This is a follow on to my previous post about being childless by choice.
Here are some of the reasons why people may have children when they didn’t want to (again, I’m sure there are more and these are not mutually exclusive):
- No sex education
- Lack of general education
- Not knowing you can say no to sex
- Lack of access to birth control or abortion
- Relationship escalator
- Societal pressure
- Family pressure
- Cultural pressure
- Pressure from religious peers
- Pressure not to give child up for adoption
- Actual lack of choice
The fact that people end up with children when they don’t want them is a horrible commentary on society. The fact that some people are effectively forced to have children is absolutely tragic. And let’s be clear that people that are against abortion are doing exactly that – forcing people that don’t want children to have them. Being against birth control or other family planning is even worse than being anti-abortion. In fact, I call people that are against abortion or family planning “pro-poverty” since giving women control over reproduction is one of the few ways demonstrated to reduce poverty. There is a growing body of evidence on this but here’s a very specific study that found that women who were denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later.
It is somewhat obvious why some of these reasons can lead to having a child when you don’t want one but I’ll focus on a few.
One of the surprising reasons to me is: “not knowing you can say no to sex”. A friend told me that when she was young, she thought that if she went on a date and the man wanted to have sex, she had to have sex with him. This illustrates how a combination of societal pressure, patriarchal attitudes, lack of education and probably several other factors can lead to a total misunderstanding of a person’s right to self-determination.
I’ve talked about the relationship escalator before but, for completeness here, this is the societal pressure that says love is followed by monogamous marriage, is followed by living together, is followed by having children. It’s a very strong societal compulsion.
The pressure to not give up a child for adoption is one that I didn’t think of myself. But this is illustrated by the constant refrain (by the entertainment industry, media, and even Dear Abby) that someone’s biological parent is that person’s “real” parent. This attitude needs to change. A real parent is someone that rears a child regardless of biology. And if we look into the future a little, the ability to have a child with more than two genetic donors isn’t that far off. (This is even a common trope in some science fiction.) Would we really consider someone that donated a gene or two but never had any interaction with the child someone’s parent?
And, talking about adoption, there are anti-abortionists that push for adoption as an alternative. Evidently they are unaware of the number of children that have not been adopted and are in the foster care system. From what I can tell, the horrors of the foster care system are portrayed fairly accurately in the entertainment industry. I’ve had more than one person tell me of sexual abuse when in that system. (This doesn’t mean there aren’t loving foster parents. Probably most of them are.) The suggestion to bring an unwanted child into the world to be put up for adoption also doesn’t consider the financial, physical, and emotional impacts of bringing a child to term. This is a societal catch-22: put your child up for adoption to avoid abortion but, in doing so, be a horrible parent.
I’ve purposefully cited both pressure from religious peers and religion itself. People can pressure other people because of their religious beliefs but people can fall victim to religious beliefs as well. This isn’t just the pressure to have children, but also the pressure to not use birth control.
The idea that someone may not actually have a choice at all is counter to the myth of freedom for everyone in the U.S. One form of this is actual (sexual) slavery. Even though slavery is technically illegal in all countries, slavery still exists (including in the U.S.). Arguably one form of this is child marriage. People in the U.S. probably don’t think this happens in the U.S. – that it only happens in other “culturally backward” countries – but it can happen in the U.S. as well. In particular, (as of this writing) there are still two states that have no minimum marriage age if the parents grant permission. And some states have minimums as low as 12. Let’s be serious, can a twelve year old in today’s society actually make such a choice? I think any child being married at such a young age would only do so because the pressures around them give them no choice. There are also modern day (usually religious) cultures where women have no choice about who they marry or even any choice about if they marry – which is another form of slavery. Another form of this is the (mostly religious) idea that a husband can’t rape his wife; that a married woman is obligated to perform “wifely duties” (what a horrible euphemism.) Even in the U.S. it wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was illegal in all 50 states.
A quick comment is that, although it is more common for women to have children when they don’t want them, men can fall victim to most of the above reasons. The existence of the phrase “shotgun wedding” evidences men being in this situation.
To be fair it is important to realize that just because someone has children when they didn’t or don’t want them doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t love their children. But this can add to the tragedy – especially in cases of poverty or adoption.
One thought on “With Children but Not by Choice”
Wow, this really hits home for me. Thank you for writing this.