Parents Need to Back Off

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WHY PUSHING JEWISH WOMEN TO HAVE BABIES IS NOT THE ANSWER TO GROWING THE JEWISH COMMUNITY

The New York Times published a piece in May 2012 about a curious phenomenon of eager grandparents willing to pay for their daughter’s egg freezing procedures as they climb inevitably towards their mid 30s. The article ponders whether or not this "gesture is delightful, insane, or complicated." My thoughts on the subject basically fall into two categories: First it’s a perfect example of the collision of capitalism, class, and medicine. Second, I am grateful to not feel such direct pressure to breed.

I have no family members offering to pay the bill for freezing my eggs, thank G-d. I can’t see myself responding to such a gesture with anything but frustration and rage. Not only do I not have relationships with family members who have that much disposable income, but the family members who would be most likely to offer, specifically parents, don’t exist in my life. (My mother is dead, and my father and I are long estranged.)

This is not a piece about the complicated nature of grief, or about mourning a difficult person. Rather, it’s a piece about how it’s both a blessing and a curse to not experience the pressure to do traditional things, like have a baby. It’s a blessing in the sense that I am my own boss, as much as one can be, and that I don’t have to deal with regular passive-aggressive (or passive, or aggressive) needling about parenthood from a person who I fear disappointing; I have only my own desires to fulfill. I know I would (and do) respond badly when someone I care about asks persistently about whether I’m going to have a baby. While I’m sure that not all parents of adult children are preoccupied with fecundity, it does seem typical. When I hear about my peers being pressured by their parents, I realize how profoundly different my life experience is.

Hence the curse. The downside of not having parents to pressure me is that it can feel a little terrifying to be unmoored, with no one to answer to but myself and my carefully selected family of friends. The word "curse" may be a little melodramatic, but it’s the most appropriate term. Not having parental or familial pressure reminds me of what I do not have, which is parents. So, sometimes, the pressure I feel to have a baby is general and vague. When I bring up my intention to not have children with acquaintances, readers, even friends, I certainly get push back, questions, and skepticism. A woman who doesn’t want children is still a strange and dangerous entity.

In spite of our belief in the progressive nature of our society, a majority still assume that all women want to become mothers, that the primary role of a woman is in some way to be a caretaker and a nurturer of children. If a woman chooses another path, it is somehow considered less than. (Take a look at the celebrity gossip rags the next time you’re at the drug store. Jennifer Aniston, in spite of her success, is openly mourned and chastised for her lack of children at her age.) Ultimately, one of the hallmarks of adulthood in the United States is the creation of one’s own biological family; those who don’t conform are presumed to be stunted, immature, and irresponsible.

Whenever I’ve written on this subject in explicitly Jewish contexts, there has inevitably been a comment about the Holocaust, about how I’m contributing to the next potential one by not making it my life’s ambition to have children to replace those killed in the Holocaust. The point of these barbs is not just to make sure I take my “rightful” place as a woman, but to make me feel guilty about not wanting children. It’s not working. You can argue all you like about the morality of remaining childfree by choice, about Jewish continuity, etc. It’s not going to force me to make a decision that will push me in a direction in which I don’t want to go. Having a child out of guilt is immoral itself.

There was a time in my life when I thought a lot about Jewish continuity and my role in it. Knowing from a very young age that I didn’t want to have children, I’ve considered what the alternatives could be for me to ensure the continued strength of the Jewish people. I think it’s false to say that having more Jewish babies means there will be more Jews; it’s more complicated than that, as is the concept of continuity. Just because a child is born Jewish doesn’t mean that he or she will practice Judaism. The kind of Jews I want to see in the world are God wrestlers, folks who push and pull and disturb. Birthing such people physically is only one way to (attempt) to make them exist; another way is to find people who exist now—who are, like me, looking for Judaism that welcomes their perfect, damaged selves—and create a Jewish space in which nothing needs to be hidden.

I am no expert in Jewish population numbers, but I feel with certainty that pressuring people (men and women) to make Jewish babies is not the best way to make sure there are Jews in 50 or 100 years. A more productive (pun intended) idea would be to pay attention to what Jews are saying now regarding who they are and what they need from the Jewish community. Imagine what it might mean for the Jewish future to listen to and to take care of one another.

About the Author

author_chanel_dubofskyChanel Dubofsky
Chanel Dubofsky writes at Role/Reboot, The Forward and Gender Focus. She is the creator and editor of the Marriage Project, an interview series about marriage in imagination and reality. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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