Afriend of mine has no children. She hears about it all the time.

“Why not?” they ask.

“How could you not want them?”

“Is there something wrong between you and your husband?”

Another friend has three children. She also hears about it all the time.

“Don’t you want a career?” they ask.

“Are you really taking those kids into that restaurant?”

Once upon a time, having children was a given. Those who didn’t couldn’t. They were to be pitied.

Not anymore. Thanks to birth control, delayed marriages and two-career couples, not having children is an increasingly common choice.

Which has given rise to a once unthinkable civil war: parents versus non-parents. People who quote Dr. Laura and say, “I am my kids’ mom” and people who think Dr. Laura is a self-righteous jerk.

It was the cover story of a recent Sunday New York Times magazine. The name of the piece: “The Backlash Against Children.”

What a phrase.

Disdain toward childless

“What has happened,” says Elinor Burkett, author of “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless” (Free Press, $25), “is that baby boomers — the most self-centered generation in history — have discovered that parenting is hard. And a segment — mostly affluent people — began to demand that the government and those without children make it less hard.”

She points to tax credits, the Family Leave Act and employers who regularly excuse absences for parents who must tend to chicken pox or school plays — while figuring the childless workers will pick up the slack.

She also notes an attitude of disdain toward childless people.

“In several interviews this week, I’ve heard childless people called
‘immature’ and ‘free riders’ — someone even called us ‘bitter, barren people.’ “

Meanwhile, parents claim they are not asking for handouts, just a hand. A member of the National Parenting Association, James Barron, told me last week:
“There’s a crisis in parenting right now. If the government wants to help us out and we have voted for these things, we can use help. We either pay now or pay later.”

To me, this is not a battle over children. It’s a battle over adults. And the issue is selfishness — on both sides.

Raising children might be a selfless act, but that doesn’t keep its practitioners from being self-centered. Mommies and daddies often flaunt their parenthood as a sheriff’s badge that entitles them to preferential treatment over those without little ones.

“It’s for the children,” they say, when they really mean, “My concerns are more important than yours.” These people think their screaming children entertain others in the airplane.

On the other hand, those without children often have no idea of the fatigue, pressure and never-ending responsibility. They revel in their freedom and roll their eyes at the inanity of a PTA meeting or a soccer practice car pool. They don’t realize that coworkers with children worry about keeping up and juggling career and family.

“Hey, nobody forced you to have kids,” they say, and that is true.

Then again, if nobody had children, Earth would be out of business.

A little more respect

Some of this is simple to solve. It is clearly unfair if parents get time off that non-parents must compensate for, and employers should offer options of benefits that suit parents and non-parents alike. Tax breaks should be balanced. And there is nothing wrong with making certain environments off-limits to young children.

A bigger problem is the attitude. Those without children have to recognize that few things they do — if anything — will be as all-consuming as raising children. They need to accept that surrendering a little space or time for a child is noble and decent, and doesn’t require compensation.

Meanwhile, parents must lose any holier-than-thou notions. Choosing not to have a child can be a more selfless and responsible decision than choosing to have one. And lacking children does not make one “barren” or “bitter.”

All we really need, in the end, is a little more respect for one another — and a little less sense of entitlement. We should work on that. And when we figure it out?

We should teach it to our children.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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