This week, Jonathan, a member, sent me an email with a provoking subject matter: “The first 1000 days of childlessness”. He told me about having felt like an “outsider” when he and his partner decided not to have kids.
“In younger years, we had to explain again and again why we didn’t have children. Happily that dies down at a certain age. We were pitied, we were wished good luck, we were told ‘never mind’,” he wrote. “People who do not have children are defined by being childless, by *not* having something. It has always interested me that we define people by something they have not done.
I am so grateful that Jonathan reached out. Thankfully now there is a word that describes those who decide not to have children: childfree. (Childless is usually referred to those who want kids but cannot have them.) However, the issue is the same: we describe childfree people as those who decide *not* to have children. The starting point is that children are the most expected outcome of our adult lives.
If you read my previous newsletter where I discussed why we decide to have (or not have) children, you will know that I don’t write about the first 1,000 days of life for parents *only*. We were all children once, and even those who do not have children should be interested in their future neighbours, colleagues, and leaders.
So, my question is: why is there some sort of assumption that those without children may not be interested in reading what I write, or that I may not be interested in their opinion? Why are parents and non-parents pitted against each other? Does the world have to be binary like that?
I believe that we can do better. This is why I reached out to the people behind the Childfree Girls podcast after they came across my newsletter. I told them that I would love to have a conversation to talk about bridging this apparent divide.
I enjoyed the conversation. Kristen Tsetsi, Isabel Firecracker and LeNora Faye come from different parts of the world (US, Colombia, Canada), and work in different fields (a writer, advocate, and coach respectively) but they all share their decision to be childfree as well as a desire to make more people aware of their choices. In the podcast we recorded, they asked thoughtful questions about why I think there is this apparent divide between parents and childfree people.
I explained that by pitting parents and childfree people against each other, we all lose, because we reinforce the patriarchal mandate that women – yes, women, especially – are bound to have children.
I also told them that I wished I had congratulated a person I knew when he told me he had had a vasectomy because he was sure he did not want to have kids. (Yes, I first read about it in this piece, and I think we should all congratulate each other on making important decisions!)
You can watch the full episode of Childfree Girls here, or listen to it as a podcast on most streaming services.
At the end of the show, after saying goodbye to me, Isabel, Kristen and Lenora wondered why I’d decided to have a child at all. They didn’t ask me on the show, but I’m happy to answer. I’ll get to that in another newsletter!
100 years of Clarice Lispector
A few years ago I started studying Portuguese with one goal in mind: read Brazilian author Clarice Lispector in her original language.
Lispector was a recent obsession of mine: I first came across her work when I moved to Argentina, and one of my brothers in law gifted me a book of her weekly columns she used to write for a Brazilian newspaper. I was mesmerised by how she weaved her apparently mundane weekly affairs with big thoughts about the world around her, womanhood and motherhood. Her genuine voice captured me.
Then I realised she had also written children’s books, which I have always loved reading. (And no, I don’t mean as a child. I mean later in life. I actually studied creative writing with a focus on children’s literature while I lived in Buenos Aires, even before becoming a mother.) One of them is called The Mystery of The Thinking Rabbit and it tells the story of a rabbit that likes to escape from his cage to explore the world.
What I love about this apparently simple story is that it’s up to the readers to figure out how Joãozinho the rabbit manages to escape. There are no straightforward answers.
Lispector had written the book for her sons, who demanded their writer mother entertain them, and the introduction alone is enlightening.
“As the story was written for domestic use only, I left all the spaces between lines for oral explanations. I apologise to fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, and grandparents, for they will be forced to contribute. But at least I can guarantee from experience that the oral part of this story is the best part of it … to tell the truth, it only ends when the child solves other mysteries.”
Aren’t the things that are not spelt out, and the ideas that children conjure up during the oral storytelling, the best parts of the children’s book experience? I like to think so.
This week the world marks 100 years since Lispector’s birth, and I for one will try to celebrate by sharing the mystery of Joãozinho with my son.
Send me your book recommendations!
Talking of children’s books, I started December by checking the state of my son’s library. Does he have access to books that reflect the diversity of our worlds, the languages and cultures he is surrounded by? Does he have access to other realities, is his book collection diverse enough?
I will tell you about my findings in a story soon – in time to inspire some Christmas shopping maybe. But in the meantime, I hope to hear from you! How do you diversify what the children around you read? Do the picture books they have access to reflect diversity? And if they don’t, why not? Please send me recommendations of your diverse books by email or in the comment section below! I’m especially interested in books for early childhood, and board books, but feel free to go wild.
Until next week,
P.S. Conversation editor Nabeelah Shabbir and I are speaking at the Association of European Journalism – Bulgaria about our first year at The Correspondent. Join us on Zoom on 9 December – registration is free!
P.S.2 Next week I’ll send my newsletter on Thursday for a special edition on Argentina’s First 1,000 Days Plan together with member-funded news platform Red/ACCIÓN. Thanks to those who sent tips on national policies on the first 1,000 days elsewhere in the world!
This article first appeared in The Correspondent, the member-funded platform that shut down on 1 January 2021.