Babies / Feminism / Finances

If you don’t want kids you’re, like, totally selfish.


I really hate hearing and reading that people—especially women-people—who don’t want kids are selfish. The way I see it, you get maybe 80 years of life, give or take? You should spend that time doing whatever awesome shit makes you happy, whether that’s seeing everything in the whole world or being unstoppable at your career or having kick-ass kids who will support you in your old age. Or, that is the ideal. I recognize the privilege stinking up that statement—for some people, life is hard and money is tight and the fences aren’t always the kind made of white pickets.

  • For some people, the choice not to have children is instinctive—some people don’t like kids. Have you met kids? They are not for everyone.
  • For some people, the choice to have kids is similarly instinctive—some people have kids because they always wanted them. Good for them.
  • For some people, the choice not to have kids is difficult—some people want kids but can’t afford them because, you guys, THE ECONOMY.
  • For some people, the choice to have kids is accidental because sometimes kids just happen because your birth control craps out and you decide “What the hell, Courtney Love did this, therefore so can I!”

All of these choices have consequences of time and money. Kids are expensive! Work is time-consuming! I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

Last week in The Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders asked: “So, what would it take to persuade you to have another baby? A big tax break? A monthly stipend? Free child care? A big house?”

Earlier this week, The Daily Beast ran a piece about how all people (especially women-people) need to start having babies immediately called “Where have all the babies gone?” in which it states that “Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920. That downturn has put the U.S. fertility rate increasingly in line with those in other developed economies—suggesting that even if the economy rebounds, the birthrate may not .”

Where Doug had some good ideas – “Working women and higher education aren’t obstacles to solving the fertility problem – they’re major parts of the solution.” – The Daily Beast is basically a troll, saying “Of course, the women making reasonable decisions about their own lives aren’t spending much time considering the age breakdown of voters in future elections or the nation’s fiscal health in 2050.” Let’s assume for the sake of argument that we have a real population problem looming, and that the solution to that problem is to get women to have more babies.

Now, because Regressive Parenting is a blog and I get to be as anecdotal as I feel like in composing my arguments, I’m going to digress for a bit to tell you about my situation, because as an urban, white, heterosexual, university-educated woman of child-bearing age, I feel like a lot of these articles are written with people like me in mind. People whose adulthood is delayed, for whom marriage and family are not always the plan, or who can’t find dateable men. People who can’t have it all, even though we were told we could.

I married relatively young for my group of friends, plunging headlong into marriage at 25, drunk and excited and madly in love. We had met in poetry class, and within a year of our first date we were wed. We were reckless, we were fiscally ridiculous, we were much, much thinner. Each of us brought student debt into the relationship, and each of us our own consumer debt—mine less, his more. We were renting a one-bedroom apartment for $1,100 per month in what is now the most expensive city in North America, and we spent much of our first year married fending off phone calls from creditors.

We had just moved out of a cheaper place, one where the rain ran through a crack in the floor above ours and over the electrical panel, and where the front door only provided the illusion of security, because the lock didn’t work and the door was too small for the frame. When the bugs and the mice and the mold got to be too much, we found a place that cost a little more, but where we’d save money on antihistamines and theft of and criminal damage to our property.

During the first year or so, for every advance we made against our debts and for every increase in our salaries, there was another urgent matter, another debt due, another angry voice on the other end of the line threatening our credit. It took us years to get to the point where we could pay everything we owed every month and have a little bit left over. For a long time, nobody bugged us, and we lived happily and had credit that slowly got less bad.

Five years later, and it is amazing how a few hard months can throw you back into the kind of turmoil you thought you grew out of. I lost my job when my department lost funding while I was on maternity leave, and I spent almost six months looking for work—it’s a lot easier to find a job when you already have a job. Mine had been the bigger income. At the time, Spouse had just started his share of our parental leave (55% paid), and I insisted he continue as I was certain I’d find a new job quickly. The months wore on. Our meager savings disintegrated, and we maxed out our credit cards. (Diapers are expensive.) We had moved into a two-bedroom apartment thinking we could afford it, and then the money ran out.

We recently moved into a cheaper place on the east side of town where groceries cost less. I make just about everything we eat from scratch. We buy organic meat and milk, but we primarily eat a plant-based diet. We almost never go out anymore, not even for special occasions—this past Valentine’s Day we ate fried brown rice for dinner and watched a documentary about meerkats. I buy the cheapest pantyhose I can find and rinse them after each use, squeezing out as many as six wearings out of hosiery in which the waistband is more conceptual than functional. I earn a good enough salary on paper, but we are so behind on our bills from that hard five or six months that we’re back to fielding calls from the bank, the credit card company, and the collections agents.

An argument I see a lot of is: “You shouldn’t have kids if you couldn’t afford them.” (Note to self: quit reading comments on news sites.) Do you know how many babies are accidents? Like, 50%. Birth control fails. Accidents happen. People get drunk and throw caution to the wind. Teenagers are idiots. There are a lot of reasons why unplanned pregnancies occur, and a lot of the time finances weren’t on peoples’ minds when the baby was getting, uh … installed. Should the people who can’t afford babies all have abortions? Should only rich people have babies –  do poor people not get (or deserve) to have kids? That’s classist and probably also racist. Check yourself, Internet commenters. Babies get born, and not just to people who were planning on them.

Another argument? “Quit the city.”  As if a child is cause for exile, as if a city is only for the people who can afford to live its high life.

Back to The Beast: “The strong correlation between childlessness and high-density city living has created essentially two Americas: child-oriented and affordable areas, and urban centers that have become increasingly expensive and child-free over the last 30 years—not coincidentally the same span over which middle-class incomes have stagnated.”

And again: “Many urban developers are placing big bets on this postfamilial demographic, while governments put money into bikeways, transit systems, art palaces, and cool residential developments that cost considerably less than schools and roads.”

Wasn’t it Rennie Marketing that posited in its Woodwards advertising that we should “Be Bold or Move to the Suburbs“? What is bolder than being different, in defying expectations by eschewing house-ownership in favour of more time, more noise, and more options? Living where we do, at the cost we sometimes struggle to pay, means that it takes me 20 minutes to get home from work every night, without a car, and which includes some dawdling over the produce at the market on the way. It means evenings with my kid and not my carpool.

I grew up in the suburbs and have made an informed decision – I don’t want to live there. What worked for my parents does not work for me; one is not inherently better than the other, but each accommodates a different set of needs. I want to ride on bikeways and transit systems and visit “art palaces.” I want the baby to grow up around chaos and density and city life. Why does a family with dependents have to mean minivans and highways and lawns to mow?

And yet, there is the question about what it would take one to have more children, and, more critically, what it would take for one to have children at all.

Every month, my rent and daycare costs equal almost 40 per cent of what I bring home in wages. We have other bills. So many of them! If I had another baby, it would double my daycare costs but we would still need to earn two salaries to live. Even if I wanted to, I am not having another baby because I can’t afford to. To a young woman shouldering student loan debt and looking forward to a career, I can see how this would not be appealing.

I know that I had options. I didn’t have to have the baby. I knew going into my pregnancy how much life afterward was likely to cost. I went through with it, and I don’t regret it. My little guy is charming and healthy and sleeps well, and I recognize that some of the sacrifices I have made are repaid in his spitty grins and big fat cheeks. However, circumstances vary, and smiles and baby fat aren’t a universal form of currency. Some people value having spending money or only having to work one job to live.

What would make me want to have another baby? Aside from someone else doing the pregnancy, labour, and delivery parts, wages that keep pace with the cost of living would be nice. Cheaper tuition or, at least, less punishing student loans. Affordable, easy-to-find childcare, maybe? Housing within the city limits I could afford to buy?

I am pretty average in just about every regard. If, on occasion, it’s financially uncomfortable for me to have just one child, then it’s fucking hard to have kids when your financial discomfort is more frequent, or even permanent. And why should average people take parenthood on? For some people, the sacrifices won’t be worth the rewards—they will just be sacrifices.

Having a baby shouldn’t mean giving up the life you always wanted. If we want more women to want babies, then maybe we should find ways to make parenthood fit into the lifestyles we worked so hard to attain. Maybe we should make it more appealing to men. Maybe we should include men in the conversation, and quit assuming they have no interest in it.

The big question shouldn’t be “Why aren’t people having more babies?” The question should be “How can we make having babies a more attractive option?”



17 thoughts on “If you don’t want kids you’re, like, totally selfish.

  1. I’m actually pregnant with my second one and know by October my life is about to get a whole lot harder. And it’s true, having a kid it seems like you’re exiled to only mingle with your child bearing counterparts. I find more and more that my single friends don’t invite me to functions or out for a drink because I’ll have to find a sitter or end up bringing my kid to lunch. Very thought provoking entry.

  2. Interesting article– I have friends without kids who say the opposite (you’re selfish if you do have kids). And they have a point. In a world where overpopulation is one of the primary factors in pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, water wars and ecological degradation, there’s something to be said (beyond the financial burden) about not having kids. Not that I think people should feel bad for having kids…or for not having kids….it’s a complex decision, as you describe so well here. But I find this meme of terror over falling fertility rates very odd. We should be excited by the opportunity to lower our ecological footprint and open to new ideas on how to address issues like paying for retirement and other social services and continued economic growth. And I think there’s a lot that we could do as a community to strengthen families whether they contain 1, 2, 3 or more people so that people have the freedom to make the choices that work best for them.

    • Oh, I’ve heard all the sides! I also think that this “terror over falling fertility rates” is less about urging women to have babies immediately, and more about urging the “right women” to have babies immediately. If this was just about population, we’d be looking pretty keenly toward increasing immigration. We definitely need a solution that doesn’t punish our communities or our environment.

  3. These kind of thoughts have been spinning around in my head ever since I realized I was pregnant. We need to support women with children and women without children. Different circumstances, different needs. So many things to say it could take up a whole other blog post.

  4. About 10 months into my maternity leave, the hubs lost his job…and stayed unemployed for an entire year afterwards.

    Times weren’t tough, they were impossible. Right before I got pregnant (and we were trying) we had bought a house in East Van. We bought it because in 2001 I was able to purchase an apartment in the Westend with a hefty down payment and a small price tag. It more than tripled in value which was great for me, but somewhat sucked for the young couple paying close to 400k for my 700 sq ft 1 bedroom in an 65 year old building.

    We bought a house for a disgusting amount of money that made me want to die. A house that in any other place in the country would have come with fancy gates and a huge yard and recent updates and a roof that held away water, a hot water tank that heated water and a furnace that could heat it at all. Instead we got a character home on the corner of busy and busier, next to a crazy person, and people used our lawn as a place to throw garbage as they walked down my street to connect them from one bus stop to another. 3000 sq ft, 100 years old, single pane windows….it was costing us almost $700 a month in utilities.

    We got into a world of trouble just going to my 55% salary when the baby was born, but we had a plan to get out of it when I went back to work. ALL of that other 45% was going to go to bills and debt, not to crazy things like dinners out or GASP vacations.

    But that didn’t happen. We switched roles. What was worse was, due to the insanity of childcare in this city, we had to take the $1260/month spot we were offered for my daughter, even though the hubs wasn’t at work. We assumed he’d have a job in no time, and then we couldn’t just be without care.

    Like every 30 something I was THRILLED to have to put that teary call into my father AGAIN to AGAIN tell him I’d made some “bad” choices and he would AGAIN need to bail me out and don’t worry I know it comes out of my inheritance.

    3 years after moving into that house, we had to sell it. It was the only way. $3300/month in mortgage, $700 in heating, phones, cars, food, diapers, daycare, exploding furnaces….it crippled us. It was the only option.

    We now rent a mediocre house, in a nice part of town for an exorbitant amount of money. I’ve done the math on moving back to the burbs, and when I calculate the value of my time, the gas, the cost of living out there even and my desire to actually see the human I created and the one I married, it’s not any cheaper.

    My husband and I make what I would deem ok money for Vancouver. If we lived anywhere else, we’d be flying off to Disneyland yearly. Instead, we’re deciding between swimming lessons and gymnastics for our daughter and hoping we can afford to fly back east to see the hubs family but, it’s not looking good.

    I’d love another baby, and even thought that isn’t working out for us biologically, I’m not sure it would work for us financially either.

    • “I’ve done the math on moving back to the burbs, and when I calculate the value of my time, the gas, the cost of living out there even and my desire to actually see the human I created and the one I married, it’s not any cheaper.” THIS.

      It’s hard here. A setback can practically ruin you. We’re hoping we at least get a tax return this year that we can put towards catching up, but that’s no guarantee. With three paydays in May, we’re hoping to at least get a handle on the bills that the collections agents are after. If we can put them off another month, that is.

      If you think of a solution, I’d love to hear it. I think we’re in the same boat. Sinking.

      • The solution? Communal living. Right now trying to go in with friends on a duplex in the next few years, because on top of the 2-3million to buy something, insurance is 3-5k/year and your properly taxes in the same range. Divide and conquer. I suspect we’d need to buy a duplex, both with basement suites to rent out. And then every dollar of our 4+ salaries will be sunk into a house but at least we will have people to socialize with. Lord knows we’re not going out.

        You cannot have 1 family in a house in this city unless you’re an investment banker or in “sales”.

      • I know right now communal living is starting to take off for young adults and older Americans, and I could definitely see the trend continue to include families and blended families. Some amenities, like childcare, open space, garage, tools, etc. are just too expensive or space-expensive for individual families. For my Bf and I, when we move, we will include plans for live-in parents, should the need arise. We just all have to make do and adapt.

  5. Some women wait and wait to have kids because they’re worried about being able to afford it. When they’re in a better financial position — usually in their mid to late thirties — they find out that having a child is no longer possible.

    Child rearing is undervalued. Why place the cost of raising children almost entirely on the family? Women usually take the biggest hit professionally and financially.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  6. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful post, Emily. Invite me over, I will bring the beer.

    As a woman in my mid-thirties, I’ve gotten the ‘you are selfish if you don’t breed’ comment a lot. When I’ve stated ‘if I had a child, I’d only want one child’, I’ve been told that it would be bad for the kid and that only children are selfish. So unless you have children MULTIPLE times you are selfish. And when I’ve said that I might consider adoption, I’ve had people look at me like I’m crazy, because apparently only creating children from your own DNA MULTIPLE TIMES matters.

    As a childless working woman, I am very conscious of the fact that I have the ability and opportunity to do things regularly that are much harder for my friends who have family demands. I get to do ALL OF THE THINGS, ALL AT THE SAME TIME:

    1. Do volunteer work
    2. Make more money by working more jobs and therefore pay hire taxes without tax breaks (and I should, this is why we have taxes)
    3. Be on the boards of community organizations
    4. Shop and spend money (somewhat) freely in local business that need local patrons
    5. Spend money and time on arts and culture – tickets, books, movies….
    6. Work in arts and culture – which involves working with children, and frankly involves a schedule that I couldn’t sanely manage with a child
    7. Spend time with my friends – some with kids, some without kids, some who have kids who have grown up and left the nest
    8. Have the ability, time, and money to care for elder parents – if this becomes a need (and by the looks of the size of the Boomer Generation, this is going to be very common)
    9. Choose to do cool stuff when I die an old barren lady – like give all of my life savings away to a charity.

    I don’t know if I will remain childless (though it is looking that way), but I do know that not having children has allowed me to pay off massive student loans, achieve a lot in my career at a fairly young age, and live very comfortably. If I had had children in my twenties, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of these things. Until we have a national daycare plan, childcare costs often means poverty for parents – and that’s not good for moms, dads, or kids.

    Thank goodness for my friends who have kids. I salute you, I don’t know how you do it. Particularly in Vancouver. However you are managing to make it work, no matter how much better it COULD be, you deserve multiple high-fives and chubby baby cheeks all day long for just making things work and staying sane, especially in Vancouver.

  7. Thank you Emily, for such a beautifully written, thoughtful, and absolutely necessary post, and for each commenter on this whole thread: your honesty and courageousness makes me feel glad there is at least one place on the internet that makes space for this kind of discussion.

    I get angry whenever I read the G&M/Daily Beast/etc media hand-wringing over the ‘future of our nation’ and the right kinds of women having the right kinds of kids. To me, the numbers just don’t add up; there are thousands of newcomers to Canada every year, many of them parents with children who deserve, need, and are often facing major barriers to daycare services and accessible/affordable/non-sub-standard housing. And while perhaps the birth rate of Canadian-born women is lower than previous years (which I think is a good thing), there is still no shortage of young people and families who we as a civil society continue to turn our back on and make life terrible for, ‘best get bumpin” hysteria aside.

    Thinking about my own future and whether it involves kids, I just don’t know. I’m the oldest child in my family, born to 21 and 22-year-old parents in a tiny East Vancouver house with four generations under the roof. I was always babysitting younger kids, and my first jobs were tutoring, teaching, camp counsel-ing, and I took care of older relatives too. So at various younger stages of my life, considering all the care-giving I’d done, I assumed I would definitely, without a doubt, have children. I was “the type.” And sure, I love kids, I love my partner’s sister’s kids, I love my friend’s kids. But I still don’t know if the parenting life is the one for me, and I’m still deeply conflicted over what to do.

    I’m worried because (surprise!) I ended up working in the arts, for relatively low, self-employed-person wages, and I’m the primary income earner in our household as my partner has been in grad school, and has been dealing with difficult health stuff. It’s hard for me to envision what my life would be like with a child, though I can imagine the joy and also, of course, the hardship.

    I really resonate with the calls to make things easier for fathers to participate in parenting, to think seriously about how to rework the daycare system so it works for more people, and to consider new ways to better support all parents in our lives. Keep the discussion going, here and elsewhere, and we’ll build a better world.

  8. loved this, both my kids were a product of two forms of failed birth control… thank you fate for that lol!! I got pregnant when I was 19 with my eldest, “hubby” and I were together for three years already at that point… it was just something we felt we had to do and we’ve loved it. We’re also looking forward to having older kids sooner rather than later lol 😀

  9. I like this. It comes down to personal choice. To have kids/not to have kids has been weighing heavily on my mind. I’m on the fence for many reasons. Finances being just one of them. There’s so much to consider. Career goals, finances, the damage it does to a woman’s body… oy! But it’s one of those things I feel I might regret if I don’t do…or feel “empty” later on in life. Perhaps it’s worth the sacrifice.

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