The XX Factor

Why Parents Need Childless People Like Me

Jessica Valenti’s new book, Why Have Kids?, only devotes one chapter to the topic of women who don’t want kids at all, but The Atlantic chose that chapter as the one to excerpt, neatly demonstrating Jessica’s theory that we still find asking women “why not?” a more compelling question than “why?” This, even though we probably need to ask the latter question more, as Jessica explained in an interview with The Hairpin

We don’t ask parents why they had kids—even though we’re the ones bringing new people in the world. Childfree folks are just maintaining…the only reason to question them is that as a culture we simply cannot fathom the idea that a woman (men get a lot less shit) might not crave kids on this intense biological level.

We as a society should question this entire notion that women’s desire to have children can really be chalked up to biological desire. That has the unfortunate implication that those of us who have no interest are different than other women on a biological level, which I suspect would not prove to be the case if you started measuring hormone levels and doing FMRI scans. Looking at most other mammals and our own long history, it’s safe to say that the “deep biological urge” to have children is covered by the deep biological urge to have sex. After all, the term “biological clock” really only emerged in the wake of more effective contraception. (Plus, if it’s all instinctual, people who believe this need to quit asking those of us who don’t have kids why not, because by their own measure, that’s like asking someone “why” they’re left-handed.)

If we started asking “why have kids?” instead of “why not have kids?” it would at least demonstrate why the pressure to have kids makes no sense at all. Childless women are accused of being self-centered, afraid of commitment, and more interested in pursuing a career and having fun than the responsibilities of child-rearing. To which, I have to say: Ok, so what? Women who have no desire to make the sacrifices required of parents should be congratulated for their self-awareness, instead of bullied into having kids they don’t want.

Instead of bothering childless folks, I say it’s time to start thanking us. Our free time and disposable income supports entire industries that parents get to benefit from. We’re the ones going to shows and sorting through new releases so that you know what new record to download off iTunes this year. We’re the ones who actually go to the movies on a regular basis, keeping your Netflix queue well-stocked. We’re the reason that there’s that new nice restaurant open for your date night. We may roll our eyes and put on a brave smile you can see right through when you send us a baby shower invitation, but you need us.