The Pontiff told married couples to have kids or face a life of loneliness.
The Pope made headlines this week by encouraging married couples to reproduce lest they get caught in the trap of a marriage that “gets to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.” While acknowledging that the kid-free life can seem tempting, what with all the traveling and exploring that “DINKs” (Dual Income, No Kids) can afford—if you are DINKs with those kinds of resources—the Pope is not down with your carefree lifestyle. This “culture of well being has convinced us it’s better not to have children. It’s better!”
You guys, the Pope is concerned. Not about me so much…well, me for other reasons, but he’s concerned about you married people stepping off the kid conveyor belt and opting to spend your time and energy on other things. He calls this deadly trend of happiness-pursuing “the culture of well being” and he is not fond of it.
What is the opposite of the “culture of well being”? I ask because, had it not been put on the bad end of the Pope’s spectrum, had you presented me that phrase without comment, I would have told you that a culture of well being is exactly the kind of culture I want to be a part of. Might it involve travel and exploration? Maybe. Might it involve children? I sure hope so, but the beauty in the phrase is that it’s up for self-definition. Spending time in nature, devoting yourself to meaningful work, investing in your network of friends and family, making art or building things, study or prayer, meditation, exercise, community work, all of that sounds like a “culture of well being” to me, and it doesn’t seem half bad.
I’m not Catholic. It’s not my faith that is apparently undermined by not reproducing. I’m not even a member of the hypothetical tribe the Pope is tsk-tsking; I do want to have children someday. So why is this whole “culture of well being” directive bothering me at all? It’s not like I follow the rest of his advice.
In the scheme of things, the Pope’s comment is benign. It doesn’t belong in the nightmare box that I have to actively shut every evening lest I get too outraged to fall asleep—“consensual by the end,” “promising futures“, “legitimate rape.” This comment doesn’t belong in that tier of awful misogyny; it doesn’t incite violence against women, or justify harassment, or pen women into this role or that role. For once, it’s not even about women at all! This papal nudge is directed at married couples, men and women alike (but not married gay couples, obviously, or single people who want children…)
The debate here is not about gender, per se, but it is about agency. It is about choice. It is about happiness. And those three concepts, along with equality, make up the pillars of my feminism. Everything I believe about the world and how I want the world to be rests on the intersection of those ideas.
So while this suggestion that childless people will wind up bitter and lonely isn’t sexist, it is exactly the kind of proscriptive, protectionist, narrow-minded drivel that stands in the way of allowing people to actually do the work of discovering what they want out of life. We know what’s best for you, it says, so just sit back and let us protect you from your own selfish decisions. Did it ever occur to them that if, in fact, childless people feel lonely, it might be related to all the messaging they get about how lonely they should feel? Or that loneliness is sometimes part of life and having children won’t necessarily shield you from it? Or even if loneliness is a result of childlessness, we as agents of our own destinies have the right to make compromises and the maturity to live with their consequences?
Not everybody wants to be a parent. Some people can’t have kids for biological or financial reasons, and some people decide that they have other ways they’d like to engage with the world rather than raising tiny humans. I can’t see how telling them “because you’re supposed to” is going to produce more happy, healthy families. In fact, I can think of no better reason to not commit to a lifetime of parenting than the fact that you don’t want to. Kids deserve parents who want to parent them.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.