Lower U.S. birthrate sparks warning

Auguste Meyrat, a Dallas English teacher and conservative writer, says the U.S. birthrate has fallen to 1.7 children per woman, well below the 2.1 replacement rate, and that’s going to be a problem. His article, “How a Shift to Majority-Childless Adults Will Deeply Change American Culture,” was published in The Federalist on June 5.

Meyrat writes, “Not only does low fertility lead to a society dominated by the elderly, with young people shouldering a heavier economic and cultural burden, but it also means a society increasingly dominated by childless adults. This latter development warrants far more attention than it normally receives, because it will determine the character of American life.”

“Not having kids makes you a different kind of person,” Meyrat says. Parents are required to sacrifice for their children, to work to support them, and to schedule their lives around their needs.

Apparently those of us without children are free to do whatever we want. We are more selfish, more liberal, and more anti-social. We can spend our days binge-watching Netflix and playing video games, spend our evenings in bars, and throw money around like it grows on trees. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

Meyrat notes that kids connect their parents to the community. The childless rarely go to libraries, parks or community events. Politically, parents “shun controversy and activism and embrace the status quo.” Not like us crazy folks without children.

He concludes that we need both the stability of parents and the energy of non-parents, but if things lean too far in the childless direction, “communities start to dissipate and people become disconnected from one another, their immediate surroundings, and even themselves.”

I’m paraphrasing. You might want to read the whole essay. Then come back and discuss this. Do you think people without children are really that much different from people who are parents? Are we more liberal, less responsible, and less sociable? Or are we a mixed bag like everyone else?

As more people remain childless, how do you think it will affect our society? Will it make a difference besides the obvious lack of younger people?

I welcome your comments.

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Looking back at Childless by Marriage after 12 years

If I were to rewrite my Childless by Marriage book, what would I change? That’s the question I asked myself recently. That book, which I published in 2012, started long before it was published. I have interview notes and pre-Google research from the 1990s. Are the stories I told there still valid? I think they are. Would I write them differently now? Definitely. And that’s the reason I don’t plan to rewrite this book. I might change the cover and work harder on marketing, but I will not be rewriting it.

When I started working on Childless by Marriage, I was much younger. I was still fertile, still married, and actively trying to parent my stepchildren while wondering if I could/should try to have a baby of my own. I was where most of you are.

Years have passed. Now I’m widowed, living alone in the woods with my dog, and old enough for every senior discount that exists. I can deal with other people’s babies. What makes me cry and kick things is not having adult children and grandchildren. Would I want to be pregnant now? No. Too late. The dog and my 97-year-old father are enough to deal with. So no, I couldn’t write that book now, although I can tell you all about this phase.

On the other hand, I believe I’m a better writer, and I know a lot more about childlessness from reading, networking and doing this blog since August 2007. WordPress tells me this is my 671st post. I find it hard to believe. How could I come up with 670 different posts? Is there that much to say? Some days I think it has all been said. Then something else comes to mind. I believe not having children affects every bit of our lives, so maybe we’ll never run out of topics.

With so many published posts, I have an urge to arrange them by topic and put the best ones together in a book. There’s good stuff here. I have dug deeper and deeper to tell my stories, and you have enriched the blog with your stories. Would it be okay to publish your comments? Most readers use made-up names, so you would be anonymous. Shall we call it Childless by Marriage II? If it was a $5 ebook, would you buy a copy?

I have no plans to quit the blog, although it is getting more difficult. I hope people keep buying Childless by Marriage. I’m glad it’s not the only book on the subject now. So many good books have come out in the last five years (see resource list), most self-published because publishers don’t see the audience for such a book. They’re wrong. The number of people without children is large and growing. One out of five ain’t nothing. Maybe it’s time to put our voices out there again.

What do you think? I welcome your comments. And thank you for being here.

Are single, childless women happier?

Some days I feel as if I have said everything I could possibly say on the subject of childlessness. Then I realize that I can’t ignore these articles that keep showing up in my Google alerts claiming that single, childless women are happier than married women with children. I read the headline, think “baloney” and move on, but I guess we need to talk about it.

The articles are based on a book by behavioral scientist Paul Dolan titled Happily Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life. Dolan says that marriage is good for men because it “calms them down.” But women are less happy in marriage because of the added responsibilities they take on, including doing the lion’s share of childcare and housework. He bases his conclusions on “The American Time Use Study” published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Well, we know women still do most of the work at home, but isn’t there some way to balance the responsibilities instead of remaining alone for life? I don’t think people are meant to be alone. One article shows a photo of Oprah Winfrey, single, childless, and successful, with Ava Duvernay at a Netflix premiere. Sure, they look happy. But ask most older women with no one coming up behind them or standing beside them if they’d rather have a family. I think they would.

This article in The Glowup, one of many on the subject, offers this: “We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother,” Dolan said.

“[Men] take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer,” said Dolan. “She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”

Although he admits that some women are unhappy because they want to be married and have children and are having trouble making that happen, Dolan cautions that marriage is not as glorious as people think. “You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children—‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’ No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change. Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”

Well sure, maybe. Or maybe she’ll met someone wonderful. Maybe her husband and children will make her very happy.

Check out this article on the subject:

Then read this editorial offering the reasons why wives and mothers are not thrilled with their status.

Then try this YouTube discussion that looks at both sides of the argument.

Your turn. What do you think? Are single, childless women happier? Is marriage better for men than for women? Does this make you feel any better about not having children? Please comment.

 

You can call me ‘Annie’s mom’

I had just left my dog at the vet’s office for surgery. I was walking down the aisle at the Fred Meyer store looking for chocolate chips when a familiar-looking woman saw me and yelled, “It’s Annie’s mom!”

I smiled. “Yes, it is.” Let the other people shopping around us think what they would. Does it matter that our ‘kids’ are dogs?

Dog moms connect wherever they are. This woman had joined the crowd in the waiting room at Grove Veterinary Clinic while Annie and I were waiting to check in. Annie raced over to greet her. She just knew this was another dog mom, and ooh, she smelled good. As the dog mom waited for $200 worth of dog meds, she told me about her three pups, including a big Lab a lot like Annie. I never learned the woman’s name, but her Lab’s name Walker.

Like Annie, I love dog moms. I don’t have much experience as a mother to people, but dogs I understand. I admit I can get a little obsessed. Catch Annie and me alone together and you’re likely to hear me tell her she’s the best dog in the world, that I love her soooo much. I’ll rub my face against her fur because it feels so good. This week, she has a cone-shaped collar blocking her movements and keeping her away from her stitches. The tumor she had removed may or may not be cancer, so I’m worried.

When a friend was visiting the other day, I realized that I was being just as distracted and disgusting as human baby moms can be. I kept watching the dog, interrupting the people-talk to ask Annie, “Does it hurt? Are you thirsty? Want to go out? Did you fart?” Call it mothering. Call it taking care of a friend recovering from surgery, but my first thought these days is always “Where’s Annie?” and “Is she okay?”

Friends who have been watching her while I’m working report that she worries every minute until she sees me again. What if I never come back?

Although the typical household contains at least two humans, there are a lot of single women whose life partners are big dogs. I think of Episcopal priest-friend Susan Church, who is rarely seen without her two big hounds, my late friend Jill Baker, whose dogs were her constant companions, and my friend Orpha Barry, who for years traveled with a massive Akita named Sgt. Pepper.

It’s different with little dogs, which remain like babies. I met a friend with her four-pound pom-poodle mix at the vet’s office yesterday. She obsesses about that dog, talks baby talk, buys it tiny clothes. That’s fine, but I prefer big dogs you can hug hard without hurting them or spoon on the sofa when you’re both weary.

Big dogs provide protection as well as wonderful companionship. With their superior hearing, they detect invaders before you do, and with their big teeth, they scare them off. Annie would probably invite a burglar in and give him big kisses, but a criminal can’t tell that by looking through the window at her 75-pound hulk while she’s barking and growling.

Annie, 11, is considered old. People keep telling me she won’t be around much longer. I’m trying to enjoy every minute with her. Annie follows three other big dogs I loved, Heidi, Belle, and Sadie. When she goes, I’m not planning to get another big dog. My aging body can no longer handle such a large creature. If I get another dog, it will have to be small enough for me to lift in and out of the car. I’m thinking once Annie is gone, I’ll need to move to someplace where I’m surrounded by people who can help me when trouble arises—like this weekend when I had to go to urgent care and was told I should not drive myself. Annie doesn’t drive. I called the neighbors. The childless widow thing gets tricky sometimes. But for now, it’s Annie and me in the woods.

I’m drawn to stories about women with dog partners. A few suggestions: A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, Part Wild by Ceiridwen Terrill, and Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness by Anne LaBastille.

Also try Dogs and the Women Who Love Them by Allen and Linda Anderson. I haven’t read it, but it sounds good.

If you know of other good books—or movies—about women and their big dogs, please share in the comments. Are you a dog mom with fur clinging to your clothes and saliva smears on your car windows? Tell us about it.

Men, don’t feel left out. You can tell us about your dog bond, too.

May I hold your baby for a little while?

Last Saturday night at church, I played piano for the First Communion Mass. It’s a big deal. The little kids, mostly Hispanic at Sacred Heart, dress up in white, sit up front with their padres and padrinos and become big kids in the church, finally allowed to consume the bread and wine.

They brought their whole families, which included lots of crying babies. I became fascinated with this little guy sitting near the front. His mother and grandfather kept trading off, trying to calm his cries and squirms. I found myself aching to hold him, to hold any of the babies. Even if they were crying and drooling.

I rarely get to hold babies. The last time was at Thanksgiving when I cuddled my niece’s six-month-old daughter for a while. So sweet. I loved talking to her, watching her smile at me, letting her wrap her tiny fingers around my big fingers. Now she’s a year old. I missed the birthday party because I was up here in Oregon playing the piano so other people’s kids could have First Communion. I’ll never get to dress a little girl in white, teach her the Our Father and Hail Mary and take lots of photos to treasure forever. You’d think I’d be over it by now. Nope. My friends, this is a hunger that will keep coming back.

Let’s be honest. At my age, I’m not anxious to deal with dirty diapers or sleepless nights. I just want to hold a baby. The child doesn’t have to be mine, just one I could see often enough so that she or he knows who I am and feels comfortable in my arms. Like a grandma.

This sounds whiny. People not in my situation would suggest I find a way to spend more time with the little ones in the family, maybe even move back to California. It would be easier if I had a bigger family that I saw more often, with a bunch of siblings and their offspring who would come running to Aunt Sue. I think about that a lot, but I have a full life that I enjoy right here in South Beach.

I could volunteer to do babysitting or daycare or some other activity that puts me in close contact with little kids. But somehow it feels too late. I was so busy avoiding babies in my reproductive years when I was trying accept that I would never have one that I never learned the mothering skills that seem so natural to other women.

Of course babies don’t stay babies. A friend who just came back from her grandson’s birthday party complained that the kid paid no attention to her, was glued to his cell phone the whole time. I’d probably snatch the phone away, and then he’d hate me. At least we don’t have to deal with that.

What do you think? Is there a substitute that really fills the void for those of us who are childless? Do you get the baby hunger, too? I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

***

Things continue to be challenging in my family. My father, still in the nursing home at the moment, has another infection. He sounded awful last night on the phone. I don’t know what’s going to happen. My dog Annie is having surgery on Friday for a tumor the vet doesn’t like the looks of. I have also been dealing with expensive repairs to my car, pellet stove, and washing machine. The toilet doesn’t flush right, and the garbage disposal doesn’t even hum. I don’t want to be alone with all this. A friend taught me a new saying this week from the Spanish. “It’s raining on wet.” Lluve sobre mojado. Pretty much. One day at a time, we’ll figure it out.

Meanwhile, here’s a song about raining on wet.

 

You Don’t Have Children, So You Go

As the daughter with no children, I seem to be the one expected to drop everything to take care of her parents. It really came home recently when I was sitting in my father’s hospital room talking to the social worker about his future. Dad and I had both told her that I lived in Oregon and couldn’t stay in San Jose forever.

“Of course you have to get back to your family,” the social worker said.

“No family,” I corrected. “Just me.”

Which seemed to mean that I had no excuses, nothing to hurry back for. If I didn’t have a husband, children and grandchildren, how dare I claim that I was not available for as long as I was needed? It’s hard to argue that even with myself.

My bills aren’t getting paid. Do it online.

I miss Annie. She’s just a dog.

I miss my clothes. Buy some new ones.

I miss my bathtub. You’ll get over it.

I miss my music. Trivia. This is real life.

I need to get back to work. Another person is handling it.

I don’t know what to do. He’s your father. He’s going to die pretty soon.

“Stay here and I’ll pay you,” my father said. This was when I was taking care of him at home, before he went to the hospital and the nursing home. But it was not about the money I was losing by not being at my job. I love my work. I’ve spent 50 years building up to this place in my writing and music careers. “People are counting on me,” I said, even as I knew that another woman had stepped in to do my church music job.

There’s a certain amount of sexism to this. My brother, who has children and grandchildren, has a job that my father brags about to everyone. “Don’t bother him,” he tells medical personnel. “He’s working.” In my brother’s defense, he has been driving six hours round-trip every weekend to be with our father and do what he can to take care of his bills and his house. He’s doing more than his share, and he does understand what it’s like for me. But I’m the one who gets the phone calls from the hospital and the nursing home, the one who in theory does not have to be in Oregon when her father needs her in California.

Mothers routinely give up a lot to care for their kids. If they complain, they’re considered bad mothers. Now I wonder if I could ever have been so self-sacrificing. My writing and music are like my babies. I refuse to abandon them. I have often thought about how I gave up motherhood for my husband, but I would never marry a man who wanted me to give up my work. What does that mean? Even though it hurts not to have children, was I never cut out to be a mother? Why does it feel wrong to say that?

Back at the dad situation, am I a bad daughter because I wanted to limit how much of myself I sacrificed? Part of me wanted to stay with him. I had his house to sleep in, food to eat, family to be with. It was sunny and warm while it kept raining back in Oregon. I was writing all the time. No Wi-Fi, no TV, no distractions, except for Dad. Shoot, it was like a vacation, except for all the worry, caregiving, and lack of sleep.

There are days when I wish I had taken Dad’s offer or that I had a childless child to help me deal with my own problems. One day last week, the nursing home called. While I was trying to understand what the Asian worker with the thick accent was saying, the washing machine repair guy arrived. Then I got an email from my publisher who needed an immediate response. At the same time, the dog was bugging me for a walk, the house was cold because the heater had died again, I was dealing with a stolen debit card number, and I had to be at church in three hours to direct a choir that seemed to like my substitute better than me. I had been gone for a month, and everything had gone to hell.

My family wants to know when I’m coming back. Soon, I say.

It’s not that I don’t love my father. If he needs me, I will be there. But when I’m taking care of him, my own life falls apart.

If I said, “I miss my kids,” no one would expect me to stay. That’s just the truth of it. In some situations, motherhood seems to be the only acceptable excuse. Maybe if I had a heart attack . . .

What do you think? Are you expected to babysit, take care of ailing relatives, run the errands, etc., because you don’t have kids? How do you react to that?

Book Review: A Childless Love Story

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis, Forest Avenue Press, 2019.

I want to share this new book with you. For a lot of us who are—or might be—childless by marriage, it’s exactly what we need to read. The book isn’t out yet. The publisher gave me a pre-publication copy to review. But you can pre-order it now, and I highly recommend it.

Finally someone has told the story of what it’s like to be childless because your partner doesn’t want to have kids. Not childless by choice, not childless by infertility, but childless because of who you love. It happens more than people realize, especially when you marry someone who has been married before.

I told a similar story in my Childless by Marriage book, but I took a more journalistic approach, with lots of research and interviews. Shannon lays it out there in a beautifully written love story.

As a farm girl raised in eastern Oregon, Hollis expected to become a mother someday. But, after several failed relationships and a failed marriage, she met Bill, a man who didn’t want children. She pushed as hard as she dared to change his mind, telling him very clearly, “I want to have a baby,” but in the end she had to accept that she needed to enjoy the life she had with the man she loved. It is a life in which they are free to travel, to explore their passions, and to enjoy their many nieces and nephews.

Through the years, she had lots of doubts. Everyone else in her family had children. Her mother warned that she might grow up to be a bitter, lonely old woman. That fear haunted her, even as she began to realize she might be all right without children.

Hollis shares the frightening story of being sexually assaulted when she was 20. She also talks honestly about the friendships she lost because she found it hard to be around while her friends were having babies. The doubts, disappointment, and grief of childlessness are all here, along with the joys and possibilities. If you’re childless or looking at the possibility of being childless, read this. Even people with children and grandchildren will enjoy this book because it’s a good story, the first I hope of many terrific books by my sister Oregonian Jackie Shannon Hollis.

This Particular Happiness will not be released until October, but it is available for pre-orders at https://www.jackieshannonhollis.com/ as well as at Amazon.com. You can enjoy a lot of her writing as well as videos at her website. Check it out.

***********

Thank you for your kind words and prayers for my father and me. (See last week’s post) At this moment, he is out of the hospital and back at the skilled nursing facility. I’m back in Oregon, so we can only connect by phone. His voice sounds stronger and clearer than it has in months. He seems to have overcome his recent infections, but he still has a lot of issues. Plus, the nursing home lost all his possessions in the upheaval of going to the hospital and coming back to a different room. I ache to be there, so I can tear that place apart looking for his clothes, his bathrobe, his glasses and his electric razor. Grr.

In my post, I compared caregiving to being a mother. In the comments, most readers have insisted it is not the same, not at all, even if both involve diapers, feeding, and sleepless nights. Do you agree? There’s still plenty of time to join the discussion.

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Mother’s Day is Sunday in the U.S. I’m trying to pretend that isn’t happening. It will be hard to ignore when the moms are getting blessed at church. I can’t skip Mass because I’m leading the choir. But you do whatever makes you comfortable. Reach out to the moms in your life, go camping, or watch videos till your eyes hurt. Be good to yourselves. It will all be over on Monday.