never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: October, 2013


But the idea that mass childlessness is the product of a “lifestyle choice” or a political movement defies common sense. We are, after all, highly evolved primates. Reproductive instincts are hard wired in our brains, and historically, only events of serious magnitude—wars, depressions, famine, and seismic shifts in the economic system, such as the industrial revolution—have caused large numbers of women to forgo having children. When resources are scarce, and when they don’t have much help, women will postpone motherhood. And despite the romantic myth of the self-sacrificing mother, if given the option, most women will choose to advance their own position before bearing more children. That’s because in the long run, a woman’s improved status benefits her children. It’s a pattern replicated all over the natural world, and has been for thousands of years.

Our failure to recognize this pattern—and the systemic changes manifested as individual decisions—has serious implications for the future. Many people will argue that a lower birth rate is a good thing for an overpopulated planet—and they will be right, up to a point. It’s the forces driving widespread childlessness that should concern us. America’s disappearing children are the canaries in our coal mines, a warning that our social and economic system is seriously out of whack.


“Marion de Wald cooks,” he said grimly. “She does all the cooking and looks after two kids as well.”

I tried to remember one minute that whole week end when Marion and I weren’t either feeding people, or clearing up from doing it, or preparing to do it again. And presumably she never stopped doing it. But I couldn’t quite see why just because she did, I should. I mean, here was I practically fresh out of the egg, everything was so new to me, and here was everybody telling me to stop drifting, and start living in the this world; telling me to start cooking, and sewing, and cleaning, and I don’t know what. Taking care of my grandchildren.

— Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado, p. 144


It is notable that freedom from financial anxiety works wonders for fathers, too; in countries where healthcare is universal and reliable and wages are fair, there’s less need to spend weekends and holidays toiling at the workplace, even in families with only one full-time income.

But the American social conservatives who advocate for women to spend less time in the workforce and more time in the home rarely advocate for the creation or expansion of programs that would support their goals. They operate in a fantasy world in which it’s possible to turn back the clock to the middle of the 20th century – or a television version of it, anyway. But in the real world, poverty and inequality militate powerfully against family life, rendering marriage an unattractive option and child rearing stressful and financially perilous. Anyone interested in promoting participation in family life should thus look to the nations that have managed to do just that.


Liberating women (and all people, for that matter) from the depressing tyranny of the boss has been a long-standing leftist project. McInnes and other social conservatives pay lip service to such liberation when they talk about the unhappiness of working women, but they tend to advocate solutions that merely replace the tyranny of the boss with the tyranny of the spouse, and lock breadwinners into similarly grim straits. The proper aim is to free women and their families from both forms of control, and for that, robust social income and benefit programs like those found in European social democracies are the proven ticket.


Myth 1: Women are the workforce winners these days.

It’s true that men got hit hard in 2008 when manufacturing and construction took a nosedive, giving rise to the term “Mancession.” But in the last two years, as a recovery slowly moved ahead, men fared much better than women — the so-called Mancovery.

Now, the 2008 situation has reversed, thanks to the heavy toll of the weak economy on public sector workers. According to a National Women’s Law Center report published in September, recent jobs data show that public sector layoffs wiped away 45 percent of job gains for women over the course of the recovery.

Myth 5: Men don’t have advantages in the workplace anymore, so women can soar.

Not at all true, thanks in part, to these facts:

No second chances. When they fail, women don’t get second chances, reports the Athena Factor project, sponsored by IBM, Microsoft, Dell, Cisco and others to better understand how to retain women in technology. Women in high positions in male-dominated fields suffer harsher penalties than men when they slip up. Men usually get a second chance, even when they reach high but miss the brass ring. It’s much harder for women to take the kind of risks that catch the eye of higher-ups.

Men are promoted on potential, women on performance. Why do so many young male hotshots move up the ladder ahead of their more seasoned female peers? Women are being judged on what they have actually done. For promising men, potential is enough to win the day. Women always have to keep proving themselves, often fighting the stereotype that they don’t have what it takes to be real leaders.

double whammies

thinking twice

“Then the women’s movement happened, but we didn’t really come to terms with what women’s freedom looked like, and how much society had changed,” Sandler says. “So we kept telling this story that humans needed to have kids and that adult women could only have value if they were mothers.

“And today there’s more and more obsession with babies and motherhood than ever, with blogs and stores and books,” she says. “We’re in a very pro-baby generation.”


Based on Maynard’s story and my experience, I recommend that a single person contemplating adoption look carefully at their motivation and at the resources for support that they could bring to single parenting. Recognize that raising an adopted child is not the same as parenting a biological one. Try to separate your real feelings about parenting from negative external stereotyping of a single, childless person. Consider alternative ways to have children in your life. In research for my book, The New Single Woman, I found that one of the six criteria for living a satisfying, long-term single life was a connection to the next generation. Such a connection does not depend on raising a child. I include many examples of single women without children who created rewarding relationships with children and young adults.

One needs a community and friendship network to adopt successfully as a single parent, but such support also forms the basis for a happy single life without parenting. As a society, we need to reevaluate family as only one among alternative ways to live a good life.


In truth, nothing is more malleable than motherhood. We like to imagine that mothering is immutable and decreed by natural law, but in fact it has encompassed such disparate practices as baby farming, wet-nursing and infanticide. The possessive, almost proprietary motherhood that we consider natural today would have been anathema to early kibbutzniks in Israel. In our day motherhood has been glamorized, and in certain circles, children have become the ultimate accessories. But we should not fool ourselves: Treating children like expensive accessories may be the ultimate bondage for women.

Is it even possible to satisfy the needs of both parents and children? In agrarian societies, perhaps wearing your baby was the norm, but today’s corporate culture scarcely makes room for breast-feeding on the job, let alone baby-wearing. So it seems we have devised a new torture for mothers—a set of expectations that makes them feel inadequate no matter how passionately they attend to their children.


We are in a period of retrenchment against progressive social policies, and the women pursuing political life today owe more to Evita Peron than to Eleanor Roosevelt. “Mama grizzlies” like Sarah Palin never acknowledge that there are any difficulties in bearing and raising children. Nor do they acknowledge any helpers as they thrust their babies into the arms of siblings or daddies. The baby has become the ultimate political tool.

Indeed, although attachment parenting comes with an exquisite progressive pedigree, it is a perfect tool for the political right. It certainly serves to keep mothers and fathers out of the political process. If you are busy raising children without societal help and trying to earn a living during a recession, you don’t have much time to question and change the world that you and your children inhabit. What exhausted, overworked parent has time to protest under such conditions?


Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child’s home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers. We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.


Bars, events, and online dating– the activities most people turn to in order to meet a partner– all seem unlikely avenues for me at this age. I do, however, occasionally get flirted with just going about the business of life– playing tennis, working on the farm, shopping at Home Depot, dealing with maintenance men, swimming, and so on.

Yet it is hard to let go of the “filtering” mechanism that online dating provides. One of the men I found attractive from the farm recently introduced me to his toddler children. Is there a woman in the picture? I don’t even know. Another man, from tennis, asked to friend me on Facebook. Turns out he is almost twenty years younger than me. I have a feeling he’s a bit surprised.

The real world is full of curves.

the living

“Ours is a culture not of ancestor worship but of descendant worship. Children must sense that nothing an adult does is more important than their own desires. All political questions seem to come down to the interests of ‘the next generation’.”

He added: “I’d prefer our opium to be the struggle to create a living civilisation, which might daunt even our descendants. Our obligation cannot be uniquely to the young, and those yet to be born. It is also to the living, and to the dead.”