Wednesday, 4 December 2013

When you get asked the same question again and again and again…..

As a childfree person, you know the question that gets asked of you again and again. When you get the same question ad nauseam, it makes you think real hard about the decision you have taken after thinking real hard. My answers, and perhaps my thought process, have evolved over time and I’m sure they’ll keep evolving until people stop asking me.

The following conversations are all real (except where indicated):

Question: So why don’t you want children? (this a couple of months into marriage; I am 29)
Answer 1:  Umm… I don’t feel like it.  
Response: Don’t worry. You’ll feel like it. Everyone does. Just remember, your clock is ticking!

Question: You don’t want to take any responsibility in life? (At this point I was taking a break from work and generally chilling; Age: 34)
Answer2:  Well the truth is I have decided to take the responsibility of reducing the world’s population.

Question: But seriously, I still don’t get it. Why no kids?
Answer3: Well since you asked, let me ask you, ‘Why did you decide to have children?’
Response: An uncomfortable silence with an embarrassing smile; occasionally, ‘because everyone does, because we’re meant to’ or ‘because I don’t feel complete without children.’

Question:  I ‘m sure you don’t fit into this category but you know most other people these days are not having children because they want to lead an extravagant life. Very selfish and self-absorbed, don’t you think? (This is from someone at a women’s empowerment conference who wore a permanent ‘holier than thou’ look.)
Answer4:  Well, we have limited resources these days including water, so don’t you think it’s selfish to have children?  And anyway, isn’t it good that such ’self-absorbed people’ don’t have children?  Imagine what kind of parents they would make. But don’t you think we should be breaking the mould of what being a woman really means?  So, what about you? Why don’t you adopt instead of having children?

Question:  Don’t you like children?
Answer5: I don’t mind playing with children as long as I can return them to their owners, oops parents.

Question: Ok. Why don’t you have children?
Answer6: Isn’t it time we flip the question and start asking, ‘Why are you having children?’  The resources and infrastructure in most cities in India can’t handle the current population.  So shouldn’t people be taxed for having children at this point? Shouldn’t we be questioning the need for more?  How many people think before having children? We have progressed to the question of ‘when kids’ but not evolved to ‘why kids’. When will we get there?

Question: Isn’t it selfish not to have children?
Answer7:  Give me one unselfish reason (other than stupidity) why people have kids. Or indeed, why people do (or don’t do) anything in life.

Question: No children? How long have you been married? (A persistent aunt who asks me this every time we talk over the phone. I never know what to say... I’m 37 and she still hasn’t lost hope.  It’s time to create a hopeless situation.)
Answer7:  Yes Aunty. You are so right. I’m “trying” for the last 9 years including a year before marriage. We try everyday – morning and evening. Sometimes afternoon also. All positions Aunty. But nothing.  Sad no? But I’m not giving up. Actually, I have to keep the phone down – it’s our time to “try”. So bbye! 
I haven’t had the courage to give this answer yet – maybe some vodka might help me with my delivery! No pun intended.

I would love to hear your responses to this question. A handy repertoire of some wickedly funny retorts would be nice to dish out at the appropriate time.  So, what have you got?


Oh baby, no baby!

(Oh baby, no baby! )
Gone are the days of Hum Do Hamare Do. Today, couples in the country are childless by choice...
At a get-together, all the kids huddle around Monisha and play a game which other adults find difficult to enjoy. Each child takes turns, runs around the house taking a particular route and somewhere along the journey, a shape emerges. As a child, Monisha played this game for hours. At 38, she prefers to spend her time with the children than sit around with the other women and discuss parties.

By evening all the seven children want Monisha to stay back, but she and her husband Anish Palshekar have to get home. They are both chatty during the drive. Ace of Spades, followed by some Judas Priest and Scorpions plays in the background. Meanwhile, the rest of the cousins still finishing dessert wonder why the Palshekars don't want their own children.
That decision was taken about 15 years ago, a few days before their marriage. "Neither have we regretted it, nor have we looked back," says Anish, an IAS officer with the Indian Railways. For this couple, not having a child was a basic and informed choice. "Why does everyone need to have a child of their own? There are so many children in India and people can adopt them. Also, we thought of the freedom we would have and decided not to have a child," he adds. Weekends and vacations are never quiet for the Palshekars. "We are consumed by the lineup of things that are playing in Mumbai, which we want to catch," says Monisha. "I have to say that the freedom we have is something we really cherish."
Not surprisingly, the Palshekars always stay at a show till the curtains drop or the credits roll, while most of their friends rush home to be with their children. But it would be wrong to think of them as selfish. For, Anish has given years of his life teaching street children and Monisha, even today, works with women and children in India's hinterland.
These two are part of India's rising population of DINKs (Double Income No Kids). Time was when having a kid - or three - was the norm. And a childless couple, a rarity. If at all there was a pair that didn't have a kid, friends and family were sure there was, "some problem". Not anymore. In the new India, people are childless by choice. And the stigma attached to the concept is slowly wearing off.
Forty-five year-old Dipshita Singh, a scientist, points to children running around naked in the slums and says, "When you don't have your own children, you feel every child is yours. It's not something I want to say so I sound good. But my husband and I have been able to reach out to a lot of children." For the Singhs, opting to not have children was a decision taken jointly after they realised that there were too many conflicts one had to tackle in life. "We didn't want someone to come into this world to live that tough life," she offers by way of explanation. But the Singhs rarely do things just by themselves. "Our concept of a family is not represented by a Maruti car: the husband and wife in the front and two children in the back. For us, family is about my husband and my parents and his and our brothers and sisters, and their children too."


Childfree in India..

Childfree in India..

Every now and then, magazines like Time throw in a cover story that aims to capture fringe trends that are fast becoming mainstream.
This week’s story on Americans and childfree-ness is one such. Childfree forums and concerns are not new to the internet, but the TIME doing a cover story makes it a ‘legitimate’ trend,so to speak.
The cover shows a totally model-like couple with smug expressions, who claim, as the byline says provocatively, ‘ When having it all means not having children.’
Husband grinned when he saw the picture on the cover. ” Is that couple supposed to represent us?” he asked sarcastically.” Fuck, they look as fake as those pictures of saccharine families around the dinner table”.
He is right of course. We are childfree by choice and so are virtually 90% of our friends. But none of us can claim to ‘have it all’ just because we don’t have kids. Same goes for people who choose to have kids.
All of us,kids or not, have our usual troubles. Jobs, family, stress, money, health, meaning of life- all the urban worries that plague the modern urban person.
However, the very fact that most of our socialization happens with similar couples/ singles who don’t have kids says volumes about how profoundly life-changing having/ not having kids is in our society. Virtually all our best friends are childfree .I am talking about people in the creative/content side of media, which is perhaps the most socially/ economically flexible set in India. Even here, having kids or not having kids profoundly affects your life plans or orientation.
Even in our bubble like slice of life, I have seen how people drift apart depending on the kids in their lives. This is largely because of the different priorities people have depending on kids. Finances, attitudes, daily lifestyle, aspirations become quite different as you become/ not become a parent.
In India, in certain set at least, people are available to care for young kids and the burden is less on young mothers compared to those in the west. So it is not always the sheer ‘need’ of childcare that changes the pattern. But the priorities, which for parents, are usually kids, that moulds the life so to speak.
Parents naturally socialize with other parents, prioritize kids education when it comes to their decision to stay in a particular locality or job, go to holidays that their kids can enjoy, spend the time and energy on moulding the young child, plan financially keeping kids in mind.
The childfree tend to, in my experience, lead more flexible and footloosish lives, compared to parents.
No choice exists in vacuum. In Indian society having kids is defacto and voluntarily not having kids is so exceptional ( except in small bubbles like media, where childfree are almost equal in number), that there is very little mainstream discussion about it ( except stray articles like this or this ) . Unlike in American media, where every lifestyle choice has a name and an acronym ( GINK means ‘green inclination no kids’, for example!! By god one has to give it to the Americans!!), in India the term child-free is virtually unknown. Our entire social structure and notion of family is built around having kids. Most of our non-Indian friends/ colleagues are impressed by the sheer childfriendliness of our society. Majority of the people’s lives are structured around their kids. So not having kids becomes a matter of choice while having kids is more or less given.
But it has been my observation that the number of childfree are on the rise and the raised eye brows have been replaced by understanding smiles in the recent years. My small town extended family, for example, completely accepts our decision not to have kids. Our parents would have been happier with grandkids but they see that we don’t want kids and have accepted our choice more or less happily.
Because there are so few Indian people who decide not to have kids , and so many who decide to have some, there is no threat or concern for population or social change.
Most childfree come from a certain social / economic set that excuses their behaviour as ‘oh they are quite different/ western types’ by majority of the people.
Our society for centuries has gleefully championed values of duty and familial responsibility over all others, and since globalization, we have gone through major social changes that have challenged this tradition. I have observed that many people, with or without kids, find childfree life quite an extention of nuclear family and an interesting new trend, if not a social staple. It struck me with force during youth market researches I was involved in, where even small town youngsters ( especially girls) look at childfree ness as some sort of glamourous, ‘modern’ choice.
Most of my western european friends are amazed at the lack of friction between childfree and mainstream society in India. I think that because of awareness and exposure, ‘different’ lifestyles are still seen as ‘harmless curiosities’ and childfree-ness is one of them.
Of course, I am generalizing grossly, but I do have at least a decade of observation, market researches on youth and insider status as a childfree woman from small town to back some of these statements:)
In India, not having kids is sort of accepted as a fringe social trend and it will be decades before it becomes mainstream enough for magazines to write cover stories about it.
Coming back to TIME, Americans, much like the other advanced industrial nations, are having less number of kids and that one woman in five is in fact, choosing not to have kids at all. Virtually all advanced nations give attractive incentives to women to produce kids since birth rate is steadily plummeting. Economists worry that a skewed birth-death ratio would affect the future aging population. Conservatives bemoan the death of traditional values while some environmentalists declare that population growth is disastrous for earth.
Internet is strife with childfree forums/ blogs that range from genuine to rabid. Grave issues like ‘whether children should be allowed on planes’ to ‘ whether there should be child-free restaurants’ are discussed with passion. Most people on the forums say that they are not anti-kids, but are rather against:
1. Assumption that everyone has to have kids to lead fulfilling life and blames those who don’t as selfish.
2. hyper parents who force their ill-mannered offspring on society without care
3. Baby obsessed culture that pressurizes women to equate motherhood with womanhood
breeder bingo
I do surf these sites once in a while and do agree with the spirit on the above points, but sometimes get amazed at the vitriol with which these points are sometimes made. Like any other ‘alternative’ choice, the child-free internetizens are quite vocal and aggressive. That is also understandable if the whole world is assuming that you are somewhat incomplete/ childish if you choose not to have kids. But I really think there are more well-behaved kids than unruly ones, that more parents try to control kids than not, that there are always going to be stupid judgemental people in life that are best ignored and that if one has made a choice that goes against the flow, one has to be confident about it. Calling mothers ‘moos’ and ‘breeding cows’ is as unfair as being called selfish and unfeminine for not wanting to be a mother. But then, there are all kinds of corners on net and I like to believe that they all add to the social dialogue ( not to mention provide hilarious entertainment.)
I think, at least for a few privileged people, it boils down to simple “Do you want kids in your life?” question. Some people do not want to have kids because they do not feel the need of having kids. Some people find kids limit their lives’ choices. Some people do not find enough time or energy or money to dedicate to kids.
We for example, have never felt that need or desire. We realised quite early on when we both were very young , that we are not ‘that’ fond of kids to change our lifestyle, nature and dreams, which would have been compromised with a kid. It is lucky that we both found each other because if one partner desires a child and one doesn’t, it becomes quite a bad compromise no matter what you decide to do. We both firmly believe that a kid is a big responsibility and kids should be given full care and love. We both get along quite well with kids, especially husband who works for one of the biggest kids’ brands in the world. But a child has never been even on a radar as far as our future is concerned. We do like the possibility that we are free to do anything without having to think about another human being. And these range from stupid irresponsible things to serious life-altering decisions.
I am not advocating any ‘lifestyle’ so to speak, but I do think that if people are not sure whether they want to be parents or not: it is better that they don’t become parents. One has no right to bring the child into life with unsure mind, seriously. And all that BS about ‘you will love your own child’, ‘you will adjust’, ‘so many people have kids and yours will also raise itself’ actually works against the very children it purports to advocate.
Of course, having kids is a rich and fulfilling experience. I am sure people who have kids get a glimpse into growing mind and life that is magical. I also think it gives people roots when they have kids and it is a beautiful feeling. If one wants that feeling and is ready to choose that , great. If one doesn’t, then we all should respect that choice.
There would always be judgements and marginalization, but hell, that comes with many choices, so be it.

Being Childfree in Fertile India


Oscar Wilde has been quoted to have said “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.” This quote itself is by a fictional character in a comedy written by Oscar Wilde, who was concerned that a particular young lady’s future character may not be a good one if she became like her mother. But the quote has become popular and taken on its own meaning. It is mostly taken to imply that if men became more like their mothers – caring and loving – the world would be a better place. I am not quite sure if the popular implication is also that women should become less like their mothers and toughen up a bit.
If I had a daughter, I too would probably want her to be tough and strong than how most girls are raised and if I had a son, I would want him to be more sensitive than how most boys are raised. Having said that, how I would raise my son or daughter is a moot point because I am not exactly afraid of becoming like my mother, but unwilling to become a mother at all.
By the time I was fifteen, I knew I did not want to bear children. India is already over-populated! I saw no real benefit to add one or two children of my own when we couldn’t feed millions of hungry children in our country. I thought I should adopt one or two children when I grew up. No one took me seriously then.
Now I am in early 40s, married and childless. I haven’t ever regretted not becoming a mother! I have recently learnt a new word ‘childfree’ to describe people who are voluntarily and happily childless! The word ‘free’ comes from ‘freedom’ and also to indicate there is nothing ‘less’ in our lives just because we have no children.
I have not met many people who are childfree by choice. In India, the ‘default’ way of life is highly valued. You grow up, study, get employed, get married, have kids, help kids settle, arrange their weddings, take care of grand-children. That cycle of life is very rarely broken voluntarily. I have met a few people who chose to remain single, but to date haven’t met a single couple who said they chose not to have children. Not even in big cities in India.
This makes me wonder what is it about life that fascinates so many people enough to produce more new lives? Is it mere biological urge? Is it ‘everyone does that’? Our country is full of problems. Often people feel so hopeless that they have even lost hope on democracy and wish for a dictator to take over India! Yet, they eagerly bring more children into this system! And poorer a couple is and less educated a woman is, more the number of their children!
I also wonder, in a highly-populated society like ours which continues to value reproduction a lot, how are men and women choosing to be child-free in India are coping. Not having children has given me a lot of freedom to do many other things. Now, I have begun a ‘research’ project to identify, get connected with and to interview childfree couples. I would like to give a voice to the minority we represent!