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?”