Are you delaying parenthood until conditions are perfect?

I have heard that in nature animals will not reproduce if conditions are not right, if there’s not enough food or a safe place to nest. Plants don’t grow and reproduce without the right mix of nutrients, sun and water. What about people?

During the Great Depression (1929-1939), birth rates dropped to 1.9 per woman in the U.S. Couples could barely feed themselves; how could they feed their children? The birth rate went up to over 3.5 during the baby boom that followed World War II. At that time, the economy was booming. People could get good jobs. They could afford to buy homes and raise children.

During the “Great Recession” that started in 2007, birth rates dived again, back to 1.9, and they have not come back up.

I got to thinking all this after reading an article at Jezebel by Madeleine Davies titled “With Environmental Disasters Looming, Many are Choosing Childless Futures.” She discusses how some people are deciding not to have children because they worry about the environment and the world into which these babies would be born. That world includes the wildfires, floods and hurricanes that devastated much of the U.S. last year. I would add mass shootings like the one yesterday at a school in Florida, terrorist attacks, political upheaval, wars, and families living far from each other.

Workers in my dad’s day were reasonably confident that they could stay in the same job and live in the same house until they chose to retire. Now, who can count on that? In Silicon Valley, high tech companies pay high wages, but they also lay people off by the thousands. The cost of living is ridiculous. It feels like we have to keep changing jobs and keep moving just to keep up with the bills. How can we add a child to this situation?

But let’s go beyond the big-picture issues. How many of us with reluctant-to-parent mates have heard variations of “conditions are not right”? We need to finish school, get better jobs, save more money, buy a house, etc. In other words, we need to make everything perfect. But time is passing, and perfection is impossible. Maybe we can have it for a moment, but then the job goes away, a tree falls on the house, or someone gets sick. Maybe we should try for “good enough.”

I could be wrong, but I think men generally worry about the money part more than women do. They feel the burden of supporting a family, even when their partners provide half the income. Women, full of hormones and watching the biological clock, are more likely to say, “We’ll figure it out.” Am I totally wrong on this?

Let’s talk about it. Are one or both of you putting off having children until conditions are right? What would need to change? Do you worry about the world into which they would be born? Do you know others who are having these feelings? I await your comments.

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Where do babies fit in for millennials?

Last week we were talking about millennials, those folks born between approximately 1982 and 2000. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. Many of these younger adults seem to be putting off marrying and having children, possibly forever. Being a couple generations older, I asked for younger readers to enlighten me. A couple did, but I need more input.

Here’s what I see. Our world has changed so much since I was young. The grandparents and great grandparents of today’s young adults married in their early 20s, if not younger. Statistics show the age of first marriage steadily creeping upward, averaging about 27 for women and 29 for men now. That’s an average. I know many who are well into their 30s and not even close to marriage.

Back in the day, the economy was so astonishingly different that a couple could afford to live on just one income. They could afford to buy a house and raise a family. The wives were free to focus on home and children. Hence the baby boom.

It’s not like that today. I wouldn’t want live in a world where a woman didn’t have the same rights as men to pursue an education and a career. But it takes years to finish school and get established in a career, years of paying off student loans and working far more than 40 hours a week. Where does having a baby fit in? It goes onto the back burner or off the stove altogether. Birth control, now readily available—you can buy condoms at the grocery store!—makes sure there are no oops babies.

Meanwhile, the cost of living has escalated to the point it takes at least two incomes to survive. In the major metropolitan areas where the jobs are, many young people may never be able to afford to buy a home. In the Bay Area, it costs almost a million dollars for a falling-down 1950s tract house, more for anything better. How can you raise children when you’re living in a cubbyhole of an apartment, maybe even sharing it with other millennials who can’t afford their own homes?

People do it, of course. Babies do come. My Facebook feed is full of baby pictures, but  those parents are mostly older, just barely managing to procreate before it’s too late. I suspect many of today’s millennials will “age out” before they have a chance to create a traditional family. Currently one in five American women reach menopause without becoming mothers. I wonder what the ratio will be in 20 years?

Please do comment. What do you see happening? What is it like for you?

 

Is childlessness the norm for millennials?

Dear readers:

In response to my request for ideas for the blog, I got this response from Crystal:

I would really like to see a post about childlessness being the defacto relationship situation for millennials. It says in the title in your blog “parenting is expected.” Well, for me and my experience, I would disagree with that statement. My family told me to wait to get married until 25, and I was expected to go to college and find a career path. I was asked at an early age, what do you want to be when you grow up? Not, how many children would you like to have?

When I got married my husband was still in school racking up an $80,000 student loan debt. He graduated and had every opportunity that he needed to have a career and have enough income to afford a comfortable lifestyle and be able to pay his student loans. Nevertheless, he used the student loans as an excuse to “wait” before having kids. I asked how long, and never got a straight answer. This is a huge topic in other blogs and forums I visit. Millennials can’t afford to have kids in many instances. They are waiting longer to have kids, or just not having them. Real estate debt, student loans, credit card debt, are putting stress on the family. And the kicker is this…no one seems to care. I was never asked about when I was going to have kids. My parents never pressured me to have kids. I even went to my friends who are the same age as me and tried to talk about it, and they were like it’s so hard to have kids, you know, but it’s OK for us to because we have relatives in town to help us. I was like wtf?

As I read Crystal’s comment, light bulbs lit up in my head. I am not a millennial, far from it. I grew up in the “Leave It to Beaver” era when all women were expected to become moms wearing aprons and baking cookies–or that was the illusion we were given to believe. Things have changed tremendously.

I had to look up the dates that define millennials. There are different definitions, but the most common is folks born between 1982 and 2002. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. The older millennials are edging toward the end of their fertility.

I see exactly what Crystal is talking about in my friends’ children and the younger members of my family. They are marrying much later than we did and putting off having children for years if not forever. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I come from, nobody with an ordinary job can afford to buy a house. Rents are two or three times what I’m paying for my four-bedroom house in Oregon. Everything is ridiculously expensive. And student loans can dog a person forever. When you’re already struggling to get from one pay period to the next, how can anyone think about having children?

There is tremendous pressure for both men and women to get their education and establish their careers before starting their families, by which time it might be too late. Back in that different world where I grew up, the priorities were reversed for women. We were supposed to get married and have children. Whatever else we did was extra.

I’m not a millennial or even Gen-X. But I know that many of you readers do fall into those age groups. So let’s talk about it. Enlighten me. Where are you in the work-education-money-babies conundrum? What are the biggest challenges for your age group? Where do you see this heading?

I look forward to your comments.

*******

Read about it:

“Why are Millennials Putting Off Marriage? Let Me Count the Ways” by Gabriela Barkho, Washington Post, June 6, 2016

“Nine Ways Millennials are Approaching Marriage Differently from their Parents” by Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider, Nov. 19, 2017

“Young Americans are Killing Marriage” by Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, April 4, 2017

 

 

 

 

With no kids, the buck teeth stop here

Sue selfie Jan 2018I had buck teeth. My top front teeth stuck out, and I may have been called Bucky Beaver every now and then. My parents, kind souls that they were, never said an unkind word about it. They took me to an orthodontist and got the teeth moved into a more ordinary configuration. They got the bottom ones that were jumbled up straightened out, too. When I was 19, they paid for oral surgery to fix a problem inside my lower lip.

None of this was fun. Methods were more primitive back in the 1960s. I had wires attached to metal bands around each tooth, tightened up every few weeks. I wore a headgear at night, rubber bands that squeaked when I opened my mouth, and a retainer which kept the embarrassment going after the bands were removed. My teeth ache just thinking about it. My braces cost a fortune. Mom spent countless afternoons driving me to the orthodontist, and I went through a lot of pain, but it was worth it. Over the years, people have often complimented me on my smile. I know how lucky I am. Not every family can afford any kind of dental care.

Lately, my lower teeth have started jumbling up again. I think I’m stuck with it. Braces are pretty low on my priority list now. Mom isn’t around to take care of it.

But here’s the thing. I was not the first generation in my family to wear braces. It’s very likely that if I had children, they would have inherited my crooked teeth. My mother wore braces. In old photos, it looks like my paternal grandmother, who died before I got a chance to know her, had buck teeth, too. She also wore glasses. I suspect she was nearsighted like me. My other grandmother gave me the Roman nose with the bump shared by most of her siblings.

Heredity. Whether it’s crooked teeth, a giant nose, mental illness or a fatal disease, people pass their traits down through the generations. Of course, some genetic traits are wonderful things. I got my brown eyes and lively mind from my mom, too. I have to credit both parents for my good health. I’m proud to carry on the Avina and Fagalde family lines.

But I’m not carrying them very far. As the end of my branch of the family tree, I won’t pass on either the brown eyes or the buck teeth. My cousins with their many children and my brother with his one biological child are passing on their share, but no one will inherit my exact combination of traits.

Our guest speaker at our writer’s group Sunday shared a piece she wrote about being adopted. She will never know how she came to be the way she is. That seems like such a loss. She and her husband have cats, no kids. Will she wind up being just a “one-off,” no one behind, no one ahead?

Depending on how you look at it, having no one to inherit our genetic traits is either very sad or a relief. My brother’s teeth came out straight. His daughter’s teeth are good. With luck, the buck teeth stop with me.

Do you think about what you are not passing on if you don’t have children? Please share in the comments.

 

Photographer assumes we all have kids

The young photographer was bent on selling me a package of photos. I kept saying no. I was only getting my picture taken so that my face would appear in the new church directory. I had no need for an expensive package of 8x10s and 5x7s. Never mind that I was horrified at how I looked in the photos. So wrinkly, my smile so fake, the poses so unnatural.

“Don’t you want to give them to your children and grandchildren?” asked this 20-something fellow with the dark ponytail.

“I don’t have any,” I said.

He sat back, his eyes wide. “Oh!” he said.

Apparently it never occurred to him that someone my age might not have oodles of offspring. If my pictures had turned out well, I might have bought some to use as author photos for my books and blogs. The photographer probably never realized I did anything besides mothering.

It’s one of those things people who are not in our situation don’t think about.

I don’t get my photo taken very often. I’m alone a lot. Not a single picture of me was shot at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Most of the pictures I post on Facebook are selfies—and I’m terrible at them.

Once my own church picture was done, I took over at the hostess table, signing people in. My friend Georgia, who has a bunch of offspring, didn’t buy any pictures either. She didn’t like how she looked. On the other hand, a couple from our choir bought lots of pictures to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Some folks brought their whole families, including kids and dogs.

Between arrivals, I had lots of time look around. One of the photographer’s flyers said: “Seniors: Don’t forget photographs for your children and grandchildren.”

Ahem.

I picked the least obnoxious shots for the church directory, pulled off my scarf and my earrings and thanked God it was over.

Ages ago, when my youngest stepson had just moved in with us, my husband’s job offered a family photo deal, so we dressed up and posed in the spotlight. The photographer kept calling me “Mom.” None of my stepchildren called me that. I barely knew the child who was now living with us, and I was really hurting over the fact that I might never have children of my own. I finally told him to knock it off. My name was Sue, not Mom.

We looked good in the photos, but “Mom” looked slightly annoyed. The guy probably called all the women Mom so he wouldn’t have to learn their names. He didn’t know how much that word can sting for those of us who want children and don’t have them.

What are your childless photo experiences?

***

Thank you for your wonderful responses to my questions in last week’s post about what you’d like to see here. Most want stories about people who have overcome their grief and led happy lives without children. I will be on the lookout for those. Keep the comments and suggestions coming.

***

I’m preparing to publish my next book, Up Beaver Creek, a novel set here on the Oregon coast. PD, the main character, is childless. After her husband dies, she is starting over with a new name, a new look, and a new location. Things keep going wrong, but she is determined to keep trying. Then the tsunami comes. You can read an excerpt here. 

I am looking for “beta readers,” people who are willing to read the book and answer a questionnaire about it to help me find any loose ends I need to fix. If you are interested, click here to fill out a form to get the process started.

Childless by Marriage Needs Your Input

Dear friends,

I’ll be honest. I have published 607 posts on this Childless by Marriage blog, and I can’t think of anything I haven’t covered. Usually something comes to me, but it hasn’t so far this week. That doesn’t mean I have any intention of quitting. We need each other.

I have been going through old posts—I’m in 2012 right now—fixing dead links, typos and other problems. When I transferred this blog to WordPress from the Blogger platform, some weird stuff sneaked in. It feels good to fix the embarrassing errors. Please let me know when you find mistakes. I can usually repair them in a few keystrokes, but not if I don’t know about them.

I’m thinking I might want to put together a “Best of Childless by Marriage” book. I did that with my Unleashed in Oregon blog last year, and it’s nice to have everything in one place. Also, I worry that all of these posts will disappear someday if something goes awry with WordPress or the Internet. My work is my baby, so I stress over these things.

I need your help. I see this blog as more of a conversation than as a place for me to show off my writing. You readers are a critical part of the Childless by Marriage blog, and you are all in different places in your childless journeys. So today I’m asking you to join me in my brainstorming for 2018.

  • What do you want to talk about?
  • What have you not seen here that I should cover?
  • What kinds of posts do you hate? Be honest.
  • Would you like to see less about me and more about other people?
  • Do you like lots of links? Do you click on them?
  • Would you like to address the readers directly in a guest post?
  • Do you have specific ideas for future posts?
  • Do you have questions you want to ask me?

You are a great group of readers. I have had very little trouble with spam or people being mean to each other here. I’m grateful for that. I truly welcome your suggestions. I also hope you will tell me if a link doesn’t work or you can’t read a post on your computer, tablet, phone or other device. Please comment here. You can also reach me directly at sufalick@gmail.com.

Friends make the best kind of family

Hey! We survived the holidays. I spent most of mine either at work or alone at home, so I didn’t have much opportunity to be bothered by people who are obsessed with their kids. By maintaining a sort of tunnel vision, I could ignore all the images of happy family gatherings that did not include me. I dared not dwell on the sadness of not having anyone to kiss on New Year’s Eve and opening my Secret Santa gifts alone—and yes, those presents that showed up on my doorstep in a priority mail box a week before Christmas were the only ones I had to open on Christmas morning.

I gathered a few other gifts along the way from friends at various holiday gatherings, and I am grateful to them, especially to my friend Pat who had earrings custom-made for me on her trip to Mexico and Sandy who welcomed me to her early family Christmas dinner, where I received several wonderful gifts. I got a check from my dad, Portuguese food from my aunt, and Amazon gift certificates from my brother’s family. But nothing under my little tree to unwrap. And the beautiful Christmas stocking my godmother made many years ago remained in the box with the other unused Christmas doodads.

I think I have figured out where the Secret Santa gifts came from. I wasn’t involved in any organizations that did secret gift exchanges, so it was a mystery. None of my friends admitted to it. It had to be someone who could mail the box from Newport, Oregon, just north of where I live. It had to be someone who knew I had a dog named Annie . . .

The senior center. A few months ago, I attended a meeting there for people living alone and concerned about getting the help they needed. We filled out forms that told about our pets, our hobbies, and our interests. We talked about getting together again, but we haven’t so far. I think that list triggered the Secret Santa packages. I’m not going to ask; I want to leave the identity of the gifter a secret for now. If the staff or regulars at the senior center were the ones, I’d like to help next year. It means so much to have someone notice you’re alone and send you gifts without asking for anything back.

This reminds me of the couple from church who used to give me chocolates for Valentine’s Day and Easter because they knew Fred wasn’t around to do it. Ann and Dick. They were in their 80s then. Dick has since died. Ann is disabled now and needs a lot of help, which her neighbors provide. They care for her like family. She has a son somewhere, but he’s not around much.

Friends. The family you create. I think that’s the key to surviving in this world where families are so spread out and so complicated and where it can hurt so much to be the only ones without children. Many of the singers in our church choir went off to see the grandchildren for Christmas or hosted family for the holidays. God bless them. At my house, it was just me and Annie. It was okay. We read, watched videos, walked, ate too much, and relaxed.

When people have children, their holiday activities are pretty much set. They know who they’ll be with and what they’re going to do, whether they want to or not. Those of us who are childless get to choose, and that’s good.

So how were your holidays? What are you looking forward to this year? Have you already blown your new year’s resolutions like I have? Stay on the diet, do yoga every day, practice the piano for an hour . . . Right. Feel free to whine, complain, celebrate or commiserate in the comments. I’m anxious to hear how it’s going.

I leave you with a gift: Jody Day’s anti-New Year’s rant on her Gateway Women page. Read it. I think you’ll identify with some of her feelings.

Hang in there. We’re going to have a good year, in spite of everything.