The Other AC and I were talking the other day about our generation’s attitudes towards having children. Yup, straight to Baby Talk. It’s not even a question about “Do You Want to Get Married?” anymore, considering that whole mix of desperate loneliness and the fact that our married friends didn’t turn out so bad after all.
We’re sort of a mix of Gen X’ers and that undefined Generation Y (lucky us…) and in the last few years, there had been lots of charts and data and other impersonal intermediation to support those collective claims that we have settled into a comfortable, but eternal limbo, staving off measures of “adulthood,” which in Western culture, means have your own place, being married, and having kids. Just like our parents did. With the exception of Ethan Watter’s idiotic generational defensive, Urban Tribes, most all of the rest of these claims come from those older than us who seem to be holding back slapping us unmarried, childless jerks in the face.
The Other AC initially had this discussion with his girlfriend, LC, and both agreed that few of their friends had children. Where baby-making has been considered a legacy thing (you finally get to extend that branch below your name on the Family Tree), they reasoned that our generation prefers to leave their legacy in a more direct way like creative product (i.e. writing novels and making movies, etc). I’m not really sure how much legacy really factors into a decision NOT to have kids, although any of my anecdotal research on the subject is slim because I’ve rarely broached the sensitive baby topic with our friends. And needless to say, I’d welcome some unfiltered response from you readers to clear all this up!)
It’s true. At this point in my life, I don’t have that may close friends that have children, or are about to have children. A friend from high school just gave birth to her second daughter about a year ago, and another friend and her husband are about to welcome their first. But, in a lot of ways, I consider us to be an typical bunch; a sort of nerdy Bohemia. But is it premature to write the rest of us off as irreversibly opposed to becoming (at least voluntarily) parents? I wonder how many will actually wind up following shifts in parenting norms and simply have kids later in life? After all, it’s hard enough to get some job security and keep up with the bills in the city (and probably damn near everywhere else in this country, from the looks of it), nevermind to do it for a little baby who’s going to be dependent on you for damn near everything until it reaches cynical teenagehood and decide it hates its parents. Obviously, you put a lot on hold to have a kid, let alone several kids, especially mothers. (Potential fathers should consider reading Neal Pollock’s humorous and informative, Alternadad). And if careers and the like are current priority, especially in the economic sense of trying to establish yourself (which seems so fucking hard to do these days), having kids now means indefinite distraction. And, at least in terms of creative product, age certainly has an impact on competitive edge.
The Other AC, however speaks with a rather unusual bias, whole-heartedly subscribing to the Commandment I call “Lead Us Not Into Gestation.” Essentially, he’s a Clock Blocker, and his arguments to abstain from parenthood are grounded in concern for “the greater good,” or more specifically, to avoid contributing to what is already an over-populated country, nevermind an over-populated world. It has become a movement (or may trend might be a better term for a loosely connected generation with similar goals of anti-reproduction), though it’s nothing new, and no doubt has its hecklers and critics. I was one. I remember two classmates talking about it when I was in college. But they were hippie liberal art students and although they had decent taste in music, I couldn’t help but to find the conversation altogether stupid. Although, this was still a few year before that whole paranoia about carbon footprints and ridiculous national deficits and other ways we’ve screwed shit up for future generations.
It is somewhat noble to me now, to consider the future allocation of resources (Thomas Malthus, y’all!) and the hostility stemming from shortages thereof. But, it’s also the bigger picture that not many folks consider when they speak of child-rearing, which instead generally remains within the scope of “keeping it in the family.” You’ve got a lot of problems with local, state and federal government already falling short of being able to provide for it’s people. A lot are on the brink of bankruptcy. Everything feels so overcrowded, and that feeling is magnified in a place like DC, where, if you squint, you can see a glob of lemmings spilling into the open spaces. How many more people can we fit in this party, anyways? So, it’s not entirely relevant.
If only the people who really didn’t have any business having kids didn’t open shop, it’d really help out that population problem. I’m more in favor of abstinence from parenthood where the parents don’t really seem interested in the children they’ve conceived. Childbirth is not rocket science, but hell, on the other hand it’s usually just a little too damn easy. Case in point: Phil and I were riding the train home this weekend and about halfway through the route, a young girl with a baby stroller sat across from us. She couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19 years old. What immediately annoyed me about her was that she played generic R&B on her cell phone for all to hear, though it seemed more specifically intended for the enjoyment of her and her baby. I’m not good at gauging kids’ ages, but he was talking, so I guess he’s about two years old. He was squirming around in his stroller and eventually started crying, while his mother sat in the seat staring at him, as if in glaring contempt at this little boy. When he wouldn’t hush or stop jostling, she would repeatedly raise up her fist and tell him, “Boy, you better shutup!” I was sure that eventually, she would actually hit the kid who just cried a little harder when her fist went up, yelling “No! No!” I felt so sorry for him because it seemed that already, he had everything working against him at such a young, helpless age. Would he grow up hating his mother? Would he look upon the world with unshakable indifference? His mother was far too young to be a mother, and you find a lot of teenage mothers in this city. She obviously didn’t care much about the parental obligation to you know, not make life hell for her kid, although we were only helping by keeping our heads down and not saying a damn thing.
The Other AC, and maybe Lyz, too, and I diverge on the subject of kids. I like kids, though to be honest, I’ve never thought of having any of my own before. I’ve managed to live a fairly baby-free/kid-free life up to now, and not to say if that’s a good or bad thing, it does mean I’m lacking in the experiences that make any ideas of parenthood more than a mere romanticization. Forget the sugar sack experiment (you know, from high school), this is, I suppose where I really do need friends with babies, to see what the hell it really is all about, should I ever want to. Lately, parenthood and motherhood have been popping up like a character in a sitcom flipping through channels on the television, only to find snippets of every program relevant to his current problem. After reading Alternadad (hell, I recommend it for anyone who enjoys memoirs and is looking for a good read), though, pregnancy seems really really scary (duh!), and child-rearing seems like something you have to devote at least fifteen solid years of your life for (so I’d like to get in as much immature foolishness while I’m still young, if that’s how it’s going to be), before you can finally say to your kid, yeah, you can go out with your friends. And, I’d like to think that if I did have kids that I’m relatively nutty and laid back enough that I could be the cool mom with the relatively normal, fairly disicplined, healthy kid.
Wait… how the hell did I get away from all the generalizing and land on the self-reflection square? Bah! Readers, you should do the same. Comment away. I shall revel in the zillions of comments that this post is going to generate, not counting those from spammers.