Are You Forgoing Kids for Personal or Structural Reasons?
Your choice is valid no matter the reasons, but it’s rather sobering that the structural reasons behind it are this deeply-embedded and foreboding.
I was talking with a friend who was hit with a colossal dental bill for her teenage son. It was a ghastly amount she couldn’t afford, she even said out loud in the waiting room, “I’m going to kill myself.” She was being sarcastic, but the receptionist actually got concerned.
She said to me, “You’re wise for not having kids.”
This statement felt like getting whacked by an oncoming train despite my being pretty damn adamant for almost two decades about not wanting children.
Yes, I know how it feels to get unexpectedly slammed with a huge dental bill and it sucks hard enough for one person with decent dental insurance, let alone yourself plus your dependent children. By the way, did you know dental insurance reimbursements literally hasn’t been indexed since the late 1960s which is why so many people just don’t bother to get a dental plan?
I was just a little taken aback to hear my choice to skip out on having kids being referenced for this awful, but wholly familiar, situation.
Sure, there’s financial allure in choosing not to have children: at best, you have more money for yourself and more leeway to pursue your dreams of riskier careers, travel, and the finer things in life instead of the responsibility of supporting and caring for your offspring. On the other end of the spectrum, if you can barely support yourself, you have less stress in worrying about how you’ll support a dependent child. Major crossroads like career decisions and where you’ll live, how long you’ll do any of these things? It isn’t always impossible to do these things with kids, people go back to school and change jobs or start businesses all the time and often so they can give their kids a better life. But in looking at how long I ran on empty in my own entrepreneurial journey and my future plans to relocate to LA by myself, mine’s definitely in the “no way could I have done this if I had kids to raise” category.
Nonetheless, while I empathized with my friend’s frustration, something about the whole exchange made me incredibly sad. Yes, parenthood comes with financial difficulties unless you’re incredibly wealthy. But it shouldn’t be THIS difficult!
With all the media and government agencies panicking about the “baby bust” that the pandemic has only exacerbated, isn’t it time that we started addressing the structural reasons people aren’t having kids?
Or are regretting the decision if they have them?
There’s been a never-ending barrage of panic, often with a cloaked racist and eugenicist angle, about birth rates in the US hitting historic lows. Apparently, birth rates screeched to a halt in 2019 and the pandemic only worsened things. After all, it’s now been exposed how much of this nation’s economy functions on women’s unpaid labor.
Yet I never see the obvious reasons for the low birth rates mentioned in any of these articles:
- Lack of universal health coverage, for one. Smart Asset says it costs anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 just to have a baby. The fact that this webpage and hundreds of others just like it even exist while this country spends $400 billion on fighter jets that can’t get wet should tell you enough.
- Weak labor protections for employees, and poor infrastructure for freelancers and the entrepreneurial among us. (Read: it’s so funny that the “pro-family” crowd loves to panic about Millennials not getting married: I can’t if I want to keep my self-employed health insurance, see above.)
- We have a climate crisis and our electeds are moving less than a veal calf to do anything about it.
- Sky-high housing costs: the more people you have to house, the higher it’s going to be and it’s already burdensome for single households and even two-earner couples. And seriously, are 2-bedroom houses with less than 1,200 square feet that were built in 1950, require a car to get around, and are at least an hour from this city actually WORTH $400,000? Even in so-called “cheap” states, good luck finding a 1-bedroom apartment for under $1,000 per month if you’re a renter.
- Childcare costs more than fucking college, and even public college tuition has tripled since I graduated only 12 years ago.
- All while our spending power just doesn’t go as far as it used to, even if you have a decent income.
- Oh yeah, and upon sending your kids to school, they might be using textbooks that were published when we still used terms like “A/S/L” and “cybersex” in Internet culture and there’s now an entire cottage industry dedicated to hoping they survive frequent mass shootings.
So speaking just for me and a couple other childfree by choice folk, we still don’t want kids even if these things were fixed.
Dental care should be part of healthcare. Healthcare should be free at the point of service. Murderous insurance companies should be sent to a lava pit. Every school should be a “good school”. We need to combat gun violence, wealth inequality, climate change, and ridiculous housing costs.
But even if we attained this, none of these things would change the fact that I’m almost 36 at the time of writing, and have zero interest in a high-risk pregnancy after everything I’ve been through in terms of physical and mental health afflictions. I’d still just want to live my life writing, making games, going into making movies, traveling, and hanging out. With almost no blood family left and never having a romantic relationship get serious and enduring enough to even consider kids, those things weren’t the deciding factors but it certainly helped cement my adamancy in skipping out.
Plus, it took me so long to crawl out of the hole the Great Recession threw Millennials into and attain both the career and lifestyle I always dreamt of. I had to catch up on things financially and wanted to finally enjoy it. But even more than the financial aspects, it was also coming to terms with separating how I was systemically told to wait for making games and having my own company was personal, generational, and then just how much society loves to shit on young women and tell them they can’t do things.
Single motherhood had been vastly destigmatized by the time I reached my late twenties, but I’d known for quite a while then that I just wasn’t interested in motherhood, even in the best of circumstances. Even if I’d managed to get into games a lot earlier, we lived in this amazing socialist utopia, and my friends lived closer along with more of my immediate and extended family I could count on along with a loving partner.
My reasons for not having kids are deeply personal, just like my decision to pursue a creative and entrepreneurial kind of career and to move across the country.
(And I’d still like a partner: but he must like toads and not want kids.)
It makes me genuinely sad for my peers who wanted to have kids by now, but were reasonably put off for all the structural reasons I outlined. Or in the case of my friend: already had them and are seriously struggling.
We have the resources to make sure no one goes without their basic necessities. No one needs a Bill Gates fortress, but we don’t have to live in 600 square foot boxes with outdated radiators either.
But the decision to forego kids should be a personal one. Not a structural one.