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January 10, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s been well over two years since the last spate of articles blaming men for women not having children appeared in the British and American press. But that doesn’t mean the same old arguments aren’t being trotted out, threadbare as they are. Here’s the most recent claptrap (Daily Mail, 1/6/16). Amusingly enough, the Mail leads with this claim:

So who are the women who make up Generation Childless? In this two-part series, the Mail will discover why so many women of this era have found themselves childless - and uncover the true cost, to them and society.

Sure. It’s like Monty Python promising to “sort out” The Meaning of Life. Of course they don’t. Similarly, the Mail fails at its far more modest task. This being a two-part piece, I suppose we’ll have to wait for all to be revealed; it’s certainly not in the linked-to article. (That too echoes the Python film, in whose middle a fish points out that “they haven’t said much about the meaning of life,” to which another fish optimistically responds that they’ll “probably get to that in the next bit.” As if.)

One improvement the Mail’s piece makes over previous efforts is that it actually offers some data on the issue of childless women.

[T]he latest statistics show that women in their mid-40s are almost twice as likely to be childless as their parents' generation. One in five women born in 1969 are childless today, compared to one in nine women born in 1942…

Sadly, it seems that the majority of these childless women desperately wanted a family. Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, a support network for childless women, says that her research shows 10 per cent of such women are childless due to infertility and 10 per cent have chosen to be child-free. But that leaves some 80 per cent of women without children who have simply ended up in this situation.

If those data are accurate, some 16% of women in the U.K. want children, but have none. How is such a thing possible? In an age of moderately easy and moderately inexpensive adoption and artificial insemination, how is it possible for a woman – any woman – who wants a child to be childless? It’s generally not good for the child to be raised by a single parent, but millions of adults do it every day, so why don’t those 16% of British women do the same?

Unsurprisingly, the article never mentions either topic. That’s because the writer, Maureen Brookbanks, seems to want readers to agree with two of her interviewees that the “problem” of childless women comes down to – you guessed it – men.

Now, with 16% of women in the country being in this particular pickle, you’d think Brookbanks could find one that reflected those problematic men. And while she identifies two, Melanie Whitehouse and Genevieve Smyth, who seem to blame men for their problems, in neither case do the charges stick.

Whitehouse, for example, “dumped on a whim,” a man she seems to have cared for in her mid-20s. Meeting him years later, she realized,

'I hadn't grieved for the children who might have been until then. I realised with painful clarity what I'd lost,' she says. 'Tom had been happily married for 25 years and had three kids, while I had nobody.'

Later there was Duncan, with whom she had a two-year relationship in her early 30s. He was married with two kids, facts she knew from the start.

By age 39, Whitehouse was desperate.

'Aged 39, I went out with a tall, bald accountant. He was younger than me and obviously uncommitted, but I was determined to somehow make it work.

'I'd shelved my dream of the perfect marriage by now and I took risks with contraception. I was quite prepared to bring a baby up alone if I had to. I remember getting so angry at his lack of regard for me that I had a huge row with him - and he dumped me.'

Frankly, those all sound more like bad choices on Whitehouse’s part than the perfidy of men. Did someone really have to tell her that dumping an eligible man “on a whim” and wasting two years on a married man with kids weren’t the best strategies for starting a family?

To her credit, Whitehouse admits her bad decisions, but somehow, unexplained in the article, still blames the men as if it’s their job to anticipate and take care of her desire for children.

There’s a thread running through the narratives of the two “blame the men” interviewees: men need to meet, not normal adult expectations, but women’s childhood fantasies of what a husband should be.

A kind, funny, handsome husband. A dream wedding in the little Norman church under the South Downs where she'd been raised. And then they would settle down in a ramshackle Georgian rectory in the countryside and have the beautiful babies she'd always dreamed of. She'd have at least two - hopefully more.

This was Melanie Whitehouse's dream as she grew up. To her, it was simply unimaginable that she wouldn't one day become a mother.

And Smyth?

Highly educated, with an honours degree and a Masters to her name, she was brought up on the mantra of equality. She was determined to find a partner who met her exacting standards. Instead, today, she finds herself childless.

'I went to an all girls' school where the message was that women of my generation could have a good and full life: ambitious jobs, children, friends, travel,' she says.

It turns out that establishing one’s demands for what a husband must be in one’s girlhood and not deviating from it in adulthood is a good way to end up childless. Who knew? In Smyth’s case, she finally found a man she could live with, but by the time she did, her body’s clock had stopped.

The vast majority of women of course know better than Smyth or Whitehouse. Yes, they had girlish fantasies, but as they matured, so did their understanding of men and life. They understand that, at one time they wanted a knight on a white steed and a house in the country with children and no worries, but that’s not how life works. Men are just men, not supermen, and the bills need to be paid. Those are women who can form good, stable, adult relationships. Women like Whitehouse and Smyth have a harder time.

A word about “exacting standards.” Healthy male-female relationships aren’t formed like applying for a job; they’re based on mutual love for the other person. Of course we all have minimum standards for the one with whom we choose to spend our lives, but Smyth sounds very much like someone who had her little list of requisites and woe betide the man who only met, say, five of seven.

Put simply, that’s not how relationships work. Indeed, it’s how they don’t work. Carefully measuring another person against a spreadsheet of pre-decided traits is a sure way to either never find a partner or find the wrong one. What works is loving the other person for who he/she is. So maybe the man is a writer and doesn’t earn a lot. Or perhaps he’s only 5’ 6”, or went to a second-rate university, or likes soccer, or loves to spend his time woodworking or prefers beer to wine. There are a million ways to disqualify a candidate, but if one person loves another positively and constructively, then those things are recognized as who the person is and loved because of it.

The point being that no one in this world is the perfect person for you. If that’s who you’re looking for, stop. At some point, the failure to find a partner is your failure, not everyone else’s. It’s the failure to love, to understand the most basic aspect of love - that giving love is your job and you either do it or you don’t. Nothing in this article urges me to believe that either Whitehouse or Smyth grasp that most basic of concepts.

More on this tomorrow.

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#infertility, #men, #fathers, #childlessness

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