Adventures in Reading


Revisted Reviews: Baby Boon by Burkett

I have a love/hate relationship with The Baby Boon as in I loved the second half and hated the first. Burkett explores an immense list of how the childless are “cheated” in the second half and if nothing else it’s food for thought. The politics in the book are definitely slanted and in more than 200 pages of how the government misaddresses these family issues, she only mentions the Christian right three times (the same amount of time she happens to mention father’s raping daughters). Overall, the book targets how family progressive taxes, funding, and institutions target the middle-class, (who for the most part parent by choice and in comparison to the poor perhaps don’t need nearly as much help) and that a good chunk of the support for taxes, funding, and institutions come from the childfree – a hugely growing part of the American population. I do confess that my relationship with this book really began to flounder 50-pages in when I saw the ever, lovely Ann Coulter featured on the back for “advance praise.”

I find the book problematic because much of the research is simply lousy. For example, in the first half of the book she visits a textile factory in North Carolina that had one of the best child/daycares available for parents. To display how unwanted this is and what a burden some workers find this to be (as without the daycare everyone would roughly make a $1 more per hour, and Burkett insists that the poor and people of color don’t ever use the day care) she goes to an unnamed grocery store and speaks with four unnamed women. In the world of research, I’m not really buying into this and had trouble moving beyond her scant interviews and lack of attempt to remain unbiased. At times like this the research really seemed to lack substance.

After the research, a point she belabors through the book is how parental tax breaks targets the middle class and doesn’t help those who most need it (i.e. the poor). While a good point she never provides any examples or goes into it more than this. Instead, she discusses how childfree professors are cheated because those professors with children can enroll their children for free. The question: why can’t childfree professors utilize this free enrollment as well for nieces and nephews, or even to give away as a scholarship? Certainly an interesting question but what portion of childfree people does this effect and how would Burkett like to see such scholarships utilized?

Because of the research and choice of examples, it was difficult reading but half way in I increasingly found myself pleasantly surprised. Burkett started to provide more substance and cultivated her arguments within the second half. She begins to explore the social stigma of being childfree, certain workplace activities that are clearly biased, as well as a list of companies that have remedied certain politics to be more considerate of the childfree. One idea throughout the whole book was the concept of family and what exactly it means. A problem she discusses is that the nuclear family is still privileged in comparison to any non-traditional family. At times I was concerned the book was taking on an anti-family edge. Not a terrible read, but a lot of technical and statistical information that I honestly don’t trust to be accurate.

Another book from my childfree summer and it was certainly something of a pickle to enjoy. Increasingly when reading nonfiction I have become somewhat obsessive about the research process and the works cited list. By no means do I consider this a bad thing. At work I often have customers asking if one book is better than another, and I try to explain the importance of citing research and statistics, and how a lengthy book without much citation most likely will have a lot of opinion versus more thoroughly researched book. Definitely not always true but at a glance it is perhaps the best advice I can offer.

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Revisted Reviews: Childless Revolution by Madelyn Cain

Madelyn Cain’s definition of “childless” and “childfree” are childless individuals are people who wanted children but never conceived and childfree individuals are people who actively chose not to have children. After this point is made the book is mostly complete rubbish, but this was apparent from the author’s introduction where Cain discusses that the most important ambition, goal, and purpose of her life was to have children. She wrote the book for herself as consolation of her fear of, “What would my life have been if I had never had a child?” Cain is a mother writing about the experiences of the childfree/less and she seems to greatly miss the point for some people.

I was interested in this book because every time I stumble across a childfree book list – there it is! The book is divided into three childless sections (choice, chance, and happenstance) and the choice/childfree section is the shortest. Without saying these things are explicitly true, Cain does ensure to link and even suggest within the childfree chapter that women who dislike children have a genetic disorder, men seeking vasectomies at young ages are associated with a religious cult, not wanting children (if not genetic) as a result of childhood trauma/abuse, and of course the never failing favorite – childfree people are selfish/bitter. The section is then broken into three further categories of positively childfree, environmentally childfree, and religiously childfree. Cain does a successful job through her interviews to make everyone in these groups (excluding the religiously childfree) sound crazy.

Other problematic areas in the book include some very negative discussion about adoption (a la the orphans will put arsenic in the well variety), a pervading idea that men are forcing women not to have children, if you don’t have a husband OR a child you will be old and alone, it’s “ironic” that lesbians have so much trouble having/adopting children rather than homophobic, the extreme level of Christianity her interviewees expresses, little discussion about disabled couples, and no comment at all about individuals who couldn’t conceive from birth, no comment on the continuous “my genes” conversations that occur, etc. The list does just go on and on.

The last saving grace of this book is the brief section about childfree/less complaints. This includes tax, work, housing, etc issues. I would not suggest this book to anyone but if you are going to read it please do so with extreme reservations.

As I’ve mentioned before, last summer I started to realize that I did not want to have children and resulting from past expectations and assumptions it was important for me to explore the childfree experience. Childless Revolution I believe was the first such related book that I read. Driving home from the library with my partner, I remember reading the introduction and was quite taken aback that it was a woman who had a child that had written the book. This doesn’t mean that a mother could never write a book about childlessness but I must assume that Cain was not one of these women who mastered the talent.

And an additional review from Bookslut.



Revisted: Childfree & Loving It by Nicki Defago
June 30, 2008, 12:12 pm
Filed under: book reviews, nonfiction | Tags: , , , ,

Earlier in the year (if not last year) a professor loaned Childfree & Loving It! to me. I was warned that the book was a lot of “fluff” but still an enjoyable read. It sat on my bedside stand for months until I got through The Childless Revolution and The Baby Boon only in an act of frustration to pick up this book thinking: “There has to be something better!” And I was right, there does have to be something better, and if this book is not entirely something better it’s an improvement over these other two.

Before going too much into this book, all of the childfree literature I’ve read has offered alternative interpretations and perspectives. Childfree and Loving It! is no different except it fully embraces a positive look at being childfree (not to mention not treating the environmentally childfree as loons) without negatively portraying parenthood, but still with no fear of criticizing parenthood.

This book offers a lot of representations of the childfree within the pages and goes back and forth from being “fluff” to the occasional grabbing sentence that deserves more thought than some of the entire chapters. For example, one area of interest is how, especially in western cultures, we embrace choice and the disgust and rejection that can (and does) occur when suggestions resulting from social pressures rather than choice. Another area of interest for myself was Defago’s discussion of the effort some childfree people/women feel is necessary to prove that they still like/care for children and can still be caring/compassionate – i.e. we don’t eat babies for breakfast.

This has definitely been my favorite childfree book so far. It lacks some of the academic spin of The Baby Boon and avoids a lot of the mistakes in The Childless Revolution and it’s a solid work that’s easy to read and does a good job exploring the childfree.

Not the first time that I’ve mentioned this but I spent a great deal of time last summer exploring books that discussed my option not to have children. For those not familiar with the term “childfree,” it’s a term identifying people who opt not to have children. It’s a public relations spin on the word “childless” to distinguish between people who want to and cannot have children (at least not at that time of description) and to describe people not wanting children as not lacking.

Last summer, I was grabbing any book I could find on the topic and there was a whole lot of new territory I was exploring and considering such as: if a person neither has children nor cares much for children, what is this person’s role with children in society? As a childfree person, is it ever acceptable to criticize (particularly directly) a parent? (And I remember quite the riveting forum conversation I started after going into a difficult situation at a dog park.)

As someone who grew up babysitting for all of the younger neighborhood children, someone who was a nanny for almost three years, and someone who has at times been identified as maternal, in retrospect I think exploring this information was groundbreaking and necessary for me. However, not all people who identify themselves as childfree are always as respectful of other’s choices as they can be. This overhang of aggression does make any serious discussion regarding childfreedom minute and difficult to participate in (and particularly from a feminist perspective). However, I also found some groups of people to be completely dismissive of the topic and experience as something accepted and in no need of discussion.