Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Kids Don't Make Me Happy

I have to give Kudos! to Matt Walsh, a Canadian blogger and father of twins for writing this post My Kids Don't Make Me Happy

As a life and leadership coach who specializes in decision-making (including reproductive), I always say "One choice or the other will not make you happy. Happiness is a choice."
Matt made this point: 
My kids don't make my happiness. That isn't their job. My happiness isn't a responsibility that falls on their tiny little shoulders. Kids come into this world helpless, naked and needing, yet so many of us immediately shove them into the Happiness Factory and bark commands. "Get on the assembly line and build me some happiness! Quick! Do your duty, sir!" This is precisely why many mommies and daddies are NOT very happy people. Many are lost, confused and disappointed. They are anything but happy because they were fooled into thinking that they didn't conceive a human -- they conceived a little happiness generator. They were fooled, in many instances, by parents who know better.

Yeah, you have heard those parents. I call them the parenthood lobbyists. They say "it's the best thing..." or "You are missing out..." but they are only telling part of the story. The trick is to tune the lobbyists out and focus on what you really want and what your partner really wants. Then, whatever you choose, whatever the outcome, you can still choose to be happy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taking Control at End of Life

What happens when you get old? It's an annoying question, I know, but even more annoying when you don't have an answer.

That is why I was thrilled to see NY Times Blogger Paula Span, elder care expert, tackle this issue head on and write in detail about the importance and challenges of a having a health care proxy.
While you may be able to convince a trusted relative, lawyer, doctor, or nurse to be your proxy, they may not feel comfortable in that role, writes Span:

"Geriatric care managers seem a better fit; they’re comfortable in hospitals and nursing homes and charge lower hourly rates than lawyers. Karen Wasserman, director of Your Elder Experts, part of Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Boston, serves as surrogate for a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor with no family, and she’s starting to see healthy people in their 70s putting their paperwork together and asking her staff to take that role.
“I don’t see it as that big a leap,” Ms. Wasserman said. “Often, it’s continuing the work we do anyway, advocating for our clients,” whom the staff has often known for years. “It’s often an honor to be there for these people. It’s part of the deal.”

There are childfree folks out there that would, literally, rather die than relinquish control of their end of life decision-making and that poses another challenge. Are we ready as a society to let them make that choice, like Switzerland allows through the Exit organization? You tell me?

Photo credit: Flickr Photo by Flatbush Gardener

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Parents Supporting Their Childfree Children

I have been very fortunate in the fact that both my parents have always supported my choice to remain childfree. This is not always the case for childfree folks, as I documented in my book Two is Enough and the documentary film The Childless by Choice Project. Some parents do put a lot of pressure on their children to produce the grandchildren. Other parents just can't understand why.

I had a really happy childhood, with a Mom and Dad who were excellent role models for Parenthood. Yet I chose to remain childless by choice, not because I didn't know how to parent but because I didn't think parenthood was a good role for me.

I can't tell you how many times people have told me, "Oh, you would be such a great mom!" And maybe I would be but I am convinced that had I been a mother I would have experienced many  unhappy and frustrating days wondering why I had chosen this path when other paths seemed so much more appealing and natural for me.

This is why I was glad to see Barbara Walters, one of the hosts of  the current events show The View defend her daughter's decision to remain childless.  As a career television journalist, Barbara Walters knows more than most women how difficult it can be to navigate motherhood and career and clearly she is very proud of her daughter, saying that she's very caring and loving, particularly to old people like herself.
One of the other women on the panel already had a child but was planning for more and couldn't wait for the opportunity to breast-feed a baby. You could tell by the faces of the other women on the panel that breast-feeding an infant was definitely not something they were wishing for as they lay their head on their pillow at night. And this is why The View's panel of five women works so well and why we tune in. These five women are a diverse group from all walks of life and they have a variety of experiences and opinions about issues that concern us all.  Yet they can agree that parenthood is not for everybody and recognize that although they would happily choose parenthood for themselves they can understand why some women and men may not want what they want.

If these five women of The View wanted the same things, believed the same things, and held the same opinions  we wouldn't be watching the show.  
Lucky for us, and lucky for the networks who profit from these shows, we respectfully disagree!

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Childfree Life featured in TIME Magazine

The Childfree have made it to the front Cover of Time! Four years after my book Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice was published and one year after the release of my documentary The Childless By Choice Project, I finally feel like the childless by choice have been recognized as the important emerging demographic that it is.

As I have said repeatedly, the rising numbers of childfree couples is a trend, not an aberration. The trend to postpone or ultimately forgo parenthood is a global trend that is likely to continue in the short term, as competing opportunities for women expand. It was nice to see that media outlet like TIME took notice and did such a great job of documenting this trend. And it just happened to coincide with the inaugural celebration of International Childfree Day (August 1) Kudos to Time and staff writer Lauren Sandler!!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Going Childfree - A Guy’s Perspective

Amy and Lance Blackstone are a childfree couple with a new website and blog called We are {not} having a Baby. I chatted with Amy and we thought it would be cool to guest blog on each other's sites. Amy's husband Lance offerred to give his perspective as a childfree guy who came from the assumption of parenthood. In the Childless by Choice Project I made a real effort to include men because they are often overlooked in the discussion of voluntary childessness, but not here, not now. Here's Lance's story:

Growing up I knew that I’d have kids of my own. The path was obvious: grow up, date, get married, have kids and be a dad. Preferably in that order. No steps optional.

This is how it works.

I’ve occasionally been wrong, but for the sake of this post I'll assume that many guys have a similar mindset.

I first actively questioned the obvious path around nine when I realized kids are a LOT of work. I have first hand experience of this. You see I have four siblings, all older sisters. Yes, four older sisters; thanks for the sympathy.

At that point two (only two!) of my sisters still lived at home with yours truly. We were an absolute handful, or more truthfully, I was an angel with two wicked, older step sisters.

I kid, I kid! Love you, my actual real, not step, sisters!

Where was I? Yeah, well, I watched mom and dad try to deal with angry, petulant, self-centered tweens and teens with endless needs and demands for time, food, money, laundry, etc. I thought to myself “Why would you do this to yourself?"

Yes, I know. Wise beyond his years, you say.

Speaking of, I’ve always been a pretty logical thinker (he says about himself). Illogically, I often assume others to be the same. Logically/illogically I figured I must be missing something. People put themselves through so much effort and heartache while giving up so much freedom, and time, ergo there must be more to the story...

I chalked it up to not understanding; to being young. I sez to myself "When I'm more mature I'll get it, and when I get it, then I'll want kids”.

Because this is how it works.

Time rolled on. I grew up (arguably). I dated. I got married. It never happened though. I’ve never wanted kids. And it's not because I never saw an upside - I do see how meaningful kids can be to parents that really want them. No, I've never wanted kids because I clearly see the downsides and for me the cons outweigh the pros.

Now I’m in my early 40’s. I’ve been married for 18 years. I love my life as it is, childfree. Speaking of, as I write this, my wife and I are on our way to a tropical island for the next 5 weeks where we will host friends and family. You think we could pull this off if we had kids?

For me, this is how it really works.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why are (Most) Successful Women in the USA Childless?

A recent blog post published in The Huffington Post attempts to explain why (most) successful women in the USA are childless. While the author  Kristen Houghton doesn't cover all the reasons why this appears to be true, she does make an important point:
to succeed, you need to focus on what you want without distraction. To do that, you need to put what needs to be done high on your list of priorities. Men have been doing it for years without anyone thinking less of them. Whether in the corporate, financial or even artistic realms, to reach the top in your career requires a single-minded drive, dedication and passion.
True. And that single-minded drive is often, intentionally, not directed to the role of parent. However, there are mothers who have developed very successful careers as Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg effectively documents in her recent best-seller Lean In. However, Sandberg has this to say:
Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way," Sandberg wrote, according to a book excerpt on Time.com. "A law associate might decide not to shoot for partner because someday she hopes to have a family. A sales rep might take a smaller territory or not apply for a management role. A teacher might pass on leading curriculum development for her school. Often without even realizing it, women stop reaching for new opportunities."
In my interview's for the Childless by Choice Project, I saw evidence of this series of "small decisions" in the process of ultimately deciding to remain childfree. Women deciding to postpone childbearing. Women turning down a proposal from a man who clearly wants to start a family. Women rejecting the idea of being a single mom.

Women who intend to be mothers make the same series of decisions that limit their ability to compete or succeed in the top ranks. Some women have been quick to blame the glass ceiling or discrimination for the lack of women CEOs or COOs in the USA, but that's only one piece of it according to Sandberg. I tend to agree. As a coach I help my clients make these decisions and we go through a process of overt discernment when covering all the options. The trick to values-based decision-making is to make these decisions consciously with a clear sense of your wants and values, with eyes wide open, knowing that every choice you make excludes another competing option.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mother Speaks About Her Regret Over Agreeing to Have Two Children She Didn’t Want

Because the source is the UK's Daily Mail, I am not sure this "first person account" attributed to Isabella Dutton is entirely true as they have a tendency at this paper to misquote for effect. However, this article is making the rounds of the childfree blogs and creating quite a stir. Sure, some of us love it because it validates our decision to remain childfree and makes up for all the times we have been told "You will regret not having kids."

Yet, somehow I can't take any pleasure from this. The life and reproductive decision making coach part of me just wishes this woman would have had the help and support of a coach. The residual guilt, regret, and the assumption of parenthood is evident and it's clear these emotions and assumptions influenced her decision making.

Here's the opening paragraph of this article:
My son Stuart was five days old when the realisation hit me like a physical blow: having a child had been the biggest mistake of my life.
Even now, 33 years on, I can still picture the scene: Stuart was asleep in his crib. He was due to be fed but hadn't yet woken.
I heard him stir but as I looked at his round face on the brink of wakefulness, I felt no bond. No warm rush of maternal affection.

I felt completely detached from this alien being who had encroached upon my settled married life and changed it, irrevocably, for the worse.
When she tells her husband she has is sorry she had given birth to her infant son, He just said, “Well we have him now. There's nothing we can do about it. You just have to get on with it as best you can.”

It’s hard to read this article without wincing. And if you scroll down and read the comments many of them are brutal. I feel bad and sad that this woman agreed to have two children she clearly didn’t want out of a sense of obligation and guilt. I admire her because, despite her aversion to the role of parent, she fulfilled her duties as mother as best she could. I admire her honesty too.

I wish this 57-year-old woman would have had the support and courage to say “No” back then. She would have been happier, she wouldn't have to live with these terrible feelings, and she likely would have experienced the "peace" she so longed for. Her daughter Jo, 31, has chosen not to have kids. She has MS and is being cared for by her parents, and I understand that even without her debilitating illness she would be inclined to make this choice for herself.

Because she can.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Norwegian study on Well-being and Childlessness Challenges the Myths

Recently, a team of researchers looked at the relative psychological well-being of parents and those who remained childless and this is what they found:
Contrary to popular beliefs, having children doesn’t increase the overall quality of life – not even in old age. A Norwegian survey of 5,500 individuals aged 40-80 shows no indication that childless adults have reduced well-being compared to adults with children. In the subsequent paper they wrote:
"Both the results reviewed and those presented do not support the old myth that children make people substantially happier or that not having children jeopardizes well-being in later life. Although infertile persons may go through a phase of finding life empty and unfulfilling (Callan & Noller, 1987), there is little to suggest that involuntary childlessness may cause a continuing sense of loss, as some have suggested (Beets, 1996; Matthews & Matthews, 1986). Childless adults appear to adapt well to their situation, finding companionship, support, and a sense of meaning and significance in other ways (e.g., Rempel, 1985). Overall, childlessness seems to be “easier,” and/or parenthood less “advantageous,” than people tend to assume."
In fact the authors of this paper noted that “Partnership status has a much stronger bearing on psychological well-being than parental status.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Stop the Fear: Childless Women Not to Blame for Outdated Economic Models

Amanda Marcotte, a writer/blogger for Slate magazine, hits the mark in her post titled America Is Doomed Unless Women Start Having More Babies. How Convenient.
She notes the curious trend of blaming childless women for any number of challenges that we will face, globally, as a result of an aging demographic. Marcotte accurately observes that many writers and pundits conveniently point fingers at all those selfish childless women for all the imagined ills that will befall us. She questions those who claim:
the only solution to save capitalism is to clip the wings of half of the population so they can spend more time laying eggs.

I'd argue instead that if the system is set up so that it fails if women don't start popping out more kids, then it's a broken system and should be reworked to account for the reality of America today. If women don't want to have more children, then instead of abandoning women's equality as a goal, we should rework our economic system so it doesn't rely on a steadily growing population to function. After all, the point of society is to serve the people in it, not to reduce us to cogs in a machine that serves no one at all.
People are having less children. We are living longer than we could ever have imagined. Our economies and our social safety nets were not designed for this shift and our leaders and politicians have been very slow to respond to what demographers have been predicting for many years. Our polititians, law makers, and policy and opinion leaders have behaved like the ostrich putting his head in the sand. They sit on their hands, they ignore, they marginalize, they worry, then they blame and demonize.
That's not leadership. That's cowardice.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lowest Birth Rate Ever! What Didn’t Get Reported…

When the National Center for Health Statistics reported the lowest birthrate ever recorded in the US in 2011 many media outlets went into alarmist mode with this new data. An example of this is the editorializing done by Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe who warned that
when birth rates decline this is what materializes: economic stagnation, dwindling innovation, a declining lifestyle, the exploding health and pension costs of an aging population, and the ever-heavier taxes needed to maintain the government safety net when there are fewer workers and entrepreneurs…And intergenerational conflict and loneliness.
Well we’ll see about that. However, what was not widely reported was that there was some very good news in this report — births to unmarried teens hit a record low and the age group that was having more babies than previously reported was the 35 to 44 age group.

Why is this good news? I think most people would agree that it's good for women and it's good for society if women postpone childbearing until they are ready, both financially and emotionally, to care for the children that they choose to have. Though OB/GYNs and most healthcare professionals will counsel women to have children early—while they are in their most fertile years—the fact remains that women in their late teens and early twenties generally don't feel ready to have children or they have yet to find partners with which to raise a family. And though it's true that you should start procreating early in life if you're planning on having a large family of five + children, increasingly that is not what women, and men, want for themselves. Studies show that only 33 percent of Americans consider the ideal family size to be three + children. That's a huge change from the 1940s to the 1960s, when roughly 70 percent said that three or more children would be desirable.

When women postpone childbearing they generally do so by choice, even though it may not be a conscious day-to-day choice. And when they make those series of decisions to hold off on parenthood until they feel they are ready they become the intentional parent. The one who prepares the nest, physically, financially, and emotionally, is engaged in a conscious decision-making process that happily welcomes a child into the world. Sometimes it will take a woman many years to get to that point —where motives, desire, and resources meet. And, as these new birth stats show, that point might be in your late thirties or early forties.

The good news is we now have an age 35+ population that is healthy enough to carry a baby to term, although with the 40 + group it remains fairly risky and rare. But it is still an option for some of those 40 + women. And we also live in a country where there is the option to postpone parenthood until we are ready to raise our children or to forgo children altogether.

According to this report, it looks like that's exactly what is happening.