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The Great Baby Divide

I knew my friends weren’t keen on kids. Then I found out that they didn’t much care for parents, either.

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(Collage Tablet Magazine; original photos Almog Shair Joseph/Flickr and Shutterstock)
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In most places in Israel, having children is essentially the law: Observant Israelis feel obliged to observe the mitzvah pru urvu—be fruitful and multiply—from Genesis 1:28. And secular Israelis seem to adhere to the Zionist idea of having kids as part of the demographic war. In Tel Aviv, on the other hand, the issue is more complicated. There are two opposing attitudes when it comes to kids: one anti and one very much pro.

And it’s just my luck that most of my friends belong to the anti-baby side. So for me, in Tel Aviv’s hipster society, having a baby has been basically social suicide.

Fridays in Tel Aviv are dedicated to sitting in cafés, reading the weekend papers, and discussing current, personal, and gossipy events with your peers. My social circle drinks its Friday morning coffee at around 2 p.m., badly hung over from the night before. I started to realize that having kids wouldn’t be the best social move whenever the discussion around the café table drifted to the subject of babies. Let’s just say that if your 30-something friends stare at a pregnant woman as if she has a piece of lettuce stuck between her teeth, you know that having a baby isn’t considered popular.

Nevertheless, a few years ago, when I was about 34 and my biological clock started waking me up in the morning, I thought I’d carefully bring the subject to the table. It was met with equal amounts of ridicule, contempt, and pity. Some of my friends treated me as if I declared myself a right-wing fascist or just stared at me as if they felt sorry for me for leaving the realm of rational thought and voluntarily crossing over to the other side—the side of brain-dead baby-talk. Having a baby, they explained, is akin to throwing your life away. The thought of not fitting into your skinny jeans for a few months or missing out on nights of debauchery in the presence of some highly regarded international DJ is considered by some a fate worse than death.

For months before I got pregnant, my friends tried to convince me that having a baby would be a horrible mistake. They emailed me links to academic studies and research showing that children don’t, in fact, make you happy. They told me that wishing to reproduce is narcissistic. I couldn’t always argue with their logic, and in hindsight I must admit that they were right in predicting that once I had a baby, I’d be having more conversations about the different shades and textures of poo than political debates or semiotic analysis of films.

But their ignorance turned into outright denial when I actually did get knocked up. From week to week my belly grew, but my friends around the Friday café table didn’t seem to notice—or, maybe, they didn’t want to notice. At one point I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to blatantly point to my baby bump. The first reaction was a series of blank looks. Then: “What? You got a new shirt?”

***

A few months after my boyfriend and I became parents, we found out we weren’t invited to an afternoon barbecue at a friend’s house. I tried to remember if one of us said anything to annoy him, or if a notorious ex might be on the guest list, thwarting our invitation. After some unsuccessful speculation, I decided to confront my friend, who simply said that he was sorry, but the other guests didn’t want babies at their party. I assumed even baby-haters know that a sleeping infant in a baby-carrier wouldn’t be much of an imposition, but maybe they were afraid I’d be so rude as to breastfeed while people are eating—a vulgar and thoughtless act that might propel someone to lose his spareribs.

As it turns out, my mistake was trying to rationalize the host’s answer, which led to me naively telling him he could have still invited us and told us not to bring the baby. To that he didn’t have an answer; he just mumbled something about not wanting to insult us. That’s when it sank in: It’s not the baby they imagined would cramp the party’s style; it was us. We simply weren’t considered cool anymore. The fear that we would open our mouths to report that a certain someone rolled over for the first time was so great that we had to be kept off the premises altogether.

To be sure, the fact that you can’t spit in Tel Aviv without hitting a kid in the eye is proof that not everybody here advocates the childfree lifestyle. In some social circles having a baby is super-trendy—as long as you treat it like the fashion accessory it clearly is supposed to be. Infinite talk about state-of-the-art futuristic baby strollers, luxury nursery furniture, and designer maternity clothes I regularly overheard at my pregnancy exercise class assured me that for snobby rich-girls, having a baby means what having a Chihuahua means to Paris Hilton. Other social groups in the city ga-ga for babies include well-to-do gay couples who can afford a surrogate mother. There are also the enlightened vegan yoga-buffs who too must have babies, whom they tie around their well-toned bodies in hemp baby-slings and breastfeed until they are 10.

In the middle of our tour of the Lis Maternity Hospital, where I would eventually give birth, two expecting dads almost took it outside after being separated by a nurse amid a very vocal argument. Throughout the tour, the hippie expectant dad wouldn’t stop asking the nurse/tour-guide questions. He wanted a guarantee that his wife would experience natural childbirth and bargained over how many minutes his newborn baby would be allowed to lie on his mother without his umbilical cord being cut. After asking if he could bring mood lighting from home (apparently he found the dimmer unsatisfactory), another expectant dad, sporting a leather jacket and designer watch, finally snapped. He told the hippie to shut up, which is understandable—had he not been stopped, the guy would have probably requested a tank of dolphins be brought to the delivery room. Not that this justifies the aggressive macho behavior or anything.

Being pregnant is sort of like going to the army: You get to meet the kind of people you usually wouldn’t. And, sadly, they don’t go away after you give birth. After getting dirty looks on the playground for letting my kid snack on a non-organic banana and visiting one too many online mommy groups in which mothers refer to their offspring as “our little prince/princess” and lovingly complain about their husbands as if they were married to Ray Romano, I started to come to terms with the fact that most parents are not my kind of people. On the other hand, my kind of people usually don’t have kids. Luckily, I have my kid to hang out with.

***

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Rebecca Klempner says:

I have to say that I loved this essay–which in equal parts made me laugh and made me empathize–until the very end. I don’t quite get how you go from disliking certain pretentious parents with ego-centric views of parenting to all parents.

Let me assure you that this is not just a Tel Aviv problem. I have had the exact same experience in the USA.

Andrei says:

Why don’t you leave the other parents alone? Why be so judgmental?

what a joke. how many billions of these human animals already, and they keep on breeding without having an afterthought, there should be a ban on births for some 20 years the world over, so that the surplus could have a dignified exit through forced forest replanting, or else in 20 years the place will be full of hungry, displaced, useless humanoids, fighting over water, sinking in the rising water, unless of course someone presses the button before then. I hear Israel’s got one, why the wait?

Yep. Just yep. I am one of a tiny handful of friends sans kids and it’s a problem. My friends never want to leave their kids and I get sick of being the babysitter for the rare time they go out without kids. I don’t have many friends anymore, especially since I am firmly in the no-kids camp.

What would Darwin say? It’ll be interesting to interview these people every ten years or so as they grow older, if only to see if they have any regrets.

Till today people still ask ” why did you only have one child” ? I’m more tolerant of this rude question than I used to be, simply because my wife is happy,I’m happy and my daughters happy . I certainly did lose touch with a lot of friends after my daughters birth but to be honest it was because I couldnt be bothered with them anymore.You live your life and do as you think is right for you . Friends come and go and I have to admit I couldnt care less what people think . My daughter ( now 17) is my best friend and always lends me money when I’m broke….I cant lose. ( Enjoyed the article very much! It started a lively debate here!)

Why indeed ?

Sharon says:

one has to accept his life choices would lead him/her to different paths and different circles – or no circles at all :( you cannot choose “physical existence” over cultural one and expect everything else to stay the same

Why don’t you start with yourself?

Steve says:

There are many reasons to have children and many reasons not to, but if you’re in your mid 30′s and your biggest concern about child bearing is that your supposed hipster friends will no longer find you hip, you all badly need to grow up.

adam Sturm says:

After having the same concerns as the writer regarding having children and the affect it will have on my social life, I had two children with my wife. Today I couldn’t care less what my friends think. When you love your kids so much, It really seems stupid to care what your friends think about it. I believe that most hipsters will eventually have kids too.

PAL669 says:

The great thing about Israel is that there are all kinds…Since Israel has the highest birthrate of the OECD countries, 2.98, due to all women and not just the ultra-Orthodox, I just laughed. Now it’s time to go back to enjoying my 4 kids and 3 grandkids. (May there be more).

sharon says:

As a mother of two in Tel aviv I definitely feel the same.. Lately I decided to give up hanging up with people who doesn’t have kids, especially as my kids are bored with them..

indeed what? in denial much? the future looks bright? I bet your little kids will thank you once it kicks off big time, teach them to build a boat, it will come in handy, and I trust all those yank-jews will make their aliyah before the motherland sinks, let’s double the population, kids excluded, there’s room for everyone in the West Bank.

Sharone Tzalik says:

A Chinese proverb: It’s all about making babies and not so much about having them that makes the world tick.

Well Sharon theres plenty of great people that have kids, let the ones that dont make the effort, we have a good excuse.

Exactly, well said.

This most be a very specific crowd in Tel Aviv. I’ve lived in Israel since 1979 and all the Israelis I know are a lot more grounded than this woman.

Habbgun says:

Have you asked the ayatollahs about this one? I’m sure they’ll see it your way so get a visa and away you go.

Interesting article. I’m sorry your friends were so unsupportive. Honestly, they don’t sound like any Israelis or Jews I’ve ever met (thankfully).

Lumping gay and lesbian parents in with those you feel use babies as fashion accessories is mean-spirited. For many gays and lesbians, coming out meant giving up dreams of marriage and (I think especially for Jews) parenthood. I know gay couples in Tel Aviv and NY who have scraped and saved (as my partner and I have) in order to be able to afford to have children through surrogacy; we forego bigger apartments, nicer/newer furniture, expensive cloths, dinners out, vacations and summer shares, etc. in order to become parents.

Wow, what a sincere and brilliantly written article.

rasqual says:

Seriously, who gives a rip? If people who used to be kids themselves are loathing kids, screw ‘em — they’re frakkin’ neurotic. I guess there’s a phase where one continues to care what such people (who may be one’s putative friends, I guess) think before realizing, at last, that they’re just jerks.

LesNessman says:

Sometimes people stop being hipster children and grow up. Sometimes they remain adolescent hipsters.

I’m sorry the author has such poor judgment in selecting friends and cares so much for their shallow approval over consequential choices

I’ve been to parties where someone brought a new born. Either you are instructed to speak only in a whisper, or everyone talks over a screaming baby. Possibly that is the reason she wasnt invited to the party.

No, better yet, just keep going as you are. We really don’t need your genetics in the gene pool.

Having children means giving up on the idea that you are the most important person in your life, and dedicate the next decade or two to serving the needs of another. I am pretty sure most Hipsters can’t do that – hence the focus on how a baby would affect them socially. Glad to hear you grew up and took on the adult responsibility.

Nate Whilk says:

Everything in your posts was said in the 70s and 80s and predicted by 2000. (Except it was global cooling in the 70s.) I graduated from college in 1971 and I believed those predictions. The birth rate is going down which eventually is good for the environment but it may kill the welfare state. Yes, very serious problems are on the horizon for the next 100 years. Even so, doom is NOT inevitable (except when the sun explodes in a few billion years).

Nate Whilk says:

“They told me that wishing to reproduce is narcissistic”, said people whose lives are totally spent on their own wants and needs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but glass houses/stones, for heaven’s sake.

annademo says:

Anti-baby people are morons who should be allowed to self-terminate. Babies are cute; they are not.

kgelner says:

Actually population stabilizes at 10 billion regardless, it’s simple statistics. All having a baby does is decide what percentage of the final total values the ideals your culture has.

Seriously? Life comes in stages. You are a child. Then an adolescent. Then a young Adult.- All mentored and Guided by a Parent. Now you are in charge- responsible for and to only yourself. Your world revolves around you.

Then you might enter a relationship, and take on some responsibility for and obligations to another- usually in the form of a Marriage (or do Hipsters not even go that far- remaining independent of even the person they chose as a life partner (officially or unofficially)? ) Then you have children and become responsible for a life that really can’t get along without you. Seriously, why would you want to mire yourself in one stage of life for your entire life -a selfish and narcissistic one at that, and never mature into a real adult- capable of not only caring for yourself, but for others- as your parents did for you? Being a parent is not about being trendy, or garnering the approval of others. Its about your child. Period.

Certain cultures believe in more individual freedom in that endeavor, while other emphasize conformity and the idea that a child is a community asset. That has nothing to do with being a parent – but it has everything to do with the political and cultural philosophy of the parents you are meeting.

Fat_Man says:

Ms. Kessler needs new friends, preferably adult human beings.

Brian Grayson says:

This article is a parody right? It has to be, because no one actually cares this much about what their so-called friends think about the decision to have a baby. You weren’t invited to a barbecue? Boo-f’n-hoo.

sestamibi says:

Several thoughts came to mind while reading this.
Dana, I’m glad you saw fit to have a baby, but don’t you think you might get married to the father as well? Or perhaps that’s just a bit too retro even for you.
I’m sorry to hear that anti-natalism and navel gazing is so au courant in Israel, of all places. One would think that given the existential threat under which it lives, its population might be thinking a little further down on Maslow’s need level scale.
My wife and I are also Jewish. We only have one child, our beautiful 15-year old low functioning autistic son–the greatest blessing we could ever hope to have. We spend much of our time cleaning up his messes, and we grieve that he is what he is, but I lived the cinema life before, and I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything.
As for your friends, Dana, Hitler would be proud. No one could do a better job of carrying out his mission.

njoriole says:

The word that comes to mind about such “cool” (blech!) people? Soulless.

The Bochur says:

A shallow and foolish article (if indeed it is true rather than journalistic hyperbole). Her friends are simply morons but perhaps worse is the conceit that she is in some way superior to other parents.

Jojo Lolo says:

I learned 2 things in this article:
One sad – some people have stupid friends and stick with them.
One happy – these stupid people don’t make children and so won’t reproduce. Darwin was right, this is the survival of the fittest.

I’ve read this article carefully and tried to imagine your erstwhile friends, whom you describe so well. I have to wonder why anyone would willingly associate with them.

With friends like these, who needs misanthropic narcissists?

Make no mistake, those trendy people who turned their noses up at you and avoided inviting you to their parties are going to die miserable and alone, their lives defined by a juvenile urge to be hip, which normal human beings outgrow as the duties and responsibilities of adult life make themselves felt. They will, quite literally, grow old without ever growing up.

Fascinating and accurate analysis.

Noa Y. says:

Fascinating and accurate analysis.

Great article until you condemned all parents. As a geeky mom, I understand the lack of mom friends that are like me, but I find ones I can talk with while our kids play (probably not a long-term commitment, but a one hour playdate isn’t going to kill me). I’ve lost old friends and added new ones to my circle, as we all reach the same stage of life at different times. My weekends now involve bike riding lessons and family friendly movies, instead of concerts and the latest art house movie “you’ve never heard of” – but I wouldn’t give it up for anything!

platedog says:

“They told me that wishing to reproduce is narcissistic.” These cool people while they may be able to have children, they share the same traits with other groups. What does gays who stay in the confines of their relationship, men who love boys ( pedophiles ), and people who love their pets have in common. Biologically they can’t have children. They have a common thread with abortion. They can not produce children and abortion eliminates children. These acts are the antithesis of mankinds survival or should I say aborted evolution. Who is narcissistic, those who contribute to the gene pool or those who have sex just for the sake of sex ( I’m including the cool people in these remarks ). It’s pleasure without the responsibility. It’s worship at the alter of hedonism.

ThatsEntertainment says:

Hipster is the new Spinster.

Dick Beninya says:

Hipsters are so 2012. fake as all get out.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11

Stacy, I feel exactly the same. I did add new parent-friends to my circle. And I didn’t condemn ALL parents, just MOST of them ;)

joy2b says:

There’s good reason to be concerned about this. Social support or lack thereof can have as much affect on an expectant mother’s health as stress. During the challenging times after having the baby, but before they start sleeping, the ability to turn to friends for help can be really valuable. Also, not having friends that are good with kids can really limit your pool of available babysitters. Getting a little time alone with your spouse can be hard without people willing to help.

HappyandProud says:

My husband and I went out briefly to a friend’s party with our newborn first child. We didn’t shush anyone, the baby didn’t scream, and most of our friends (and people we didn’t even know) seemed interested in meeting her.

It’s too bad you have such a negative view of babies; especially as you were one yourself at one time.

HappyandProud says:

My husband and I went out briefly to a friend’s party with our newborn first child. We didn’t shush anyone, the baby didn’t scream, and most of our friends (and people we didn’t even know) seemed interested in meeting her.

It’s too bad you have such a negative view of babies; especially as you were one yourself at one time.

mouskatel says:

I agree with the other commenters that what you described is an extremely tiny social subset in TA. Most Israelis love kids and love having them. It’s time to seek greener pastures and find a more kid/parent friendly environment. There are plenty of down to earth parents who love kids and don’t see them as accessories. Try moving to Jerusalem.

- Funny, I thought the human population went from 5 billion in 1987 to 7 billion in 2011. We are not an endangered species, in fact if we keep producing the amount of babies we are doing we will have a massive crisis that will dwarf any financial problems the world is facing now.

I know know too many mothers who want babies for narcissistic reasons – “I want someone to love me” – “I want to be more respected in my family”
– “I need something to do and I have nothing else I’m good at” – “I get
extra money if I have a baby” – “People look after me if I have a baby”
– “Me and my baby are the center of attention when we go out” etc etc. This maybe a Jewish site, so having babies as part of an ongoing war is new one for me, but I can understand it.
But from a world view – for crying out loud, people who don’t want babies should be applauded.They are not contributing to the gene pool – so what? what is so great about having as many kids as you can generate? A lot of people are saying you should grow up and have kids. This is not being responsible. It is a juvenile attitude for the simple reason that the maths are not going to be adding up soon.

Grow up, and either don’t have kids or only have one.

natsera says:

I couldn’t agree with you more. We are ALREADY extremely overpopulated, and destroying our planet as we speak. While the technogeeks are looking for solutions on how to feed the masses and preserve the various species of the world, the rest of us need to concentrate on getting our population down. I understand Israel’s desire to remain Jewish, since it’s the only place in the world where Jews are free from fear of discrimination, so it’s necessary to instill the knowledge and understanding of the need to greatly limit childbearing into the Arab population as well. This will be harder, for educational and cultural reasons, but Israel, as the rest of the world, would be well advised to concentrate on educating and empowering Arab women to be self-reliant and in control of their own destiny. This strategy is working well in other countries, so why not in Israel?

Natan79 says:

She’s a journalist, what do you expect?

Natan79 says:

Because that’s how she is.

Steve says:

@joy2b:disqus – not to be glib, but if this is the case, find better friends. I have friends and relatives who are 35 going on 40, and others who are 35 going on 15. If you want good help, cultivate relationships with the former.

joy2b says:

In my group of friends, supportive attitudes aren’t a problem, but even there, I can see smaller scale versions of the problems affecting this author, and they are not wise to dismiss. The first couple in our social group to settle down and have kids did have good friends, but none familiar with the marathon demands of caring for a newborn.

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The Great Baby Divide

I knew my friends weren’t keen on kids. Then I found out that they didn’t much care for parents, either.

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