Author Kristen Tsetsi on The Age of the Child

Those of you who’ve been with us on w{n}hab! for a while might recognize author Kristen Tsetsi. We interviewed her during a promotion for her book No Children, No Guilt (written under her pseudonym Sylvia D. Lucas) back in 2013. We’re delighted to have had the chance to chat with Kristen again, this time about her novel, The Age of the Child! It addresses lots of themes relevant to the childfree, so we asked her to share a bit more about it with us.

Tell us about yourself, and the book!

I used to wonder whether I’d get to compete with Elizabeth Taylor for Most Husbands in a Lifetime. I know now that I’ll never win—I’m 43 and have only had three, and this one is the last (sometimes you just know [knock on wood]). But when by 27 I’d already been divorced twice because, in part, the men I was with insisted on having children, I thought, “Maybe…”

I grew up on movies like She’s Having a Baby. Kevin Bacon’s character in that movie (which also stars a young, beautiful Alec Baldwin) learns his wife has secretly stopped taking the pill, and he immediately imagines he’s strapped to a rail car that drives him straight into a brick wall, where he and the car explode.

The message: “Men don’t want kids.” (Also, but on a less conscious level: Haha, society thinks it’s perfectly fine, even kind of funny, to trick a man into fatherhood!)

There’d been no clues in popular media or magazines that it would be a challenge to find a male partner who didn’t want kids. Or, at least, who hadn’t been conditioned to expect that children were in their future.

That lesson—that women are (I was) expected to parent, and that childfree or child-ambivalent men are hard to find—was one that resulted in a few years of angry defensiveness, feelings of inadequacy, and feelings of “wrongness” that led to several years of writing about being childfree. It was important to me to assure other young women who might be going through something similar that not wanting children was perfectly fine, perfectly normal, and don’t do it unless you truly want to – it’s a choice.

The Age of the Child is probably the culmination of those years of experience, and of arguing on behalf of and explaining the validity of the childfree position.

What motivated you to write The Age of the Child?

You know, when you’re someone who doesn’t want to be a parent—who never wants to be pregnant, period, regardless of whether abortion is an option (who thinks an abortion is “fun”?)—the regular assaults from politicians and everyday people who are perfectly willing to support legislation that would force parenthood on women in the interest of not only saving the “unborn” but on promoting “life,” can be overwhelming.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but after a period of being enraged by this, and after defending the choice to not have children both in blog posts and interviews, it occurred to me to ask, “Wait—why would anyone who claims to love children want them to be born to someone who doesn’t want them? Is this even about the children?”

We use the word “pro-choice” to describe people who support the right to have an abortion, but people who don’t support abortion are also obviously pro-choice. They support their choice to have a child. They enjoy their choice and, I believe, take it for granted. But what if that choice were threatened? What if, in order to protect the children, only those who were qualified to give a child a safe, loving environment could have them? Would pro-creation groups be willing to share the loss of reproductive freedom if it meant saving countless children from abuse, neglect, and murder at the hands of their parents?

This question became a desire to write a book about people living in a world in which parent licensing was enacted. But something had to happen in order to get the story to that point, and nothing made more sense to me than a ban on abortion and all forms of birth control.

(A birth control ban sounds far-fetched, but read some of what Rick Santorum has had to say about the dangers of birth control. And consider this tweet I received on my fledgling Parent Licensing Bureau Twitter page: “Children born and unborn both have a right to life. … have you educated yourself about the harmful moral, sociological, psychological, and physical effects of abortion and contraceptives?” (Bold mine.)

Why this book? Why now?

If you look at what’s happening right now in Ohio, you’d think I’d somehow planned it as a response to this proposed legislation. But, really, it was just time, creatively. I wanted to write the book not to address politics and policies as much as to shine a light on people’s staggering hypocrisy, as well as to present childfree characters who defy stereotypes and who never “come around” to parenthood—no matter what (it’s a popular notion in this society that once a woman has children, she’ll learn to enjoy parenthood).

What’s been the response from the childfree community? And from folks who are not childfree?

The childfree community has been incredibly supportive/appreciative of the book. It’s so rewarding and gratifying! Those who aren’t childfree, and who do think there are too many cases of child abuse and neglect, have quietly said, “There should be something like this [parent licensing]…” Which is not to say they’d support parent licensing in the real world—there are too many ways it could go very wrong.

I’m not sure anyone who’s staunchly anti-abortion rights or pro-creation has read it. If they have, I haven’t heard from them. I suspect they’d rather avoid it.

Any surprises writing about a childfree protagonist?

My protagonists have always either not wanted children or have (as with my male protagonist in The Year of Dan Palace) been ambivalent about them, but in the case of The Age of the Child’s Katherine, especially, it was interesting to explore how a committed childfree person might respond to being forced to go through with her pregnancy and be responsible for her child. Parenting is not a life she wants. It’s not the life she planned, not the life she chose. So, how will she avoid parenthood even as a parent?

Is there reason to hope that we might see more fictional childfree characters in the future? Why, or why not?

I think it’s inevitable that we will as more women figure out that they aren’t required to have children. My guess is that for a while there’ll be a fight for the choice in the stories, or a struggle with pro-creation forces of one kind or another, but eventually they’ll simply exist as childfree characters. By that I mean children won’t even be a suggestion. The storybook romance won’t end with a big, happy, pregnant glow.

What’s next for you?

Before starting The Age of the Child, I spent about a year writing outside of novels—two screenplays, a play—and I’m thinking of adapting the play into a novel. Eventually.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

I’m so glad you asked. In case The Age of the Child sounds a little too issue-centric, I have to emphasize that as a writer, I’m interested in characters, challenged relationships (particularly romantic relationships, so childfree Katherine’s relationship with her suddenly child-wanting husband Graham was exciting to write), and a good story. The issues are only the catalyst; the rest of the story belongs to the characters and how they navigate (or try to circumvent) those issues. This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel, so I hope readers will take a chance on it and that they’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Author Kristen Tsetsi
Photo credit: Jess Hill

Kristen Tsetsi, who previously wrote a childfree blog under the name Sylvia D. Lucas (https://sylviadlucas.wordpress.com), is the author of The Age of the Child, whose “buy” links now lead to independent bookstores in support of independent bookstores. (Don’t forget to support your local indie bookstore on April 28, Independent Bookstore Day!) Under the name Chris Jane, she’s the author of the novels The Year of Dan Palace and Pretty Much True (previously titled Homefront and released under her real name). She lives with one super husband, three complex cats, and one genius dog.

4 Responses to Author Kristen Tsetsi on The Age of the Child

  1. Vimal Thilak May 30, 2018 at 9:28 am #

    Cheers! Nice article. I would want to read this book after reading the summary.

    • Kris Tsetsi August 3, 2018 at 9:51 am #

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Vimal. If you end up reading The Age of the Child, I hope you enjoy it. – Kristen

  2. Trish April 28, 2018 at 9:55 pm #

    Love the concept, parenting license, yes please!! I was JUST having this conversation with a friend yesterday. When you adopt a child (or a dog for that matter!) there are loads of hoops you have to jump through. But to have a baby of your own, have at it! I am a high school guidance counselor so I work with the outcome of irresponsible and unplanned parenting every day. I could go on and on…

    • Kris Tsetsi April 29, 2018 at 11:14 am #

      Hi, Trish! You might be interested to know that in The Age of the Child, anyone who wants a parenting license must pass an evaluation that includes a six-month dog trial. 😉

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