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Jewish World Review July 28, 2000/ 25 Tamuz, 5760

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
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Consumer Reports

Whining like a baby, because you don't have one --
DID YOU KNOW there's a new oppressed group in our nation of victims, claiming discrimination and battling for its rights? It's the childless -- sorry, "child-free."

They feel ripped off by tax deductions and credits for child care and dependents, by parents-only job benefits such as parental leave and on-site child care, by having to fill in for a co-worker who's tending to a sick child. They gripe about noisy kids in public places, child-proof caps on medicine bottles and social pressure to have kids.

The "child-free" have their own organizations with names like "No Kidding!", their websites, and now their own gospel, the recently published The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless by Elinor Burkett.

Lisa Belkin, a journalist and mother of two who profiles the revolt of the "child-free" in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, concludes that maybe it's a matter of perspective: if she didn't have children, she'd probably have the same grievances.

Well, I beg to differ. I don't have children and don't know if I ever will. But the advocates for the "child-free" make me sick.

They do have some valid points. Yes, it's absurd that today, almost any political issue from gun control to foreign policy is likely to be framed in terms of children -- not because children aren't important but because this talk of "the children" is shamelessly manipulative and condescending. It's absurd to demand, as some do, that women (or men) be able to curtail work for child-rearing and reap the same career rewards as their 65-hour-a-week colleagues.

The fact that the government redistributes a growing portion of our nation's wealth undoubtedly has much to do with fostering resentments between groups. Other trends, such as many middle-class parents' permissive and wrongheadedly child-centered ways, contribute to the backlash. (I'm not a stickler for the adage that children should be seen and not heard, but should they be heard on your answering machine's outgoing message?)

It's hardly clear, however, that parents are bigger subsidy hogs than a host of other groups. Parents' advocates argue that the value of child-related tax benefits have declined in the past 30 years and doesn't begin to cover the growing costs of raising a child. As for employee benefits, most of them are voluntarily provided by companies. If an employer wants to offer flextime to non-parents too, or to allow personal leave for non-family as well as family reasons, fine. But if Mary gets time off to care for a newborn and Jane can't get time off to go on a skiing trip, it's not a monstrous injustice.

Let's face it, for all the "perks," parents have it much tougher than non-parents. They have less time, less freedom, less disposable income. Those who are involved in hands-on child-rearing almost inevitably sacrifice career advancement.

So what, reply the "child-free": Having kids is a choice that doesn't deserve social support any more than the choice to collect butterflies. Why, they scoff, should I give up anything just because others decide to "breed"?

This whining is almost enough to provoke me to spout the kind of platitudes that normally make me cringe, about the evils of "unbridled individualism" and the need to think about the good of society. To state the obvious, if everyone decided not to have children, society and humanity would disappear. (Please, spare me the rhetoric about overpopulation.) There is some truth to the claims of parents' advocates that those of us who are childless by choice are getting a free ride. I, for one, am grateful to the people who take on the tough job of raising the next generation. I don't mind them getting a few extra breaks and a little extra respect from the culture.

Besides, the "child-free" advocates don't exactly help their cause when they flaunt their contempt for parents ("breeders"), childbearing ("squirting out spawn") and children ("crib lizards" and "scrogs"). Maybe the reason they so resent children is that they themselves are overgrown brats forever crying, "No fair!", and upset because they're expected to act like responsible adults.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.

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©2000, Cathy Young