Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Childless Marriages (The HORROR!!)

OK, if you didn't get it already, and most of you will, the title is a joke: I don't think childfree* marriages are frightening or scary (the phrase, "childfree marriage," in fact, makes me think of quiet evenings involving wine and pleasant conversation in a tidy room). But I chose the title because I followed an interesting-looking link at the CFEZ board to a thread on why CF marriage frequently aren't taken seriously.

I thought it was a really interesting and (for me) eye-opening conversation - people wrote about being told that their marriages aren't marriages unless they have children, which is something I've only ever heard from feisty fundies. People also wrote about having others try to fix them up on dates, knowing full well that they were married but taking the "no kids" to mean that the relationship wasn't solid or committed.

Come to think of it, that's pretty much how religious folk who think sexual orientation can be "cured" treat queer people. I've heard of both of these things happening in exactly that context.

So I'm curious - those of you who are married and don't have kids: do you feel that your marriages are taken less seriously than you expect? Those of you who do have kids: did the way others treated your marriage change when you had kids? And this goes for those of you who aren't married, as well - does having kids, or would it, do you think, change the way that others see your relationship? And does any of this differ between same-sex and different-sex couples?

I do remember, pre-kid, being asked a lot if I had kids and getting surprised reactions because I didn't (which I found annoying). And often the questioner would provide a handy reason as to why I hadn't had a kid ("oh, well, you're still in school," or "you're young - you have plenty of time". I found these comments odd, since the conversation seemed to be taking place entirely in the questioner's head - I wasn't talking about kids, wasn't engaging their questions about kids, wasn't feeling sad or anxious about not having kids, but clearly the questioner was having issues). But I haven't noticed that my marriage is treated differently with kid than without kid, and I was married without for more years than I've been married with. I will say, though, that my relationship definitely got taken more seriously when I got married than it was before, which pissed me off for all of the obvious reasons.

One really interesting comment on the CFEZ site suggested that the rationale for the notion that a marriage must produce children comes from the fact that so many people stay together "for the kids," so that lots of people have come to see marriage as about kids...

Any thoughts?

*I used "childless" rather than "childfree" in the post title on purpose, because I doubt very much that those upset by the very idea of marriage without kids would get the distinction.


Anonymous said...

I'm not married, but I do see a lot of "marriedandhavekids" as this THING I'm supposed to do, and that people are surprised I don't get around to.

It's one of those things like virginity -- assumed to be a developmental milestone in the human life, or something. So some people rush to do it, because it's what "mature" people their age do.

Personally I often wonder if this is part of "the biological clock" for some women. I don't mean to downplay the experience of a sudden sharp urge to have children, as people grow and change. But it's always mystified me the way it's generally presented as this sudden, gnawing, desperate NEED and sense of TIME RUNNING OUT that suddenly hits someone who was never interested at all.

Kelsey said...

Maybe it's the circles I run in, but don't feel my marriage has ever been taken less seriously because I don't have children (now, before I got married, I did often feel that my half-decade relationship was taken a lot less seriously than Britney Spears-like spontanious elopments, but that's a different matter altogether). I do have people ask if we plan to have children (and occasionally, *when* we're going to have children), but they usually don't push it.

Anonymous said...

As a gay woman, I can assure you, that whether you have children or not, you're married or just dating - your relationship is taken more seriously by society than my own. I have been in a committed relationship for 11 years. We own a home together. Our checkbook sports both of our names. We raised a son (mostly) together. We take vacations together. We both love the same cat. Yet my mother still tries to set me up with eligible bachelors. She's nothing if she isn't persistent...

I had a son at 17, and I'm continually thankful for this, because chances are I would not have had children and certainly not by accident. I have never experienced adulthood without a child but I am convinced that my status as a mother lent me social credibility that I would not have had otherwise. It did not however, do anything to improve society's perception of my relationship. In fact, my relationship caused many people to be concerned for the welfare of my child. This stigma also had an impact on him - he endured some hardship that really wasn't fair to him. It did however make him who he is today. He is currently enrolled in his masters program in counseling and he has spoken to several college level classes about growing up straight in a gay household.

... Sorry, I got a bit off track. What was the question? Is marriage an institution that is only taken seriously if children are produced?

I guess I wouldn't know. Marriage seems fairly useless to me. I have the relationship. I have the "in sickness and in health - till death do us part". I have a child. The only real benefit to marriage that I see is the chance that my mother would stop trying to set me up with middle aged men.

andi said...

Not sure if this is being "saved" sorry if it's a duplicate.

Not married either, I am in fact celebate. And let's face it, there is no "state" in life less likely to produce children than celibacy.
I've taken vows of cleibacy and chastity, so I get a fairly good view of how seriously folks take any set of vows that don't involve children.
I routinely get folks telling me "well, you'll grow out of it." or "you'll change your mind." or trying to set me up on dates. Hello? Celibate means no dating. And yes, the folks who do this most foten DO know of my vows, and still make statements like "you're going to regret not having kids someday."
oh, ok. How would they react if I told them they'd regret marriage and kids some day? How would they react it I tried to "convert" them to Celibacy? The message they are sending is that their vows are scared, mine are not, How would anyone else handle being told that, in any form, by anyone? Not well I bet.
Also I have seen many folks try to seduce, set up, or sabotage a marriage because "there are no kids, it's not like it's a real marriage." It's simply amazing to me that anyone would make that type of judgement...but I see it often enough that it no longer surprises me to hear those sentiments expressed.

Anonymous said...

andi, that's awful. Your choices are your choices, and your vows are your vows. Yeesh.

Though I can't say I'm surprised to hear people say that kind of thing.

Exasperation with that kind of "you'll change your mind" biz is what drew me to CF stuff originally. The rampant mama-hate and kid-hate quickly drove me off, though.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Folks - just a heads-up - I've turned off comment moderation, so your comments should show up immediately.

Anonymous said...

I think, since I am just expecting, I may fall into both categories: "Having kids" and "Not having kids".

"those of you who are married and don't have kids: do you feel that your marriages are taken less seriously than you expect?"

No way! As a matter of fact, I hear people talking about this "pressure" to have kids, and I have no idea what they are talking about. Maybe because I still look like I am 18, but I got the exact opposite of pressure to have kids- I got pressure *not* to. Maybe it's because of all the feminists in my family, too. The only pressure was always just to have a career and money. There always seemed to be a lot of pressure to only make decisions based on money. (In other words, I've always been pressured to only decide to do things that will benefit me financially). This meant having kids was out of the question.

"Those of you who do have kids: did the way others treated your marriage change when you had kids?"

Not since I found out I was pregnant, no. I never really noticed people "treating my marriage" any way, other than the feminists who didn't believe I should be getting married at all. Since I found out I was having a girl, I have noticed a few people asking me in a serious tone if my husband was "mad" that it was a girl. This threw me for a loop- these people, however, were all from the same ethnicity, so I wonder if that had anything to do with it...

Anonymous said...

So I was in a queer, committed relationship for 3 years before exchanging rings in our backyard in 1997. At the time, only a few close friends recognized this as any sort of commitment or marriage ceremony. As the years passed, more people showed more respect for the relationship, but I was still always considered "single" (grrrr).

In 2005, after 11 years together, we went to Toronto and got "officially" married in City Hall. (Since we already considered ourselves married, we believed this was strictly a political move...until we found ourselves overwhelmed and overjoyed by being "really" married -- even the minister cried with us!)

Although some people still consider us somehow less married than heterosexual couples, others clearly believe this ceremony legitimized our relationship. And getting back to the topic at hand, once people discover we're "really" married, I'll sometimes get asked if we now plan to have/adopt children.

I find this an odd question (or rather odd timing of the question since to me marriage =/= children) but am always gracious and explain that we're having too much fun being children and playing house ourselves : )

andi said...

Thanks, Trin. I think I feel worse for the marrieds who get crap like that, than I do for me. It just annoying for me, but for a married person- if ther partner thinks they were "looking" the results can be devistating, even if they did nothing wrong, You know?

Trinity said...

andi, I think it may just be that I've not been here for a while but -- looking? Looking for what? to have kids?

Plain(s)feminist said...

Trinity - She meant "looking" as in, "looking for someone to hook up with." I think.