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?


Christy said...

Absolutely! And I would also like to add, with regard to the smarmy thing that the girl whispered to her father, that children are extremely manipulative and schizophrenic in their affections. They put an incredible amount of conditions on their love. It's fairweather. You will be told you are hated (and you can see in their eyes that at that moment, they TRULY do hate you) a lot more than you will be told smarmy things. And this is not just some children. It's all of them. Not only are parents paying an astronomical price for their bliss, but it's not even the genuine reward they believe it to be, and it's not possible for it to be as genuine as they would like, because that would require greater consciousness, empathy, and understanding from a creature who is just not capable, at that age, of possessing those attributes.

This author needs to go to the regretful moms thread and inform them of how happy they are, because they didn't seem to get they memo yet!

Violet said...

i love being a positive role model for children as a teacher.
but i go home at the end of my classes, and enjoy my cat.
i don't have to pay for her college. i am not responsible for her needing therapy. i will not be blamed for her lack of happiness, or bad habits in her future. she shits in a box, and free-range feeds herself with minimal assistance. i don't worry about her abusing drugs, or coming home knocked up. she sleeps in my bed, and it doesn't effect my sex life. i have a sex life, a lovely exciting one. i am not prey to her whiney bullshit, and can tell her to quiet down any time i need to without d.c.f. getting involved. she barely talks back. i never have to explain to her about my "toy" box.

so- keep the narcissistic need for birthed your own kid-comments, i have a cat.

and i enjoy the kids who love me .
because i'm cool to them.
we don't always completely like one another, but the relationship is built on respect and sharing. perfect for me.

Dave said...

Well put, Mandy.

The big thing to remember that by avoiding something we know will be negative in our lives, it ends up as a huge positive. This is why our being childfree is such a huge plus and has no real cost other than putting up with some bingos.

Many of us childfree, including me, get our "kid fix" by doing volunteer work with children but are able to at the end of the day to "give them back" to their parents and enjoy our nice, quiet, peaceful homes at night.

Anonymous said...

What I gathered from these comments in the article is that Parent A needs someone (the child) to make them happy while the non-parent relies on themselves for their happiness. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here in that non-parents are happy on their own (whether they are in a relationship or not) and whereas it appears parents need to be told things to make them happy.
I also look at as this: if I knew going into a relationship I would give the other person my all, love them unconditionally, etc etc and in about 12-15 years that person is going to start to hate me, not want to be seen with me, want their distance and all those other teenager qualities why would I enter that relationship? Then, when the relationship is about 18 years old, the other person (hopefully) leaves never to ever truly return (hopefully) again? I can't phathom loving something/someone that much and then just letting them go as every parent does with a child.
No, I like the relationship I have where I chose the person and they chose me and we promised until death with that love. Why would I want to bring in someone else into that relationship when it was perfect as a diad?

Buckle Ve said...

I'm mexican, and don't really get why is that the childfree from de US act so much like victims of a pronatalist society. Of course society is pronatalist, it's part of the instinct. Mexico has a far more child oriented culture and it's not such a big deal! My parents have a happy marriage, Now I know they have a happy sex live, and that they always had it! Now that I'm married, they don't agree with me and hubby in not wanting kids, but they respect that. My point is that children are not the end of life... my parents and uncles have fabolous lifes! I think most of the problem is that preople from the US let their kids take control of their lives instead of controling their children lifes....

Spectra said...

Well, as my husband and I like to say: "Being an adult sucks enough--you have to pay bills, go to work, buy groceries, clean the house...why make it suck even MORE by having kids to deal with?" We can pursue OUR hobbies instead of watching Little League games with a thermos of wine smuggled in. We can stay up late on weekends and SLEEP IN when we don't have work. We happen to like our lifestyle very much. And if we DO want a "kid fix", we have nephews and a niece and plenty of friends who have kids to play with. The best part is, we don't have to take them home with us! :)

lyptis said...

I find these 2 quotes a bit imbalanced. Like the first is like drenched in huge, heart warming emotions and the second, the childfree person talks first of all about that she can hang out with kids which she truly loves, her nieces and nephew and then the reward is 'only' a quiet home. It's like childfree people still have to point out, 'But yeah, we Really love children(nephews/nieces) just not all the time.' The comparison doesn't match up, it doesn't even show the true benefits.
You know what i'm saying, the parent talks about their kids, but the childfree person still talks about kids instead of just their life, as if they constantly have to justify themselves.

Anonymous said...

My husband,and I tried for 6 yrs to have children (with no luck)...but,like other child-free adults, we LOVE kids. In fact, we love them soo much, we are choosing not to have them.

I listen to my co-workers talk about their 15-18 yr old children,and I just smile cause I will NEVER have to deal with the heartache/stress they cause.

The problem is many times, couples get wrapped up in the cute little "baby" phase. The glamour of having a pregnant belly,and cute chubby fingers hugging you is great! But, its not like the commercials, where the mom and dad smile at every little antic...

I rejoice in the fact, that my own mother said to me a wk ago " SHAY(insert real name) YOU HAVE YOUR FREEDOM!" It was real eye opening to hear my mom say this with such power..makes me think,at some pt she wanted to run from us..and we were pretty good children. And,I wouldnt be offended if that were the case.

So no matter what parents say, I think a child-free lifestyle is best...we get the best part of raising them,sugar them up,and send them home!!!

Plus we get all of the sweet sayings,like the father in the article did,but without all the heartache/stress.

CFVixen said...

It's very clear that the parent in the article's scenario depends on someone else for his happiness...his child. What a dangerous source of fulfillment. As others have said, kids are fickle. Their love (despite the reason many say they want a baby: unconditional love), is extremely conditional. One trip to Wal-Fart will illustrate that ("Why won't you buy this for me? I hate you!!!").

Of course, the scenario regarding the childfree person isn't all that great. It doesn't show the fulfillment a CF person can get through all of the opportunities available when you have the time and money to enjoy them. Better yet, it really should be showing that a CF person's fulfillment isn't contingent on a child PROVIDING them happiness. It comes from within.

shell said...

People do not THINK about what life will be like AFTER a child is born before they have kids-!
That is the problem-!! THINK people THINK!
Parenthood is really a job - a "task" & it’s more demanding and life-changing than most jobs--!
WHY-? Because it's a 20 year [ minimum ] JOB COMMITMENT with no days off and no pay and it is 24/7.
And your needs will now come LAST. If people REALIZED what they were signing up for in advance,
how many truly would do so? All you have to do nowadays is watch a few Dr Phil shows to see how much heartache and
pain is caused to adults by their CHILDREN - of all ages! When I was young, we did have shows like
Dr Phil that show the many ways a family can be dysfunctional! So I am always amazed at the
people who continue to breed in these modern times.

Valerie said...

Barsola and CFVixen hit the nail on the head - parents derive happiness from an outside source, whereas child-free tend to find happiness from their own interests / pursuits.

My husband and I are convinced that many people have kids in order to have something to love, and someone who will love them. This type of person is never going to be happy with a child-free life (or maybe any life).

Rae said...

Deriving happiness from outside sources vs happiness from inside is not just seen in CF vs those with children. My parents always told me before I got married I needed to be a complete person as opposed to needing to find the person who completes me. I am sure there are plenty of childed folks who were complete before they had children as well as plenty of CF people who derive happiness from outside sources.

That being said, there does seem to be a higher percentage of those with children who identify only with their role as parents.

Childfree Travel said...

So my niece comes to visit us every Spring Break, she is 16. The last time she was here she told my boyfriend she wanted to grow up to be just like me. That made me feel really good but it was ironic because it's EXACTLY what I used to tell my own CF Aunt (RIP). So I get all the heartwarming sentiment AND the quiet house? SOLD!

Makeda_Tuni said...

lyptis wrote:"You know what i'm saying, the parent talks about their kids, but the childfree person still talks about kids instead of just their life, as if they constantly have to justify themselves."

I agree. I don't like the attitude that childfree people have to include children in their lives in some capacity to make the rest of their existence 'passable' or 'acceptable'. There's a spectrum of sentiments re: children amongst the childfree - from those who enjoy kids and just don't want to be parents, to those who are mostly indifferent to children (like me), to people who really don't like kids and do what they can to keep interaction at a bare minimum.

I'd like to see an article where a childfree person who's indifferent or doesn't like kids is interviewed. People talk about the stereotype of the childfree hating kids being unfair (which it is) but I don't see how only giving voice to the childfree who like kids is fair either. Neither extreme respects the continuum of opinions, preferences,and experiences.

Anonymous said...

You know, when people are really really really hungry, the most humble of meals feels like a manna from heaven. I believe that the fleeting moments of parental happiness come from this source of extreme deprivation of it. That's why they feel so incredible - not to deny the charm of the lovely moment quoted there.
It doesn't really make a difference... You get what you choose and that's it, but I'm with you - the price is too high.