Childfree in the Time of Coronavirus

Image via rawpixel

Hello, readers, the world’s worst blogger is back!

I’ve had a few topics I wanted to discuss on my blog, but in light of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, I thought that it would be a bit a frivolous time to be discussing childfree issues when thousands of people are dying by the day. Ultimately, though, I decided that all this time spent at home should be put to work on things I enjoy outside of my working hours. Plus, who people (myself included) could use a distraction from the chaos.

A recent Vanity Fair article, Dispatches From the Gender Gap: Work-From-Home Moms in the Time of Coronavirus, put into perspective the issue of being childfree in the context of the pandemic. Specifically, when it comes to unpaid work or emotional labour. 

Even in the 21st century, there is no country in the world where women and men perform the same amount of care work. Those of us who have been sent to work from home — by the way, not nearly as sexy as Fifth Harmony would have you believe —already have an enormous amount of privilege, even if our conditions are less than ideal. Compared to those who have been laid off, and “essential workers” who either are in the line of fire by working with Covid-19 (the illness resulting from Coronavirus) patients every day, cleaning surfaces where the virus could be lingering, or interacting with people who could be carriers (and getting screamed at while not even earning a living wage), people working from home have it pretty good, even if it’s not an ideal situation.

Many households with two parents who both work outside the home are now in a new situation: both parents are now home full time, along with their kids. What does this mean in terms of childcare?

To a misguided manager who wrote in to Ask A Manager to well, ask a manager if it is “Reasonable to expect an employee to find a way to work her normal schedule even while she is telecommuting” while the employee is taking care of her toddler, because “It is frustrating to hear ‘I can’t’ do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace”, and she shouldn’t be having trouble because “Her husband is also at home”, apparently, it means that men and women do equal amounts of childcare. 

This is demonstrably false. Even in the most egalitarian countries (and households). Men simply do not pull their weight when it comes to childcare. When a man does, it’s the exception, not the rule. 

The women quoted in the Vanity Fair article are dealing with things like a husband who goes to his home office and shuts the door because he’s “Pretty strict with keeping his office time pristine” and having to find ways to keep their kids entertained, because their husbands simply don’t. Even if their husbands are self-sufficient, they simply don’t care enough to take care of their own children.

Part of emotional labour is what author Eve Rodsky calls in an article on CNN by Elissa Strauss is “worry work”: “Moms are more likely than dads to anticipate the needs of the family and plan ahead for worst case scenarios. (Listen closely, and you can hear the hum of ‘what’s next?’ on a constant loop in most moms’ heads.)” Rodsky says that “research shows that the majority of daily life disruptions are handled by moms, including when both parents work”, so during a crisis like the one we are living in now, by default, the majority of the burden falls on mothers’ shoulders. 

This pandemic is not an easy time for anyone, not even for people like me who have it good: despite being able to work from home, not displaying any symptoms, having an uncompromised immune system, and an apartment to myself, I can’t work out, socialize in person, or buy groceries without planning my day around when there will be the fewest number of people out (both to avoid long lines and to avoid spreading or contracting the virus). These are petty complaints compared to what so many have to deal with. People are being laid off, struggling to find childcare, or are forced to put themselves at risk every day to keep society running; many without hazard pay, reasonable precautions, or personal protective equipment

Despite my own personal blessings, this still isn’t an easy time for anyone. I’m still concerned for how other people will make it through this. I’m still at risk every time I need to leave the house, just like everyone else — and no, being young(ish) and healthy doesn’t mean that you’re safe. I could be a carrier and be putting people at risk myself without even knowing it. And from my friends who’ve survived Covid-19, even if you make it through without permanent lung damage, it makes you feel worse than death. (So, like, stay inside, even if you feel “fine”.)

Even if being stuck at home alone without being able to go out and see your friends can be lonely (sometimes — I’ve been Facetiming like there’s no tomorrow, which is not a bad substitute), I still would not trade my relative freedom for anything. 

As Kim Congdon on Twitter put it,

Stay inside. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We will get through this. 

Zero Waste and Childfree, But Not in the Way You Think

Black man tilting his head to the right and lifting his thumb to his mouth as if to suck it He may look like a man, but he’s a child.

I’m in a Facebook group which has daily, heated discussions. At least once a week, someone in the group will post something that reinforces my decision to both be childfree AND to remain single.

It’s not the group you think.

I’m Zero Waste.

“Zero Waste”, of course, is a bit of a misleading title. It doesn’t mean that I literally do not contribute to any waste whatsoever, but it is a lifestyle that focuses on minimizing the waste that we produce on an individual level in our lives. We focus on reusing, repairing and reducing the material items in our lives before it gets to the recycling stage (which is very energy intensive). Eliminating single-use plastics is an important part of the movement, but not the whole thing. 

For the most part, in my day-to-day life, it means that I shop at the farmers market (with my reusable bags) instead of the supermarket; if I do have to go to the supermarket, I bring those bags (including produce bags). I buy in bulk. I carry a water bottle and cutlery around and bring my own lunch to work and on day trips. I provide my own containers on the rare occasions I get take out, and I don’t use toilet paper. (If you really want to know about this last one, shoot me an email at info@childfreeafrican.com.) 

ZW is not totally accessible to everyone for a number of reasons: financial poverty, time poverty, location, or lack of a support system. Being ZW isn’t about shaming people. It’s about doing what you can, and educating people who you can along the way before humanity ends in 2030. 

This last thing — the lack of a support system — is what I want to address today.

In the ZW group I’m in on Facebook, at least once a week, a woman (always a woman or a feminine-presenting person) will post about her husband (always their husband) who is not on board with the ZW lifestyle, sabotages her recycling (throwing perfectly recyclable items in the garbage), her composting, her reusing (throwing away the reusable containers she saved), and mocks her in public. 

Without fail, the comments section will have at least all of the following suggestions, if not additional egregiousness:

  • “Lead by example; don’t preach!”
  • “Use positive reinforcement the same way you do with your kids or pets! Tell them ‘good job!’ every time they use a reusable container.” 
  • “Pack his lunch for him in a reusable container!” 
  • “Watch documentaries together but don’t talk to him about things because it’ll seem like you’re telling him what to do!”
  • “This is your thing, don’t try to make it his.”

I really, truly wish I were exaggerating. While I have not copied verbatim, I have followed the spirit of many, many suggestions. 100% of these suggestions (that I have seen) have come from women.

All of this makes me absolutely relieved to know that I will never be in a relationship with a cishet dude again for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, while I know there are male environmentalists, who for whatever reason (with the exception of Greta Thunberg), tend to receive all of the saving-the-planet accolades; environmentalism; and by extension, ZW; is seen by straight guys as being an affront and a threat to their very hetero masculinity. (Also, I know the reason.) 

Say what you will about… I dunno, people having their differences? but having similar values systems is something that is very important to me in a romantic relationship. Or, it would be, if romantic relationships were something I was still willing to engage in. 

If you don’t care about your impact on the environment to the point where you’ll go out of your way to sabotage what I’m doing — or you’re invested in white supermacist hierarchies, or you’re sexist, or you’re a homophobe, or a transphobe, or a capitalist, or, if you know, you want to be a DAD — we are fundamentally incompatible. The fact that people are acting as though this is just some quirky trait that a woman should just push aside for her man, rather than a valid personal value (coupled with the fact that we are actively destroying the world) is at best, worrying. 

Secondly, the idea that a woman should have to literally treat her husband the same way that she treats a child is revolting to me. I’m literally nauseated right now. Hold up, I have to go vomit.

Okay, I’m back.

Apparently just having a conversation with your husband about basic scientific evidence is so offensive that it will turn him off ZW, so you need to coddle him and make sure his widdle fee-fees don’t get hurt because you… started composting? You need to tell him “good job” for putting his plastic in the PLASTIC RECYCLING, literally the most basic things that an adult an industrialized economy could do? You need to make his GODRICDAMN LUNCH???? And after all that you’re still meant to be attracted to him?? Like, romantically? Sexually???

How is this different from having a child? 

Oh wait, it isn’t. Even the people suggesting this shit imply that it’s not different from having a child. A partner should be part of your support system, just like you should be part of theirs. Not someone you have to coddle.

My real question is, how is this better than being alone? 

I’m childfree. Being childfree means being childfree. Even if the child is my age, or five years younger or older than I am, I’m still unwilling to be his mom. 

If your man behaves like a child, then you have to mother him, and I have no interest whatsoever in being a mother. 

That’s the whole point.

 

I Regret Everything: Mothers Speaking Out About Their Parenting Experiences

neonbrand-395901-unsplashI’m part of a growing movement of vocally childfree people who eschew the idea that parenthood is a requirement to inhabit the planet. Another parallel movement is that of regretful mothers. Perhaps most famously, Corinne Maier, a now 54-year old French woman, wrote No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children in 2008.

The backlash against women who are vocal about their regret has been vitriolic. In a Maclean’s article from earlier this year, women report receiving threats of sexual assault and death, as well as being told that their children deserve a better mother. The article’s author, Anne Kingston, argues that “Parents now raise children in a far more difficult, competitive world and are pressured to do more with far less.” One of her interviewees, Andrea O’Reilly, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies says that “Expectations have been ramped up to such a point that standards are impossible to achieve.”

While it’s true that life, which includes parenting, has become far more performative thanks in large part to social media, and that materialism and erosion of benefits from the state certainly haven’t made things easier, I don’t know if I’d agree that parenting has become more difficult, at least not from the women in high-income countries featured in the article and who are writing these books. After all, we have levels of infrastructure that our peers living years ago may not have even been able to fathom: running water inside our houses, cars, public transportation, slow-cookers and stores filled with (unethical) cheap fast fashion to cut down on the amount of time it takes to adult.

(Perhaps) unsurprisingly, the article features no experiences from women in developing countries in Latin America, Africa, or Asia. Perhaps because that wasn’t Kingston’s focus, but it maybe also be because none of these women have the room to express regret, even to themselves.

In low- and middle-income countries, it’s still the norm to live in extended family units, especially outside of urban centers, thus giving parents — mothers, more specifically, since they tend to be the primary caregivers — a built-in support network. For me, personally, though, this would not be a viable solution, even if I wanted to become a mother. Right now, I live in Europe, where people don’t live with their extended families after marriage, and I wouldn’t want to move back to Ghana to raise kids (that is, if I weren’t childfree). While it’s true that I would have logistical support, allowing me to continue to pursue my career, I simply wouldn’t wouldn’t want my children raised by my extended family. Parental influence can only do so much, and I wouldn’t want my offspring to be raised in a house and culture where they were told that Christianity is the only acceptable belief system, that personal boundaries and consent are nonexistent, especially for girls, that the sex that you are assigned at birth means you must adhere to certain oppressive behaviors and that there is no room for experimentation or deviation, and that your life has to follow a specifically laid-out script that was determined by colonial powers who left decades ago.

And it wouldn’t be tenable here either: I live in a tiny studio where there isn’t even enough space for me, let alone a human I am meant to be raising, my salary by local standards is… shall we say uncompetitive?, I have no benefits (like a pension or parental leave), and childcare, when available is extortionate. I simply have no room in my life to be a mother, logistically, emotionally, or developmentally.

In The Myth of Mothering Joy, Sarah Fischer, describes being a mother as “incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”

For someone who wants to be a mother, all of that might be worth it. Clearly, for some of them, it wasn’t. I’m certain that that’s a path I will never tread.

What was it that Robert Frost said?

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash