In May, The Washington Post did a piece about the growing number of young families to in urban areas such as Washington D.C., Boston and New York, and the growing resentment over having to accommodate them in public places. It drew hundreds of comments, and according to Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard, about 60-to-40 wrote in ranting against parents and children.
This month Last rants right back, and slams the childfree on a number of fronts.
As I have discussed here before, I’m anti-rant, and feel it gets us nowhere. I am not opposed to, however, clarification when it’s distorted or just wrong.
Last writes that the root of the childfree movement began in the 1970s with Ehrlich’s Population Bomb. I’d challenge that. Not having kids by choice has its roots in the legalization and access to birth control. It finally offered women and men the chance to not just decide when but whether they wanted kids at all.
He asserts that the childfree have made our “assault on the societal machinery which supports and encourages baby-making” largely through books. Said more accurately, since the 70s most books on this topic are about educating and understanding this choice and those who make it. Some are more serious and a few have recently taken a more humourous slant, but “assault” does not characterize them at all.
He mentions that most committed childfree tend to be women–as the childfree know, not so. We have more hard data on the women, but many, many men are as committed as women.
When speaking to the environmental aspects of being childfree, Last thinks that “hostility to babies has been at the core of the environmental movement.” People with environmental concerns aren’t hostile toward babies, they are just concerned about the number of them.
And last (of what I will mention here–read the article for the full collection of distortions), “being childfree is mostly about disdain for conservative traditionalists.” Core motivations for being childfree don’t rest in one’s views of a particular political faction–it is a personal matter, and boils down to not having the desire to be a parent.
What would be a more productive piece? One that gets the fact that issues about kids in public places is not about the childfree being kid haters. It would go to the core issue, which is respect for others in public places. Instead of bashing one group or another, it could examine why we are supposed to accommodate parents and kids in the first place. How about even discussing solutions, like products that would promote less disruption, like more compact strollers when using on public transit, or ways to organize public places that would resolve public place issues.
Instead, the rant continues. I’ve talked with hundreds of childfree and parents, and find that ranters are in the minority. Most childfree are not militant or anti-kids. Most parents are not staunch anti-childfree.
The childfree just want their choice to be accepted, and can spur defensiveness when it isn’t. That defensiveness can then encourage the anti-childfree to negatively characterize all childfree, which only spurs more rounds of defensiveness.
And so the rant goes on–like Post comments and the Weekly Standard article, it just supports continued clash between parents and public places, and overall, does nothing to help parents and childfree understand and even better respect each other.
I’m so glad to have found your site and look forward to reading your book!
This particular post resonates with me as my husband and I live in one of the three major metro areas mentioned in the referenced article. We are happily childfree by choice. That said, we hold no knee-jerk animosity towards people who choose to have children. We are both of the mind that one should respond to and interact with other humans on a case by case basis in accordance with what they put out into the world. Unfortunately, in over 20 years of living in a major city which typically presents a number of daily life challenges, the most consistent problems we have had in our living space have been with parents of small children. I can sympathize with anyone who is the caretaker of another human, large or small. What I cannot understand and what I have a problem with is the idea that the same rules of courtesy and consideration don’t apply to people with children simply because they have children.
For example, the parents in our building consistently use the common areas as storage facilities for their baby accessories simply because they don’t want to keep the double-wide strollers, car seats, etc. in their own apartments. As if happens, we would also like to store a number of bulky items that we have in our apartment in the common area, our bicycles for instance(especially since we live on a high floor in a walk-up) but we don’t do that because that space is not ours to use and turning it into our private storage locker would be rude to the other tenants. I am also certain that the 76 year old woman who lives on the second-floor would also like to leave her shopping wheelie in the hallway as well. Because she is considerate and does not presume that her needs supersede all others, she hauls it up and down two flights of stairs a few times of week.
Both couples who practice this annexation of common space are in their 30’s and live on low floors, (first and garden) yet they don’t put their belongings in their apartments simply because they don’t want to for whatever reason. No one else in the building uses the space for private storage. When asked to remove the items a major drama ensued about their needs as parents. Transparent manipulation tactics were employed by the gang of parents in an attempt to re-frame a request for courtesy and maintaining a clear walkway into some bizarre child-hating conspiracy of the other tenants.
I find this patently absurd given the written rules of the building do not specify special consideration for any one group over any other. At the end of the day, my feeling is that if people with children experience hostility from the childfree they might consider looking at their own behavior. If you want to have good neighbors, you should be a good neighbor.
If you want to be treated with respect you should show respect to others. To assume that simply being a parent earns you special privileges that makes it acceptable to inconvenience those without children is simply self-serving and rude. I don’t have a problem with children or the people who choose to have them. I do however have a problem with entitled people who think that they are the center of the universe, irregardless of how they have chosen to create a family.
Hi Stella~thanks for writing. It is interesting how some people go to lengths to be respectful and good neighbors and others just don’t get it. Parents who are often in that camp are in the swirl of child-centric values that run deep in society. They see kids as at the center of the universe (and theirs in particular) and expect everyone else to as well–that expectation can override respect for others and good neighborliness. And as you have experienced when some don’t go with the child-centric expectations, it can quickly get contentious. And like I discuss, so easy for there to be conflict between the parents and non-parents (or those with nokidsliving at home) and the rant goes on! ~L
Thanks Laura for taking the time to respond to my lengthy rant! 😉
You are so right that some obviously are responding to cues that they get from our culture, while making flawed assumptions that others share their viewpoint. This clash can certainly get tricky in highly populated areas!
On a related note, my husband and I spent a day over the weekend with friends of ours who have a toddler and a newborn. They shared a neighbor conflict story with us that ended with a positive resolution all around. As toddlers will do, their son frequently motors around the apartment–he falls a fair amount and often drops his toys. One day the downstairs neighbor, whom they had never met previously, knocked on our friends’ door and announced that they were the noisiest people she had come across in decades of urban living. Our friends were mortified that she was suffering, but also realized that their wasn’t much they could do about their son’s need to move around. However, they decided to try to work out a compromise with the neighbor which seems to have satisfied everyone. They asked their neighbor to first meet the stomping culprit (their son) and then asked if it would work for her if they closed off an area for him so that he wouldn’t run from one end of the apartment to the other which was causing her to feel as if she had no place of refuge. I think she was shocked, but pleasantly surprised, that they were willing to try to work something out. The good news is, it has been three months and there have been no further complaints, my friend and their neighbor now exchange friendly nods when they cross paths, and the little guy doesn’t seem to take issue with having not having free reign.
I think because our friends showed empathy for the neighbor’s situation and the neighbor was willing to accept an imperfect solution that still gave her some peace, everyone felt heard and respected. It’s amazing how a few minutes of thinking about the “other” can resolve conflict!
Looking forward to reading more of you analyses.