Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Pretty Good Way to Stunt a Soul

…Although most of us think of heroin as a source of human misery, shooting heroin doesn't actually make people feel miserable. It makes them feel really, really good--so good, in fact, that it crowds out every other source of pleasure. Family, friends, work, play, food, sex--none can compete with the narcotic experience; hence all fall by the wayside. The analogy to children is all too clear. Even if their company were an unremitting pleasure, the fact that they require so much company means that other sources of pleasure will all but disappear. Movies, theater, parties, travel--those are just a few of the English nouns that parents of young children quickly forget how to pronounce. We believe our children are our greatest joy, and we're absolutely right. When you have one joy, it's bound to be the greatest.

Now, in David Gilbert's Time magazine essay "Does Fatherhood Make You Happy", he feels that this is part of the human experience and a rewarding one at that, if not one that generates happiness as the children are young and grow older. He suggests that to even ask the question is missing the point. But it is a valid question, and one that I think couples should consider, especially when they think a child will bring more happiness to a marriage, but so few do. (I'm thinking specifically about my friend from work, obsessed now with conceiving after her miscarriage. Even though she's in an unhappy and verbally abusive marriage, she's told me she's convinced a baby will bring them closer together.)

It's been shown in studies time and again that married couples become markedly less happy in their relationship and in general after becoming parents. It's something many folks will deny, and of course it's not 100%, but it begs the question, why do so many people have a hard time imagining that someone might prefer to do something else with their life? Why is it considered a horrific symptom of an "all about me" culture, selfish and a terrible thing to say "no" to children? When childfree folk consider kids, we would rather say no than sentence ourselves to decades of relative unhappiness just so we can say "look, I did something great with my life". Parents *are* doing something great, no doubt, but it's not a life for everyone, but parents must realize it's not the only way to have meaning in one's life.

My step-grandfather (and others) likes to joke that the affection that A and I have with each other won't last, to which I always take offense. Why won't it last? Why must one assume it can't last? For many couples, childed or otherwise, it doesn't, but I know that I want to make the best attempt at increasing my odds of happiness. Because I know that having children isn't for us, we certainly would become one of those couples who says "that won't last" every time A gets the door for me or gives me a big hug in public.

Studies reveal that most married couples start out happy and then become progressively less satisfied over the course of their lives, becoming especially disconsolate when their children are in diapers and in adolescence, and returning to their initial levels of happiness only after their children have had the decency to grow up and go away. When the popular press invented a malady called "empty-nest syndrome," it failed to mention that its primary symptom is a marked increase in smiling.

Writer Betsy Hart had a very intriguing counterpoint to the article, but couldn't seem to get her points out without a snarky -- and completely unnecessary -- comment about the childfree. The comment had nothing to do with the rest of her article, especially since Gilbert's article was not targeted toward childfree folk, and it's primary message was that "it doesn't matter, kids are a rewarding experience." Still, Hart just *had* to get her comment in there.

Web sites and books for people who choose to never have children (versus those many folks who would desperately like to have them but can't) have boomed and a new term was coined for the phenomenon in the 1990s: "childfree." Again and again, these resources celebrate people, especially married couples, who say they just want to live life on their own terms, and do what they want to do when they want to do it.

Yeah. Whoopee.

In the end, that's a pretty good way to stunt a soul.

And I ask, WTF?

I wonder what her point was. That she's a better person than me because she's a mom? That all moms are better people because they don't think it's "all about them"? That there's not enough support out there for women who desperately want babies? PLEASE. That those of us in the minority, obsessed with our "all about me" culture as she has accused, are unworthy of emotional support? When searching for childfree resources in print I had a VERY hard time and found only a small handful of books, many which had terrible reader reviews, and without the emotional support I've gotten from other childfree women that I've met online, I'd be so conflicted over this issue -- instead, I am confident we are making the right choice for our family. And we ARE a family.

It would have been such a wonderful counterpoint, too.

But then again, I don't know what I'm saying because my soul is stunted and I have no heart.

It's all about me anyway.


Robin said...

Very well explained from all the different viewpoints out there. I posted about the same article today and about how I have a "stunted soul".

I'm truly SICK of how mothers seem to think they are better than everyone else and deserve the sun and the moon and everything in between. It doesn't help that society puts them on such a high petestal and they can't ever seem to do any wrong.

sorry, tangent there.

Margaret said...

I, too, have experienced that vein of thought from certain mothers. Oddly enough, the mother in question, someone I am no longer friends with, is not what I would call a good mother. She has eight kids, and, as soon as they grow past infancy, she treats them like crap. She loooves babies. Still, she's always the one saying: I have more kids, therefore I am more self-sacrificing, more generous, more worthy as a person.

Besides, why is 'self-sacrifice' seen as such a wonderful thing anyway? We really should be doing things to make ourselves happy. Whether or not that includes having children and the sacrifices that go along with it. My husband and I choose not to. I also volunteer to help people living with HIV/AIDS and those at risk; I also have plans to start my own homeless shelter. Man, I sure am selfish! Too bad I don't just grow a soul already!