Saturday, May 28, 2011
Parenthood and Childfreedom - It's All Good! (oh - except for one big thing)
In her article on Shine, Jessica Ashley asks parents whether they were happier before they had kids. She goes there. She talks about all the things she misses about her pre-kid life, and waxes nostagic about her long-gone carefree ways. She addresses the childed-versus-childfree "wars" of who's-happier-than-who. In the end, Jessica feels that both lifestyles offer rewards. She appreciates and understands why people would prefer the childfree life, and is happy she chose the childed route. She is confident her decision will pay off in the long term. The moral of her piece is "to each his own" and "why can't we all get along"?
To illustrate the point that parenthood offers rewards that are fulfilling beyond what a childfree person will experience, she quotes a parent commenter from another internet article who said, "I was walking on the beach late at night with my seven-year-old daughter on my shoulders. She whispered to me, ‘Dad, do you know how you can sometimes hear people’s voices in your head after they stop talking to you?’ I said yes, I guess… She said, ‘Well, in school when I am really sad, I put my head down on my desk, close my eyes, and think of your voice… then I feel better.’ I was childless for 43 years and had no clue what I was missing.”
In fairness, she also quotes a childfree commenter: "I don't want children. Never have, never will. No, it does not make me less of a woman, and no, you are not going to change my mind by telling me how rewarding it is. And no, I don't hate kids. I have two nephews and a niece and I love them so very much! I love babysitting and helping out with them and when they're older I plan to help them financially with private high school and college. But I'm also very glad to go home to my quiet, kid-free house at the end of the day.”
You see - they both like their lives and find them rewarding. Case closed.
Except for one thing. For the sake of discussion, let's assume both commenters are equally happy with their lives. Commenter A (the parent) finds rewards in those ego-boosting comments from his daughter that make him feel like a hero. Commenter B (the childfree person) finds rewards in having a calm, relaxing existence and if she wants a dose of kids - enjoys a close relationship with her niece and nephews who she loves to pieces.
No matter how you slice and dice it in the happiness scale, however, you cannot escape one important fact that clearly distinguishes parental happiness from childfree happiness. The happiness and fulfillment that Commenter A enjoys comes at an astronomical price. To get those touching, fleeting, ego-boosting moments from a person's child, he has to invest his entire life. He has to strain his marriage, bankrupt his retirement savings, lose friendships, give up hobbies, accept a diminished sex life, lose his peace of mind, neglect his personal appearance and health. He has to assume a life of worry and stress that starts the day the child is born and carries throughout its lifetime. From the moment his child is born, his every choice and decision in life will be dictated by that one choice: from where he lives, to what car he drives, to how he furnishes and decorates his home, to the way he spends his weekends, to the vacations he takes (if he can still afford to take them) to the company he keeps, to what he eats for dinner. He will no longer have calm in his life, or a moment to himself. His life is no longer his own.
And what price does the childfree person pay for his lifestyle choice? Being subjected to the critical judgements of others (which are often rooted in jealousy). And perhaps disappointing his parents.
You mean I can have all this happiness? All this freedom? A harmonious and happy marriage? The freedom to come and go as I please? Meaningful relationships? Financial security into old age? A calm, relaxed, uncluttered and quiet home? Spontanaeity? A joyful sex life? Minimal worry? And the cost is enduring the judgements of people who are jealous or disappointed that I am so happy?
I'll take it!
P.S. did any of you notice that Ms. Ashley's choice of photo for her "Were You Happier Before You Had Kids" article bears a striking resemblance to my childfree motivational poster? Hm?