What's wrong with the childless?

What's happening in our readers' forum.
June 17 2006 2:37 AM

Terrible Twosomes

What's wrong with the childless?

Sometimes, what's good for the Fray is very hard on your poor Fray editor. Emily Yoffe's provocative article on the parenthood debates, "My Mommy War," generated hundreds of responses. Even more daunting, the level of discussion in our Hey Wait Fray has been higher than any I've seen before. Apparently, almost everyone has been either a parent or not—and nearly all have something lucid and interesting to say about it. This synopsis can barely scratch the surface of the great material in our Hey Wait Fray.

Many readers of the original controversial Dear Prudence column kept their criticism focused on a procedural point—that it is inappropriate for an advice columnist to disregard the premises of a letter-writer's complaint. Gilker_Kimmel writes:

I am a father of two. [...]. I love my kids dearly and have loved being a father from the first breath they took. But that didn't touch my decision to have a vasectomy shortly after my second child was born. [...]

Even at that, we have had to endure the same stupid pressure to reproduce that originally sparked the letter. People who do not wish to have children, shouldn't. They shouldn't be pressured, they shouldn't be cajoled, they shouldn't be urged. Period.

It's true that the letter writer was asking for advise - on how to deal with egregiously rude advise. That doesn't open the door for heaping on additional egregiously rude advise.

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But does rude advice call for rude response? Reader j_snare shares his polite correspondence with Yoffe:

I was one of the people that did write to Emily. [...] Emily was overly thankful for the tone of my response, based on her words and tone in her reply back to me. What I was able to gather was that a huge number of people were terribly rude. She didn't agree that my wife and I shouldn't have kids, but she also didn't press the issue. The way she phrased it, I was happy that we could agree to disagree. [...]

So come on people, cut her some slack. Emily is a human being with real feelings. If you want to send her a hurtful note, keep in mind that she may be getting hundreds of such notes, and that getting such a strong response can be somewhat upsetting, especially considering the volume. Keep the tone civil and respectful, and I assure you she will do the same.

Many readers seem to find the topic of parenthood quite personal (go figure). The Fray abounds with testimonials of the precious antics of toddlers and the accomplishments of the childless. But, as wif notes, personal experience makes for a poor rhetorical tool in such discussions:

Without hesitation, I can say that having children is the best thing I have done in my life. I am all for reinforcing and encouraging people who need it to take the step. But what's great about the experience cannot be conveyed in short, simple anecdotes which often grate like cell phone ring tones. It is a series of small often forgettable, often unnoticed details and psychological repositionings that add up to a rich, full life. In miniature it requires the talents of a poet. Expanded, it takes the sensitivity of a novelist.

Like kolmogorov,who finds evangelizing the childless "like trying to convince someone that life-after death is better than life—just follow me across the threshold on faith," many readers express frustration at their inability to persuade the childless that a change of mind will lead to a positive experience. But, as with lee63, many of those who have opted not to breed resent the idea that they are ignorant of what they've forsaken:

I was angry by the response Prudence provided because I know how it feels to have EVERYONE second guess my decision. I don't understand why people think the decision to not have children is this sudden thing that came about with no thought. Sometimes I think I'll scream if I hear one more person tell me I can adopt, or tell me a story about a 45+ women who had a baby. I know what's available out there, but I also know me and having a child is not the right thing for me. When someone goes on and on about why I should have kids, it's the same as coming out and saying "you are wrong" and I find that offensive. I say hats off to all the parents in the world AND to all those who will not have children. There are ups and downs either way.

Some posters make a valiant effort to shift the discussion into a more neutral gear. rufus thinks the whole debate is pretty bizarre:

There is a middle ground between loftily deriding childraising as a mountain of diapers and insisting on its being an extremely expensive exercise in providing only the best and purest to an extension of oneself. It is actually possible to take it easy, push a baby around in a ratty old stroller, avoid worrying about the purity of every particle that comes into the baby's airspace, and not spend every night worrying about whether Junior will make it into Harvard. The child often enough ends up healthy, without allergies to every earthly substance, and relatively free of neuroses. [...] The whole Breeder/Proud Singles problem is pretty exclusively American, perhaps a product of everybody's need to justify exactly why they've chosen their way of life. But who really asked for a justification?

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