Unless we're talking about pizza toppings or how much of a bottle of rosé we're drinking, can we just retire the phrase "having it all"? We were never exactly clear on its meaning to begin with, and it's only become increasingly hollow—most recently evidenced by the latest cover of Time that pegs it as "not having children." Let the flame wars begin.
After last year's attention-grabbing cover story on attachment parenting, Time is very well aware that motherhood—and whether or not you're doing it right (you probably aren't)—is a hot-button issue that can instantly spark the kind of heated debates that generates very valuable publicity for the mag. So I'd be the first to admit that it was a stroke of genius to work that same controversial angle and expand the target audience by including women who don't have kids, couched in terms of un-motherhood. It's like the Mad Hatter's unbirthday! Except not as fun.
And despite the beach boyfriend on the cover, the "The Childfree Life" is explained as a women's issue because "our culture often equates womanhood with motherhood." That is true to an extent, but the piece also kind of reinforces that notion by spending several thousand words defining the women interviewed for as "childfree" instead of just as "women."
However, the piece does bring up a lot of pertinent observations, relevant to all modern women, in regards to why many of us grow up assuming that we will eventually have children, and how that assumption only fucks us up later in life.
As author Lauren Sandler points out, we're raised to believe that becoming a mother is a social imperative. But recent generations have also been raised to want an education and a career. It creates a conflict somewhere in our 30s in which "[w]ithout independence, we’re failures. With it, we’re selfish." So, like everything else about being a woman, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.
The good news is that the data on the declining birthrate—currently at the lowest in recorded American history—is a reflection of women exercising their choice.
A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.
Even before the recession hit, in 2008, the proportion of women ages 40 to 44 who had never given birth had grown by 80%, from 10% to 18%, since 1976, when a new vanguard began to question the reproductive imperative.
The bad news is that women who have opted out of having children aren't afforded the same luxury when it comes to the participation in the mommy wars.
Any national discussion about the struggle to reconcile womanhood with modernity tends to begin and end with one subject: parenting…
But if you’re a woman who’s not in the mommy trenches, more often than not you’re excluded from the discussion.
But isn't that a discussion that "childfree" women would just rather not partake? Isn't the exclusion from the mommy wars the same thing as not getting invited to a party you had absolutely no desire to go to?
Perhaps you thought that not having children left you untethered. Wrong! Time has roped you into it, with some inflammatory quotes that will get all the mothers in the world to hiss at you brazen hussies and your childfree existences.
Let's start with: women who have children are dumber.
One researcher has controversially suggested that childless women are just smarter. At the London School of Economics, Satoshi Kanazawa…analyzed the U.K.’s National Child Development Study, which followed a set of people for 50 years, and found that high intelligence correlated with early—and lifelong—adoption of childlessness. He found that among girls in the study, an increase of 15 IQ points decreased the odds of their becoming a mother by 25%. When he added controls for economics and education, the results were the same: childhood intelligence predicted childlessness.
One childfree woman in the piece refers to motherhood as "the 'glamorous martyrdom' of child rearing."
And then there was all the bragging:
I get to do all sorts of things: buy an unnecessary beautiful object, plan trips with our aging parents, sleep in, spend a day without speaking to a single person, send care packages to nieces and nephews, enroll in language classes, go out for drinks with a friend on the spur of the moment.
And finally, the witch from Hansel and Gretel:
"I resent that the entire culture of this country is obsessed with kids," Rachel Agee told me the day after her 40th birthday. "And social media is only an outlet to post pictures of your children. I’ve got nothing to put on Facebook. At 40, that’s hard."
So, welcome to the mommy wars, everybody else. We hope you enjoy yourself here with us (before you go home and die alone, you fucking self-serving bitches).
Image by Jim Cooke.