Sunday, October 10, 2010

Who knew? Married couples without kids are now the majority

There was much ado this past week about a new study released by the Vanier Institute of the Family. Among other data, the study showed that, for the first time, married couples without children now outnumber married couples with children.

So if dh & I are actually in the majority, why do we still feel like such outsiders??

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With the release of the study, (including the National Post, Montreal Gazette, etc.) ran a series about the changes in the Canadian family. Imagine how pleased I was to stumble on one segment of this series, with the title "Parenthood plans don't always pan out." A few quotes (added emphasis mine):
Across Canada and in dozens of other Western countries, families like Lajoie's are ending up with fewer children than they dreamt of or planned for. Some are limited by finances when faced with the cost of raising and educating children and the impact on their careers. Time and biology intervene for others who start their families later in life, and some who might have become parents through adoption wait years and may not end up with a child at all.

Others choose to limit their family size because of health, career or lifestyle considerations, or in search of the ever-elusive work-life balance...

In a demographic landscape like Canada's, with below-replacement fertility levels and a massive wave of baby boomers beginning to turn 65 next year, this fertility gap represents a lost opportunity not just for individual families, but for society...

"There has to be renewal and children are our greatest asset in terms of a society, so when people aren't able to realize their family desires, much less ending up childless by default, that impacts all of us," says Judith Daniluk, a professor of counselling psychology at the University of British Columbia who specializes in women's sexuality and reproductive health. "Who's going to be contributing to the pension plan? Who's going to be supporting the health-care system? Who's going to be taking care of those people who are 65-plus? Who's going to do the jobs?"...

Aside from deliberate decisions to limit family size, Leslie-Anne Keown, a Statistics Canada analyst, says many people simply run out of time. Most studies that ask people about their ideal number of children and obtain a larger figure than the current fertility rate are quizzing single women in their early 20s, and Keown says their answers reflect an ideal unfettered by reality — or the limits of biology.

"They thought they were going to have it all. 'I'm going to finish my education, I'm going to get a great job, I'm going to make lots of money, then I'm going to get married and have two kids,'" she says. "And when you look at their timelines, they're actually not very realistic — but for them it's realistic."

Another article in the series was titled "Infertility and adoption in the fertility gap." Excerpt:

Judith Daniluk, a professor of counselling psychology at the University of British Columbia who provided fertility counselling for 10 years, says the proportion of infertile couples has probably always hovered around one in eight. The difference now is that adoption is an "extremely difficult and extremely limited" way to build a family because fading taboos around single motherhood mean women are less likely to place children for adoption, she says, and couples are planning their lives with the misguided notion that they can put off child-bearing almost indefinitely.

"There's a belief — it's an erroneous belief, largely — that women can delay as long as they want, that with the reproductive technologies we have available to us, so many women are saying, 'OK, I'll just do IVF' and not realizing that they are facing age-related fertility declines that are pretty dramatic by the time they hit 37," she says. "It's a life goal and without it, for those who want it, it's profoundly, profoundly difficult to come to terms with."

So nice to see the mainstream media acknowledge what so many of us already know!!

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In the Toronto Star, Life columnist Vinay Menon, father of twin girls, used the release of the study to address what seems like a growing gap between couples with children and their childless friends. I thought it was a pretty good piece, overall, with some sound advice:

Menon: Mind the growing parent-friend gap
Published on Fri Oct 8 2010
By Vinay Menon Columnist

Having children doesn’t have to mean losing friends. But that’s what happens if you’re not careful.

At first, nobody is aware of this looming social shift. You, the new parent, are so consumed with the baby’s needs — feeding, sleeping, bathing, changing, cuddling, burping — there is no time for your own needs, let alone the needs of your friends.

It’s unfortunate. But with a bottle in one hand and a diaper in the other, you have tumbled into a black hole and vanished from the real world — poof!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, your friends missed the departure. Yes, they know a new baby has arrived. Yes, they are happy for you. But, no, they don’t fully understand the extent to which this new baby is an invisible lifestyle wedge between you and them.

After my twins were born, I had several conversations along these lines:

Friend: “Congratulations! That’s great!”

Me: “Thanks. Yeah, it’s been kind of crazy around here with . . . ”

Friend: “ . . . I can only imagine. So listen, what are you guys doing Saturday night?”

Me: “Well, I suspect we’ll be here with the babies. Do you want to come over?”

Friend: “I definitely want to meet the girls. Definitely. But on Saturday, a bunch of us are going to this new place on Queen. You should come out for dinner, or at least drinks. It’ll be fun!”

This week, the Vanier Institute of the Family released a new report. Among the findings, two revelations gave me shivers. For the first time, there are more single Canadian adults than those who are married. For the first time, married couples without children outnumber married couples with children.

In short: We are now the minority. Our nuclear families, traditional and increasingly anachronistic, exist inside a mushroom cloud of cultural change.

So the question becomes: How do we avoid becoming radioactive? How do we hang on to our friends who are single or married without children? What can we, the minority, do to avoid drifting away from majority?

Four years after fatherhood, with the benefit of mistakes and hindsight, I offer some humble advice to new parents. Here now, Five Ways To Keep Your Friends After Parenthood:

1. Limit the amount of time spent talking about the little one.

This will sound cynical and harsh. But here goes: Your childless friends have no real interest in your child. None. For the next few months, select your talking points wisely.

2. Avoid emotional distance caused by false envy.

Along with profound joy, a baby also brings confusion and frustration. When a friend talks about the date he had with a leggy publicist or jokes about sleeping in on Sunday, it’s easy to think, “I can’t relate to this person any more.” You can and you must.

3. Take a genuine interest in your friends’ lives.

You’re not sleeping. You’re not wearing clean clothes. It’s hard to care about your friend’s new promotion or the spontaneous trip to New York she took last weekend. This is a critical window in your friendship: Don’t let it snap shut because you were too frazzled to hold it open.

4. Don’t encourage friends to “join the club”

Having a baby is not dissimilar to entering a cult. It’s new, it’s exciting and it’s hard to be deprogrammed. But friends have good reasons for not wanting to join. Questions such as, “When are you having a baby?” will only alienate them.

5. Remember this is not a zero-sum game.

Your new baby is Priority No. 1. Any friend who does not get this is not a friend worth keeping. But you can be a great parent and a great friend at the same time. The key is perspective, balance and time management.

So enjoy this exhilarating black hole plunge. Just remember: re-entry will occur sooner than you think. And when you’re back in the real world, dazed and bleary-eyed, you will be looking around for your friends.


  1. Wow! Thanks for posting this. I actually don't feel like I am in the majority or minority. We are kind of just in the middle. We have friends without kids and we have friends with kids....about 50-50.

    I think it is important that we too try to keep in contact with our friends with kids....that the end article you posted goes both ways. We sure rejoice in their kids milestones just as they should enjoy hearing about our exciting vacations or work accomplishments. :)

  2. Great blog post. I read the first post somewhere online earlier this week and was SOOO pleased that they mentioned how hard it is nowadays to adopt children. Truth is, it is very hard to adopt and thus why us crazy IFers go to the lengths we do to conceive a child via ART. And really enjoyed the post about after being a new parent there needs to be balance amongst your friends. So true...I really feel/felt alienated by all my friends with little kids and hope that if we're lucky to have our own children that we'll be able to find some type of balance to keep true to ourselves.

  3. I was wondering if you would mind if I posted this on the Resolve childfree board with a link to your blog. Let me know. :)

  4. Wow. What a surprising study. I found it quite interesting.

    As for the list of "Five Ways To Keep Your Friends After Parenthood" ... what a great list. I think it should be given to all new parents in the hospital. It should be part of their check out procedures!

  5. Interesting...

    And I've probably done all five of those things on that list...

  6. Wow perhaps we should move to lovely to be in the majority for a change! I wonder how long it will stay like that for?

  7. I LOVE the last article. My husband kicks me under the table every now and then when I go on about the kid. I once told him to kick me if I start blabbering on and on about my kid cause I so HATED it when others did it. It drove me nuts. I want to talk about other things - even shoes for crying out loud. Though frankly I do love blabbing about him to the same people who bored me to tears with tales of their kids.
    That's why I'm starting to use babysitters - I want to go out to that swank restaurant without a giant stroller once in a while.

  8. Very, very interesting. Thanks for posting this.

  9. I'm so ready for an international subscription to the Star. You post such great articles! And like Lisa, I'm glad someone stated in print that adoption is not an easy or simple (or cheap) process.

    It's weird how I felt that I was in the minority as an infertile woman whenever I was out in public, and now I feel I'm in the minority as a parent among my friends, many of whom are in their 30s and (unhappily) single. Maybe I'm just an especially frustrated sort of person. ; ) The list of 5 tips is very good. Trying to maintain friendships has been a challenge since the twins' arrival. It takes a lot of online effort via email, FB, and texting.

  10. These are fascinating articles. It is awesome to see that there are people studying fertility rates, and accurately stating some of the reasons why birth rates are declining.

    The article for new parents was super awesome! I agree that this should be standard reading. (Yes at the same time, I think that there should be an alternate version for the friends of new parents, reminding them about the value of children and families. I'd hate to think that we are in any way contributing to the anti-child, anti-family culture that already exits.)

  11. Thanks for posting this - I appreciate you taking the time to bring it out for those of us who aren't in your neighborhood. And, the findings are fascinating. It seems particularly apropos given my recent tooth gnashing over the state of my friendships.