The “no kids” decision

5 09 2016

It never occurred to me that parenting could be a choice (like many other conventions of course). When I first heard about it from an acquaintance , the idea of choosing not be a parent was truly shocking to me, to say the least. I couldn’t comprehend the reasons behind the sentiment. But that was 8 years ago. My perception, view, and understanding of world and people has widened to a non-trivial extent since then. 😛 And now besides being curious about the phenomenon, I can totally understand the decision.

I, like most, have been led to believe that raising offspring is the most meaningful aspect of one’s life. What about happiness? Of course, having and raising kids is the source of unsurpassed happiness. Isn’t it? But academic research had not been so conclusive about it. In fact, several research studies suggest that young parents are far unhappier compared to non-parents. The happiness benefits rather seem to roll in much later for the parents – when the kids are grown up. Hmm! Such a dismal outcome! 😦

That parenting is an ordeal is undeniable. It is exhausting physically and emotionally. And the expectations of “modern parenting” only add to the anxiety. According to Jennifer Senior, the concept of parenting and childhood as exists today is only about 70 years old. In the past, kids used to work and were treated as economic assets. Now, kids are economically worthless but emotionally priceless, as sociologist Viviana Zelizer puts it . Jennifer, the author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, says that the happiness of our kids is an unfair burden both for parents and kids. We should instead focus on creating circumstances in which they become productive and confident. Happiness can only be a by-product (Listen). Despite the parenting crisis, parents usually vouch for the contentment it brings along the way. Nevertheless, when someone decides not to have kids due to the above or any other reason, they need and should not be judged.

I would think this particular phenomenon has been on an increasing trend in recent times. But maybe not universally. It is mostly seen in advanced/developed societies. This observation brings up many interesting questions.  Where is it most prevalent? It is in individualistic  societies or collectivist societies? What other cultural and social factors are correlated to this trend? (Adding to my to-read list: Japan: The Childless Society?: The Crisis of Motherhood.) Is it because people have become selfish, shallow and self-absorbed?

SelfishMeghan Daum tried to probe the question through “Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed” a collection of essays from 16 writers who “chose” not to have kids (a few decades ago). I don’t know what I hoped for, but the reasons they cited for their decision are not very dramatic. The simplest and most straight-forward reason is that they never liked kids, never felt any emotional attachment to any kids, and hence did not envision themselves raising any. Other reasons included: not ready or up to take on the huge responsibility; didn’t think they could do a good job; to focus on career passion etc. Whatever the reason, the decision was not always an easy one,  given the social expectations and personal dilemma. But this may be changing recently and the practice is gaining wider acceptance. A 2012 statistic states that 22 percent of women in 40-44 age bracket are childless by choice. (Source).

To choose to be childless, especially for a woman, is largely perceived as very unnatural. This is due to the pervasive notion that women are mothers first and people second. But as Laura Kipnis explores in her piece in the above book, the mother-child bond is highly overrated and has evolved only more recently. She questions and explores the so called “maternal instincts”.

Another interesting observation made in the book was the possible implications of this decision. If a significant proportion of a particular segment of people, say for example, highly educated white people, decide not to have kids, will it not result in an imbalance in the genetic mix of the next generation? Well, maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s part of the grand scheme called the “human evolution”! 🙂 Also, of course there could be economic implications – lesser workforce, greater social security costs, school enrollments, vaccine demand etc. (See here).


Lost along the way

2 04 2012

I presume we all come across plenty of instances in the course of our life, which provide opportunities for us to learn from little kids around us. Things like compassion and candidness. Not that we don’t know any of it. Having kids around help us to stop and think, they do remind us of many values and virtues, which we learnt and practiced during our own childhood and even try to inculcate them in the next generation but sadly we (there are always exceptions) now see ourselves either beyond those traits or just  consider them too impractical to warrant much attention and time in our busy lives.

Just the other day my son and I were browsing through the newspaper, when he spotted a picture of a bird perched on top of a water tap trying to get to the water droplets oozing out. He was curious about it and I explained that the summer heat is making the bird very thirsty and that the picture depicts the bird’s desperate need for water. He nodded in understanding and immediately put this proposition before me:

“Let’s put bowls of water for the pigeons who visit our balcony daily. Also, we’ll offer something for them to eat.”

More than a few pigeons have been visiting us for quite some time. They even built a permanent kind of nest in our balcony. I always viewed them as nuisance for the ruckus they cause and the resultant cleaning I have to do. Not once did it occur to me that I should offer something for them. My son’s words were like a rude jolt to me. They painfully reminded me of the long journey I made since my innocent childhood. Something has really lost along the way. Time to stop, think, assess, change, and act.

Say you’re one of them

5 11 2009

“Say you’re one of them” by Uwem Akpan of Nigeria is the latest pick of Oprah book club. In this début fiction, the author has depicted the disturbing political and/or cultural circumstances prevailing in different countries of Africa. It is a set of five stories and all of them have children as protagonists. Basically the stories portray the children’s view of the events and what they go through.

I haven’t tried any of the Oprah’s book club selections before and have been eager to read one for quite a while. While this fact definitely contributed to my decision to read it, there is one more important reason and that’s the ‘children’ element. I’ve always been drawn towards pieces of literature that feature children and/or childhood and ‘Say you’re one of them’ is not going to be an exception. I might say that the Oprah brand is the entry point – it motivated me to take a look at what the book is actually about. And I must not forget to mention the nice book cover. It appealed to me very much.

Here are the titles and subjects of the five stories:

  1. X-Mas Feast – depicts street life in Nairobi, Kenya
  2. Fattening for Gabon – two kids are sold by their uncle to a pedophile couple in Gabon and this long short story describes what the three of them went through as the kids waited and prepared for their transport to Gabon.
  3. Which language is that? –In this story, two little girls from different families who are very best friends suddenly found themselves refrained from seeing or talking to each other. All this because of the outbreak of an ethnic war between two religions to which each of the families belonged. The girls invent a silent language to communicate with each other in those grave circumstances.
  4. Laughing Hereses – This is another story about ethnic wars between Christians and Muslims; North and South.
  5. My Parent’s Bedroom –The title of the book is derived from this story. “Say you’re one of them”, a mother advises her little daughter in case she finds herself confronted by a savage mob.

The last two stories have lot of violence in them: burning people alive, massacres etc. Though India is not a stranger to such ethnic wars and grotesque incidents, I was really shocked to know about the severity and scale of the happenings in Africa.

All the stories are really touching and invoke deep emotional response. I didn’t know before anything about life and wars in Africa and this book is a real eye-opener for me.

One thing I was not comfortable while reading the book was lot of local language and slangs. Some characters’ dialogue is really hard to understand as the sentences seemed to have no proper structure. For me, they were just like a random jumble of words. Also, there were many words of local language. All these things really frustrated me. While I can guess that the author might have used that style to make the stories as close to reality as possible and to offer readers a taste of Africa, I felt that it came with a cost – readability.