Monday, April 6, 2009

Life in Full Bloom

A couple weeks ago, hubby and me went to a free preview of the film I Love You, Man. This was a cute comedy about male friendship - funny and entertaining - a good renter, but I wouldn't pay $20 to see it in the theater (actually, there are few films I am willing to pay $20 to see).

Anyway, in one scene, one of the main characters makes an interesting comment. He is feeling badly about himself for being what he considers a loser and says something to the effect of, "most people at my age are married and have kids and look at me".

It strikes me as curious that people equate marriage and children with success.

As you know, I am happily married and childfree. I also consider myself a successful person, as far as living a pretty happy and fulfilling life. Yet, I do not consider myself a success because I am married, nor do I consider marriage a necessary component of a successful life, although my particular marriage is a very big component of the happiness and fulfilment in my life. I am married because I happened to find a wonderful and compatible man with whom I want to spend the rest of my life in a committed relationship. Had I not, I am fairly confident I would have had a happy and fulfilling life as a single woman. Would my life have been as happy as my current life is? I guess we'll never know, but I can tell you I certainly wouldn't have married any old guy just so I could feel I met some adult success requirement.

I also do not consider myself an unsuccessful person because I do not have children. What does it say about our society that children are used as status symbols and tools measuring adult success? Is this their purpose - to make us feel accomplished? (Don't get me started. You know how I feel about childbearing being touted as an accomplishment). People are often touted as having it all if they have a spouse and children, yet there are so many unhappily married people and also so many unhappy parents. Is this the all that everyone is so desperate to have?

This subject brings back to mind a comment one of my brothers made to me back when his girlfriend was expecting their first child. He said he really wanted to have a kid because "when you look at life, what else is there, really?" and he looked at me as if he expected me to agree with this. The sadness I felt for him at that moment was palpable. How unsatisfying must his life be that he looks to fatherhood as his life's one salvation - the only worthwhile endeavor that will save him from a completely meaningless life? What a huge burden to put on a child.

I didn't respond to his question - I figured my feelings on the matter wouldn't be at all helpful to him. What else is there in life? There is so much in life that my biggest worry is about time going by too quickly - before I've had a chance to experience it all...enjoy it all...explore it all...learn it all. Life is such a wonderous adventure, like an intricate flower with so many unfolding petals, each one more beautiful than the next.

It's interesting when you think about it. My brother chose to have a child because he perceives there is nothing else worthwhile in life, and I chose not to have children because I feel there is so much worthwhile in life that having a child would keep me from.

We obviously have very different perspectives on life.


Miss Mo said...

What an eloquent way to express the childfree choice. It is indeed sad when people see the ENTIRE point of their life to be procreation...something that takes no skill and is quite often accomplished by accident.

There is so much to see and do in life that putting everything on pause to create and raise another human being just feels like a betrayal to me. I'd be betraying all of my potential, all of the parts of my brain and heart and soul that haven't been engaged, haven't experienced something new that makes me glad to be alive.

And it is too much pressure to put upon a child -- to give them the job of showing you your purpose on this earth?! That's sad beyond words. The best you can do for child is to raise them to never need anything but themselves to be happy.

SwissBarb said...

I think that quite often, a man and a woman decide to have a child because they've gotten bored with their everyday life and think it will spice up their life. Well, it will certainly keep them busy!
And once kid #1 is around, he/she "needs" at least one sibling so they can play together!

I do not have enough time to pursue my own hobbies, and they're nothing spectacular: reading (a LOT), doings sports, spending time with friends, travelling when we have the time and money, and generally keeping up with the world and what's happening around us. I do not remember ever feeling bored with doing "only" those activities.

I also think that society values married couples more than unmarried ones, as if as long as you haven't signed a paper and exchanged official vows or something, your relationship is not really serious. But that's a whole other can of worms :)

firefly said...

"I also think that society values married couples more than unmarried ones, as if as long as you haven't signed a paper and exchanged official vows or something, your relationship is not really serious."

This, and the idea that being a SUCCESS means having children, was brought home to me with a thud recently when my 19-year-old nephew married his high school sweetheart, went into the military, and she got pregnant just before he was assigned to duty in Iraq.

My boyfriend's mother, whom I have known for nearly 30 years, was so thrilled by what they had done (never mind that they are too young, neither one of them has a college degree, and both lived at home before all this happened) that she started giving them money left and right. They got money for the wedding, they got money for the baby, they got a car, and whenever we see the folks now, she talks about what they are doing as if they're in some celebrity spotlight.

In contrast, when we got together, we had NOTHING. They read us the riot act because he *didn't* want to go into the military (I got the blame for not wanting to 'get married and wait for him'). We slept on a piece of foam on the floor in our first apartment and both worked minimum-wage jobs.

Though we are successful now, and we've never asked them for financial help, we are not lionized for having pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps. She rarely asks how things are going in my life. And she still cannot spell my last name. When we get cards, they're addressed to my bf "and firefly."

The funny thing is, her own marriage, and all her kids, were never anything to brag about, and she has suffered a great deal in her own eyes through all of it.

It is so obvious that she feels validated beyond all reason by their choice to do what she did -- marry early, no career, have kids -- that she doesn't even think to ask whether it's the best thing for them to do.

And I think they did it for the same reason lots of other people do it -- because they're used to the idea, it gives life a familiar framework, and they have no clue how to strike out on their own.

Gumby said...

Yes, it's pretty pathetic really.

My husband and I don't/can't have kids. So what, we are not normal, mature, happy, adults??
My good friend does not have any kids either, nor is she married - so I guess like us she's somehow not really important and can't possibly be happy. WTF?

And having kids to give yourself purpose. What a wonderful life for a kid - to live under the expectation of giving meaning to his/her dumbass parents. I can't imagine the pressure! But then what can you expect from SELFISH people?!

Wag the Dog said...

The parent who wrote this article has certainly realised that life is passing him by as his kids suck all the loving affection from that once treasured wife-husband connection.

Stella said...

It's so nice to find kindred spirits in blogland.

I, too, feel that life is so, so full of meaning and possibilities - none of them, for me, including marriage or children.

eyemandy said...

It's simply because the majority of humans don't stop to think what biology is tricking them into. When it was pertinent to procreate, having children was actually considered successful; you've done your part in keeping your race alive. Now-a-days, it's an antiquated biological part of life--much like an appendix. =)

The success factor is how I feel about careers and jobs. I don't work, don't want to work, haven't worked in 10 years, don't make any money, and am lucky to have coupled with a partner who makes enough for both of us. I still consider myself immensely successful in life. People measure success by what is important to them, or what they see in others' lives that they think would make them happy. I think that most of the time people need families of their own to make them happy it is because nothing else is. Perhaps they can't see themselves as a career-orientated person, or as a free spirit (which is what I tell people my job is when asked =). Face it: starting a family is the EASIEST area in which to be successful in life. Most people cannot get fabulous jobs or fabulous partners who work for them. Most people are too lazy to make humanitarianism the measure of success in their lives. What's left? Something that most people can easily do: create a family.

Schrodinger's Kittens said...

"…most people at my age are married and have kids and look at me."

I have thought this before. Not because I wanted kids or thought having them was any measure of success, but because it seemed like such an easy path with no resistance—it’s expected, instant approval, check the box on the Life Script and move on to the next item—while I was in grad school eating ramen noodles and working like a dog on my dissertation. Everybody else seemed to have it figured out, so what was wrong with me?

I have a cousin; she and her husband have seven kids. The approval and support she got from the family was tremendous, while most of them asked me, “What, you wanna be some kind of mad scientist?” (Well, you people are starting to make me angry.) I don’t begrudge her anything, but I had a lot of days where I wished I could *want* to be like everybody else because it would have been so much easier.

My cousin is also like your brother with respect to the “what else is there?” attitude, and I think that's sad. If that’s the case, how are people like that any different from a hamster on a wheel, going nowhere and procreating so their children can do the same? These relatives of mine are not interested in art or music or travel or anything else; every ounce of energy goes to their kids. It seems like such a boring existence and I don’t see how a person can be a good parent without any outside interests. To each his own, and they certainly don’t need my approval (just like I don’t need theirs), but when I think of everything that I’ve done, and still want to do and see, and how big the world is, it seems a shame to be born, live, and die within a 25-mile radius.

Childfreeeee said...

Thanks for all the insightful comments, everyone.

Miss you, I have always wondered how people could make procreation the entire point of their life. As I always say, it's not much of an accomplishment to reproduce and yet it is treated as the biggest accomplishment of peoples' lives.

As Schrodiger's Kittens pointed out, the drive for approval is a powerful drive and I am convinced that MOST people have kids so they can obtain that approval. It's hard sometimes to stand up tall and proud when most people are looking at you like you are the most poor, confused soul walking the planet. It takes a strong sense of self to be confident that you know what's best for YOU, even if that means your life will be way different than most peoples'.

Swis Barb, I have thought the same thing about people having kids because they are bored with their lives. In fact, I have seen this first hand. People have no interests, no aspirations and no goals in life and they wonder why their life is so boring that they need to have a kid to spice it up. This is the case with my brother who I wrote about in this post. He dropped out of high school, works in a supermarket, never travels, settled for a woman who isn't anything special (it's obvious even he thinks that) and has only 1 or 2 hobbies that I know of. No wonder he asks "what else is there really?" There's nothing because he CHOSE to have nothing.

Firefly, it hurts when you see others in your family getting heaps of approval, financial help and everything else simply because they had kids, again, as if that is some big accomplishment. I see it in my family too and my husband's family. In fact, I think I will save those stories because they might make a good blog post (thanks for the inspiration).

Gumby, hear hear! You sing it, sister.

Wag the Dog, thanks for the link. I am going to post it as a blog post so everyone sees it. Good article!

Stella, welcome to Childfreedom! Look forward to reading your comments!

eyemandy, first of all...I am jealous of you! I'd love to be in your shoes but alas, I am not. You made a good comment about what success really is, but sadly most people think there is only 1 rigid formula for success and unless you have all those ducks in a row, your life is lacking. The irony is, when I look around at the people I know with kids, I perceive that THEIR lives are the ones lacking...lacking time, energy, money, sleep and everything else to do anything other than care for kids.

M said...

Right on, sister!!