Who wants a life without children?…empty nest years on the rise


TRADITIONALISTS and other scholars have warned that there is an increasing number of families who now prefer to live their lives without children as their life experiences are changing dramatically.
One of the key factors cited by traditionalists as contributing to childhood distress is the individualistic values created by most parents where they are trying to make life only better for themselves and not for their children.
According to some analysts, the idea of birth control in most African countries, including Zimbabwe, was mooted hundreds of years ago by some Western countries when they first divided the African traditional nucleus family and imposed Western values among some of our women.
When this was done, they had enough ammunition to preach the gospel of having less or no children at all.
Though perhaps not everybody in Zimbabwe has accepted the nurturing of children as a societal norm, at least through much of the 21st Century, most would have viewed children and child care as a central part of adulthood, marriage and family life.
The expectations for the adult life experience are shaping up to be dramatically different.
Researchers in the country have identified several key indicators signaling that child care now occupies less of the average adult’s lifetime and the social implications are enormous.
Researchers and cultural activists have attributed child care decline to the fact that today’s couples express a yearning for companionship, intimacy and personal fulfillment in marriage.
In order to thrive, these so-called ‘soul mate relationships’ require high levels of maintenance that demand both time and attention.
Children, who also require considerable time and attention, are now seen as competitors.
In recent decades, marriage has been de-institutionalised; that is, it has lost much of its influence as a social institution governing sex, procreation and parenthood.
Legally, socially and culturally, marriage is now defined primarily as a couple relationship dedicated to the fulfillment of each individual’s inner most desires and needs.
Such redefining of marital expectations is weakening the link between marriage and parenthood.
Traditional marriage, once widely recognised as society’s best setting to provide economic stability and emotional security for children, now competes with other socially acceptable options for bearing and caring for children.
Steady increase in births out of wedlock and cohabitation and divorce rates have resulted in more fragmented families.
This, in turn, has discouraged women from having children. Increasingly, lone adults are bearing the burden of caring for children, which means fewer biological parents are living the majority of their adult years with their children.
The same factors have increased the likelihood of biological father absence and when men are missing from the parenting equation, it alters family dynamics and affects everyone.
According to traditionalists, another factor contributing to the shrinking time adults spend caring for children is that young adults are postponing childbearing to pursue college education and careers.
Additionally, relationship instability and the resulting uncertainty about the future have also discouraged women from having children.
Today, the median age for a woman’s marriage has risen to 26 from the 1970 median of 18 years.
Women who have achieved a four-year college degree or higher may not enter their first marriage until nearer to the age of 30 according to a research by the University of Zimbabwe.
Even when they do marry, the research notes, they are waiting longer before they have their first child.
Traditionalists also note that in the 1970s, a significant percentage of married women had a first child within the first three years of marriage.
By the 1990s, the percentage had fallen drastically.
Consequently, today, married women spend a greater number of ‘child free’ years before they become mothers.
Furthermore, an increase in life expectancy means that a larger portion of one’s lifespan will be spent living in a household without children.
The empty nest years are expanding as life expectancy increases. The result is that the span of both pre-and-post-child rearing years is widening for the average Zimbabwean woman.
These ‘child free’ years are often portrayed in popular culture as years of fun and freedom, while the child-rearing years are increasingly seen as a temporary and transitional stage of adulthood, an interruption in the pursuit of careers and personal fulfillment.
At one time, the Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede, also took a swipe on the use of contraceptives by women which he said was one of the factors that impacted on the country’s population which has remained low for the past decade.
He has been widely criticised by some gender activists and the so-called modern generation that has adopted the Western lifestyles where having less children is now the in-thing.
Women have also taken control of their reproductive health and are now able to decide on the number of children they want to have — thanks to the use of birth control methods that are at their disposal.
However, research on contraceptive use, especially in tribal communities in Zimbabwe, pointed out that the practice is not only a human rights violation but has devastating effects on the community.
It denies the young women the opportunities to build families at an early age and bear as many children as their mothers did.


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