Monday, December 15, 2008

Four Christmases, Four Stereotypes

This past weekend I went to see the movie Four Christmases with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. I was looking for some light and airy entertainment and what I got was lightweight and airhead.

The story centers around a supposedly happy childfree, unmarried, couple who end up having to delay a trip to Fiji due to fog and are coerced into visiting all four (divorced) parents on Christmas day, something they had managed to avoid in previous years by pretending to be on humanitarian mission trips.

Despite a wonderfully talented cast, this film falls flat not just because of a bad script but because of the cardboard cutout, stereotypical characters, particularly our childfree couple.

Four Christmases perpetuates four stereotypes:

1) Childfree couples are shallow, jet-setting DINKs (perfect for hating).
2) Childfree couples are in denial, they secretly want a child but they are too fearful or too dysfunctional to step up to the plate and be real adults in the world.
3) They are allergic to kids, or just plain don’t like them.
4) When one half of a couple wants a child and the other one doesn’t this dilemma is easily solved by just having a kid—aw, she, or he, will come on board once the kid is here.

This may work in Hollywood, or not, but it doesn’t fly in the real world. Ask any REAL childfree person.

Which brings me to my next thought: if they were really a childfree couple, wouldn’t they be using a reliable birth control method?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Parenthood is Not Fun for Every One

There is an assumption we make as a culture that says “You may not want kids now, but it’s different when they’re your own.”

After this week I’m not so sure this little birdie can fly. First was the news that the state of Nebraska’s “Safe Haven” law will have to be rewritten because people are abandoning their adolescents and teens at the safe haven hospital sites instead of newborns, which the law was originally intended to protect. In fact, the majority of the seventeen kids who have been abandoned at Nebraska hospitals since the law went into effect last July are over ten years old.

If it is different when they’re yours, then why are parents abandoning their kids? They are no longer colicky, they are, hopefully, toilet trained, and, bonus, they can dress themselves, yet their parents and guardians are clearly not in love with the parenting role.

Which brings me to the second thing—a quote from one of my interviews for the Childless by Choice Project in which Susan Jeffers, a parent and author of the book I’m Okay, You’re a Brat!: Setting the Priorities Straight and Freeing You from the Guilt and Mad Myths of Parenthood said: “I’m not talking anti-parenthood. I’m talking about the fact that some people love it, some people don’t love it. It is not good, or bad; there shouldn’t be any judgment about it.

“You know, it is very possible to adore your children but not love parenting. I think some of us like to be lawyers, some of us like to be teachers. We don’t all love the same thing. So I think it’s absurd to think that everybody would love to be a parent.”

Clearly, some of us don’t relish the parent role and if our society gave us permission to choose childlessness there would likely not be as many parents abandoning kids at the emergency doors of a hospital in the state of Nebraska. And I’m not making a judgment about these parents.

Parenting is hard. Let’s not pretend that it’s not.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

You Like Choice? Then Vote

I am a new citizen of the United States of America. A former green card holder, born in Canada, I will vote in a presidential election for the first time. After 17 years of paying taxes as a Resident Alien, without a vote, it is something I look forward to.

So I am pleased to see that voter registration is up. I was surprised when I first immigrated how low the voter turnout was for presidential elections. Yet, people complained about the current administration. My thought was let your vote do the talking.

So will you be mute, or will you speak, as is your right as a citizen?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Choice has its Limits

Recently I was contacted by a journalist who was writing an article on young childfree males who had a vasectomy in their twenties. He asked me if I knew a male in his twenties who had recently signed up for this procedure. I did not.

I knew from my interviews with childfree couples that it is possible to get a vasectomy in your twenties but it isn’t easy. I had heard stories about twenty-something childless by choice men being turned away by doctors who said, "Come back to me when you’ve had a couple of kids."

Hello!? It’s true. You will likely have to doctor shop to get a vasectomy if you are a young childfree man. The same is true if you are a young childless woman seeking a tubal ligation. Some doctors are reluctant to perform a tubal ligation on a woman under twenty-five years old, even if she does have kids. Woman and men have been asked to undergo a year of counseling, write a letter to the child they will never have, and are generally expected to jump through hoops to convince a doctor they are sincere in their desire to remain childfree.

Why is it so hard?

Because there are assumptions, crusty with age, that are operating here:
1) You may think you don’t want children, but you will change your mind (and sue me).
2) You will divorce and your next spouse will want a baby, and you will acquiesce.
3) You’re immature, and you don’t know your own mind.

If you really, really want to be permanently sterilized in your twenties you must find a way to overcome these objections, or wait until you turn thirty. In the meantime, do what many of my particpants in the childless by choice project have done.
1) Double up on birth control (I know, you are already very careful).
2) Discuss your wishes with your partner (it takes two to be this diligent).
3) Do an extensive discernment process. Do you really want to remain childless? Why? When you’ve answered these questions, write a letter to yourself, and print a copy for the doctor and bring it to the initial consultation.

It takes a a good pitch, and a lot of thought, to make this life-altering decision, but if it is what you really, really want to do, remember you can always adopt, foster, or mentor. A life without kids doesn’t necessarily mean a life without kids. (See the previous post).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tee It Up

During my work on the Childless by Choice Project, I suspended some of my volunteer work. I didn’t have the time. I still don’t have the time, but I was offerred an opportunity to spend two hours a week with the young golfers at The First Tee, an instructional and character-development program for youth. I jumped on it because I missed working with young people and, frankly, after many hours in front of my computer I needed the fresh air.

A week before my first day at First Tee, I was warned by the director that we had "rambunctious" group, a group of 20 elementary and middle schools boys and one girl. I braced myself. I was used to mentoring teenagers one-on-one so the prospect of one on five younger kids had me worried. How would I cope?

I arrived early. The director asked me "Do you have boys?" "No kids," I responded. It didn’t appear to worry her. I suspect she is childless, or childfree, too.

I turned out to be fine. The kids were great and I enjoyed my time with them. My time is precious; I need to be careful how I spend it these days. However, two hours teaching kids golf and character skills is a good, and happy, use of my time.

How do you use your time in ways that make you happy?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

VP Pick Leaves Me with No Choice

I’m childfree, and I am an independent, because I like the luxury of choice. Party, shmarty—just give me a candidate who can get the job done—red or blue, or green, or violet. I don’t care.

I’ve always admired McCain. I like his party outsider status. As the Senator from Arizona, he was the guy you could count on to reach across party lines and kick ass and take names. I like Obama, too. He’s smart but he’s not an egghead, he knows what’s doable and what’s not, given the resourses. He knows where his priorities lie, but he’s not an idealogue.

So I was happy with the presidential candidates, both were a welcomed departure from Dubya, so I was anticipating an interesting campaign season, where the outcome was uncertain. I was the Bachelorette, in the final episode. I was on the edge of my seat. My vote still to be wooed, I was looking forward to the final courtship process. The bended knee.

Then came Sarah Palin, leaving me with just one choice.

It wasn’t hate at first sight. I was pleased there was a woman VP candidate. We shared a few things in common. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, I could be found warming a seat at the hockey rink; my father was a hockey coach, he spent fall weekends hunting moose; there are family movies of my grandmother in a cap with ear flaps dragging a dead moose out of the woods.

So it wasn’t the pitpull with lipstick, frontier hunter/gatherer chick thing that turned me off. It was three simple things:

  1. Under her watch as Mayor of Wasilla, victims of rape were expected to pay for their own rape kits.
  2. She appears determined to defend abstinence-only education, despite direct and compelling evidence that an alarming number of young people who vow to stay virgins until married abandon ship like rats on a sinking ship, without life vests (read: condoms).
  3. She hadn’t travelled outside of the United States and Canada until 2007 when she was Governor, having applied for her first passport so that she could visit Alaska-based troops in Iraq and Kuwait.

If Palin was the candidate for mayor in my hometown, I might overlook the passport thing, but I would be very concerned about the other two. But she’s not running for mayor, she’s running for Vice President, next in line to someone who, if he gets the votes, will be the oldest elected first-term president in our history.

I shudder. I imagine some factory in China doing double shifts trying to fill the next container full with Sarah Palin masks. It will be the scariest thing I see at my door this Halloween.