On Schitt’s Creek and Childfree Representation in Pop Culture

There’s no shortage of reasons to love Schitt’s Creek, and my list grew bigger during the fifth episode of its final season. While Moira and Alexis are preparing for the big Crows Have Eyes 3 premiere and Johnny and Stevie are sorting out motel ownership, David is taking care of a newly wisdom toothless Patrick.

It seems an innocuous enough subplot, but it includes a moment that made my heart sink upon first viewing. David and Patrick have just arrived back home post-operation, and as David is struggling to get Patrick to rest in bed, the latter drops a painkiller-induced bombshell: He wants them to have a baby.

It’s quite the shock for David, who’s made it clear that he has no interest in raising children. Given Dan Levy’s gift for facial expressions, it’s a hilarious scene. David’s “Have we met?” in response to Patrick telling him he’d make a good dad will never fail to make me snort-laugh.

At the back of my mind, though, there was an anxious little voice whispering, Oh no.

People changing their minds about wanting kids is something seen fairly often in movies and TV. Typically, characters will start out not wanting children and then abruptly change their minds, whether because they feel the need to fill a hole in their life or because they want to appease a partner. I immediately worried that the second one was what was about to happen with David.

Every time I see this trope, especially when it’s a woman changing her mind, I can’t help but cringe. I know it’s something that happens in real life, but it’s been done so many times it just feels tired.

And truthfully, as a childfree woman, it’s hard not to take it a little personally. It reinforces not only the idea that I don’t know myself well enough to make such an important decision and stand by it, but also the go-to arguments people use against the childfree: that I won’t have anyone to take care of me when I’m old (pretty sure I can hire someone to do this), or that once I meet the right person I’ll want to have a child with them (the right person also won’t want children), or that my kid could grow up to discover a cure for cancer (there is no way I would have a child this smart). 

The people who think and say these things don’t seem to consider that while it might be easy to suddenly wake up one day and decide you want kids after all, it’s just as easy to do the exact opposite. 

I won’t pretend I’ve always been 100% sure I didn’t want kids. There have been boyfriends who made me wonder if I could be a parent. Fortunately, I noticed that I kept asking myself, “Could I raise a kid?” rather than “Do I want to raise a kid?” and realized that while the answer to the first question was “Yes, probably, if I had to,” the answer to the second was “Absolutely fucking not.”

That’s what I want to see more of in movies and TV: unapologetically childfree people who won’t suddenly decide to have kids because they “met the right person” or because they got pregnant and just decided to go with it for no real reason.

Image: POP / Netflix

Instead, pop culture is crawling with the opposite. As documentarian Maxine Trump (no relation to those other Trumps) points out, referring to The Big Bang Theory, “One childfree character changed her mind. Followed by yet another. This plotline had so many viewers up in arms that Vulture and Vanity Fair both covered the audience outcry.” Trump also mentions an arc on This Is Us, where Kevin and Zoe break up after he decides that, unlike her, he wants to be a parent someday. It would be a pleasant surprise if the writers stuck by this and didn’t bring Zoe back as Kevin’s currently mystery wife and mother of his children.

On Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake and Amy get married before realizing he doesn’t want kids, while she does. Ultimately he gets over his fear of parenthood and decides he would in fact like to be a father (though one has to wonder whether this would be the case if he’d ended up with someone who wasn’t so eager to have kids). In the finale of How I Met Your Mother, both Barney and Robin, who had both previously been pretty adamant about not having kids, end up with a biological child and stepchildren, respectively.

While this 180 happens fairly often in pop culture, its inverse is less frequent. There’s simply not that much significant childfree representation in media. It’s peppered here and there: the neighbors from Doug, Mr. and Mrs. D(ouble)i(ncome)n(o)k(ids); Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy; Carrie and Samantha from Sex and the City… The Seinfeld gang also comes to mind; there are occasional kid-related subplots, but they all seem like they’d be perfectly happy remaining non-parents.

None of this is uncommon in real life. People spend years thinking they don’t want children and then realize they do (or they don’t but have them anyway). Other people spend years thinking they want children and then realize they don’t. Some know one way or the other from the get-go. All these scenarios are realistic, but again, the ones we see most often result in children.

Which is why I was on tenterhooks while watching the aforementioned episode of Schitt’s Creek. Generally, if a character is childfree, it’s either not presented as an important part of their identity to be acknowledged (see the Dinks and Samantha Jones), or it’s abandoned when they change their mind later. The fact that it was being brought to the forefront on Schitt’s Creek just about convinced me that David was about to set aside his childfree lifestyle.

Thankfully, I was wrong. After Patrick’s nap, he assures an understandably freaked out David that he has nothing to worry about:

“I know that you don’t want kids, and that’s fine with me… I am happy with the life I’ve got. I’m happy with you.”

It’s a lovely sentiment, followed immediately by this kicker from David:

“You’re a hundred percent sure you’re not just saying you don’t want a kid but in actuality you secretly do and are repressing that need just for me?”

This line felt like a gut-punch. As someone who’s spent time on r/childfree, I know the scenario David outlines is not only entirely realistic but not out of the ordinary, to the point that it’s a considerable fear in the childfree community. People spend years with partners, thinking they’re both on the same page about not wanting children, only to find out that’s not the case.

After reading horror stories about these situations, I can’t help but think about them while dating (not that that’s exactly been at the forefront of my mind lately). I worry about wasting years with someone who will end up changing their mind; someone who—like David worries Patrick is—is just pretending they don’t want kids for my benefit. Or, even worse, someone who’s just pretending they don’t want kids with plans to try to change my mind down the line.

It was cathartic to see such a specific, relatable fear spoken aloud on a popular TV show, and comforting to see it quickly allayed. It was even more comforting when the series ended and the subplot didn’t reappear and culminate with David caving and deciding to give up the childfree life for Patrick. I hope it paves the way for more to-breed-or-not-to-breed storylines ending with the couple realizing that while baby makes three, two can be more than enough.