The Terrible Octomom

4 Jun

I wrote this piece several months back. It’s long.  I’m figuring most readers will frown and not like what I write. Others may find it surprisingly clear and forward-thinking. This piece is my perspective of what I think the next wave and change in societal attitude toward child-bearing and child-rearing. It’s a touchy subject all right. And I think the Octomom brings the subject front and center.

See, every 20 years or so, the adult attitude toward children shifts. Connected to this concept, by nature, is the adult attitude toward child-rearing (which is one of the primary shifts in how generations arise and are so different from one to the next). Connected, as well, is the attitude toward child-bearing. This perspective I have is based first on generational theory and the four archetypes of generations. These are my words and view layered on top of that theory. Here goes:

Boomers in Spring

Boomers, born 1943-1960, are born in Society’s Spring. Spring comes after winter, natch. Spring is about fecundity. Emerging. Mating. Singing (chirping/whatever) in celebration of Spring’s arrival and winter’s departure. Spring is about mating so that babies can be born. The primary feeling during the era when Boomers were born was, “Yay, it’s time to celebrate and have babies. Let’s build a glorious world for our children.” Birth control was hardly an issue when the collective desire was to have babies and make a wonderful world.

GenX in Summer

GenX, born 1961-1981, are born in Society’ Summer. Summer is hot. Lazy days and playing abound. The seeds have been sown in spring. The sun is doing its job to help grow the crops. The attitude of adults is along the lines of, “Hey, let’s enjoy this time. Let’s have some fun. Responsibility? Ugh! Who wants it! They’re will be plenty of time for that later.” The primary attitude toward child-rearing during GenX childhood was hands-off parenting. The attitude toward child-bearing was the passionate fight for abortion rights, access to birth control and – let’s call a spade a spade – the right not to have – and be burdened by — children. ZPG, baby. Zero Population Growth is the solution to the world’s problems.

Millennials in Fall

Millennials, born 1982 – 2004ish, are born in Society’s Fall. Fall is the time of harvest. “Oooh, look at all the food we have! We can do whatever we want. There’s plenty to be had,” seems to be the general societal mantra. Forty percent of Millennials are first-born and/or only-childs. They grow up in an era where most adults feel confident in their personal futures. Child-bearing rights and passion switch from the right not to have a child to the right to have a child! In vitro fertilization clinic ads abound, egg donors are paid out the roof for their “services,” and IVF becomes more commonly offered as part of health insurance plans. Why? Because having a child – especially a special child — is a right during the era in which Millennials are born.

Homeland in Winter

Homeland Gen kids, born 2004ish – 20024ish, are born in Society’s Winter. Cyclically, they are always a smaller gen than their next-elder or next-junior generations. Why? Having babies when it’s cold and dark and bitter outside may not be the best of ideas. Not for the mom, not for the baby and – for the first time in a long time – not for Society. Which brings me to the Octomom drama and my perspective of what I believe will be the dominant conversation about adult attitude toward child-bearing in the next 15 years or so.

Prepare yourself: this isn’t meant to land softly on your sensibilities, values or feelings: I believe the era we are just now-entering will be one in which the conversation about “which” children are born and raised, and why, will become front and center.  I believe that attitudes and values — health insurance policies, government monies, and non-profit organization funding and resources in general – will be painfully and passionately discussed to evaluate and determine which children will be allowed to be born and raised.

Why? Because we aren’t in Spring anymore. We aren’t in Summer. We aren’t in Fall anymore, despite the hope of many that we just need to “recover.” Nope, we’re in Winter. And in winter, all decisions have to be made inside of the very real environment of winter. Societal cohesion and ability to face decisions as a collective unit becomes desired over individual rights to pursue “the harvest” of fall.

nadya-suleman-octo-momThe Octomom – as she has been dubbed – with her how-the-hell-did-she-get-IVF-for-six — count ‘em, six! –prior children, is the poster child (all pun intended) for this cultural shift in conversation.  And, I’d predict, there will be a shift in policy and law coming around the corner. People are actually willing to talk about irresponsibility of her choices and her doctor’s choices. And they will talk not only of the impact on the children, of course, but the impact on The Whole of Society. See, in the Millennials’ childhood era (Fall), she would have been celebrated for her good soul in wanting so many children. Good Samaritans would have volunteered to help her. Corporate PR departments would be clamoring for press about how they were helping with cash and donations to support this supermom.

But not at the onset of Winter; the Octomom is the poster child for the shift. Even her name sounds a bit villainous.

I do expect, fully, that over the next 15 years, decisions about child-bearing, which children are born and the resource costs to society will be evaluated through an entirely different lens that would have been unfathomable to envision 20 years ago.

This is all, of course, just a perspective. Time will tell.


16 Responses to “The Terrible Octomom”

  1. Scott June 5, 2009 at 6:51 am #

    Interesting post….. from my experiences.. there is more of a grey area between the late genX’ers (76-81) and early Millennials….

    There seems to be a tendency for a lot late genX’ers to make a shift around the age of 27-30 from career focused to family focused….maybe this late group has some Millennial tendencies or maybe there is another factor at work.

    i know a lot of highly motivated, 24/7 career focused late genX’ers who have shifted to a more manageable career/work load and focused on family/kids.. usually around the age of 30. DINKS to SITCOMS… i’ve noticed a lot less early genX’ers making this shift.

    >> Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids or start a “home business”.

    It would be an interesting statistical analysis to compare the average number of kids per generation and sub-set within each generation. Late genX’ers try to have both but are more willing to sacrifice career for kids than previous generation sub-sets.

  2. dirty mouth mama June 5, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    Interestingly, this will also apply to the people in a permanent vegetative state. The resources to maintain someone with such a disability will be at the forefront of the new healthcare/social welfare debate. Here Terry Schiavo might have been the poster child.

    • JessieX June 5, 2009 at 11:14 am #

      That may be part of the discussion. But the Big Issue is more about the *adult attitude toward children* — and, connected, the attitude toward child-bearing and child-rearing. How adults view children, depending on the age/era/generational constellation, is quite formative on how a generation views itself. So, yes, the Terry Schiavo-type situations may well be informed by a shift in the attitude that all babies should be brought to term and, if needed, given gobs-o-resources to prolong one, specific life. But, I don’t think it’ll be less a focus than new births. My two cents, at least.

      • dirty mouth mama June 7, 2009 at 9:09 am #

        You’re talking about *adult attitude toward children* who do you think keeps these people alive. Boomers will do anything, but Gen-X will look at quality of life first.

        So, what you’re talking about is that we are moving into a time where when the mom finds out with an amniocentesis that the child has downs, that we as a society will more likely encourage abortion rather then encourage the birth. yes?

        I agreed, so perhaps I was bored with that topic and moved on without telling you.

  3. Terri June 5, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    Scott wrote: >>>It would be an interesting statistical analysis to compare the average number of kids per generation and sub-set within each generation. Late genX’ers try to have both but are more willing to sacrifice career for kids than previous generation sub-sets.>>>

    I think what you’ve overlooked is that most of the early Gen X’ers came of age in a time of very-much hands-off parenting (as Jessie noted). Most of us were out of the house at 18–either in a bunch of strung-together minimum-wage jobs or in college, where we graduated to a bunch of strung-together minimum-wage jobs because the economy was a bust. Have children? Most of us were sharing studio apartments with 20 other people or living in our cars. When most of us did land actual, life-sustaining jobs, it was with the explicit understanding that we could be replaced at any moment for any “insubordination” such as not wanting to work evenings, weekends, and 90-hour weeks with no prior notice. We fought very, very hard so that the younger Gen X’ers could afford to take time off to go watch their kids play soccer.

  4. Scott June 5, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    Terri – good point.. though think most early and late GenX’ers had similar college and pre-college experiences. We were the latchkey generation with very hands off parents and were forced to be self sufficient at an early age. Working minimum wage jobs was pretty standard for us whether it was mowing grass, bagging groceries, or whatever job we could find to pay for school and/or spending money….. this is a huge difference from the younger generations.. namely the Millennials……i can’t find a millennial to cut my grass even know there are a couple on my street… if I lived here 20 years ago… i’d be cutting every yard on the street and have living the high life for a 14 year old…

    the big difference between the early and late genX’ers was the economy when we came of age/graduated college. For us late X’ers.. the economy was kicking.

    • Terri June 7, 2009 at 8:44 pm #

      Scott, I agree with you when you write: >>Terri – good point.. though think most early and late GenX’ers had similar college and pre-college experiences. We were the latchkey generation with very hands off parents and were forced to be self sufficient at an early age. Working minimum wage jobs was pretty standard for us whether it was mowing grass, bagging groceries, or whatever job we could find to pay for school and/or spending money….. this is a huge difference from the younger generations.. namely the Millennials>>

      I think this is one reason the early X’ers (like me and many of my friends) put off having children until we were actually financially stable. So much of our late childhood through early adulthood years were spent stitching together a bunch of really crappy jobs in order to earn enough to, you know, EAT. A bit of irony: you can’t find a Millenial willing to mow a lawn or babysit, and when it snows, my (post-Millenial) kids are the only ones out there shovelling snow.

  5. JessieX June 7, 2009 at 11:25 pm #

    Well, dirty mouth mama, I don’t know if it’ll be quite so cut and dry as you state above. One of the GenX (Nomad) values that marks deeply their role in midlife is this: Always make sure the baby feels safe. So, I wouldn’t say it’s such a cold response to abort a child with a serious health challenge. And I don’t know how our gen will make its mark in this regard — I don’t know the specifics.

    I just offer that for as big as “the right to choose” and birth control and abortion rights were in The Second Turning (1964 – 1983), and for as big as the right to have/want a child was in the Third Turning (1984-2004ish) with IVF, international and celebrity adoptions, I do think the generational theory data points to the Fourth Turning (2005ish – 2025ish) as an era when their will be more consciousness about bringing children into the world and being able to care for them inside an era of darker skylines and colder nights. The children being born now are akin, archetypally to “Depression Era Babies,” the most recent Silent Gen. So, the wisdom, I believe, is to look back in history for some direction.

  6. johntindale June 9, 2009 at 9:36 am #


    I really like the season analogy for the current groupings of generations, and I’m glad to see that you had the guts to come out and talk about our individual responsibility we bear for our choices, and the impact those choices have on our society.
    I think for far too long, we have had this constant “blameshift” available to all of us to use as we see fit. “It’s not my fault, it’s my upbringing/ environment/ social status/ class etc. and we could all stand to take a personal inventory and begin taking responsibility for our own actions.
    Everyone makes mistakes, and no one is perfect, but maybe we should have to start paying some kind of consequence again for the mistakes that we make. Maybe for once, we’ll learn.

  7. annathema June 10, 2009 at 8:12 am #

    I agree that there is a shift in progress, and I’m betting it will be very much the one you are suggesting, Jessie. In my personal experience, I see a lot of genX’ers my age who have either consciously decided not to have kids at all, or have waited very late to have any, and then usually just 1, maybe 2 of them. And many of them have been outspoken about their opinion that it isn’t responsible to have many kids, or possibly to have kids at all. It makes sense to me, too, that eventually we do hit a cycle of cutting back on our population growth and have attitude changes to go along with it. Not every season can be about growth. Very nice analogy.

  8. Scott June 10, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    There is a danger in low or reverse population growth, especially in western countries. As our society ages (less children) it becomes less efficient. The youth of our society are the engine that drives us forward, both economically and socially.

    Look at countries like Japan and Russia. They are already on the downward population curves due to low birth rates. They are starting to experience severe problems maintaining their workforces and starting drastic actions to reverse this trend. Russia has a “day of Conception” holiday and even China has recognized the risk of an aging workforce and is looking to ease their own birth restrictions.

    In our society, the younger generations support the older generations. We have our own problems looming with the impending collapse of the social security system. One can argue that we need to focus more on younger generations but do need to do it responsibility. The Octomom is something that should never been allowed to happen.

    Baby, and a car! Russians hold conception day
    Russian region tries to stem declining birthrate by rewarding procreation

    China’a One-Birth Policy to Stifle Future Economic Growth

  9. EllenJ June 10, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

    It is interesting that this winter/Fourth Turning is coinciding with the economic downturn. Which may influence many to not have children because of their dire economic circumstances and see that the world is not really becoming a “safer” place for children or otherwise. I know I have consciously debated about having a child these past three years…talk about “…Responsibility? Ugh! Who wants it! … plenty of time for that later.” Now I have waited so long that there are so many implications to “having” a child (not “just” the economy). Plus, when I think about it the pluses of being childfree outweigh having children (in my opinion). I will enjoy this Fourth Turning (I think)…a reality check for us for sure (Reality Sucks!).
    GenX (1969)

  10. Chuck Sherman June 24, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    I like the concept. Some of the theories have been reflected in my own life during the times illustrated. I have one question that I have not been able to resolve. You stated that “every 20 years or so, the adult attitude toward children shifts”. The examples used start in 1943 to 2004ish. What happens if you pick up the dates and adjust them to say, 1743 to 1804ish, or 1343 to 1404ish, or 1883 to 1944ish? Do we still have the same 20 year cycle? And if the cycle is longer during those time frames does that mean the cycles in the future will be shorter?

  11. JessieX August 8, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    Hi Chuck, Not sure if I completely understand your question. I’m going to add another layer to this convo, and let’s see if that helps.

    Every 20 years or so the adult attitude toward children shifts because the generation with primary influence on children (whichever gen is ascending into midlife) is, by nature, diff than the gen that was just in midlife and is now ascending into elderhood. One of the most influential components on generations is how *that generation experienced childhood.* So, if for example, a gen (such as GenX) experienced childhood with adults who were self-indulgent and very hands-off toward kids, guess what they become in how they raise their kids? The shadow. The opposite. The other side of the spectrum. (Don’t confuse this with Boomers who treated their kids as “special” and worthy of an indulgence of resources.)

    So, going back to you Q about the years, it’s not just *any* 2o year-period that the attitude toward kids changes, it’s impacted by which generation is ascending into midlife. And the shifts are pretty radical on a cultural level. And predictable. And cyclical. Which is why I just loves-me generational theory as articulated by Strauss & Howe. The data/insight/ability to understand and navigate huge patterns is awesome.

    Each gen is about 20 years in length, which is why the shifts occur about every 20 years. Generations are not 10 years in length or 30. They’re 20 years, plus or minus but a few. Behind any other definition of a gen is usually a guru trying to sell a book, get speaking gigs and get paid ridiculous consulting fees to pontificate about their opinion. ;-p

    Hope this helps. Happy to provide more info/perspective if requested.

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