“Children used to be an economic necessity,” Ms. Scott says. “Now, they’re a cherished luxury.”
Her clients are also concerned that having a family will mean they can’t devote enough to time their jobs in a super-competitive environment.
This jibes with research done on work-life balance by Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario. In their 2012 study, Revisiting Work-Life Issues in Canada, they found employees increasingly squeezed, with almost 10 per cent saying they had not had kids so they could concentrate on their careers, and 40 per cent saying that their employers believed that “people who are highly committed to family cannot be highly committed to work as well.”
Of all the arguments in favour of having children, Ms. Scott says, buoying up the tax base is probably the most ass-backward – although she phrases it a bit more politely. “We would all have to step up and have three or four kids to solve the problem, and that’s not a credible solution. We are blaming childless women for economies that are just not healthy and sustainable.”
It’s far easier to point the finger at child-free couples, she says, than to consider politically unsavoury alternatives such as raising the retirement age.
The idea of procreating merely to produce future taxpayers rankles many people, as you might imagine. It is perilously close to livestock farming. “There is that great argument that we need to have kids so that we can have a tax base so we can pay for you when you become pensioners,” says Roger Kingkade, a radio DJ in Calgary. “But you can turn that fallacy on its head – you’re creating a whole different set of social-safety-net problems when you have kids. You could be raising welfare-dependent kids. So, no, I don’t ever feel guilt.’’
Mr. Kingkade, 35, has been with his wife, Erin, for 10 years and they are “happily child-free.” If accused of being self-centred, he is not above gently poking fun at his parent friends about the giant carbon footprint left by their minivans equipped with car seats shipped from China.
He says this with a laugh, but it’s a point many baby-free couples will hint at, if not say outright for fear of seeming self-righteous: Weighed in the balance, the choice they have made is environmentally sound, and so more selfless than selfish.
For Vanessa, 38, it’s a feminist argument as well: She doesn’t like the idea of her role in the world being reduced to “mother.” Vanessa, who works for the provincial government in Toronto (and asked that her last name not be used), told her husband on their first date that she didn’t want to have children.
He was fine with that. His mother was less so. “She told me I was abnormal, that I had a screw loose,” Vanessa says.
She arranged to have her tubes tied on her 30th birthday, acting on a decision she had made when she was 13. And yet friends and colleagues continue to nag her: “Everyone always says, ‘You’ll regret this,’ or, ‘It’ll be different when it’s yours.’ And I say, ‘What if it’s not?’ A child is not like a dog you can take back to the pound.”
Parenthood is a road with no exits, yet many mothers and fathers will admit that they would take one if it magically appeared. Ambivalence is marked on the map.
I’ve heard it in the grim jokes shared by parents of colicky babies – “I swear sometimes I thought I’d throw him over the balcony.” Okay, that was actually my joke. I may even have meant it at the time. I’ve heard it in the late-night confessions of friends, who lean in close to whisper the ultimate taboo: “If I could do it over, I wouldn’t have them.”
But the one resonant theme I heard from all the childless people I interviewed for this story is an equally shocking lack of ambivalence. Granted, they had all made the choice deliberately, and were not mourning a boat that had sailed without them. But not one of them expressed a moment of regret. Asked what the downside of their decision was, they would struggle to come up with an answer.
“Regrets?” said Lisa Given, the professor in Australia. “Oh, no. No, no, no.”
This can be unsettling to hear. Those of us who love parenthood, even when it feels like a roller coaster operated by a drunken carny, cannot imagine that anyone wouldn’t want to share the trip.
The child-free don’t need sympathy, or contempt, or blame. But they might like a little peace and quiet, to enjoy their own ride.