Daily Beast columnist Amanda Marcotte is getting rough treatment from conservatives over her Friday piece “Pope Francis Is Wrong About My Child-Free Life,” which makes a persuasive case that it’s okay to not have kids.
Full disclosure: I am in that child-free camp. (I call it “child-free” while some pro-parentage folks may prefer the term “child-less” — one’s choice of term likely gives away one’s view on the matter.) Like Marcotte, I’m a woman in my 30s (34 to be exact) with, at the present time and likely into the future, no interest in being a mother. Motherhood seems wonderful for others, and I respect and cherish the role, though I have sensibly decided it simply isn’t for me. I’ll pass on parenting.
But I am also a conservative. Can those two be reconciled? Does being a conservative mean I must have children or, at the very least, like Pontifex, encourage others to do so?
It’s a question that has been lingering for quite some time. After all, conservatism is family-friendly and socially traditional, stressing family as the core building block of society. But as more and more men and women nowadays rule out the idea of having children, are these individuals any less conservative than those who are parents?
Below are Pope Francis’s recent remarks cautioning against the child-free life:
You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be care-free … it might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or is this not? Have you seen it? Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.
With warnings of loneliness in the twilight years, and implications that the child-free life is a selfish one, the pope’s remarks seem more pressure than persuasion.
Is someone who disagrees with the pope’s view a “liberal,” and is a good conservative expected to vigorously agree? Or is this not a Left v. Right issue at all? If it’s apolitical, another question arises: Is Pope Francis even correct? With all due respect as a lifelong Catholic, in my opinion, the answer is . . . not exactly.
The “You’ll be lonely in old age if you don’t have kids” warning does not hold weight. As Marcotte notes:
A 2003 study that looked specifically at this question found that having children was no guarantee against loneliness in old age. After surveying nearly 4,000 people ages 50 to 84, researchers found no difference in the loneliness rates of people with children and people without children. Common sense should suggest the same. Relying on a phone call a week from your kids is hardly a panacea for loneliness.
Is a weekly, one-hour visit (extra on Easter and Christmas!) from a reluctant grandchild supposed to combat loneliness?
We should tread carefully in pressuring others into marriage and/or families. When promotion of child rearing becomes pressure to raise children (as it has been for centuries), how is this sound, or even conservative, public policy? Stable families, and in particular families independent of government assistance, emerge when individuals — without outside pressure — desire to build families. If history indicates anything, it’s that this desire is widespread, naturally occurring, and definitely not in need of any it-takes-a-village encouragement. It’s unconservative, recklessly so, to push the idea of having kids just for the sake of having kids. After all, the person who truly wishes to, and who is able to, will reach that conclusion on his or her own.
Far too many women have a child, then another, then another because, well, it’s something to do or even because their friends are all giving birth. Women often reproduce before they are ready — or even despite true interest in being mothers at all. When the marriage crumbles under the weight of unhappiness, or when the woman finds herself unfulfilled by motherhood, how is society better off? This is not a very conservative outcome, which is why conservatives often caution against welfare benefits incentivizing the (undesirable) outcome of single motherhood. So why would conservatives encourage motherhood among women who just don’t want to be mothers?