Danny Tyree: Childless couples, do they deserve to live?
Whether you're arising from a long, luxurious sleep or frantically cleaning up melted crayons, surely you have a strong opinion on the cover story in the August 12 "Time" magazine: "The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children."
The article (subtitled "Hey, These Laid-Back Looking People COULD Snap And Bomb The Boston Marathon. PLEASE Pay Attention To THIS magazine!") examines the growing number of men and women who have overcome years of societal scorn or pity to make decisions for themselves about 18-year commitments.
The birth rate in the U.S. is at its lowest in history. Between 2007 and 2011 the fertility rate declined nine percent. A 2010 Pew Research report says one in five American women end their childbearing years without ever having children.
Societal pressure has certainly delayed this situation. We have some strange ideas for what everyone else should be doing. We recognize that certain people aren't cut out to own guns, perform shift work, live in the city or deliver public speeches. But we assume that EVERYONE can rise to the occasion of wanting and nurturing rugrats.
True, evolutionary psychologists tell us that wanting children is hardwired in the human brain; but perhaps it's time we acknowledged those whose programming is a little bit different. More than that, we need to tell a few MORE people (bless 'em) not to stress out about passing on their genetic material. ("But...but...what if the Class of 2032 has a sudden need for members with premature baldness, astigmatism and irritable bowel syndrome? What then?")
And of course part of the impetus for ostracizing childless-by-choice folks comes from an ingrained, overly broad application of the Biblical admonition to "Be fruitful and multiply." Apparently the mandate must be applied to every single individual lest we be unable to smite the Philistines and protect our really big boat.
The expense of rearing a child is only one of myriad legitimate reasons for having second thoughts about parenthood, but it is a potent one. One estimate is that it will take $234,900 to raise a child born in 2011. Or, more likely, $234,900 plus 79 cents, if you plan on buying him or her ownership of the "Boston Globe" as a graduation gift.
Demographers and economists keep trying to intrude upon this very personal decision by wringing their collective hands about the impact of reduced fertility on schools, daycare, manufacturing, Social Security, etc. I do worry about the MEDICAL consequences of the lowered birthrate. Teens are liable to wind up with their eyes permanently rolled back in their heads and a smirk frozen on their faces when exasperated parents give them the old "Just wait until you have kids of your own..." speech.
The greatest impact will be on all those boastful Christmas letters you get. Without little violin virtuosos and star quarterbacks running around the house, adults will have to pad the letters. ("Brad can't possibly spend all of his bonus, he's the unofficial MVP of the polo team and...and...today he went 'boom boom' in the executive washroom like a big boy!")
I'm finding fulfillment as a parent, but the day is coming when people can unashamedly find fulfillment in other ways.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.