Monday, May 01, 2017

Aromanticism, Asexuality and Parenthood

This is the April 2017 issue of the Carnival of Aces. I only got two submissions, so I think instead of just listing them, I'll write up a bunch of my thoughts on these submissions and the topic of this carnival.

Soul Riser writes about respecting children and having opinions about parenting despite not wanting to have any children of their own.

When I first got their entry, I wrote a big long response to them, saying the following.

It's interesting - your comment about the attitude that only parents should have an opinion on parenting. I feel like that started because the early parenting advice books were all written by men, in a time when childcare was done overwhelmingly by women, and were pretty clueless. (I know I was not impressed when I read Dr Dobson's book and he commented about 'babysitting' his own children occasionally.) So I can see where they're getting at. And certainly parents need to be a big part of the conversation about parenting.

But I do think people have gone too far in the other direction. There are lots of ways to get expertise in parenting. If you spend a lot of time reflecting on your own childhood and how you were raised, as it sounds like you have, that gives you a kind of expertise. If you're a child development researcher and have read and/or performed studies on how children are affected by parenting, that's also a kind of expertise. If you're a teacher, childcare provider, closely involved aunt/uncle, or otherwise spend a lot of time with children, that's also a kind of expertise.

And it gets messy, too. Firstly, not everyone who wants to be a parent can be, and for reasons that are often linked to privilege. A blogger I follow, David Hingsburger, wrote about getting faced with the attitude that not being a parent means he shouldn't have an opinion on parenting, and in reaction, he shared on his blog a story about a little boy that he and his partner Joe wanted to adopt, many years ago, and how the boy was returned to his biological parents and died because the adoption agency didn't think it would be a good thing for a child to have gay dads.

And then there's the situation where the child is part of a minority group that the parent isn't. In a situation like that, it's very important that the parent seek out the voices of people who are like their child, whether or not they happen to be parents as well. And yet so many parents actively resist advice from people who've been like their kids. (As an autistic person, I've seen this a lot from 'autism parents'.)
I'd also like to comment about the assumption that not wanting kids means hating kids. I personally feel like I've experienced a related assumption - the assumption that finding kids tiring or overloading means you must hate kids. There seems to be this stereotype of the childfree child-hater who is bothered by disruptive children in public, never wants to have kids or even see kids around, and has derogatory views of parents as 'breeders' or whatever. I fit one piece of that stereotype and SoulWolf fits another piece, but neither of us fit the stereotype as a whole.

Isaac writes about his reaction to a Spanish news article about young people choosing not to be parents, and explores the nature of his lack of desire for parenthood and how that interacts with his aromantic asexual identity. He also discusses his perception of societal progress in making both marriage and parenthood more optional.

Not speaking Spanish myself (except for a tiny amount), I found it interesting to get a window into how Spanish people are approaching the generational shift away from the standard heteronormative lifestyle - a shift that I feel is also happening in many English-speaking countries (and, from what I've heard, also in Japan and Denmark - Gaijin Goomba discusses it here for Japan, and the Danish tourist board proposed an unconventional solution here.)

Certainly, it can be threatening for the older generation when birth rates drop, because elderly people typically depend on young people to care for them, and declining birth rates make it more difficult to get enough providers of elder care.

And the desire to be a grandparent is a significant desire, and one that you ultimately have no control over its fulfillment. (My own mother has talked a lot about how much she wants to be a grandmother, and I've seen the pride and joy in the faces of people at my church as they show off pictures of their grandchildren.) I can tell that it would be tough being someone who really wants grandchildren, and not having children who want kids.

I also feel that both the article Isaac reviews and Gaijin Goomba's video also draw attention to the fact that generational differences in marriage and parenthood aren't always a choice. Societal pressures and cultural shifts lead many people to have fewer opportunities to fit the heteronormative ideal, even if they want it.

But Isaac also makes a valuable point about how it's getting easier to forge your own path, if you so choose, and I see that in Canada and the US as well. As someone who wants a child without a partner, I see more and more women (and a few men) getting the chance to choose the same lifestyle I want. It used to be that becoming a single mother was a recipe for lifelong stigma (and being a single father got you pity and condescension). The idea of actually choosing to be a single parent was unimaginable. Now, single parents by choice are everywhere, and they're speaking out and being heard. The same is happening with non-romantic coparenting families.

Similarly, unconventional relationship designs are becoming more accepted, too. Same-gender relationships are at the forefront of this. The heteronormative ideal isn't just 'hetero', it also expects strict gender roles, which are not applicable to most same-gender relationships. Parenthood is more available, too, for those who want it, leading to what has been termed the 'gayby boom'. (If David and Joe were looking to adopt Christopher today, they'd almost certainly have gotten custody.)

Polyamorous relationships are also starting to become more accepted, though more gradually. And in the ace/aro community, people are starting to redefine relationships to suit a-spec people, talking about romance without sex, lifelong commitments to friends, sexual partners you care deeply for but aren't romantically involved with, and relationships that blur the line between romantic and platonic.

Meanwhile, sexual education and availability of contraception are making unplanned pregnancy less likely, and those who do have unplanned pregnancies have more options - not just closed adoption, abortion or unplanned marriage, but also coparenting, single parenting, open adoption, and so forth. There are even some people choosing to be sterilized at a young age, where previously sterilization was only available for people who already had kids or imposed on people society thought should never be parents.

In addition, in Canada and the US at least, there's an added twist. Declining birth rates are mostly a white phenomenon, and many ethnic minorities are having a population increase instead. In Canada, 28% of Aboriginal people are under 15, compared with 16.5% of non-Aboriginal people. A similar shift is happening in the US as well. If this trend continues, many ethnic 'minorities' will soon no longer be minorities.

We're headed for interesting times, indeed.

[inserted later:]

It turns out that I missed some submissions. Oops!

Laura at (Purr)ple (L)ace wrote about her journey to realizing that she wants to be pregnant and have a child as a single teacher. I can relate a lot with her feelings, despite not being a teacher. I think it's interesting how she has come up against a lot more social pressure now that she's definitely wanting to be a parent - I've experienced the same thing.

Emily at From Fandom to Family wrote an update to a post she wrote a year and a half ago, in which she expressed a desire for foster or adoptive parenthood, connected with her own adverse childhood experiences. In this post, she discusses how this desire for parenthood has influenced her desire for a queerplatonic relationship, and how her queerplatonic partner has had to explore his own feelings regarding foster/adoptive parenthood.

Isaac has also written a second entry, explaining why he is childfree, and contradicting the stereotype of childfree people as selfish.


Blogger Emily (VioletEmerald) said...

Interesting thoughts! I'm waiting to post the May 2017 call for submissions because I was hoping you'd first fix the round up to include mine and Laura's (purrplelace's) submissions. They are in the comments on your call for submissions. (You also seem to have accidentally written the wrong month and year at the top of this.) I emailed you about this yesterday. I also think Isaac wrote a second submission for this carnival this month! So it ended up with 5 submissions, plus yourcomments here makes 6, rather than just 2. That's not so bad.

6:47 AM  

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