I noticed this article the other day, and while it’s from Israel, it does speak volumes about the prevailing attitudes in the west.
In most places in Israel, having children is essentially the law: Observant Israelis feel obliged to observe the mitzvah pru urvu—be fruitful and multiply—from Genesis 1:28. And secular Israelis seem to adhere to the Zionist idea of having kids as part of the demographic war. In Tel Aviv, on the other hand, the issue is more complicated. There are two opposing attitudes when it comes to kids: one anti and one very much pro.
And it’s just my luck that most of my friends belong to the anti-baby side. So for me, in Tel Aviv’s hipster society, having a baby has been basically social suicide.
For months before I got pregnant, my friends tried to convince me that having a baby would be a horrible mistake. They emailed me links to academic studies and research showing that children don’t, in fact, make you happy. They told me that wishing to reproduce is narcissistic. I couldn’t always argue with their logic, and in hindsight I must admit that they were right in predicting that once I had a baby, I’d be having more conversations about the different shades and textures of poo than political debates or semiotic analysis of films.
But their ignorance turned into outright denial when I actually did get knocked up. From week to week my belly grew, but my friends around the Friday café table didn’t seem to notice—or, maybe, they didn’t want to notice. At one point I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to blatantly point to my baby bump. The first reaction was a series of blank looks. Then: “What? You got a new shirt?”
A few months after my boyfriend and I became parents, we found out we weren’t invited to an afternoon barbecue at a friend’s house. I tried to remember if one of us said anything to annoy him, or if a notorious ex might be on the guest list, thwarting our invitation. After some unsuccessful speculation, I decided to confront my friend, who simply said that he was sorry, but the other guests didn’t want babies at their party. I assumed even baby-haters know that a sleeping infant in a baby-carrier wouldn’t be much of an imposition, but maybe they were afraid I’d be so rude as to breastfeed while people are eating—a vulgar and thoughtless act that might propel someone to lose his spareribs.
As it turns out, my mistake was trying to rationalize the host’s answer, which led to me naively telling him he could have still invited us and told us not to bring the baby. To that he didn’t have an answer; he just mumbled something about not wanting to insult us. That’s when it sank in: It’s not the baby they imagined would cramp the party’s style; it was us. We simply weren’t considered cool anymore. The fear that we would open our mouths to report that a certain someone rolled over for the first time was so great that we had to be kept off the premises altogether.
Children are not optional for a functioning society. Repeat: not optional.
Yet, we’re seeing an increasing trend towards not only seeing them as optional, but undesirable. Partly that’s driven by the misguided idea that more people is “bad for the planet” and the idea that we’re “overpopulated” (even though birth rates are quickly falling below sustainable rates in many countries).
But there’s also an increasing tread towards people who should be parents simply not wanting to make the sacrifice that children bring. That’s a double loss, because we lose the next generation, and we lose touch with a vital part of life in this generation too – fostering what can only be called selfishness instead.