Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Childfree Women: Could it be the Hormones? Asks Madison Mag

I granted an interview to Madison Magazine in Australia last year and they published a very good article in March posing the question: Why does society vilify women who choose not to have children?

There were many great quotes from women who had been harangued and criticized because of their choice to remain childfree and some interesting opinions from a sexologist who had made the suggestion that lack of desire for children might be inherited and have something to do with hormone levels.

This is what the sexologist Dr. Frances Quirk suggested may be happening, as summarized by Alexandra Carlton, the author of this article:
We’re equipped with a physiological arsenal of drives, urges, hormones and synapses that will us, continuously, to make babies. But just like someone can be born without perfect hearing or eyesight, or be good or poor at athletics or maths or drawing, some people are born with lower levels of certain hormones. In women, it’s thought low oestrogen levels or high testosterone levels could result in a diminished to entirely eradicated desire to have babies.

Of course, it’s not all about hormones. Dr Quirk suggests that for nature to influence our behavior, there needs to be a fair amount of nurture at work, too. A person’s upbringing, experiences or current situation will generally play a part in controlling their desire to have, or not have, children. Two of the women Madison spoke to for this story – Annabel and 31-year-old children’s model agent Nicola Allan – admitted that their own mothers had confessed that kids hadn’t exactly been in their grand plans. “My mum always said, ‘If I had my time again, I don’t think I’d have kids,’” relates Allan, who says she personally adores being around children – something she does every day through her work – but has no urge to have any of her own. “I don’t take what she said as an insult. She loves us to death and she’s a great mum. But I can see where she’s coming from. I’ve known from the age of 14 that I didn’t want kids either.”

Dr Quirk says Allan’s attitude may be an indicator that she’s inherited a low oestrogen level from her mother; as a result, each of them could harbour a low or non-existent desire to bear children. Or, “the daughter may be having a psychological reaction against being told that her mother didn’t want her” and doesn’t want to put another child through that feeling of rejection.

But most people who identify as childless by choice will refute the notion that there’s some subconscious, must-get-to-the-bottom-of-this, someone-call-Dr-Phil abnormality behind their decision not to reproduce. “People always think there’s some deep-seated reason for why I don’t want children,” says Jenifur Wale, a 34-year-old model and art teacher from Melbourne. “But it’s really not that complicated. I have a wonderful family. I love kids, especially my nieces. I have had meaningful relationships with men. It’s just that having a child has never been for me. I feel really fulfilled; I don’t need a sense of purpose and I’m not looking for something to fill my time. And I feel loved, so I don’t need a child to give that to me.”

So is it nature, nurture, hormones? What do you think?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Truth About Parenting

Chris, one of my Facebook friends posted a link on the Two is Enough wall to a New York Magazine article titled All Joy and No Fun. It’s an extremely well-written overview of recent studies showing how and why the fun has gone out of parenthood. Studies reveal that parenthood is getting harder with each successive generation. Even with their tight schedules parents actually spend more time with their kids then their parent’s spent with them, on average, but they get less out of it.

But outside of academia people just don’t want to believe these findings:
The idea that parents are less happy than nonparents has become so commonplace in academia that it was big news last year when the Journal of Happiness Studies published a Scottish paper declaring the opposite was true. “Contrary to much of the literature,” said the introduction, “our results are consistent with an effect of children on life satisfaction that is positive, large and increasing in the number of children.” Alas, the euphoria was short-lived. A few months later, the poor author discovered a coding error in his data, and the publication ran an erratum. “After correcting the problem,”it read,“the main results of the paper no longer hold. The effect of children on the life satisfaction of married individuals is small, often negative, and never statistically significant.”

Yet one can see why people were rooting for that paper. The results of almost all the others violate a parent’s deepest intuition. Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist and host of This Emotional Life on PBS, wrote fewer than three pages about compromised parental well-being in Stumbling on Happiness. But whenever he goes on the lecture circuit, skeptical questions about those pages come up more frequently than anything else. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t argue with me about this,” he says. “Even people who believe the data say they feel sorry for those for whom it’s true.”

Why is this important to the childless by choice? Well, the next time someone says, “You’ll regret not having kid.” or, “Parenthood is such a joy, you’re missing out” you can send them a link to this article.

Flickr photo by The Enabler