Pope Francis made headlines in February, as he often does, but this time for comments he made concerning childbearing.
“A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society,” the pope reportedly said. “The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”
While there were certainly those who disagreed, a new collection of essays seems to wear such a label — that the “choice not to have children is selfish” — with pride.
Titled “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids,” the collection is a chronicling of the child-free life in blunt terms, but it’s a diverse anthology.
According to a review in The New York Times, the book explores the journeys of those who may have started their adulthood assuming children would eventually come into the picture, but experienced “failed pregnancies, miscarriages or abortions before finally realizing that childlessness suited them best.”
The collection comes at a time, as Pope Francis hinted at, when the virtues of parenthood are under skeptical scrutiny.
In fact, a new study published by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the fertility rate is dropping rather rapidly, and one theory is that attitudes towards parenting are to blame.
“I’ve never liked children,” journalism student Rashmi Chugani recently told Mic.com. “I’ve never had a maternal instinct. It’s a selfless act, and if I have kids I want to be as good of a parent as [my parents] were to me, but right now I’m not in a position to take care of someone else.”
According to Mic, women often feel torn between having children or having a career and so they choose the latter.
“The Sheryl Sandberg model of balancing career and family has made a lot of sense for some mothers but may resonate less for younger women who simply don’t want to juggle ballet recitals with board room meetings,” Mic’s Elizabeth Plank wrote. “For most young women, working is not an option — it’s a necessity.”
But there are those who think the current trend of childlessness is based on something different — a philosophical shift.
“What good do today’s childless couples aim at?” The Week’s Damon Linker wrote after a brief overview of the moral arguments of Immanuel Kant. “I’d say something like pleasure — material rewards along with the self-satisfaction that follows from achieving high social status through career advancement.”
According to Linker, the move towards childlessness represents the move toward hedonism, a system of morals that dictates pleasure as the highest moral good.
“So, are the childless right? Is pleasure the highest good?” he asked (he leaves it essentially as a rhetorical question).
Another explanation for why women, and men, may be choosing to procreate less comes from The New York Times’ Teddy Wayne, who explains how “resistance to the current atmosphere of overparenting and its attendant upper-middle-class signifiers” may be deterring young Americans from having kids.
“It’s undeniable that watching this culture play out — the helicopter parenting, the media fixation on baby bumps and celebrity childbearing and — rearing — is overwhelming, and it’s natural that people would react against it,” Meghan Daum (who edited the previously mentioned anthology) told Wayne.
Another reason some belive there’s been an uptick in childlessness is because we’ve put such a lifestyle choice “on a pedestal.”
“Not everyone should reproduce, and we should celebrate those who know themselves well and decided to be childless. It’s their choice,” The National Review’s James Lileks argued, continuing that the collection edited by Daum goes too far in claims of childlessness superiority.”We should be a bit suspicious of those whose proclamations on the child-free life have the tiresome characteristics of the Braying Atheist,” he wrote, “or those who say they don’t want kids because they’ve seen what it does to other women in Park Slope in Brooklyn.”