man or a teen, I'd have been surprised to learn that I would in the long run remain childless. But the proverbial bells have largely rung, decision-wise, and it looks like we will not go forth and multiply. I'm pretty much fine with that.
The day to day problem of not having children is not a problem at all. Our lives tend to have much more free time than the folks we know with kids. I'm not gloating about this--I can tell from our relatives and friends who have kids' lives that there are all sorts of compensations for the loss of free time, because child-rearing can be pretty cool and fulfilling. But day in, day out, we don't have to rob our calendar to find secure little moments to spend free of kids. We spend all our lives free of kids. We see nieces, nephews and friends in small doses, at most a weekend but usually an hour or two at a time, and we love many children. But none of them are "ours".
The thing I always wondered when I was younger (and there was a time in my 20s in which I doubted I would marry) when I wondered if I would go childless, hit middle age, and then say "darn, I really miss having kids, and now my moment is lost". In fact, though, those thoughts come to me very rarely, and in the most lightweight of forms, along with thoughts like "Gee, I'd love to visit Newfoundland" or "I should be an optometrist". Just the normal pipe dreams of the normal WalterMittyesque person. My mother said to me once that in her generation, kids were not considered a "choice"--they were a necessity. A lot of couples coudn't have kids, and that was "okay", but the "norm" was to have kids. Now, though, essentially nothing in our lives is particularly diminished by the lack of children in our lives. I suppose in the back of my mind I think that a bit of pre-planning for elderly days might be necessary due to the want of kids to someday help with that--but this is what I term a "math problem", not a "real emotional concern".
I'm very sympathetic to the notion that all these kids things often don't work out as they should. We see news stories every day that tell us of people who have kids who shouldn't, and we know people every day who want kids desperately but can't have them. But here I wonder if this isn't one more of those places where Providence and coincidence are indistinguishable, and we therefore for want of a better theory must assume that we must play our cards as they are dealt.
A few weeks ago I met the fellow who runs an adoption agency. He was telling me of the involved process for adoption. As with so many things Texas, it is much easier to adopt in some ways here than in the population centers of the east and west, without quite being the "baby market" presented by a few of the rural "adoption mill" states. I took his card, in case I have a client who needs it. In the back of my mind, I wondered--what would it be like to adopt? But then I shelved that thought in that place where also lives "next Hawaii trip? Maui or Lanai?", which hardly seems to me a compelling place from which to add to one's family.
We tend not to live "childless". We don't treat our pets as children--we think our dogs are our pals, not our issue. We don't sit around worrying what we should do with ourselves, or worrying that our nest is empty. We always have a great time together, and we've reached that point in life in which we do not worry at all.
Each of us has old pre-marriage romantic friends who have had children. I don't know about my wife, but when I see pix sent by an old girlfriend of a child, any passing notion of "in another world, this might have been my child" is always quickly coda-ed with the raw realization that "yes, and I'd only have visitation rights, and see her on alternative weekends and holidays, and four weeks in the summer" (in revision, I hasten to say there's nothing wrong with that, either). I think happy lives are not always easy to find. As my life has worked out happy, I'm not going to sit and daydream about "what if I had kids?".
But I suppose on some level I'm now like those worker ants in the ant nest. Somebody else is going to reproduce, and I'm working less for my own DNA than for the colony. The analogy is strained, because the ant situation does involve near-relative DNA passage,
but it's comforting to think that all kids, in this sense, should be "my kids", as I am not trying to make things work for any particular kids. It's like that childless schoolteacher Mr. Chips in the book who felt that all his boys' school students had been "his" children.
I hope and trust posterity will forgive me if I don't cryogenically preserve this DNA until some future culture understands how to grok my fullness. I'll instead focus on the things I wish to acccomplish, rather than my personal child-rearing contribution to our rich tapestry. It's not that I hate kids. I love 'em. We just don't have any, and that's okay.
Even talking about it sounds a wee bit defensive, but I worry that in our kid-obsessed culture kids are neglected and worshipped, abused and exalted. It's all very odd. In an earlier time, tons of people did not marry, did not reproduce, and it did not matter.
We're merely seeing those times come again. Hey, maybe I should see myself as a surfer, on the "childless but kid loving" wave. Tonight that wave seems reasonably blue and "surf's up"-ish, and I get to cruise it with my wife 365 days a year.
I sure totally "get" why another person feels that they "need" kids. It's a very human feeling, and perfectly understandable and salute-able. But I guess I don't feel badly that we don't, nor am I inclined to knock the windows out of the childrens' playground area of McDonalds to criticize those who do. In the great left wing and right wing of childed/childfree, I suppose I'm just another lukewarm moderate. Moderation, I posit, is okay.