Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Keri's Decision to Remain Childfree by Dr. Alan Singer

Keri objected to my column on the consequences of delayed childbearing. This column was published in the Home News Tribune on May 29, 2009. Be sure to take note of the strangest interview question I ever asked....in the next to last paragraph. I viewed our correspondence as a valuable experience since I don't get many opportunities to dialogue with articulate, child-free individuals. I don't know about you, but I have not and would not try to convince anyone to have a child. Doesn't it need to be an intrinsic desire?

Keri wrote to me last year with objections to my column on the consequences of delayed childbearing. Here's a taste of her passion on this topic: "If my mother tells me one more time to hurry up and give her grandbabies, I will get a voluntary hysterectomy and send her my uterus in a jar, so she can control it from the comfort of her own home.''

Keri lives in Hawaii and is a 10-year military veteran working as a defense consultant. She rejects the sacred cow of American natal worship and explains, "I have no desire to have children, and deeply resent a patriarchal-societal norm that says I need to have one.''

I viewed our correspondence as an opportunity since I don't get many opportunities to dialogue with articulate, child-free individuals. Keri accurately describes the disadvantages of children and I have incorporated her perspective into discussions with couples who are considering having children: "I dislike children; the noise, chaos, mess, and clingy neediness. With few exceptions, a child is all of these 24/7. It's the nature of children as they figure out the world.'' I feel it's important for couples to understand this reality and not live in a dream world of adorable children with perfect sleep schedules.

What upset Keri the most? She was raised in a religious household where she was told that her only worth as a female was as a wife and mother. As an athletic youth, she challenged boys and pushed herself past her limits. "To me,'' Keri added, "wife and mother are synonymous with stagnation.''

She is annoyed by the sexist notion that women are not fulfilled unless they become mothers. ""As a feminist, I hold that every woman has the choice to strive to whatever she desires, whether that means being a mother or not. Men are not criticized for not being real men if they don't have children, or called selfish.'' As a father, I wouldn't want my daughters believing that women can only be fulfilled if they become mothers.

Keri is also bothered by the idea that a parent always knows what is best for their adult child. "If I lived the life my mother says is healthiest, I'd still be married to my EX and miserable. She's my mother, but that doesn't make her insightful or correct.'' And Keri suggests that parents send this message to an adult child: "I trust that you are capable of thinking for yourself. Here is some information to help you reach the best decision for YOU.''

Keri had an insightful response to (admittedly) the strangest interview question I ever asked: I know you don't want a child, but if you had one, what kind of mother do you think you'd be? "I'd like to think I would be competent at raising a healthy, intelligent, well-adjusted adult. I swore to care for my godchildren if anything happened to their parents. I'd do my best to give them a stable, loving home, in which they were listened to and valued.''

Our correspondence educated me, especially Keri's conclusion: ""Choosing to not have children is merely exchanging one set of life complications for another. It neither destines one for a carefree life with lots of disposable income, nor does it doom one to a loveless life of regret and empty arms. In the end, life is what we each make of it. I've chosen a life without children because I'd rather deal with those complications instead of the ones that come with the kids.''

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his website www.FamilyThinking.com