Friday, December 21, 2012

Kids these days

I recently had a conversation with a good friend about having babies. Which in itself isn't extraordinary - it seems to me that many conversations with women friends in stable relationships eventually touch on babies, and specifically, when to have them. My friend was contemplating having children soon because she couldn't see a better time in the near future. We talked about having babies while in grad school, while trying to get tenure, or after tenure was procured. And I remembered a second-hand quote from a professor in my department to a grad student (the professor doesn't have children): "there's no good time to have children as an academic".
Another acquaintance recently advised me, in a similar vein, "if you're waiting until you're financially secure to have kids, that'll never happen". So I read with interest Noah Berlatsky's article "There's no perfect time to start having kids", mainly because of its perfect title. I do wonder about his definition of 'empowerment'  which seems to get caught up with the idea of cheating death. I do agree that women/I am bombarded with images and ideas of what parents are and should do - women have to add "am I good mom and can I be June Cleaver and Hilary Clinton at the same time (that is, a good homekeeper and have a powerful career)?" to our body issues, among other fears. We also have the looming threat of 35 (both men and women) further complicating our decisions and adding to our worries about children. I feel the need to continually tell myself that whenever I plan on having children will be fine, and that having children at any age isn't exactly a precise science.

I know I'm not alone in delaying children until I've got a steady job/income/place to live. Apparently so many women have decided to put off children that it's a economic and health concern. This recent New York Times Op-Ed by Ross Douthat, "More babies please" is an example. And can I tell you how angry it makes me? For two major reasons, those these are not the only ones:
1. Choosing not to have children is apparently decadence: "It [the retreat from childbearing] embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place." Yes, because being able to choose when and where to have a child is the ultimate decadence. And can we recognize that the 'basic sacrifices', including death in childbirth, are disproportionately born by women?
2. The environment. It's not cheap to raise a child, money-, carbon-, or resource-wise. Why must our economy always grow and expand? We're not to the point where it can do so without continued invisible costs to ecosystems, our health, other organisms...I'm not a Malthusean, but I do think that having natural resources go unused is not a bad thing. Douthat's argument seems to be that our economy would suffer, which to me signals for a economic solution, not a social solution. And if we're so worried about a shrinking population, I feel like an obvious solution would be to welcome immigrants and insure a standard of living higher than their country of origin (one mentioned in the comments more than a few times). But perhaps that's too decadent.

So! Kids these days. It's as hard decision as it's ever been, but I am indeed lucky to be able to actually have a choice. As a pithy summary: have 'em when you want to and hope that the support you need will be there.

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