A SINKing Feeling

I'm in my 60s. Why is my childlessness still an issue?

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I ought to be past the stage of being a SINK.

 

Instead, in part thanks to the economy, in part due to changing mores, I’m still stuck as a SINK (Single Income No Kids). I just wish that the word didn’t strike me as being so forlorn, evoking someone having a sardine sandwich for supper.

By chance or choice some couples are Double-Income-No-Kids — DINKs — and, as such, are said to have lots of discretionary income. Oodles of it. The acronym frames parenthood in terms of finances.

The terms “DINK” and “SINK” are related to age and place in the life cycle as it was traditionally constructed. Contemporary usage applies “DINK” to a couple only during the decades when they might be financially responsible for children. Referring to both gay and straight couples, “DINK” isn’t commonly used in connection with older, pre-retirement folk (whose children, if they’d had them, would be presumed to have become independent), or even, I believe, to describe the very young, even though both parameters (income and children) are constant.

In this association with stage of life, the acronyms are similar to the concept of being an orphan. Technically the word “orphan” by itself applies only to children, but it now has been expanded to “adult orphan”, the meaning of which is self-evident.

For reasons that will become clear, I’m still a SINK, and that’s unfortunate because, for me, SINK has piteous connotations, even leaving aside the obvious negative meanings of the word, such as in sink-or-swim.

First, the acronym against which it stands in contrast, DINK, suggests bounty — abundance in the realm of finance. Income is described as “double.” In reality, the two incomes of a couple are not always equal, nor do they always add up to something that would put the couple into the top brackets of the income tax. But “double” connotes ampleness. It’s not only two incomes coming in, but twice as much. We don’t ask, “Double what amount?”  TINK, where T stands for two, is used less often.

Perhaps another reason that “Double” rather than “Two” became popular is that while the parallel to “Double”, i.e., “Single”, merely produces SINK. The corresponding word for “Two” is “One.” OINK? That will never do.

The second and the more important reason that “SINK” seems piteous (to me) has to do with the second half — that is “No Kids”. These acronyms are intended to connote freedom from the multitude of financial responsibilities that parenthood creates, but “No Kids” has an emotional resonance that has nothing to do with money.

When I consider the words, “I was raised to be a mother,” they seem, even to me, awkward, in need of a gloss; I chose “gloss” for both its meanings.

While I was growing up in the ’50s, the cultural assumptions were that I would marry and have children. First one, then the other, in that order. As luck would have it, I did fall in love, and, Reader, I married him. And then divorced, childless. Nor had I intended it to be a “starter marriage,” a term coined years ago as an analogy to the so-called “starter house.”

Once I actually did hear a woman say in the presence of her fiancé — and an uncertain quantity of alcohol — that she had told her father that she just wanted a “big first wedding.” I learned later that her fiancé had determined that he wouldn’t be part of that woman’s landmark celebration.

Hearing about my divorce, a number of people tried to console me by telling me that I was lucky I didn’t have children. I didn’t agree. I haven’t changed my opinion, although I concur that certainly a divorce with no children is far less complicated and has fewer required ongoing connections than one in which the couple shares (and, as sometimes happens, doesn’t wish to share) children.

During those years during which I might have been raising children, some people reminded me that I’ve been spared the financial costs that parents incur. I call that an example of misplaced envy.

These dollar costs can be calculated. The U.S. government prepared tables of the dollar cost (by survey) of child-raising, taking into account parameters of income and whether or not the home is a two-parent or single-parent family. If one or more of the parents have remarried or have live-in partners, possibly forming double income households, does the amount per child change? It’s clear that parents maintaining separate households spend more on raising a child (providing housing, for example), than if they were living in the same home.

So how much did I save by being childless? If I do “shopping math” I can come up with a variety of answers. Did I not spend the amount of raising one child? Two? Four? I say “shopping math” by the analogy of, say, buying a dress for half the price, and then a hat with the money I’ve saved.

Thirty years ago, an acquaintance told me he resented people (specifically gays and lesbians) who had no children because he thought they were free loaders. Why? He had children who would be paying into the Social Security fund and thereby subsidizing those who had no kids. I suppose he thought that I, being conspicuously heterosexual, might still reproduce and do my part to provide future taxpayers instead of remaining a SINK. What would he say to me today? Probably nothing. Political correctness would muzzle him. Nonetheless, I wonder if he still holds those views and if so, whether he’d say the same thing to me now that it’s clear that I’ve failed to bring forth more citizens to shell out payments into FICA.

After 60, why would anyone brood about being a SINK? Eventually, children grow up, move on, move away. The single parent we used to call an empty nester, could now be called a SINKAH (Single Income No Kids at Home).

Of course, as many parents can attest, that’s a situation that can change at any moment, giving rise to the term “boomerang generation” as adult children move back in with their parents — sometimes with children of their own. Especially in an economic downturn, this boomerang phenomenon has extended the life cycle of a SINK well past middle-age. • 7 January 2010

 

Miriam N. Kotzin, associate professor of English at Drexel University, co-directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing and teaches creative writing and literature. She is a contributing editor of Boulevard and a founding editor of Per Contra. She is the author of A History of Drexel University (Drexel University, 1983), a collection of flash fiction, Just Desserts (Star Cloud Press, 2010), and two collections of poetry, Reclaiming the Dead (New American Press, 2008), Weights & Measures (Star Cloud Press, 2009), and Taking Stock. Her novel, Cutter’s Vision, is represented by Don Gastwirth.

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