Kristen Tsetsi & The Age of the Child: Interview by Dr. Amy Blackstone, author of Childfree by Choice
Amy Blackstone is a sociologist and author of Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence. She, with her husband Lance, is also the creator of the website We’re Not Having a Baby.
I was privileged to be interviewed by Amy about my reasons for writing The Age of the Child and am sharing that interview here (the original, posted on her own website, was lost there after a website crash).
AMY BLACKSTONE: Tell us about yourself, and the book!
KRISTEN TSETSI: By 27, I’d already been divorced twice because, in part, the men I was with insisted on having children.
Men wanting children wasn’t something I’d anticipated would be a problem. I grew up on movies like She’s Having a Baby, about a wife who’s ready for a baby and a husband who isn’t. When Kevin Bacon’s character (husband) learns his wife has secretly stopped taking the pill, he imagines himself strapped to a rail car that propels him into a brick wall, where he and the car explode.
The message I took from that: “Men don’t want kids.” (Also, but on a less conscious level: Haha, totally funny and fine to trick a man into fatherhood.)
There’d been no clues in popular media or magazines that it would be a challenge to find a male partner who didn’t want kids.
That women are (I was) expected to parent, and that childfree or child-ambivalent men are hard to find, was a lesson I learned early in my first marriage, and it was one that resulted in a few years of angry defensiveness, feelings of inadequacy, and feelings of “wrongness.”
All of it bothered me so much that, sometime around 2009, I started regularly blogging about being childfree under the name Sylvia D. Lucas. It was important to me to assure other young women who might be going through something similar that not wanting children was perfectly fine, perfectly normal, and don’t do it unless you truly want to — it’s a choice.
The Age of the Child is probably the culmination of those years of experience, and of arguing on behalf of and explaining the validity of the childfree position.
What motivated you to write The Age of the Child?
When you’re someone who doesn’t want to be parent — who never wants to be pregnant, period, regardless of whether abortion is an option (who thinks an abortion is “fun”?) — the regular assaults from politicians and everyday people in support of legislation that would force parenthood on women can be overwhelming.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but after a period of being enraged by this, and after defending the choice to not have children both in blog posts and interviews, it occurred to me to ask,
“Wait — why would anyone who claims to love children want them to be born to someone who doesn’t want them? Is this even about the children?”
We use the word “pro-choice” to describe people who support the right to have an abortion, but pro-life people are also obviously pro-choice: they support their choice to have a child. They enjoy their choice and, I believe, take it for granted.
But what if that choice were threatened? What if, in order to protect the children, only those who were qualified to give a child a safe, loving environment could have them? Would pro-creation groups be willing to accept restrictions on their freedom to reproduce if it meant saving countless children from abuse, neglect, and murder at the hands of their parents?
I thought a story about people living in a world in which parent licensing had been enacted would be exciting, because we don’t ever really think about restrictions on that choice.
But something had to happen in order to get the story to that point, and nothing made more sense to me than a ban on abortion and all forms of birth control.
(A birth control ban may sound far-fetched, but read some of what Rick Santorum has had to say about the dangers of birth control. And consider this tweet someone tweeted at me: “Children born and unborn both have a right to life. … have you educated yourself about the harmful moral, sociological, psychological, and physical effects of abortion and contraceptives?” (Bold mine.)
Why this book? Why now?
If you look at what’s happened in Ohio (and elsewhere), you’d think I’d somehow planned The Age of the Child as a response. One woman, when news broke about the abortion ban in Alabama, called me a prognosticator. But when I started writing the novel in mid-2015, it was just time creatively. I’d been wanting to write it for years, and not to address politics and policies but to shine a light on what strikes me as the pro-life position’s staggering hypocrisy (love the fetus, ignore the child).
It was also a desire to present childfree characters, a rarity in fiction featuring women, who defy stereotypes and who never “come around” to parenthood — no matter what.
(It’s a popular fantasy in this society that once a woman has children, she’ll learn to enjoy parenthood — or that she damn well better.)
What’s been the response from the childfree community? And from folks who are not childfree?
The childfree community has been incredibly supportive/appreciative of the book. It’s both rewarding and gratifying.
Those who aren’t childfree, and who do think there are too many cases of child abuse and neglect, have quietly said, “There should be something like this [parent licensing]…”
Which is not to say they’d support parent licensing in the real world. There are too many ways it could go very wrong (one of which I explore in The Age of the Child).
I’m not sure anyone who’s staunchly anti-abortion rights or pro-creation has read it. If they have, I haven’t heard from them. I suspect they’d rather avoid it.
Any surprises writing about a childfree protagonist?
My protagonists have always either not wanted children (Mia in Pretty Much True is in full denial of her unwanted pregnancy) or have (as with my male protagonist in The Year of Dan Palace) been ambivalent about them.
In the case of The Age of the Child’s Katherine, it was both fun (creatively) and disturbing on a personal level to explore how a committed childfree person might respond to being surrounded by forces that all but guarantee she’ll end up becoming a mother.
Parenting is not a life she wants. It’s not the life she planned, not the life she chose. So, how will she (and, will she?) avoid parenthood?
Is there reason to hope that we might see more fictional childfree characters in the future? Why, or why not?
I think it’s inevitable that we will, because more women are figuring out that they aren’t required to have children.
My guess is that for a while we’ll continue to see representations of the fight, or the conflict…a struggle with pro-creation forces of one kind or another. Eventually, though, childfree women will simply exist in fiction because not having children won’t be such a big deal in real life. The storybook romance won’t end with a big, happy, wedding followed by an almost-immediate pregnant glow.