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The Choice To Be Childfree

This Program Is Rebroadcast From August 23, 2013

Childless by choice.  We look at the trend of couples saying “no thanks” to having kids.

(Jenny Huey/Flickr)

(Jenny Huey/Flickr)

In 1970, just one in ten American women never bore a child.  Today, it’s one in five.  More and more American women, men, couples are going childfree.  Once there was a stigma.  Today it’s not so clear.

Some of the childfree say it’s too expensive.  Some say the world’s population is enough.  Some say it’s too much trouble.  They’re just not inclined.  The Bible says “be fruitful and multiply.”  We’ve certainly done that.  What about the childfree way?  For individuals?  Couples?  For society?

This hour, On Point:  going childfree in America.

- Tom Ashbrook


Lauren Sandler, author of the Time magazine article “Having It All Without Having Children.” Also author of “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.”

Laura Scott, director of the Childless by Choice Project. Author of “Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice.”

D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center.

From Tom’s Reading List

Time Magazine: Having It All Without Having Children – “The decision to have a child or not is a private one, but it takes place, in America, in a culture that often equates womanhood with motherhood. Any national discussion about the struggle to reconcile womanhood with modernity tends to begin and end with one subject: parenting. If you’re a woman who’s not in the mommy trenches, more often than not you’re excluded from the discussion.”

CBS News: What it costs to raise a kid: $241,080 – “Psst! Want an easy way to save a fortune? Don’t have kids.  Children will cost you roughly one-quarter of a million dollars before they turn age 18. If you send them to college, you could spend twice as much, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Los Angeles Times: Parenthood Optional — “That’s why this whole childlessness discussion needs to be reframed. It’s great that Time is moving in the direction of validating those who, by choice or circumstance, will never be parents. But the point is not simply that society should stop judging those of us who don’t have children. It’s that society actually needs us. Children need us. It may take a village to raise a child, but not every villager needs to be a mom or dad. Some of us just need to be who we are. The children we never had would thank us. And so should you.”

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  • jimino

    I expect the loss of a USA in which hard work virtually guaranteed life-long job security at employment that paid enough to support a family and their health care, as well as a pension to look forward to in retirement, has a lot to do with people’s attitude about how children fit in their future.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      I think you’re right, but I also think that people choose only to replace themselves or just have one child – because they know that the world is a finite place.

  • Human2013

    At 32, I have one son and yearn for more children. Economically, it’s not feasible at this time. I believe this economy and the suppression of our wages is robbing many Americans of their right to have children. There is no amount of exotic travel, no house large enough, or any material possession that can replace the experience of having children. You can’t experience UNCONDITIONAL love without children.

    • hennorama

      Human2013 — if you’re suppressing your “yearning” due to economics, then perhaps the “yearning” isn’t as intense as you may believe.

      Certainly your economic circumstances are a factor in your decison-making, but there are tradeoffs that can be made to offset this factor.

      I agree that there’s nothing like having children as far as their life impacts, but as to unconditional love — my dog fits that description far better than any child.

    • dixie bonneau

      i am sorry to bust your bubble – but as a Investment Banker for the past 15 years – I have seen children turn on their parents , all the time – take the money , and put the parent in a home.

      the only true ‘unconditional love ‘ , is from Dogs & cats – they will always be loyal – regardless of your bank account.

      • Human2013

        I think this is the exception and not the rule.

      • Don_B1

        It is probably not just the reception of “unconditional love” that Human2013 is referring to; the giving of unconditional love is what most parents do, and is probably more frequent that its reception by the parent.

    • Becky Rodriguez

      I think a lot of christians and a lot of pet owners would disagree about the unconditional love part. Personally I’d rather travel than clean up after a toddler or watch another high school graduation. I have nieces and nephews and that’s as close as I want to get to having my own children.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    I think the average number of children per family has decreased, or maybe not? Most families I know have one or two children.

    The number of families with LOTS of children seems to have dropped a lot, but maybe I’m wrong on that, too? Have adoptions gone up? I know more families that have adopted more kids than they had of their own; than I know that have 5 or more of their own.

  • d clark

    This is the story line for the movie “Idiocracy”. The best and brightest don’t breed where the ‘lesser light’ proliferate. It is going to end badly.

    • dixie bonneau

      lol – very true

    • Don_B1

      Taking a genetic basis for the progeny of children having the same intelligence as their parents is definitely problematical.

      So much of what a child can develop to be depends on their nutrition and education and the love they receive from infancy to adulthood.

      That is what the wealth inequality issue, and its resulting equality of opportunity issue, is all about. The economic mobility of people is at least strongly correlated with wealth inequality across the people of a country.

      Thus who “breeds” is not so important as the amount of opportunity the progeny of everyone has.

  • rich4321

    Over population is a global issue. For cry out loud, there are already 7 billions people on this earth, this is unsustainable, how much more resources we the human are going to drain?
    Not to mention that so many will be parents have no mean to raise
    child, in the end it becomes a social issue.
    The stone age mentality of one must have child(ren) is so archaic.

  • paul

    There is also a free rider problem here. If someone has no children, in their retirement their Social Security benefits will be paid by the payroll taxes of the children that their peers did raise. Those peers who invested 1/4 million in each child will not see much extra economic benefit from their effort.

    (Your payroll taxes pay the previous generation’s Social Security benefits; your future benefits are paid by the next generation)

    • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      Easy solution: end SS so people are responsible for their own retirement funding.

      Frankly, I expect to get nothing from SS anyway, and so I’d rather not be paying into a broken system ultimately doomed to fail.

      • Don_B1

        What do you mean by saying you “expect to get nothing from SS”?

        Depending on your annual income on which you paid F.I.C.A., you can annually receive between $12,000 and $30,000 (roughly).

        If you are making say $500,000 a year now, maybe it won’t seem like much, but it was intended to be one leg of a three-legged stool: 1) Social Security for an income floor, 2) a pension from your employer and 3) your savings.

        The real leg that you should worry about is the pension leg, as employers have switched from defined benefit plans (e.g., a fixed pension amount for as long as you live) to defined contribution plans (e.g., a 401(k) plan that the employee contributes to with some matching from the employer). Thus the 401(k) plan may have lost a lot of its value if you didn’t switch to interest-paying instruments over stock instruments when you retired or as you approached retirement age. But if you don’t keep a significant amount in stocks the your portfolio value may not grow with inflation. Individual investors typically do not do as well as the market average, so those depending on a 401(k) may well not do as well as someone on a defined benefit pension.

        • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

          What I mean by “I expect to get nothing from SS anyway” is that I expect that the program will be insolvent enough by the time I am in my 60′s that benefits will be means-tested and so I will not qualify.

          Pensions, whether made by government or by private corporations, are promises that can be abrogated at any time. Better to get control of the money now and invest it. Anyone who held their broad-market investments through the trough of the financial crisis would already be well into positive territory only 6 years later.

    • Matt

      or…we could just reform SS so that we get rid of the income cap and put in means testing…I mean that certainly is an easier way to keep the SS checks flowing.

    • Mina

      So Paul, are you saying that in my choice not to have children you have judged me as a “free rider?” Where as if I had children there was the possibility that I may have to turn to WIC, title 19, and all the other social programs that go to benefit a person who does not have the means to pay for their child/ren?
      Think again about how you judge those who have chose not to have children. It may have been an economic decision.
      I might add that we probably pay more in taxes – so don’t give me the “free rider” crap.

      • Don_B1

        Paul has been the victim of shallow/narrow thinking. By working outside the home for your full lifetime, rather than being at home tending children, you have been making a strong payment into the SS and Medicare “trust funds,” quite possibly more than those who take time out for children.

        The major reason that Social Security has a long-term shortfall is the fact that wages have not been going up at the rate that the Greenspan Commission, which proposed the bill in 1983 that raised F.I.C.A. tax rates and set SS on a firm foundation. Thus workers have not been able to contribute money in the amounts that were projected and the wealthy, who have absconded with the bulk (over 90% of the growth in profit for the last three years) do not pay in proportion to the growth in their income.

        Most of the projected “deficiency” in the SS Trust Fund is due to this change/growth in income inequality. Thus taking the cap off the F.I.C.A. tax must be part of any solution.

    • Becky Rodriguez

      considering the number of children who are raised on the taxes of other people through food stamps, medical, housing, and wic, and whose parents never pay into social security themselves, I don’t see this as a problem.

    • lobstahbisque


    • Kuma S

      And is the other side of the free rider problem. Some people would game the system and have kids non-stop, so they could continuously receive benefits. I can name a few in my community.

  • Judy Steffel

    You omitted “temperament” as a reason to remain child free. I would have been an awful mother. Luckily, I realized that fairly early and had my tubes tied. (Even more luckily, I had managed not to get pregnant before coming to that realization…)

  • Matt

    My SO and I just had a conversation about having kids later in life this weekend and we both came to the conclusion that between the cost of having kids and what kind of parents we’d be (let alone what kind of kids they’ll be coming from the two of us), we didn’t think it was morally right for us to bring a kid into a world we couldn’t give them the utmost love and care for.

    It happens. It’s rather depressing to think you won’t play catch with the little one among other moments in their life, but at the same time, you feel a little freer to be able to really have a chance to take on the world as you choose without having to succumb to society.

    Also, yay! More money! :D

    • hennorama

      Matt — there are plenty of opportunities to “play catch with the little one among other moments in their life,” as long as you are OK with “the little one” not being your own progeny.

      The Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring programs come immediately to mind.


      • Matt

        I completely agree. That’s a great method to leave an impression on kids and help shape them for the better. At the very least, I’ll be the best darn uncle ever :D

    • HonestDebate1

      I don’t have kids but my life is full of them. We have seen hundreds grow up riding horses at our farm. We’ve had a 4H club for 30 years. We’ve given abused mothers and their kids shelter. We’ve always held camp spots open for under privileged kids and work with the community and churches to make it happen. Our head instructor used to take lessons when she was 8 and went on to become a nationals champion in 4H. She grew up, got married, went to school, became a teacher and hated it. She’s been back for 10 years now and has kids of her own. We’ve done a ton of work with handicapped kids. I cannot count how many friends for life I have made through the process. Many now have their own kids in lessons.

      I really don’t regret not having kids.

  • edrea

    Yes, overpopulation is a serious problem that most people don’t grasp. The Earth is past its carrying capacity and we have done a terrible job of stewarding our life support system.

    It may or may not be the reason why most are not having children — but, it certainly should be.

    We should be working on how to create an economy that works on a diminishing population, not a burgeoning one.

    • hennorama

      edrea — I was with you until your last sentence. I would modify it to “an economy that works [with a stable] population, not a burgeoning one.”

      • Don_B1

        With the stress on populations that Climate Change is about to make grow exponentially (already the agricultural stress on the people of the Middle East has been responsible for the Arab Spring and underlies the Syrian dystopia that put that country in its current mess) there will be disease, war and other problems that may cause population decline, and it would be nice to have an economy that worked to ameliorate those stresses as the population does decline.

        • hennorama

          Don_B1 — thank you for your provocative response.

          One might also argue that the US would be a very attractive destination (due to its natural resources, variety of climate, geography, etc.) for those experiencing the events you described, and that would lead to US population increases.

          Still, your point is well-taken.

          Thanks again for the provocation.

  • Jules Venture

    I’m an educated woman, 26, and I have never wanted children. It would be fiscally, socially and mentally irresponsible. People have been indignant toward this opinion, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. My family genetics are a terrible mess, so why would I pass that along? If I was ever at a point where I wanted a child, I would adopt.

  • dixie bonneau

    I am a childless 40 yr old , with a Master Degree. I never had the need to have a child – instead , i think its better to adopt a child . I also loved to travel – and now live in Paris, and I know, if I had a child , back when i was younger- my ability to move to Paris would never have happened. I am now on my 2nd marriage to a wonderful French man – and we are both childless – and looking forward to adopting. When I compare the 2 cultures – the French are more supportive of children’s needs than the USA. Like health insurance !! and no – Obama health care would not have helped me ..

  • Brian

    I’m curious as to why this discussion rarely involves the male viewpoint. I get the biological angle, but the childless choice often involves a mutual (1/2 male) decision.

    • Don_B1

      One insight could come from the fact, proven across all types of societies in the world, that as women attain higher levels of education (and thus different opportunities and understandings in life) the population growth rate of that society slows and often goes negative.

  • Jon

    One keyword missing in this discussion is the responsibility (of raising a child) – it’s the inevitable outcome of modern culture ‘be whoever you want to be’ and the rotten virtue of individual liberty, personal freedom and selfish pursuit of happiness.

  • John Brobst

    A reason I hear all the time for having children is the fear of dying alone. Unfortunately a visit to a nursing home or senior center will show that having children is no guarantee of family support when you are old and grey. Too many elderly are in effect abandoned by their children.

    • Don_B1

      There is no denying that that happens, but the reasons are not always what some want to attribute to it.

      When the children of these seniors are not wealthy and cannot take their parents into their homes and the parents’ income is not enough to provide in-home care, a cheap nursing home can be the only best option.

      Unlike in older times, when a spouse could be at home full time, today when both spouses must work long hours outside the home, taking parents into the home is usually not an option when money is real tight.

  • Jackie Williams

    I am 38 years old, a caucasian woman with a college degree. I chose not to have kids yet for a few reasons – I wanted to be socially responsible and not have a child until we could afford one (raised poor, I didn’t want that for my child); I dont know how we will afford daycare or diapers; we wanted to be in a place in our lives where we were ready to raise one; I wanted a career, freedom, and economic stability; I dont want to be a stay at home mom or soccer mom; I just don’t need to have a child to be complete, it’s just not part of my philosophy.
    At 38 now, I would like to try but won’t be too sad if we can’t get pregnant. I have a lot of friends without kids, and only feel some stigma by people with kids. I am worried about what will happen when my fiancé and I get old and die, it seems silly but I don’t know what will happen to our stuff. We don’t have a big extended family and there are no children among any siblings or close relatives. Who do we leave our heritage and belongings to?

    • Bashfully

      I was just thinking about the “who do we leave our stuff to” issue. I’m an only child and my husband and I each have very small families. Im working on making peace with a) it’s just “stuff” (I don’t often look at the things my grandmother left me, it’s all in a box waiting for my “someday” home) b) believe that you can pass these things on to friends, the children of friends, or historical societies and c) religious and cultural societies often accept items and oral histories. There are many ways to leave your heritage behind without having a child. We volunteer a lot and have found this an excellent way to connect to a larger cultural heritage.

      I know it’s not the same has passing on a cherished heirloom to a child, but it doesn’t mean those items have to go to the dump or an estate sale. I think there are ways to pass things on that are meaningful even without children.

  • Mary Cryan

    My ambivalence toward having kids was a contributor to my divorce, my partner wanted them and I never really did. We split amicably and remain friends, each of us are moving in the direction we couldn’t pull the other in and are both much happier now.

    • hennorama

      Mary Cryan — one hopes you’ve learned from that vast expectation differential, and will communicate better with current/future partners.

      • HonestDebate1

        It sounds to me like they communicated quite well.

      • Mary Cryan

        We could have done better, yes. Both of us had lessons to learn, the trouble wasn’t one-sided.

        • hennorama

          Mary Cryan – thank you for your response.

          The trouble is rarely one-sided. It takes two to tango, and to tangle.

          On the plus side, you not only learned something, you “split amicably and remain friends … and are both much happier now.”

          As to the future – finding a compatible partner is no easy task, but a great deal can be learned from a single question:

          “What is your ideal Sunday like?”

          Potential conflicts are immediately apparent from the answer:

          - Church vs. golf
          - Hiking vs. watching sports
          - Lying in bed reading vs. going to the gym
          - Playing with the kids vs. shopping with friends


          Hinted at in my initial comment is the view that the ultimate success or failure of a relationship often hinges on how well (or indeed, IF) those involved discuss and communicate each of their expectations, and whether they can come to some level of agreement as to said expectations.

          Often we suffer in silence, as our partner fails to meet our unexpressed expectations. Clarity and honesty about what we expect from our partner is very important to our own well-being and satisfaction, as well as to the success of the partnership.

          Best wishes in the future.

  • HonestDebate1

    I am beginning to question whether there is a greater good in childless adults paying for the education of other’s kids.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Education for all is part and parcel with healthy democracy, don’t you think?

      • Carrie

        I agree, Neil. I was thinking while listening to the program and questions of judgment came up, “Do I judge the childless, as a mother of two?” And I think my answer to that is no, but what I do judge is when people who do not have kids view those who do as putting a burden on society without a sense of the benefit they are doing by being good parents. Those who think not having kids makes them less responsible for continuing to promote a healthy democracy, including education, healthcare, etc. are deluded. I’m the one who has to get up with my daughter 5 times in the night when she is sick, because that is part of my duty, but I still expect other childless adults to value the children in their society enough to pay taxes that support them in education. That is something we all benefit from. Can you imagine our society without educational opportunities for all?

        • Don_B1

          Those children are the ones who must be able to do the work of a strong economy so that the childless people’s investments will continue to provide the income to support them in their old age.

      • HonestDebate1


        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          So, it seems to follow that all people in a society should help to pay for education of all the people – for the greater good of the society and the democracy.

          • HonestDebate1

            It seems so but I am no longer convinced it’s true for several reasons. Mainly I don’t assume we are getting what we are paying for. There are plenty of high school graduates that can’t speak proper english, do simple algebra or even read cursive. I have seen a huge uptick in home schooling in my corner of the world. We even have study groups in our facility. These kids are much more educated for the most part. The biggest downside is the lack of social interaction IMO. This is also the information age, it’s everywhere. The public school system, I’m convinced, does not always have the kids best interest at heart. And if they do, the teachers do not have the cooperation of parents and their hands are tied most of the time. I don’t think our kids would be any less intelligent without public schools. Beyond that the paradigm has shifted. It is no longer a guarantee that a college degree will make you more successful than not having one. I would rather the emphasis be on passion and vocation.

          • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

            Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Or, do we work hard to improve our schools?

          • HonestDebate1

            I see no effort to improve our schools and I certainly don’t equate throwing more money at it with improving anything. I beginning to question the greater good, that’s all. I’m not proposing anything.

          • Don_B1

            I “like” the English I was brought up speaking and writing, but I also recognize that language is always changing, and that “Black English” is just as legitimate a language as the English I was taught.

            it is the ability to communicate that is important, not so much the language that is used. And the form of the writing is even less critical to the ability to communicate.

            And the changes that are coming to English from the popularity of “texting” will blow away all the elders of this society.

            You disparage public schools while also complaining of the lack of social interaction. Where but in the public schools will children get to meet other children of widely different backgrounds? Certainly rote learning is not what will provide the young students the ability to analyze the problems they will face and learn to look at all aspects of a problem and not just seek some idealized solution but look beyond the easy things and find out what will be best for everyone not just what will benefit a few.

            It is certainly true that parents can hamstring the schools from being the advocates of the real truth of what ails a society, and how to deal with change that always must come to groups that have built up insular societies over a long time.

            But more open discussion is what is needed where all can have their points considered without being shouted down by those spouting “talking points.” Where people can genuinely participate in democracy and learn from others.

          • HonestDebate1

            There is no such thing as black english but I wasn’t talking about race.

            And yes, I think the social interaction is good. As I said, it is what is severely lacking in home schooling.

    • dixie bonneau

      you are hitting on a HUGE future issue – the taxpayer is paying for & more for disrespectful children- the future game plan is set — there will be limited funds – and the older Americans will require more services & children will be costing the taxpayer more — AND the tax payer is making less and less money every year..sorry the current worker at Burger King – can’t pay for both.

  • Julie

    For thousands of years women have become mothers because they didn’t have a choice. For the first time in history women can choose not to have children. Why is it so surprising that some exercise this option?

    • Happily Free

      Agreed. I, for one, am thankful on a weekly basis that I was born in this era….the one with choice. I don’t think it’s surprising that some people exercise this option. What is surprising, in 2013 (almost 2014) is that some people (many people) elevate parenthood above all other achievements in life, which leads to disputes, several of which are already highlighted in the ignorant comments of others who have commented on this page. It really should be a non-issue. What cracks me up is the “human” comments….as if you’re less of a human (and less of a woman) by not giving birth and raising children. When so many species in the animal kingdom get pregnant (because, you know, it’s a miracle) and raise animals. Don’t get me wrong, I know YOU’RE not at all saying anything about this…I’m just using your comment as a platform to add my 2 cents…apologies for the ramble and thanks for your comment. It isn’t surprising to me at all. Never has been….not sure why others struggle with it so much.

  • Andreas Lehner

    Having a child teaches you humility — an important lesson. Bearing and raising a child is an important part of being human. The childless miss out.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      I think there are plenty of other ways to learn humility.

    • Matt

      I respectfully disagree. I think being childless can teach you just as much about humility as having a child. We all experience life and we’ll all accept fate as such regardless of whether a child comes out of it or not

    • Happily Free

      Matt and Neil (comments immediately below) are right. Mr. Lehner, for SOME people, raising a child is an important part of being human. For others, it is not.

  • Katie

    I’m in my mid-30′s and am leaning slightly more towards the having kids side, but am still a bit ambivalent. My question is why CAN’T you go white water rafting with kids and go on a spontaneous beach trip or go out to the movies or do the things you love as an adult with kids? Why do we as a society let kids rule everything that we do as adults and prevent us from maintaining our identities as people and not only as parents? I don’t have kids, so it’s true I’m naive about the work and struggle that goes into it, but maybe we don’t need to cancel everything that we love doing just because we have a kid or two. I hope that I will still go on the white water rafting trip and either bring the kid along, or leave them with the grandparents. Maybe rather than obsessing and helicoptering as parents, we can maintain a healthy balance that allows us as adults to live lives that we love while being responsible parents. Why does having kids mean the end of a fun life as an adult? Am I dreaming here?

    • Carrie

      I think your perspective on having kids is refreshing in that it does NOT have to ruin your freedom, and it is very rewarding to have kids in ways that I could not have guessed when I was a “childless” young woman. But I have two kids now and want to answer your question from my perspective. I think what feels limiting is really (for my family) a lack of money. You can do more to make your parenting feel more free if you have the money to afford a rafting trip, much less pay for a sitter while you go rafting or even take your kids along! The frank truth is that having kids takes money and having more freedom with kids probably takes more money.
      There are ways around this, maybe by having lots of extended family help or flexible work but not everyone has this and I for one want to say it really does affect how much freedom one feels as a parent. My husband and I don’t often have the money to pay a sitter so we can take a break and we live 2,000 miles from our families, who would no doubt love to give us one!
      Best of luck to you and your decision.

      • Katie

        Thank you so much for your honesty and perspective, Carrie. The money factor does worry me a lot, but maybe there is a way to balance somehow, I’m not sure what that is exactly though! I wish the U.S. provided more support for things like childcare and health insurance the way they do in Europe. My European friends have a much more balanced view of having children because they don’t have to worry about paying $2000 a month for daycare and saving $200,000 for college. Yikes. I know it adds up so quickly. You sound like a great mom, Carrie, I wish you and your family the best of luck!

    • peaches st lawrence

      I’m hopeful about this like you are, Katie! I envision that having child(ren) means I might actually take MORE time to do fun and soul-enriching things, because I want to give them an enriching experience too. I don’t think that is so unrealistic.

      • Katie

        Peaches, that’s a great point! Yes, let’s choose to do more fun and enriching things so our kids grow up with these experiences too. I don’t think these things have to be expensive either, it could be as simple as hiking or exploring the museum on a free day.

  • Rona Badger

    Read “The Marching Morons” by C.M. Kornbluth for a glimpse of our future if the low-intelligence population out-produces those with higher intelligence.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      What sort of “intelligence” are you thinking of? There is a big difference between education level and intelligence. I don’t think *anyone* has said anything about intelligence and having kids, on this program.

      Your comment smacks of prejudice.

      • hennorama

        Neil Blanchard — [Rona Badger] did not advocate a position, but one certainly could infer “prejudice” from the comment.

        As this is the first post from this entity, your conclusion is based solely on conjecture.

    • Bashfully

      I know what you mean (and the comment bellow re: the film “Idiocracy”). However, I always worry that this line of argument comes close to eugenics. I am childless by choice but I believe strongly in the concepts of reproductive justice– those who WANT children should not be prevented from having them.

      Note: I know this isn’t want you said at all– just wanted to add this to the conversation about the education and income gap in folks having kinds and those staying CBC.

  • Bonnie Pomfret

    I am 58 and became a first time parent at 41 after delaying and then being told I couldn’t have children. What a wonderful experience, completing my life in a way that I had not imagined! I think lots of people in their 30′s are not mature enough (or financially secure enough) to be parents. Among those I know, there is a lot of selfishness behind these decisions,where children are viewed as a limitation on their current post-adolescent lifestyle. However, as someone who worries about over-population and our natural resources, I think anyone who decides not to have children is probably doing the planet a favor.

    • Kuma S

      As a child who was born to complete my mother’s life, I wished she was able to discuss with me about my birth. I thank her dearly for giving me the life I have, and the unbelievable hard work she put to make my education possible, yet I wish she didn’t have to depend on her child to feel complete. Now that I am full fledged, left home to explore my own life, she suffers seriously as an empty nester. This casts tremendous guilt on me.

      As to the definition of selfishness, is using the child’s presence to achieve a sense of completeness selfish? If one knows what makes him or her happy, and consciously chose to stay happy, to be able to donate time and money to the community, rather than playing the unfit role of a parent, selfish?

  • Bashfully

    I am 30 and childfree by choice (my husband is 34, we’ve been together 11 years, married for 2.5). I was one of those “early adopters,” I never played with baby dolls and rarely babysat. Several of our friends have or are actively trying to have children. We’re solidly CBC now, for a broad spectrum of reasons.

    I’d like to raise an issue that nobody seems to talk about: it seems like there is some benefit to having a childfree couple in a friend circle. Not only can these folks serve as non-related, adult mentors for kids, in the tragic event that something happens to the parents (or there is some kind of major rift in the family) the childfree couple can help kids. I may be biased, my aunt, godmother, and two favorite teachers were both childless (by choice or circumstance). They are some of the most fulfilled, happy women I know. My husband and I both work as educators, volunteer at museums on ‘family days,’ have actively supported paid-family leave political campaigns, donate a hefty portion of our income to charity (with the money we’re not saving for kids), contribute to friends’ children’s college funds at Xmas and birthdays.

    • hennorama

      As the saying goes, “It Takes A Village.”

      Thanks for all of your societal contributions.

    • Kuma S

      Thanks for the point. Most childless couples I know are very active and generous in giving to charities and volunteers. And most parents with dependent children (of all ages) are so buried in their daily routine trying to budget things carefully. Not to say having children will make parents non-contributors, but the priority are likely to change and understandably so.

  • Marina Knight

    My comment will dovetail nicely with Katie’s comment just below. This is such an interesting cultural discussion. As a woman in my mid-30s, married with a three-year-old and another baby on the way very soon, I can see how giving up your freedom is one of the biggest factors in deciding to have or not to have children. Before we had kids we did a lot of things that we loved, which are more difficult to do with young children. But I think if you really love doing something, you can find a way to continue doing it. It’s also a pretty temporary situation. If you continue to do the things you love when your children are small, eventually your children will be able to join you. They’ll want to naturally. This adds meaning and reward to my life, which I am just beginning to understand.

    • Katie

      It’s great to hear that this is possible, Marina, and I definitely agree with your point about your kids eventually wanting to do the things that you love. To me, this seems like it would build kids’ character and give them enriched experiences, rather than just sitting home watching TV all day or whatever. I overhear people say things like, “oh, I could never take my kids out to dinner at a place like this” and I wonder why. When you go to other countries there are always kids out at restaurants or out hiking or whatever. It’s just assumed that kids there will come along, and they’re not coddled or treated like they couldn’t handle these types of situations as I think we sometimes do here in the U.S. It’s so great that you and your family are still doing these activities that you love, it gives me hope!

      • Marina Knight

        Yes, at first it requires patience because, of course, children need to learn how to act and how to do things, but for the most part kids love doing new things and they love learning. It empowers them and gives them great confidence. My standpoint is there’s no reason you need to miss out on the things you love just because you have kids – unless what you love is totally not kid-friendly. And you’re right, the notion we cater to kids and stop doing certain things is very American. Good luck, either way, Katie. Fondly…

        • Katie

          Thank you very much Marina! Best of luck to you and your family as well.

  • peaches st lawrence

    The arguments I’m hearing on the air seem to center around lives with/without YOUNG children. As often happens with humans, we’re focusing on the short term. Certainly right now I love the freedom to go out whenever I wish, or travel unconstrained by little ones. But in 40 or 50 years when my husband, sister, cousins, friends may or may not still be around, and things that entertained me in my 20s/30s just aren’t feasible anymore, I will be looking to the next generation for comfort, and I’d like to know that some of them will be my own flesh and blood.

    • Bashfully

      I disagree. One of the major reasons my husband and I dont want children is the cost of college and the terrible state of the economy. Parenthood is no longer an 18 year project but seems to go on into the 20s and 30s.

      Plus, there’s not guarantee that you’ll *like* your kids. For example, I love my parents and had a happy childhood. That said, we’re not friends– in fact, we’re incredibly different people with different values, political outlooks, and interests. We have very little to talk about and don’t agree on a variety of political, religious, or social issues. I love them and am grateful for the life the gave me, but I don’t really like them. Long term, there’s no guarantee that your kids will provide comfort or solace.

      (I should note, I’m sure the feeling is mutual. They love me but are disappointed in the life choices I’ve made and have shared their frustration with my outlook on life, interests, and career).

      • peaches st lawrence

        I do realize there is no guarantee on these things. Just going from my own experience and watching other families. As for college…. it’s not the only way to get an education. But if that’s your thing, put some money away early on, let it build interest, and tell the kid that’s what they’ve got to work with. Encourage them to work hard and get good scholarships. I got all the way through a Master’s without accruing debt or being dependent on my parents.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      If you have kids for the quid pro quo of old age care, you are likely to be disappointed.

  • Emilie Hershberger-Kirk

    I am twenty-four, and have known for most of my life that I am childfree. Although I have no desire for biological children, the foundation of my decision to stay childfree is rooted in my desire to devote my life to helping those who are already alive rather than creating new life (I am en route to becoming an MD. In addition to my career, I hope to do much research and volunteering). The hate and judgement that I have received because of my choice is astounding. I have never been able to understand why so many are offended (or feel threatened?) by my choice.

  • Emilie Hershberger-Kirk

    I am twenty-four, and have known most of my life that I am childfree. However, my decision to stay childfree is rooted in my desire to devote my life to helping those who are already living rather than creating new life (I am en route to becoming an MD. In addition to my career, I plan to spend much time researching and volunteering). The hate and judgement that I have received for my choice is astounding. I have never been able to understand why so many people seem to be offended (or feel threatened?) by my choice to not have children.

    • MrBigStuff

      Maybe you can talk to my Catholic wife. Having gone to an ultra conservative Catholic college, the mindset there is get married at 22, buy a 1997 Dodge Caravan and have 5 kids by the time you’re 25 and god will provide, even if you make $10,000 a year. I consider it a victory that I’ve convinced her to only have one.

  • Human2013

    My sister and I were born just 18 months apart. I’m 32 and she is 30. We both have advanced degrees and have professional careers, albeit w/stifled salaries. My sister has no children and is miserable. She tries to fill the hole with excessive travel to exotic locations, but she’s still a miserable person. The only thing that brings her real joy is spending time with my son. I can only speak from my own experience, but I often see a sadness and misery in childless women. Again, this is my experience.

    • Kuma S

      Don’t you think a woman should be happy, self-assured, before becoming a mother?

    • Just Me

      Why do you think she is miserable? Did she say that to you? Or are you projecting your own misery on her?

      I love my childfree life, I do travel to exotic locations and that always gives me something to look forward to, and I absolutely love my freedom…. yet some people say that I’m “sad and miserable” and that my husband and I fill our “infertile, empty lives” with travel and fun. Mostly people from my MIL’s church, who know no other life than that of being a broodmare.

      Is it sadness and misery what you see in us, or your own envy of our freedom?

  • John_Hamilton

    This would have been a good opportunity to consider factors beyond isolated concerns like “selfishness” and “fulfillment.” In other words, to take a systems approach, where having children is considered in a broader context.
    We have an infinite growth economic system on a finite planet, and have reached a point where continuing to grow is increasingly detrimental to the planet’s ecosystem. We are seeing the effects of this proliferation of economic manufacture in the threats carried by climate change.
    Tom Ashbrook has had guests on his show who have explained the threats to our survival as a species from climate change, yet he is unable to put two and two together, or connect the dots, or whatever metaphor will do, and connect what HE COVERS on one show segment with what HE COVERS on another. I have mentioned this several times before, and have concluded that the reason for this is that his focus is on getting through the hour. In other words, show business concerns prevail.
    So the question seems to be how a show like this can move beyond show business concerns. Maybe if more people demanded it, words like synergy and holism would become part of our vocabulary. Or, we can just continue on our merry way, looking at things reductively, and see where it gets us. It certainly can get you on WBUR.

  • Mike in Canada

    Today’s discussion has largely neglected the fact that many childless women have not made a choice to remain childless, but have rather had that choice unfairly imposed upon them by their husbands, common-law husbands, &c. My sister, for example, has wanted children for several years now, and though her husband agrees as a matter of principle and often mentions their future children, he claims not to be ready yet, and thinks it essential that he improve his income first so the burden of supporting the family will not rest mainly on her shoulders as it does now. I have heard many similar stories, which often end with the man finally being ready when it is too late for his wife, leading to years of stressful, painful and often ultimately unsuccessful fertility treatment, all of which could easily have been avoided if the man had not procrastinated. You do not need to have your life entirely “in order” before having children. I did not suffer because my parents could not afford a house until I was six. I understand those who are truly childless by choice. My concern here is for those who have not actually made such a choice, but have had it imposed on them by a spouse, and have acquiesced out of love for and loyalty to the avoidant or delaying spouse.

    • lobstahbisque

      If this woman can’t stand stand on her own two feet visa vis her husband, maybe going to extraordinary lengths to have children isn’t really for her. Common sense isn’t always so common.

      • Mike in Canada

        That’s really inappropriate and insulting. If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that a woman with “common sense” who can “stand on her own two feet” should force her husband to have children before he is ready, e.g. by threatening to leave him; in other words, that she should resort to emotional abuse in order to achieve her goals. Perhaps you misunderstood me. My point is merely that couple dynamics are complicated, and that we should not assume (as this discussion seems to have thus far) that women (even powerful, highly educated women with high incomes) are always the ones driving the choice, or that the official story they give in response to questions about childlessness isn’t just a way to avoid discussing more unpleasant issues. Which brings me to another matter: asking someone why she is childless is remarkably rude. Nobody should have to justify childlessness. If one chooses to guard one’s privacy and not disclose the cause (i.e. whether it is a matter of choice, infertility or whatever else it might be), that choice should be respected. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can act as if they are entitled to an explanation for why someone else is childless. It is a private matter.

        • lobstahbisque

          You have a vivid imagination. You are not responding to me, but rather, to the voices in your own head. You should get that checked out, there are wonderful medications. Now, there are too many people and not enough jobs resources etc,

          • Mike in Canada

            I repeat, that’s really inappropriate and insulting. What is this about jobs and resources? I suspect you meant to reply to Bonnie Pomfret, not me.

    • hennorama

      Mike in Canada — such a major difference in expectations cannot be healthy for your sister, or her marriage.

      There is the obvious solution: dissolution of the marriage, and finding a new, more compatible partner.

      • Mike in Canada

        You people are unbelievable. I just finished explaining that below. They do not have a major difference in expectations. They both expect to have children. It is merely a question of timing. I think you, too, have misunderstood my relatively simple point. I am not asking for advice, and I am sure she would not appreciate being told to throw love, loyalty and “for better or for worse” out the window, and selfishly prioritize her own goals instead. If she gave her patients that kind of advice, she’d get sued for malpractice. I mentioned her just as an example: hence, the words “for example” above. My point is a broader one: namely, that we should not assume that the only possible reasons for childlessness are either infertility or a completely free choice made together by both members of the couple to remain childless. It is more subtle and nuanced than that. There are tradeoffs. Making one choice sometimes constrains one’s ability to make another. A recurring theme in this discussion has been whether it’s OK to judge people for choosing to go childfree. Unfortunately, women often bear the brunt of such condemnation. Case in point: both you and lobstahbisque (below) have resorted to judgment and condemnation, suggesting that my sister has made the wrong choice. That was, presumably, the whole point of Tom’s discussion: to ask whether it is appropriate to judge private choices about childbearing. You clearly think it is. I don’t.

        • hennorama

          Mike in Canada – thank you for your response. I understand and respect your views. As you might expect, I have a few comments.

          To begin with, I am [hennorama], and not “You people.”

          Next, pointing out an obvious alternative is not, as you characterized it, “judgment and condemnation,” nor is it “suggesting that my sister has made the wrong choice.” If your sister is happy and carefree about, as you wrote, “that choice unfairly imposed upon [her],” that’s wonderful. But your description makes it rather apparent that she is, at best, conflicted by her so-called “choice.”

          You held out your sister as an example of “the fact that many childless women have not made a choice to remain childless, but have rather had that choice unfairly imposed upon them by their husbands, common-law husbands, &c.” You then went on to explain that your sister “has wanted children for several years now, and though her husband agrees as a matter of principle and often mentions their future children, he claims not to be ready yet …”

          That made it clear that your sister’s expectations, and preferred choice, of having a child sooner rather than later are presently unmet. And have been unmet. Unfairly. For several years.

          Further, you responded to [lobstahbisque], writing, in part, “Nobody should have to justify childlessness. If one chooses to guard one’s privacy and not disclose the cause (i.e. whether it is a matter of choice, infertility or whatever else it might be), that choice should be respected. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can act as if they are entitled to an explanation for why someone else is childless. It is a private matter.”

          Yet you disclose your sister’s issues to a world of strangers. One hopes that this was not a matter told to you in confidence.

          Perhaps next time you might choose a different example.

          As stated, I understand and respect your views. However, it is you and not I that have used “judgment and condemnation” in your remarks.

          Thanks again for your response.

          • HonestDebate1

            I thought your name was “one”.

          • Mike in Canada


          • Mike in Canada

            Perhaps it is needless to say, but I resent that. I made a civil contribution to the discussion, yet received insulting and unhelpful responses from both you and lobstahbisque. Suggesting divorce and remarriage as a solution is much like responding to a post about the difficulties of losing weight by writing, “There is the obvious solution: eating less.” While true, it is not the most tactful thing to say, and will not help a person who is having trouble losing weight. I concede that it is I, not you, that used the words “judgment and condemnation”, but I honestly see no other way to understand your and lobstahbisque’s comments—to me, they are the moral equivalent of telling that obese person to simply eat less. The underlying message is judgment of the person’s perceived weakness, and exhortation to stand on one’s own two feet, pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps, &c. Instead of sympathy and compassion, the comments exhibit judgment and condemnation, essentially blaming the person for rejecting the obvious common-sense solution proposed by the commenters. (The “unfairly” is my own comment. She would certainly not put it that way, as she is exemplarily non-judgmental, especially toward those she loves.) I apologize for the uncivil way that I expressed my frustration: “You people…” I didn’t mean to belittle you. I meant that I didn’t understand the point of essentially repeating lobstahbisque’s comment after I had already responded to it. The “You people” (admittedly poorly chosen) was meant to include both you and lobstahbisque; i.e. to say I can’t believe that after I went to some length to explain why I found lobstahbisque’s comment inappropriate and insulting, you would post a virtually identical comment. In retrospect, I understand it’s possible that you hadn’t yet seen or read the previous response, and therefore weren’t being deliberately provocative (which is what I first assumed). I’m sorry I got upset. Merry Christmas and happy new year!

          • hennorama

            Mike in Canada – thank you again for your response. No apologies are needed, but the fact that they were offered is appreciated, and they are of course accepted.

            As stated, I both understand and respect your views. My apologies if you felt insulted by my words, as no insult was intended.

            It’s clear from your emotional reactions that your sister’s circumstances bother you in some way. As usual, it is difficult for those closest to various situations, especially those to which they have emotional attachments and investments, to step back and view the situations in a detached manner.

            My initial comment was from a detached perspective, from someone who has no stake in the issues and outcomes. It was intended simply as an obvious alternative to what you had described.

            It may also be that your description was inadequate or inapt, which you imply in your most recent remarks. If you feel that your sister’s expectations are aligned with those of her spouse, and that these expectations are being met, so be it. After all, you have a close view.

            It’s just that your words did not indicate such alignment and meeting of expectations. Your words, not mine.

            It may also be, again as you imply in your most recent remarks, that your reaction to my comments were “colored” by your reaction to the words of others. The fact of your infrequent comments in this forum may also have led you to “go off” a bit, as you may not be familiar with the general outlooks of those with whom you have engaged today.

            Thanks again for you response, and backatcha as to your concluding sentence.

          • Mike in Canada

            Thank you, hennorama. Yes, I have only ever commented in this forum twice. I do not particularly enjoy engaging in this kind of debate, and tend to comment only on things I really care about. It may also be a stereotypically Canadian thing. Our cultures are indistinguishably similar in many respects, but Canadians do seem to value compromise even more highly than our neighbours south of the border. It just strikes me that my-way-or-the-highway solutions are not really solutions at all. That’s why things like the government shutdown confuse me. I can’t see how a reasonable person could seriously think such an extreme reaction could ever be appropriate. As for expectations being met, only those who have never married can harbour the unrealistically romantic notion that a couple’s expectations will always align. Thanks again for your understanding.

          • hennorama

            Mike in Canada — due to my use of a common term for whole milk, my response to you “is awaiting moderation.”

            With any luck, it will appear soon.

          • hennorama

            Mike in Canada – I’ve slightly modified my original response that “is awaiting moderation,” as the moderators seem to have gone unconscious. The change is inside brackets, in the first paragraph below. Nothing else has been changed:

            – thanks again for your continued engagement.

            No doubt we might spend a few loonies and toonies, enjoy some Timbits and a couple of double-doubles, and avoid this beauty of a kerfuffle altogether. (Or alternatively, a two-four, a handful of serviettes, and some poutine. Heck, I’d even go for a couple of beaver tails and some [here's where you insert the Canadian phrase for 'whole milk,' which the censorship algorithms do not like].)

            If we’re going to get out of the simple realm of interpersonal relationships and reproductivity, why NOT talk about politics? ;-) If we did, I believe we would find significant agreement. But I digress …

            Please make no mistake; I am not so daft as to expect “that a couple’s expectations will always align.” Far from it. As I stated to [Mary Cryan] below, I hold:

            “… the view that the ultimate success or failure of a relationship often hinges on how well (or indeed, IF) those involved discuss and communicate each of their expectations, and whether they can come to some level of agreement as to said expectations.

            “Often we suffer in silence, as our partner fails to meet our unexpressed expectations. Clarity and honesty about what we expect from our partner is very important to our own well-being and satisfaction, as well as to the success of the partnership.”

            Thanks again for your thoughtful and heartfelt remarks.

      • brettearle


        Happy New Year

        Thanks for Being There.

        [Aber nicht als Chauncey Gardener]

        • hennorama

          brettearle — backatcha.

          It’s been an interesting year, and I’ve enjoyed having you in it.

          Umarmungen und Küsse auf Ihre Lieblings-Mädchen.

  • MagnumStach

    Isn’t this also an issue of tax and financial incentives being given to married couples to assist in the future objective of raising and rearing a family? If you’re not going to have children, I can see some resentment towards married couples receiving those benefits from families who are struggling to raise a family that those benefits are in place to assist. That should be part of the dialogue as well — defining those benefits to those who are actually going to raise a family.

    Ryan in St. Petersburg, Florida

  • Happily Free

    If only it were that simple. I am 40 and have been shunned, discriminated against, and attacked (verbally) for not wanting a child. The “to each his own” argument is missing a major point to the childfree discussion. Having children is a choice. A very important one. Arguably, the most important choice that adults make. It is not an obligation, nor is it a basis for pity for those who choose to forego parenthood. Every time there is an article about this topic, there is inevitably some commenter who says, “why is this an issue? Do what makes you happy,” etc. If the world felt the way you do, you’d be right. There would be no need for WBUR, Time Magazine, or anyone else to give this issue media attention. But the world does not feel the way you do. Hence the fact that yes, this is an issue for those of us who have lived through it.

  • Bahareh

    I realized that not alot of people share the same opinion as me on not having kids, but this thought was enough to convince me not to have kids. We as humans are so selfish that we decide to give birth to another human being without their consent (of course you can’t have their consent becausw you decide for them). And then we decide to raise them how ever we want and since we are so selfish and seek power, we think that we are the best parents in the world. This is not fair to the kids. I will not force my ideas on another human being just because i want to “have the great feeling of being a parent”, and i just dont think this is fair.

  • gstilphen

    On the topic of parenthood as a choice, I am a single, straight male approaching 30 and have come to realize that one of the strongest motivations in my life is parenthood over companionship. To this end I’ve come to the point in my life where I am seeking to adopt on my own. There have been some reports recently which have indicated that there has been a modest rise in men adopting on their own. Does your guest’s data explore this at all?

  • JGC

    Mostly agree. But young people have to know the facts, and the facts are that it is statistically better to start and bring a pregnancy to its successful conclusion before the age of 40, rather than after.

  • K8te

    I entered married life vowing I didn’t want to be a parent—until one day when I realized my reasoning was based on fear and I needed to deal with that and several issues. Fast forward to today and I am a parent of two young women (18 + 22) and I’m happy with my decision. That said, when my 22 year old stated this week that she didn’t think she ever wanted to be a parent, I told her I completely supported whatever choice she makes. Parenting is the HARDEST job I’ve ever had—even when it’s a chosen job. I’ve loved it but I respect that not everyone wants to be a parent and applaud their honesty.

  • Don_B1

    The change in family dynamics is largely a result of the change from an agrarian society of 100 years ago to “modern” manufacturing and services economy, where the “breadwinner(s)” have to be mobile to follow job opportunities, all of which tend to fracture the extended family structure. Even when parents can reside in the same town as one child, other children will live elsewhere, often at great distances.

  • JEBB

    My experience as a therapist for 20 plus years has taught me that most parents love their kids but did not work on their own personal issues, development or introspection before starting a family. Thus, alot of dysfunction trickles down generationally. I see sooo many parents that screw up their children in so many ways! I think that if someone chooses not to have children for any reason, it is responsible and mature. Our culture is still so quick to judge childless people, especially women…..and it can be very ignorant. Many people assume that if you are childless, you are infertile or want to focus on a career instead. These are real circumstances for many, but there are a host of other reasons why people do not have children. I, myself, had always dreamed of being a mother, and tried to learn as much about child development, healthy parenting and worked on my own issues in therapy. Unfortunately, as much as I tried, I didnt meet a good match-partner during my fertility years and after careful consideration of single parenthood, I realized, I could not financially manage this with a full time job and barely seeing this child in daycare. People assume I have kids all the time, and give a dazed stare when I tell them that I do not have children.

  • Just Me

    The Bible says be fruitful and multiply, yes…. but it also says:

    For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ Luke 23:29

  • Regular_Listener

    Where I live, in a big eastern city, there are lots and lots of single and childless people. It is becoming more and more a normal path, and I don’t see much judgement or criticism levelled at those who go that route. It is true of me as well, although to be frank about it, this was a decision that was made for me by others. And I have learned to live with it and enjoy it. I have much more free time than most married people do – to enjoy myself, to take classes, to be creative, to go to cultural events, to participate in activities, clubs, and religion. My married friends never look down on me, because while they love their spouses and children very much, they also understand the need to get away from them once in a while, and they can understand that it might be nice to not have to go to every sports practice and dance recital.

    Still, I do think that many reach this position (of childlessness) out of selfishness and narcissism, out of an unwillingness to give of themselves, out of a feeling that their own goals and pleasures are paramount. I don’t sense a particularly good feeling between single, childless, middle aged men and women despite the similarities in our lifestyles. Are there others who have noticed this?

    Another thing that concerns me is that the higher birth rates seem to be taking place among minority groups and at the lower end of the economic spectrum. I think it is possible that this will lead to social problems in years to come, as more people turn to government agencies for help in feeding, educating, and providing health care and housing for their children. It is possible that those at the other end of the scale will be reluctant to part with their wealth in order to support unnecessarily large families with whom they feel no kinship.

    One thing

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