Endless Thread Endless Thread

Support the news

No Kidding: The Childfree Movement Hits Close To Home41:59
Download

Play
"Willow & Roxas" by u/cabbagesandkings14
"Willow & Roxas" by u/cabbagesandkings14

TL;DL (Too Long; Didn’t Listen)

r/childfree is one of the fastest growing communities on Reddit and it's for people who do NOT want children. They don't want to be told why they should have them, how much they'll regret it if they don't, and how "selfish" they are for not "contributing to society." This choice is becoming more common, yet it's still questioned ferociously. We hear from some of these people and explore how this Reddit community offers support when friends and family don't.
Thanks to u/cabbagesandkings14 for this week's artwork. It's called "Willow & Roxas."

Contact Us:

We want to hear from you! Don't hesitate to reach out with reactions to episodes, ideas for future stories, feedback about the show, or just to say hi. There are a few ways to reach us:

Story continues below

Subscribe to the podcast

Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Lavina Howard: I am a 34 year old Caucasian female. I grew up in a rural town in the Pacific Northwest. At a very young age, I did decide that I did not want to have children.

Summer: Hi, my name is Summer. I’m from Kenya. And I'm childfree, which is very odd for this society that I’ve grown up in.

Lavina: Since I was 18, I've been trying to have my tubes tied to no avail.

Summer: Society will always judge you anyway. Just do whatever you want. That's what I say anyway.

Lavina: And watching all of my friends have children, now I can see how exhausted they are financially, emotionally, how depleted their relationships are, because it's so difficult for them to be able to be a part of a partnership as well as try to raise these tiny humans.

Airon: My name is Airon. I'm from Austin. I'm 33, single and I work in tech. My favorite never-have-I-ever answer is I've never changed a diaper and I plan on keeping it that way.

(music plays)

Ben Brock Johnson: My name is Ben, I live in Massachusetts, I’m pretty old but I look amazing. I am married and I have twins who are two and a half years old. My favorite never-have-I-ever answer is that I never have calculated the number of diapers I have changed. And I planned on keeping it that way up until this episode but I couldn’t resist. I have changed, Amory, I believe, in the ballpark of 3 to 4 thousand diapeys.

Amory Sivertson: Okay, my name is Amory, I’m not as old as Ben, I also live in Massachusetts. I have changed some diapers, like anyone else who grew up babysitting. But I honestly don’t know if there are more in my future, because I don’t know for sure if kids are in my future. I might end up childfree.

(music plays)

Ben: Amory, do you remember when we first started talking about making an episode that involved the childfree community on Reddit?

Amory: Yeah and I specifically remember seeing that community for the first time. Because it felt like I had entered another dimension. Or like, I was walking into a speakeasy where people were doing things and talking about things that I didn’t think you could talk about.

Ben: But you know I showed it to you, right? You remember that part of it?

Amory: Yes I remember.

Ben: And I’m the dad!

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: So you know, I just want to say that.

Amory: Well, if you are a Redditor, whether you have kids now or not, you may have stumbled upon the childfree community yourself. Because it has been exploding on Reddit. In just the last year or so, the group has doubled in size, from 300-thousand members to more than 700-thousand.

Ben: There are a few reasons for this. People who might have considered having kids in the past are looking at climate change and thinking they don’t want to subject their kids to environmental destruction — or take part in environmental destruction by having kids.

News reporter: The UN warns we only have until 2030 to keep global warming below a point where entire ecosystems will be lost.

Amory: Also money. Some estimates put the cost of having and raising a kid in middle class America at a quarter of a million dollars, without money for college.

News reporter: When adjusted for inflation, the cost of raising a child born in 2012 is 23% higher than for a child born in 1960.

Ben: But there’s also this kind of “long arc of history” thing happening, too — where women in particular have more and more freedom, and interest, in pursuing things other than bearing and raising children.

Amory: And there’s an awakening happening about the culture of pressure around having kids in our society. And childfree is a part of that awakening.

Ben: I want to say that I think we’re a good duo to tackle this one, Amory. Because I’m sympathetic to people who don’t want kids, and I respect their point of view. But I’m also a dad who is maybe a little skeptical of some parts of the childfree thing. And you are a fence sitter.

Amory: Another piece of lingo around childfree. A person who is on the fence about having kids. But yeah, I think we got this.

Ben: We got this!

Amory: Today’s episode…

Ben and Amory: Free to be childfree!

Ben: I'm Ben Brock Johnson

Amory: I'm Amory Sivertson and your'e listening to Endless Thread.

Ben: The show featuring stories found in the vast ecosystem of online communities called Reddit.

Amory: We're coming to you from WBUR, Boston's NPR station. We tapped into our own childlike energy when we greeted Amy.

Ben: Amy!

Amy Blackstone: Yes.

Ben: It's Benny!

Amy: Hello.

Ben: It’s Ben Johnson and Amory.

Amory: And Amory. Hi!

Ben: How are you?

Amy: I’m well, how are you guys?

Ben: We're good.

Ben: Amy was well, but hungry.

Amory: I’m sorry you haven't had lunch yet. That sounds rough.

Amy: Oh, no, that's okay.

Ben: Maybe if you had progeny, they would have served you some lunch by now.

Amy: Right? I know, one of many reasons I made such a huge mistake.

Ben: For the record, part of why we appreciated talking with Amy is precisely because she can have a sense of humor and balance when it comes to this decision.

Amory: Amy Blackstone is a sociology professor at the University of Maine. And, she’s childfree. But that’s not how she thought things would turn out.

Amy: If you asked me, I had a plan. When I was 10 or 11, I knew that I was going to start having children when I was 20. I would have two kids, a boy and a girl, and I would be the cool mom who picked my kids up at school and, you know, showed up with Capri Suns and in my leg warmers and mini skirt, this was the 80 so. I had this real vision.

Ben: Fast-forward a decade and a half, from the kids drink era of Capri Sun to the 1990s, aka the brief but glorious rule of the drink Sunny Delight. Amy had married her high school sweetheart, she had a PhD, a fulfilling career, and no children. Yet?

Amy: By the time I hit my mid 30s and was still answering with the, “I'm too young, I'm not interested yet. Maybe later,” I realized maybe something else is going on. Maybe I don't want to have kids! And that was the point at which I really started thinking more deeply about parenthood as a choice.

Ben: So Amy did what you might expect a doctor of sociology to do, she started looking into the topic.

Amy: I went to find research to sort of answer that question? Of what’s wrong with me? Why am I not feeling that maternal instinct? And I discovered there was less sociological work on the experience of being childfree and on the process by which people make this decision than I expected to find.

Amory: Amy started doing her own research. And she and her husband Lance started a blog — called “We’re {not} having a baby!” They share research, rants, memes, and stories — including the one about how they “came out” as childfree to Amy’s family.

Ben: A lot of childfree people use that expression, by the way. Amy says it’s not intended to take away from the LGBTQ experience of “coming out,” — it’s meant to draw parallels between the ways in which people push back against what mainstream society sees as “normal” and “natural” and “appropriate.” For Amy, her coming out, took even her by surprise.

Amy: Lance and I were, happened to be hosting my nephew's first year birthday. And at his birthday party, my sister asked, "So when are you and Lance going to give Josh a cousin?" And like I just had this very visceral reaction to that question. And, you know, had been thinking for a while at this point that I didn't want to be a mother and felt uncomfortable in that place. And so when my sister asked this question, I just blurted out “Never!” And the whole room just sort of went silent.

Ben: Amy says this was a really uncomfortable moment, and it felt like an outsized reaction. But it felt right. So it was freeing to declare loudly that she really was not going to have kids.

Amory: Amy declared her decision even louder this year when she published a book on the topic. It’s called “Childfree by Choice.” And probably the first step in understanding what it means to be childfree, is understanding what the term “childfree” means.

Amy: I chose to use that term. And, you know, the other term that people talk about is childless or voluntarily childless. And for many childfree people, the term childless doesn't accurately or adequately represent their experience. It's putting the emphasis on a thing that we don't have because we've chosen not to have it.

Ben: Yeah it suggests incomplete.

Amy: Right! Right.

Ben: Opting out of having kids isn't new. But the concept of it being a movement or a political choice — “childfree,” “voluntarily childless,” whatever you call it — seems to be growing. And the conversation about it in more recent years can probably be traced back to a couple of movements in the 1960s and 70s. First up, the second-wave feminist movement, which is connected to the FDA approving the birth control pill in 1960. Also, Roe v. Wade which came 13 years later, legalizing abortion. These two landmark events that gave people more control than ever before in the decisions about parenthood.

Amy: We're all better off when women have equal access to health care, to the workplace, to education, when they're able to control and make their own decisions about their reproductive lives and their bodies.

Amory: Next up, something called the zero-population-growth movement, focusing on — you guessed it — our expanding population post baby boom.

Amy: And then the zero population growth movement really raised our awareness about humans’ impact on the environment, particularly in Western nations with, with you know, different consumption patterns than other nations around the world.

Amory: According to Pew Research data from 2015, about 15% of women in the U.S. reach their 40th birthday without having given birth. But Amy is quick to point out that the data is far from perfect.

Amy: A woman who doesn't have a child is not necessarily a childfree woman. I mean, we know what proportion of women end their lives without ever having children. But we don't have good data on…

Ben: Why.

Amy: Right. Exactly. Among those women, which of them is childless? Which of them wanted to become parents but didn't or couldn't for any number of reasons? And which of them is childfree?

(music plays)

Amory: What demographers do know is that we’re in an extended era of declining fertility rates in this country. Which is strange because there are more women of child-bearing age these days than there were a decade ago. But we don’t know how many of the people opting out or delaying parenthood are doing so because they’re choosing to be part of this childfree movement. And so we don’t know how big the movement is.

Ben: While you can’t currently measure the growth of the entire childfree movement, you can measure it, on Reddit, where there’s a childfree community that recently has been going gangbusters.

Chris: Currently we're growing at more than 1,200 subscribers per day.

Amory: Ya heard that right. And you heard it, from Chris.

Chris: I'm a 35 year old German guy and I'm currently in Suzhou, China and I'm actually one of the moderators of the childfree forum.

Ben: These days, Chris lives in China, but before that he lived in Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Tanzania, Liberia, Norway, Luxembourg…

Amory: Alright, we get it! He’s well-traveled. Guy makes Jason Bourne look like a homebody. Chris has worked in banking, tourism, transportation, medical device technology…

Ben: Alright, we get it! He’s also a swiss-army man. And Chris says his career-hopping, globe-trotting lifestyle has become a bit of a joke between him and the friends of his who have kids.

Chris: When they see me posting on Facebook, on Instagram, I'm now in Thailand. I'm in Vietnam, I'm doing a coffee roasting workshop in Bali and stuff like that. And they're like, yeah, and I'm just taking the little one to the park and here I am with the little one going to the doctor, to the dentist and whatsoever.

Amory: Chris says there’s always a boom in growth of the subreddit this time of year. Probably because the holidays mean family gatherings…

Ben: And family gatherings mean an onslaught of unsolicited comments, questions, and opinions about your life choices.

Amory: Things like...

A waterfall of different voices ask the following questions:

What, you don’t like kids? Well it’s different when it’s your own, you know.

Don’t you want to give your parents grandchildren?

But who will take care of you when you’re old?

You’re young — you’ll change your mind

But you two would make such cute kids together!

Ben: And how about this one, straight from the Pope…

Pope Francis: Non avere figli è una scelta egoistica.

Amory: Translation: Not having children is a selfish choice.

Ben: The childfree have a term for these kinds of statements: Bingos.

(music plays)

Chris: Yeah. Well, a bingo is basically coming from the old bingo game where basically you have a square piece of paper and you have a couple of common expressions that that you're going to see or that you're going to hear over your lifetime. Simply meaning, you hear it so many times that you're bound to have five in a row someday and then you're going to win a prize.

(A bunch of different voices say "Bingo!")

Amory: There’s no actual prize in the childfree subreddit...

Ben: Womp womp.

Amory: But there is a wealth of information — reading materials, FAQs, best-of discussion threads, and a compilation of comebacks to all those bingos. In response to the whole “you’re too young to know for sure” argument, one comeback reads: “I’m too young to decide I don’t want children, but somehow I am not too young to decide I do want children?”

Ben: To Pope Francis’ “selfish” argument? Take your pick! Like, “I’m selfish for not wanting to bring an unwanted child into this world?” or “How am I selfish for putting my own happiness over a non-existent being?”

Amory: A place for people to post arguments and snarky comebacks might sound unproductive. Then again, there are four babies born every second. So people in the childfree community feel like it’s a refuge for a minority that faces intense cultural pressure.

Chris: Even with 700,000 subscribers that we are just about approaching, compared to seven billion people in the world, that's still next to nothing. And that means if you want to get any kind of support from like-minded people, then the internet is the best place to find such a support community.

Ben: This is really interesting to me because, Amory, I’ve mentioned this quote from author William Gibson that gets repeated all the time in the tech world, which is, “The future is here it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Amory: You have mentioned it a lot, yes.

Ben: And I think that in a similar way, the childfree conversation is here it’s just not evenly distributed. How and whether people are having this conversation, and their ability to have it, depends a lot on where you are in the world and what community you’re living in.

Amory: This is especially true when you live in a place where being childfree isn’t just atypical, it’s practically unheard of.

Summer: They don’t get it. How can you, a woman, a Kenyan woman, not want to have children? That's crazy.

Ben: This is Summer, AKA HonestSummer on Reddit, who you heard from at the top of the show. A 27-year-old woman who sent us a voice memo from Nairobi, Kenya.

Summer: Some think I’m joking, you know. They think, oh you're just saying that because right now you're too busy, you’re a career woman, you know? Oh, that is so feminist. You know feminist is still used that as an insult, which I find insulting.

Amory: Summer has been pretty career focused — she recently got her law degree. But she says one of the main reasons she doesn’t want children is because of recent bouts with severe depression.

Summer: My mental health is so important to me after almost losing my life by my own hands. So ultimately I realized that kids who depend on you for every waking moment of their lives for at least 18 years. I couldn't do it.

(music plays)

Ben: The realization that you don’t have to become a parent has been liberating for Summer. She always thought she would just end up a mother. That she’d follow the so-called “life-script” that is more or less expected — go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, die.

Amory: Some people in the childfree community, rip up that life-script a lot sooner than others.

Jason: There's never been a bone in my body that said, Hey, I see myself in the future with two kids, a wife and a picket fence.

Ben: This is wikifido on Reddit. You can call him Jason. Just don’t expect him to show up to your kid’s birthday party.

Jason: Through the course of my life, I've avoided situations with lots of kids, holding babies, just anything that had a overtly nurturing towards a child human being. I've just never felt that compulsion.

Amory: It’s not just human babies Jason is talking about. When he was in middle school, he was assigned to take care of one of those robot babies. You know, the thing they give you in health class that show you how much work babies are just to scare you out of having sex? Ben, did you ever have to take care of one of those?

Ben: I did not. And it shows.

Amory: Well, Jason did not want to take care of this robot baby. And he was pretty tech-savvy, so…

Jason: Being the curious individual that I am, I said, “Oh hey, I'm gonna go ahead and see how this thing works. And I used a screwdriver, took it apart and found that it had an SD card in it. And then when I put the SD card into the computer, I found out how it was to keeping score of you, keeping track of, you know, what you were doing to the baby, positive, negative or otherwise. Figured out how the scoring works. Gave myself a B plus.

Amory: You hotwired the baby!

Jason: Yes I did.

(music plays)

Ben: If you are literally hacking your way out of simulated parenthood, yeah, maybe you shouldn’t opt into the real thing. But around the same time Jason was using his tech skills for a homework kludge, something else was going on. Something that he thinks has shaped his view of kids in general.

Jason: I did end up in the emergency room twice as a victim of bullying. And, you know, so I think to some extent that has me with a very negative view of children may be a contributing factor, certainly.

Amory: Now, not all kids become bullies obviously. And not all kids become victims of bullying. But there’s an uncertainty and a lack of control in becoming a parent that makes Jason, and maybe other childfree people, uncomfortable.

Jason: Will the child have medical issues on their birth? Will they, you know, be a certain way throughout their middle and high school years? You don't know. You can't plan around that. It makes you very anxious and uncomfortable.

Ben: I totally get this perspective by the way. When you become a parent, you definitely lose some of your sovereignty as an individual person. But you also have to accept a whole new set of realities that are outside your control, which can be stressful to even imagine.

Amory: And for someone like Jason, the answer is simple: avoid that anxiety by just not having kids. Avoiding having kids, less simple.

Ben: We’ll get to that in a minute.

[Sponsor Break]

Ben: So we’re talking about the decision to have kids.

Amory: Specifically, the decision to not have kids. To be childfree, which is something I’m thinking about. As of right now, I’m a fence sitter. Which has its own community on Reddit, by the way. People sharing their fears and frustrations and asking a lot of questions.

Ben: A really common question: My partner wants kids, but I’m on the fence. Is that a dealbreaker?

Lavina: I married my first husband under the impression that he was fully aware because of conversations we had. That I was not interested in having any children. And we subsequently divorced because he let me know that he had always wanted to have children and thought that he would be able to change my mind.

Amory: This is Lavina Howard, who we heard from earlier. She is clearly not a fence sitter, so yeah, the decision over kids can be dealbreaker.

Ben: But the reality is, the decision about having kids isn’t always a conscious decision. Case in point: Ben Brock Johnson. I was not planned. I was a special surprise snowflake.

Amory: And you still are. But according to recent data, about 45% of children currently being born in the U.S. are unplanned. For a variety of reasons.

Ben: To someone like Jason, the Redditor who hotwires mechanical babies and avoids real ones at all costs, this statistic is unsettling.

Jason: Well, I'm doing my damnedest to attempt to get a vasectomy.

Amory: Mmmm, doing your damnedest but not succeeding at the moment?

Jason: No. Most doctors will, since it is an elective procedure, most, you know, kick it down the line or some outright just say, no, you're too young.

Amory: Jason has seen five doctors about this so far with no luck. And it’s a common experience, even more common for women, to have a medical professional look askance at a permanent or even not permanent surgery.

Ben: Which is messed up, because once you have kids, you go in there and they’re like yep, no problem!

Amory: Snip snip!

Ben: And this is also why there’s a list on the subreddit of “childfree-friendly” doctors by state, and even by country.

Amory: Also a “how to get sterilized” guide, with a ton of information about the different sterilization options. Including one that, I confess, I didn’t even know about and neither did the Redditor Subtlety87.

Subtlety87: I discovered bilateral salpingectomy through the Reddit childfree board, and as soon as I read about it, I was like, oh, that! That's what I want!

Ben: Bilateral salpingectomy: a removal of the fallopian tubes. Not to be confused with tubal ligation: having your tubes tied.

Amory: Subtlety is only a couple years older than Jason, but she was able to find a doctor who would sterilize her. In part because she’s had bad reactions to several other types of birth control. But she was told she’d have to wait one month to get the surgery, a mandated waiting period in the socially conservative state where she lives.

Ben: She says it was worth the wait. Especially because she’s got a demanding career in the performing arts. She says she doesn’t have room for kids.

Amory: Could she make room? Sure. People who want kids make room.

Subtlety87: Different people want different things. I think there is this idea that there is a massive lack, you know, and I'm not looking to fill a void in my life. There's no void to begin with, for me. And, you know, a lot of people say it's like, “Oh, there's nothing like the feeling of watching your kids playing and having your spouse right next to you.” And I'm like. I also get similar feelings of contentment and joy and happiness, you know, in the little home and the little family that I have built. And I just, I think that to discount someone else's happiness is quite hurtful, and I think people often they don't mean to do that, but it happens a lot.

Ben: Discounting people’s happiness goes both ways though. And you definitely see some of it in the childfree community online — people asking how anyone could ever want children or calling misbehaving children “crotch demons” and “screaming meat sirens.”

Amory: If you are a fence-sitter, some of the negativity you find in there towards children could drive you away. There's also a lot of judgement about what is and isn’t good parenting, which an actual parent might find a little rich. Ben?

Ben: I mean, I won't say I never judge other parents, but I also think it’s tough to judge parents if you’ve never been a parent. I think it’s also really tricky to judge someone who’s chosen not to be a parent about that choice, which is obviously a big part of what the childfree community is about.

Amory: Yeah, for the most part it's a safe space for people to navigate an uncommon — and even unpopular — life choice together without worrying about offending people in their lives who have made the opposite choice.

Ben: Which brings us to Maxine Trump. No relation to, you know...

Maxine Trump: I made a documentary called Trumps Against Trump, which is just a short little doc. All the Trumps that didn't vote for Trump.

Amory: That’s what Maxine does. She makes documentaries. Sometimes about things that hit close to home, like her latest film, “To Kid or Not to Kid.”

(Audio plays from "To Kid or Not to Kid")

Maxine: I always put off my decision to have children…

A woman's voice: Childless women can never be happy.

A man's voice: The childless choice is a sort of cancer in our culture.

A different man's voice:We need to have higher birthrates in this country… 

Ben: The film follows Maxine to conferences, meetup groups, and into difficult conversations with her husband and her own mother as she tries to figure out whether or not she really is going to be childfree. Which, spoiler, she still is.

Amory: Maxine didn’t know about the childfree subreddit when she started making her film back in 2013. She’d been feeling alone in her uncertainty. Even more so after one particular conversation with her best friend.

Ben: Who happened to be a parent.

Maxine: You know, this world is really kind of reaching a point where how we can we sustain the people that are already here with resources and food and energy and etc, etc. And I was saying, you know, people that have really large families, I said I thought they were selfish. Now, that's not great language to begin a conversation, but she was my friend and I was trying to, you know, when I was saying, you know, I don't know whether I want kids, like if I don't want kids, I feel really, really sure that I shouldn't have them because the world doesn't need any more kids. And she just took it the wrong way. And our relationship has never been the same since.

Amory: Maxine hasn’t spoken to this friend in a decade. But she learned a lot from this conversation. And she wants others to as well. Including me and Ben. Just as I was telling Maxine that I think my friends and colleagues will support me if I DON'T have children...

Ben: I'm going to get Amory the best gift when she has kids.

Amory: OK. So Maxine, he makes this joke all the time.

Maxine: Ben, that needs to stop. I mean, even the little subtle jokes all the time, it's a little pressure. Sorry, Ben.

Amory: Well, well, that's that's kind of what I was talking about, that, you know.

Ben: We have talked about that.

Amory: And that's kind of where I was going with this, is that, you know, it's not that I think I'm going to be disowned. It's it's like the little disappointment, you know, knowing that certain people are taken more seriously because they’re parents. But I do think there is potential for a greater awareness as more and more people learn that it's OK to say you don't want children.

Ben: I totally agree. And for what it's worth, I will say fully on the record that I will love you, Amory, like equally either way, if you have kids or don't have kids.

Amory: Thank you.

Ben: And I think like, you would be an incredible parent. So like, that's where...

Maxine: I get that a lot too, though. I get that a lot.

Ben: But that's the thing. It's like. I think that's OK for me to feel that way. Like, I don't think that there's anything wrong with that place where I’m coming from.

Maxine: But as a friend who knows that Amory is exploring, you know, is having this sort of, she's on the spectrum of what, you know, flopping between either or, and Amory, obviously, I don't know you very well, but giving your friend the room by not sort of saying, “Oh, you'll be a good mom or you do the will to do that.” It's like a respect for where she is in her decision making. Just giving the room, because we've been, it's been an indoctrination. And what you're doing by holding back, Ben, is allowing is not falling into the trap. And I do say trap of of we are being told this is the next step for us all the time in society, everywhere.

Amory: There’s a term for this, by the way. It’s called pro-natalism. Encouragement to have children. Whether it’s coming from your church, or from your government, like the Danes did a few years ago with their “Do it for Denmark!” campaign, or directly from a friend. But it can also be our friends that help us pushback against the pro-natalist messaging that we’re bombarded with.

Maxine: By you being a great friend and holding back, you're saying, listen, I'm supporting you, subtly, by not saying you'll be a great mom or having the jokes. It’s giving her that space to just kind of, while she's deliberating about what she wants to do, to make her not feel weird if she doesn't decide to have kids. Does that make sense?

Ben: I think like, it makes sense in some ways. But the other side of that to me is that like your friends are people who influence you. Your friends are people who like tell you what your perspective is. Right?

Maxine: Right, but see what you're saying, you’re saying influence.

Ben: Yeah.

Maxine: You’re saying influence.

Ben: Of course.

Maxine: But why do you want to influence her one way or the other? Don't you just want her to be happy?

Ben: Oh, of course. But but my perspective is 100 percent that, like, if she'd like if she decides to have children, that she will be happy. And so like --

Maxine: And if she decides not to have children...

Ben and Maxine: She'll also be happy.

Ben: Totally.

Maxine: Right. But you may not be saying that as much as you're saying the other side of the equation.

Amory: Ok this is a good point. Although, in fairness to Ben, he does a pretty good job of painting a realistic portrait of parenthood for me on a regular basis. I get the cute pics, and the tales of late-night tantrums. Definitely more tantrum stories, actually.

Ben: Yeah and this is the part where, personally, I think maybe Maxine’s not really privy to the nature of our relationship and our conversations about this, as friends. From where I sit, a true friend is someone who will tell you or give you a sense when they have a different perspective, even if it’s not super comfortable. Not to tell you you’re wrong to not have kids, but to say, that’s interesting, I look at it a different way, here’s how I look at it. So that in sharing your different perspectives you both make more informed choices whatever choices you make.

Amory: That’s fair. As long as you’re not disappointed if my husband and I ignore your perspective entirely when we make our choice.

Ben: Of course! I fully expect that. It’s also really important to me to give space and only respond when your friend asks you for advice, right. and I think I’m pretty careful about that generally.

Amory: True. It’s usually a reaction to something.

Ben: Like you say how much it must suck to have kids and I say…

Amory: No! I have never done that I would never do that!

Ben: Fair fair fair. But I make jokes about reveling in your adventures as a future parent possibly when we’re already talking about kids.

Amory: But because we have the rapport that we do, I can just say, “Yeah yeah” and roll my eyes and that’s the end of it. But maybe I will start responding with a comment about how well-rested I am or how not sticky my house is.

Ben: Ughhhhh so sticky. And then I’ll say “Yeah yeah” and roll my eyes at you.

Amory: And I expect nothing less.

Ben: So the bottom line is, you can’t really know what life would’ve been like with kids or without them, if you’re in the other position. Just like it’s true that for me, there are things I know now as a parent that I didn’t know even the day before my kids were born.

Amory: And in the last few years, you might have learned a whole bunch of things that you didn’t learn, because you were busy parenting.

Ben: Totally. Also to be clear, we’re coworkers as well as friends. And as a coworker, I know that your choices about family are really none of my business.

Amory: Also, it's important to know that for a woman, it's really different. Maxine made this point too. And Ben, you get that.

Ben: I do.

Ben: Obviously I grant on its face, absolutely, that like this impacts women very differently than men. And that's, you know. Yeah. We can start there. But the other thing I would say is that, like, I also think there's no question that for me throughout my life, you know, already in the two and a half years that I've been a parent and probably for the rest of my life, I will spend many, many days like wondering what could have been. There's no question about that. So to me like that part of it is like, that's kind of basic as well. And so, you know, I'll just sort of put it bluntly for the sake of illustration, like I think it's possible that, you, you've made a mistake that you don't know you've made.

Maxine: Oooooh. Controversial, Ben, controversial!

Ben: I'm just putting it out there, right. And I'm like, I mean, if I didn't have kids, I may have made a mistake that I didn't know I made.

Amory: Yeah you can throw that right back to him, Maxine. You know.

Maxine: Thank you Amory, thank you.

Amory: You, Ben, may have made a mistake that you don't know about yet.

Ben: Well, I mean, you know, I mean, I get hints of it all the time.

Maxine: Exactly.

Ben: No, but really, no. I mean that in an empathetic way. Not in like accusatory.

Maxine: I'm still trying to find the empathy. I'm trying to find the empathy in that statement. But, you know I don't need to protest too much. Like, make the decision you want to make. Like, I don't care. I really don't care. I know what makes me happy. And that is going around the world filming in amazing places that I would never access otherwise. And that makes me so happy. And that's what we're talking about really, is what makes you so happy. If you are pining desperately to have a child and you know that’s your heart's desire, good for you and have that child and love that child and feel a satisfaction that I feel in my life. It's kind of giving me chills as I'm sitting here, because this has been a really, really interesting conversation, because we in the many podcasts or interviews that I've done, we don't always drill down or have the time to get into the real psychology of it. So that's all I'm about. I'm just like, drill down, have the space, have the room to be able to really think about what makes you happy and find that source. And go with it.

(music plays)

Ben: Amory, since our interview with Maxine I’ve been thinking a lot about this. And here’s what I want to say.

Amory: OK.

Ben: The clearest message I want to send to you, as someone on the other side of this, is that having a kid, for me, and for I think a lot of parents who live really full and happy lives, wasn’t an easy, clear decision. I think it’s normal to question your choice to be a parent even after you’re a parent. And I think we need to be real about that. Because while a lot of people really are positive about their feelings on this, the childfree community is totally right that there’s a messed up part of our society that pretends it’s not okay to not want kids or be unsure about this huge life choice. I was a fence-sitter too, which I don’t talk about that much. And even though my life changed and I opted into the "life script" we’ve been talking about, being a parent is still really scary. I’m not often sure I have what it takes. And even if I do, I’m afraid of what my kids will face on the playground and on the planet. But when I wake up and take my kids out of their beds, it’s awesome. And my hope every day is that this is just part of my journey as a parent. It is the cost of my choice to feel this way. And at that level, I’m good with it. Because nine days out of ten I get my mind blown by these little maniacal people in my life. And you don’t have to become a parent to get that full-heart feeling. But I definitely get it from being a parent. So whatever you choose to do, Amory, I support you. Because you are great.

Amory: Well thanks, I appreciate that. And I’ve been thinking a lot about why your jokes about me having kids sometimes gets under my skin, even though I know your intentions are nothing but good and I know you don’t get a vote in the matter. And I think it's because, even in jest, it reinforces this idea of the “lifescript.” The idea that there’s a path that I will inevitably follow, or a path that people at least expect me to follow. And the thing is, that is just not how my life has gone so far. If I had done what people expected of me — or even what I expected of me — I wouldn’t have gone to school where I did, I wouldn’t have married (or probably even met) my husband, and I sure as hell wouldn’t be making a podcast. But I like making things up as I go along and allowing myself to be surprised at how happy I am with the choices I didn’t think I’d make and how underwhelmed I am sometimes with the ones I did. And the same goes for kids. If I have them, it will be another thing I did not see myself doing. And like you, Ben, I might love it. But if there’s a big takeaway for me from working on this episode and having these conversations, it is a much needed reminder that there is no such thing as a lifescript. All I know, is that whether we have kids or not, we’re definitely getting a dog first.

Ben: Oh my God, you and Mike will have the CUTEST dogs together!

Amory: Eyooooo.

Josh Swartz Twitter Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Josh is a producer for podcasts and new programs at WBUR.

More…

Support the news