Thursday, October 23, 2008

Opting out of fatherhood

A friend of mine brought up an interesting conversation in her own blog: Should a man be able to opt out of parenthood in a situation where he made it clear that he did not want to be a father, took reasonable steps to avoid doing so, but a child is conceived.

This is an issue close to my heart because my niece is one of those babies. Sure, perhaps a little more accountability should rest on my brother’s shoulders for having unprotected sex with a girl he barely knew, regardless of whether she said she was on birth control or not. But the fact is, she said she was on Depo. She was not. She got pregnant. She bailed. Now my niece is 9 years old and living without a mom and while I wouldn’t change that she’s in my life, the circumstances surrounding her existence give me pause.

Take the example of my friend’s boyfriend, who had a lengthy discussion with his former “friend with benefits” about not wanting another child before agreeing to take their friendship to a sexual level. She assured him she was taking birth control and they continued to mess around when one or the other was single, over the course of a couple years. And then she turned up pregnant.

It would be one thing if this was just an accident. But when a mutual friend came to him with what babymama had confided in him, this is where it gets sketchy. What she confided was this:

I just kept seeing him with his son (from his previous marriage) and thought what a great father he was, and I couldn’t stop thinking of us as a family, so I stopped taking the Pills and if I got pregnant, then clearly it was meant to be.

Additionally, she had “been in love with him for-like-EVER” and this was the only way she thought she could get him to consider having a serious relationship with her. She never confided in him about this, never said that her feelings had changed. She continued to maintain the f***buddy relationship because “that’s what she thought he wanted”. And now there’s a baby, there’s child support that he can’t afford, and he not only had no say in the matter. He was deceived into this situation.

What recourse does he have? NONE. The baby tied him inextricably to this woman, like a contract he never signed. How is this fair?

The problem is that it’s not fair. That said, I don’t think there’s a fair solution. Because as much as I’d like to say screw the babymama, the manipulative psycho who roped a good man, a good father, into something he wasn’t prepared for and something he didn’t sign up for, it’s just not that simple. Her manipulation amounted to a breach of contract—their agreement that their relationship was just about sex and that if anyone developed any deeper feelings they should come to each other and talk it out—and he shouldn’t be liable.

But then there’s this kid, who didn’t have anything to do with it. Should the baby be punished for his mother’s lack ethical vacancy? Or did babymama sign on to be a single mother when she intentionally manipulated a situation to bring about a pregnancy?

I lean toward the latter and don’t believe that single parenthood is necessarily “punishing” a child. But should a father in such a situation “opt out” of fatherhood society will eventually tell this child that he was rejected by his father, which, regardless of whether this was an oversimplification of the facts, can be extremely damaging.

Here’s the thing: there are so many ways to screw up a kid. Single parents can raise awesome kids, grandparents can raise awesome kids, “traditional” families can raise disastrous children. As I’ve said many times, it’s a crapshoot.

But while in principle I think men should be able to opt out of fatherhood in situations like my friend’s, it’s far more complicated than just that. Once you get another human being involved, situations need to be looked at beyond just considering them “in principle.” I have no good answers for how to resolve this.

All that leads to me being really glad I’m not a single guy. As if navigating the dating world isn’t scary enough, I can’t imagine the added possibility of being unwillingly or, worse, unwittingly roped into parenthood. The moral of the story: men need to take responsibility for their own birth control—period—because that’s clearly the only way that men can “opt out” of parenthood without the moral and ethical dilemmas that ensue AFTER an accidental child is born.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Another childhood friend joined the ranks of the childed last week. He's a gorgeous little boy, even when not considered by newborn baby standards, and she's thrilled. But for the first time, I don't really feel a wall has been erected by his birth. It's odd to me that it would be she, the OB nurse, the one whose life revolves most completely around babies and mommies, that would be the most accepting of my decision, never questioning it, being completely understanding. It's a nice change.

I look at my other friends' kids, growing like weeds, the infants suddenly toddlers, the toddlers suddenly kindergartners, gathering together for playdates and such. I'm now the last of my childhood friends to remain childless, and it's interesting. We're all in our 30s and it boggles my mind that of all the people I knew when I was growing up that I'm the only one to decide that kids aren't for me. Oh, there's one friend from high school who's childfree, but we're barely acquaintances.

In the meantime I've got my cousins popping out kids, my (step)sister-in-law, and again I've got that feeling of being left out of a club I don't belong in and don't actually want to be a part of. It's the meeting at work that's just for the "real" employees (no freelancers please), it's the family events that I've stopped being invited to in the last year. I watch from the sidelines and think "my god that looks like a good time" while simultaneously thinking "that would make me so miserable."

The childfree life for women like me is full of such paradoxes, I think. The desire to be included is almost inherent, instinctual. I suspect it's part of the reason that so few women challenge the expectation of motherhood, even when they suspect it's not what they want. They pursue it because it's what they should want, and because the people with whom they surround themselves chant the mantras of "it's different when they're your own" and "everything changes, but it's the best thing you'll ever do".

Challenging these ideas is, well, challenging. Over the years I've been able to surround myself with people who understand me, letting those who refuse to try linger on the fringe except for an awkward "hello" every couple years at the club or a friend's party. It's better this way and I'm happier for it. But through their blogs, their Facebook profiles and the other forms of communication we still share I see a window to their world, and it honestly looks like a fun place to live in. Not for me, but for them, and I'm thrilled to seem them, surrounded by the kids that fill their lives in place of the things we did together in the good ol' days, and overflowing with happiness.

There's an ache to being left out of this world, but it diminishes the moment I consider how awesome my life is for me, and how I know they look into my window and wish they had the freedom to travel, to go to concerts and stay out all night dancing, to have the kind of grown-up time that we do. And I'm sure, like me, most of them wouldn't trade in their own lives for a moment.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend with a 9-year-old

My niece has been looking forward to this weekend for months. She made a countdown calendar for a craft project, counting down each day and excitedly sending me e-mails about what we'd do, where we'd go, what her uncle would put in his "famous pancakes" for her (butterscotch chips with whipped topping and syrup). So going into it, naturally, I was kind of freaked out.

This was a lot to live up to.

We decided together that we'd make candles and soap, and go to the Farmer's Market for fresh donuts and honeycrisp apples. And, of course, we would let her play with the Wii. Thank the gods for the Wii.

She woke at 6:00 on Saturday morning, and I found her at almost 7:00 laying in her bed in the guest room with the lights on, doing nothing. Her book was at her side (she always has a book with her) but she had tired of reading, and instead was just staring at the ceiling waiting for us to wake up. It bears noting that our weekdays start about 7:30, our weekends rarely before 9:00, so my husband and I were both extremely groggy.

We don't have cable — between and Netflix we fail to see the point — so there was nothing on TV for her. She quickly grew antsy and we decided to just get dressed and head for the Farmers Market at 8:00. She ate her donut, we picked out apples, we marvelled at the enormous produce, she cringed when I bought an eggplant the size of her head (I promised I wouldn't try to make her eat it). After running a couple errands, we ended up back at home around noon; I am NEVER this productive by noon on a Saturday, but I was already feeling exhausted.

We laid out our soap-making supplies and, as expected, she quickly grew bored of the process of waiting for the mixture to melt, waiting for the first layer of soap to cool, and waiting until we ended up with bars of beautiful lavender rosemary soap. The candles began another waiting game, and her boredom was palpable. So I set her up with Samba de Amigo on the Wii, complete with the maracas attachments, and she was in heaven. She'd come drag me from the crafts table to watch her do a song here and there, and she'd come by me when it got exciting — pouring the wax into the candle molds. But when it came time for a new batch, or to clean the container (using old candles means cleaning out the soot for each layer of wax), she played. Later in the evening we watched a few episodes of Ghost Hunters (her favorite — told you she was a cool kid), made some fish sticks (one of the few things she'll eat), and then she helped clean up.

This morning she woke again at 6:30 and wanted to play the Wii, which she did until it was time to leave, save for breaking for her pancake breakfast. When we got her home, she excitedly presented my great-grandma, grandma and grampa with the candles and soap we made, and talked incessantly about the Wii.

Overall this weekend went about as well as it could have. We had a great time hanging out, but I imagine it would have been infinitely more challenging had we not had the Wii around for her to become fixated upon. She's not a big TV kid in general, and I can appreciate how crafts like the ones we were doing could make a 9-year-old quite bored, even while they think it's fun. She's used to multitasking, and mellow crafting just wasn't her game. We balanced it well, I think, and she was super proud with what we ended up with. That said, I could tell she was ready to go home by mid-morning on Sunday, and we were more then ready to return her and get some nice alone time.

That was perhaps the biggest real issue we've had with sharing the weekend with our niece. Weekends are the only real time my husband and I have alone together, especially since our roomie is usually with her boyfriend over the weekends, and we've been, well, suffering a bit with the kid around. ;) I suppose couples with kids eventually learn to stop being paranoid about fooling around with a kid in the vicinity, but I couldn't put her out of my head for a second.

We'll gladly have her back another weekend, hopefully sooner rather than later, but it's nice when these weekends truly emphasize how much we love our life just the way it is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back from the dead

I'm touched that it seems my readers still drop by and I'm missed, and I've wanted to get back into blogging about being childfree, but time and other commitments have gotten in the way. Life is good, and life is still childfree. It’s been the good kind of distraction that’s kept me from this blog, but I think about writing often. It’s time to get back on track, because there IS a lot to write about.

Most importantly, I have not given in to the pressure, as it seems many of you are concerned about. I’ve come out to a couple of stepsisters-in-law, and I can only assume it’s made its way up the ladder. We received fewer (if any) invitations to family functions since then, but considering the way we’ve been made to feel at such events it’s kind of welcome to not have to decline all the time. This year we’re having Thanksgiving with my in-laws, when talk of babies will no doubt be rampant. My husband’s stepbrother’s wife is pregnant with their first child; they were married about a year after we were, so you can imagine where that conversation will head. But overall, everyone’s been pretty mellow with us. We’ll see how that changes at Thanksgiving.

I was laid off in July and I’m so thankful we don’t have a child to support during this time. I’m freelancing regularly, but we’re also facing the loss of my insurance at the end of next month. With the uncertainty of the economy, it’s a scary, scary time, and I can only imagine how scary it is for those who have larger families to support.

J continues to live with us and she has completely turner her life around. It’s magnificent and really inspiring. She credits us for helping her turn her life around and helping to show her what a real relationship looks like. She’s spent the last 3 months with an amazing man who is everything she deserves; they remind me of my husband and me when they’re together. It’s remarkable the transformation, and she concedes that had she met him before living with us she wouldn’t have been the right person for him. I truly believe, even at this early state that she may have found “the One”, but she’s taking things slowly and it’s working out well for them.

As I prepare for an entire weekend spent with my 9-year-old niece, I’m sure I’ll have plenty more insights to share come Monday, and I’m hoping to update more frequently again. Thanks for your dedication, e-mails and comments. I feel touched that as much as this blog has helped me over the years, I’m also helping some of you who feel the same.