I wish Wendy had more time to write. She has quite a bit to say about family life, and she enjoys encouraging other moms while she raises our 12 children still at home. She threw an article at me last week and said, “Respond to this for me,” and went back to mothering.
And wow, what an article. The author, Amy Glass, puts it out there in the title: “I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry“. The article is shocking. Glass needs to “hold back the vomit” whenever she sees a woman like Wendy. This isn’t an intellectual, live-and-let-live exposé on the familial social structure. It’s a frontal assault, claiming the superior honor is a working woman rather than “just a mom,” even calling motherhood “unimportant” and “stupid.”
You may read the article yourself, but here are the words in a nutshell:
Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself? There’s no way those two things are the same…If women can do anything, why are we still content with applauding them for doing nothing?…You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids…Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. This word play is holding us back.
You’d think this article wouldn’t get any traction, but it’s a week old and currently soaring at 225,000 Facebook shares.
This reminds me of the TIME magazine article from August 2013, “Having It All Without Having Children.” It was a promotion of the “Child Free” movement, of which I posted a handy rebuttal. These articles aren’t just intellectually articulating the childless life; they’re throwing down and insisting a life free of children is something to aspire to.
They’re making the case that a world without children might just be a good idea.
These articles (at least Glass’s) attack mothers, but my response is not attacking childless couples. Please allow me this distinction: childlessness is one thing, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Wendy and I are friends with many folks who are without children, and every couple wrestles with the idea of waiting or going for another (or even their first). This was the premise of our book Love Another Child, an honest attempt to wrestle through the thoughts surrounding a couple’s decision.
But “Child Free” is a ideological movement that encourages the opposite: don’t have children. “Be free of them”: Child Free. Call me a radical if you wish, but I dare say this is one of the most harmful ideas on the planet. When you consider it fully, it’s insane.
Let me be clear: childlessness itself is not insane. The Child Free ideology is. All of us are childless for a portion of our lives, and we were sane at the time. The article Wendy gave me — and the TIME article, to a lesser extent — attacks motherhood, and I think the idea that motherhood is crazy is itself crazy.
Do you think “insane” or “crazy” goes a bit too far? I have some thoughts on why I think this is fair, and I invite you to go with me here. I challenge the Child Free movement on three ideological levels: (1) logically, (2) individually and (3) culturally.
1. Logically, Child Free Breaks Down
These Child Free authors insist that they do not like children in general, that they wouldn’t enjoy children, that they wouldn’t be good parents, and so on and so forth. They give reason after reason insisting that children would add no value to their lives.
Parents like me get accused of calling these folks names: self-absorbed, selfish, self-centered, and the like. The TIME article preferred the term “self-realized” to explain Child Free aspirations. But insisting Child Free is better than children — especially “having it all without having children” — is quite definitely naive.
How is it at all logically possible to insist that you would not enjoy that which you have never had?
Forgive me for name-calling, but is it fair to say this view is childish? It’s like insisting to hate a food that you have never tried. Think about it: these people are insisting that children would never bring them anything other than whatever bad things they conjured up in their head.
I’ve been accused of not fully understanding the childless life. Hold it right there: that is not logical, either. It is logical for parents to insist that children have matured our previous “self-realized” lives. Most parents will agree that children made them much less self-absorbed, selfish, self-centered, and the like. How can they judge this fairly? Because they used to be childless. A sense of wonder overcomes the new parent, one that can only be understood through experience.
To insist you understand, now that is illogical. We parents do not believe them, and they sound childish the more they insist. They should stop insisting that they know what it is like to receive the blessing of their own child into their life.
If you are one of these Child Free people, please, stop insisting that you are more “self-realized” than parents. You are standing on that side of a door that you are choosing not to walk through, so stop telling those of us on the other side what we’re experiencing.
But here’s a thought: maybe start listening to those parents on the other side of the door. Many of them insist that parenting life is much, much different than what they originally thought when they had no children of their own. I know parents who regret their earlier choices. You may grow to regret your decisions. You may come to realize that you were never less “self-realized” than when you were Child Free.
2. Individually, Child Free Has Problems
Perhaps you’re not ready to have children. That’s fine, and Wendy and I will try not to be an annoyance. We just can’t help ourselves sometimes; we really like family life. So deciding when to bring children into the world — yes, a big decision, no doubt — is one you should come to resolution about.
Just don’t get pigeon-holed into silly promises you can’t keep. “Never say never,” they say. Children may be in your future, be open to that, and let the adventure of life unfold before you.
If you go the giddy Child Free way (i.e. I will never, ever have children), you may get your wish, and your life will end with depressing consequence.
Let me tell you a true story of a couple Wendy and I met in Pennsylvania. We were asked to speak at a private event, and after we had done our job earlier that day, we decided to grab a bite to eat at Applebees. It was a busy night, but we didn’t have any kids with us, so we decided to wait it out for a table. Sixty minutes later, our table was called.
Wendy had just started a conversation with a retired woman and her husband who had arrived a few minutes before our table was called. So we invited them to join us for dinner. It was spontaneous and fun (why not?) and they gladly jumped to the front of the line with us.
We got to know each other. They were both retired teachers who had one daughter who lived in another state. When we shared with them that we had 16 children, they got a bit vulnerable. They shared with us that they had one child, and that one child — now married and in her thirties — had no desire to have children.
The couple was very honest about their disappointment. They even admitted to depression, loneliness and immense sadness. “I want a grandchild so badly,” the gentleman said, tears in his eyes.
Child Free or not, this should give you pause.
There is hard truth here: you will grow old. Your days of travel will become burdensome, your days of work will retire, your friends and family will die, and your life will sunset. Perhaps you will have your mate — as our new friends at Applebees had each other — but that union, too, will end.
Life will come full circle, and you will most likely realize that life was what mattered most of all.
Wendy and I attract testimonies like this all the time. People constantly tell us how regretful they are for choosing childlessness over whatever (travel, career, money, etc.). It’s a life theme that should not be so easily brushed aside — like these Child Free authors do. Instead, you should seriously consider children during your childbearing years.
3. Culturally, Child Free Is Catastrophic
The Child Free choice is similar to other social choices: you likely won’t experience much societal drain. There are still plenty of couples willing to have children. And then there are some like my family who are having a ball.
It’s ironic, really. The Child Free folks think Wendy and I are crazy. I cannot emphasize enough how grateful we are for each and every one of our 16 children. I am honestly saddened when someone says they do not want to have children. They’re missing out a most excellent life.
The world will go on if you decide not to have children. But if everyone decided to not have children, all hell would break loose.
This should seem rather obvious, don’t you think? The human race would cease to exist. I know, Child Free folks think that’s absurd, and perhaps it is. But it doesn’t take much for us to see demographic harms. Falling below the replacement rate — which is happening in many parts of the world today — brings about catastrophic outcomes that are horrific. Aging populations, overburdened social structures, failing economies, depressed growth — it is inescapable when the population shrinks.
The Child Free ideology encourages a cultural shift that would result in world devastation.
Let me put it to you this way. Throwing a water bottle into a lake isn’t going to rot out the lake. However, we choose not to litter because if everyone littered, it would rot out the lake. The drain on the environment would put us out of whack.
This is why I say Child Free ideology is crazy. It’s like encouraging a Littering Day. What if I brushed off the harms of littering in my marketing, researched pro-littering resources to encourage others to be fine with littering? Don’t judge me just because I litter, I’d rebut. “I don’t clean up very well, it’s just how I am.”
Or welfare. You can stand in a line and fill out forms for state assistance. You can even cheat a little and no one will notice. The United States economy will survive, and you will get your welfare check without any visible consequence.
But what if everyone soaked the system like this guy? Party up, dude, surf the waves, pick up your welfare card along with the chicks on the beach. If anyone is a sign of a failing society and a crumbling economy, it is this guy living it up in Hotel California.
Be Free of ‘Child Free’ Thinking
Wendy and I don’t look down on people for having no children, but we can’t help ourselves with the ideology that these more radical “Child Free” folks espouse. It’s a strange anti-people perspective that deserves this rebuttal. We actually see little “freedom” for those — like these authors — who are knotted up with the idea that their lives will be better without children.
From my perspective (privileged husband to an amazing mother of 16) I think Wendy is Wonder Woman. Her ideology — sacrifice, affection, giving spirit and heart of love — brings the fullest life. And she considers her calling to be most free.