Salon readers explode

From "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" to "What a bunch of snobbish elitists!" -- here's what they have to say about our first two installments of "To Breed or Not to Breed."

Published May 8, 2003 8:28PM (EDT)

[Read "To Breed or Not to Breed," by Michelle Goldberg.]

Kudos to Salon for printing "To Breed or Not to Breed." I am a happily married 31-year-old woman, and the decision not to have children has been firm since my own childhood.

People who insinuate I am "selfish" make me laugh out loud. When's the last time you heard someone called "selfish" for saying "I DO NOT WANT"?

No one would ever suggest that every single person would be a good mechanic. Or a good physician. Or a good cat burglar. Why? We all have different skills and goals, but yet parenthood is assumed to be pretty much one-size-fits-all.

Well, it doesn't fit me. I compete in triathlons; my husband practices martial arts; we both have fulfilling careers; we travel the world (in the off-season!); we enjoy family and friends; we have a fun, intimate relationship.

Why this seems threatening to those inclined to mothering is beyond me. I don't begrudge them their breeding (though I don't need to hear about it 24/7), so why is my non-entry into parenthood an issue for them? Perhaps many parents became so out of a social drive, without thinking through other options. I have to agree with the author of the original article; perhaps too many parents are insecure with their decisions, and seeing other people live happy, childfree lives reminds them of those other options.

Being a parent is not something you can undo. You can get out of a bad marriage, but with kids, it's kind of permanent. So if those of us self-aware enough to know that we don't want to be parents, or simply wouldn't be good at it, we should be congratulated for not bringing an unwanted or unappreciated child into this world. There seem to be enough of those running around already.

-- Denise Jones

I would agree with much of Goldberg's thoughts on becoming a parent. I think that having children has always been seen as a natural milestone or next step in any long-term relationship. It is refreshing to see that people are feeling empowered to not have children in the face of pressure from family and society.

In my experience as a father of a 2-and-a-half-year-old and another baby on the way, I'll admit that I'm guilty of putting procreative pressure on my childless friends. The reason isn't so much to justify my decision to become a father, so much as to stay close to those friends. It's been amazing how different our needs are from our friends who don't have little ones to arrange snack and play for. I miss those friends and wish they had the same pressures I did so we could preserve more of our friendship. Conversely, all of our new friends have young children -- we all speak the same language.

I'd agree that making the choice whether or not to have kids is the biggest indicator of future happiness. Our parenting role models are a gay couple with two little Cambodian boys. Talk about intentional parenting! All the hoops they had to go through really tested their commitment to having kids. They, like us, went into parenthood with their heads up. This doesn't make the day-to-day any easier, but at least we don't martyr ourselves.

Finally, Michelle, don't use the word "breed." I'm not a horse or a cow. Using that term undermines your argument by making you sound quite petulant and bitter.

-- Ian Clemons

I read your article with great interest. My husband and I, both in our 30s, have a 6-month-old daughter and are astounded how much she has enriched our marriage, including our romantic life, in abundance.

We have a theory. We believe that, particularly in the American culture (my husband is European) that many parents add to the stress of having children, rather than children being stressful themselves. We see a lot of miserable-looking parents because it appears they overwhelm themselves with a lot of unnecessary stuff: as evidenced by the overpacked diaper bag and stroller. Children don't WANT this junk, they just want YOU (the parents), and believe me, they require less than probably the parent does out on the town for dinner.

I offer these theories: If the majority of marriages end in divorce, then how can parents be happy having children if they aren't happy with each other, let alone themselves. Second, in our society, there is the "adult life" vs. "family life." My husband and I don't subscribe to this. Our daughter has been fluidly incorporated into both our professional and social lives: We willingly work together to maintain what's needed for both of us. Third, my husband and I both enjoy sharing the responsibilities of raising our daughter. Many women's spouses don't participate enough, overwhelming the mother, and then the husband wonders why his partner isn't a sex beast any longer. My God, "Oprah" is purely made up of women sitting in the audience craving for a little attention and understanding.

Crazily enough, our sex life has improved in that we value that much more our time together. And yes, we have time every evening for a glass of Bordeaux along with some good chocolate. Sound unbelievable? Guess what, children learn. They will learn to go to bed at a certain hour, but you have to teach them. They will cut out 2 a.m. feedings, but you have to teach them.

I have friends who do not want children and quite honestly, I would not want them to. But for people to take on a shallow perspective, such as "If I have kids, there goes the car and here comes the yucky plastic toys ... and now have to GIVE of myself for the next 20 years." Oh, poor you. It doesn't have to be that way. The adult mind is creating this problem, not the child. My spouse and I have not changed our lives just because we have a child: we have merely included her.

Folks, if you have a good marriage to yourself and your spouse, then kids aren't the problem, unless of course, you just don't plain want them: which is both a different and clearly acceptable choice. Of course, when my daughter turns 16, I could write you back with an entirely different point of view. I hope not.

P.S.: Was this study restricted to American culture?

-- MPH

I accept Ms. Goldberg's basic points: There are people who are not wired for child-rearing; such people should not engage in (or be pressured toward) procreation; there is no shame in choosing not to have children (and many valid reasons not to have kids: economic or psychological unfitness, population and environmental issues, etc.); choosing not to have kids is not necessarily a selfish act; children can inflict a variety of stresses upon a relationship/marriage; and being childless does not guarantee loneliness or dissatisfaction with life.

All valid points.

And yet...

And yet ... I keep coming back to Ms. Goldberg's arguments for why she doesn't want to be a mother: her (potential) kid "would be another person with needs and desires that I would be tethered to for decades. And everything about meeting those needs fills me with horror" (so how does she relate to her husband?); this "other person" would bring a host of ills into her life: "the diapers and the shrieking, the penury and career stagnation ... the wearying grammar school theatrical performances. Hours spent on the playground when I'd rather be reading novels. Parent-teacher conferences. Birthday parties. Ugly primary-colored plastic toys littering my home." In other words, a child would be inconvenient -- s/he would be a bother and annoyance. Even given that everything she lists is a real consequence of having kids, she makes no allowances for any joy or compensation from child-rearing.

So yes -- I guess it's a good thing that Ms. Goldberg doesn't want kids; it's a bad thing that Salon chose her as spokesperson for the childless option: she reads like a Limbaugh/Coulter parody of feminism.

-- David Rickard

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your article.

I have none of my own. I came to the decision I did not want to have children about five years ago and I have never looked back.

I too have well-meaning friends and relatives express concern that I don't have children. I try to explain to them why I do not, and they just seem to think it is -- well, odd. And somewhere in my explanation I get to the part where I explain that I just don't have a ticking biological clock or a strong desire to have a child. And they just get this confused look on their face and wander away.

Oh, well -- I can always fall back on the reasoning of not wishing to overpopulate the planet.

But again, thank you for offering such writings. They are wonderful to read.

-- Sarah Maximiek

[Read "Mama Don't Preach," by Amy Reiter.]

I enjoyed Amy Reiter's "Mama Don't Preach" and for the most part thought she was right on the money. I'm a 32-year-old single, childless woman. I sometimes wonder whether I will eventually regret not having a child, but I certainly don't envy the parenting lifestyle and can't imagine I ever will.

The one exception I take to the article has to do with the line: "So if you don't have that deep-down urge to have kids, if you're not prone to melt for the smile, you should probably skip it."

Of course I melt for the smile! Who could be stoic in the presence of a baby? I have a niece and nephew (15 and 10) in whose lives I've been very active. There isn't much I wouldn't do for them and spent countless hours of their childhood being their personal toy. A baby's smile is as moving to me as it is to any other human being.

Basically, I don't want my entire life to revolve around a child, but that doesn't mean I'm incapable of feeling the protectiveness that comes when a child is in my care or awe at the perfection of a baby. This is one nuance your article missed.

-- Marcella De Simone

Thanks for the articles by Michelle Goldberg and Amy Reiter -- this series is really helping out my partner and me. We have been together for six years, we'll be getting around to marriage soon, but we've both decided not to have children. We have been subjected to numerous bouts of unsolicited advice and warnings from everyone ranging from our own parents to complete strangers. Your articles help confirm for us that we are not crazy and we're not deceiving ourselves. I may print these out and start handing them to my well-meaning harassers.

-- Eric Keller

Amy has it right -- not everyone should have kids, and not just for the obvious reasons (abuse, illness etc ...) I support anyone who doesn't want them even, though I am a mother of three. I remember my life before kids. It was certainly easier -- I looked better, had more time, energy, and on and on. I respect anyone's decision to devote their lives to something else or, for that matter, for nothing at all.

But me, I like who I am now since I have had my kids. I am a nicer, more patient, more compassionate person. My kids taught me those things. Yes, it is hard, really, really hard some days. And the cost/benefit thing just doesn't even begin to talk about the financial and physical toll. But I will always be grateful to my three for making me a much better human being than I would have ever been if I chose not to have any. Even though I can imagine a very different life for myself if they weren't there, it isn't a life I think I would like nearly so much, nor would I be a person I would like as much.

-- Jeri Rouse Looney

You know, I never liked kids. I still don't. I mean, I don't much like other people's kids. I like MY kids ... well, sometimes I like my kids. I love them all the time, but I only like them sometimes. Having kids is really, really hard ... really it is.

Sounds incoherent, doesn't it?

It is.

Sometimes I regret not having an all-encompassing career. I certainly regret making $500 a month freelance writing instead of $5K a month as a senior Web developer. But I don't regret my kids. I don't even regret them most days when my spouse is halfway across the world on a Navy ship for months on end. And on the days when I do, because we all have THOSE days, invariably my most difficult middle child does something cute or winsome or just plain loving and I remember why I have them.

It's not just that I get pregnant from the smell of semen -- I didn't know I would fall deliriously in love with my kids until I had them. I didn't know how I didn't want them till I had them, either. I certainly wouldn't trade them, even for $5K a month and a cushy retirement. It's like those MasterCard commercials ... when the baby runs up and hugs your legs just because, it's priceless.

-- A Reluctant Parent

Well, I am very pleased with the recent articles about birthing -- specifically because it is the first time I have seen anything in the mainstream media express the idea that NOT having kids is a valid, beneficial and potentially better choice (for some!).

The question is, what happens when the couple is divided in their opinion on the necessity of having kids in the first place? It is easy to say that having "choice" makes one happier than having "kids" -- but, in my case, I would choose to stay with my wife -- even if we HAVE to have kids, while she would divorce me if I insisted on not having them ... Tough spot. I have been resisting the kids issue successfully for about one year now (since we married) and my wife agreed to wait till we are better off financially (giving it another five to seven years -- when we are in our mid-30s), but insists on having kids at that time at the latest.

When we got married, I thought that my aversion to children would pass, that in time I would be "ready." Well, it just isn't happening, I would rather have pets than kids, and I can't say that ... So what do we do? Should I have a baby and "hope for the best"? Should I wait it out and try to convince her that it isn't a good idea (when she is in her mid-30s and has less choice -- sneaky, but a valid option)? Divorcing her is not an option, I'll have a baby if that is the only thing that will keep us together -- I LOVE her. Like I said, it is a tough spot -- and I am sure there are many out there that are in the same situation.

-- Jack

The one thing I keep reading over and over in this "debate" is -- poor people shouldn't have kids, that's a given. A given? Childbirth, raising children -- that is the prerogative of only the insufferably smug ruling class? (There is no middle class anymore, is there?) As a mother and member of the underclass who indeed struggles and struggles mightily to raise and care for my family, I am heartily offended. What a bunch of snobbish elitists you seem to be. No wonder you aren't interested in sacrificing your precious self-interests in the name of breeding.

-- Lucy

As I approach my first official Mother's Day this week, I am thoroughly enjoying your column on women who choose to parent (or not to parent). As a 31-year-old new mom (my 35-year-old husband and I adopted our daughter in February), I can honestly say that mommyhood is something I cherish. It isn't easy. In fact, after an evening of trying desperately to calm a screaming 6-month-old, I wonder how I will manage to finish out the day.

Looking back on the last 11 years of adulthood, one common theme has dominated my interactions with family and friends. Since I was in my early 20s, every conversation began or ended with "So, when are YOU going to have a baby?" This refrain served to teach me that I would not be fully accepted as a woman or an adult until I produced a child (or three). My husband and I have a house full of dogs whom we have always treated like children, but this Mother's Day will mark the first time that my role as caregiver and woman will be truly validated by those around me. Apparently all those years of loving and nurturing mean nothing; the real rite of passage is parenting an actual human being.

While I had always dreamed of having a little one, I also resented the implication that my entire life was spent merely killing time until I relented and accepted my predestined role as a parent. For many years, my life was busy, satisfying and full of opportunities for learning and growth. I will never regret those years -- but I wish that those around me would value my pre-mommy accomplishments as much as I do.

Even as I watch the clock, waiting for the workday to end so I can return to my sweet little girl, I understand why many women choose a path without children. I respect these women, and I hope that someday they will be given the credit they deserve for making such a profound life choice.

-- Kristi O'Connell Myers

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------