October 30, 2014

Study: Wanting Things (Kids?) Makes Us Happier Than Having Them

theofficebabyThis article, Study: Wanting Things Makes Us Happier Than Having Them,

does not mention children specifically, but… should it?

Is the modern desire for children, like our want for other new, shiny things, a result of relentless marketing?

 

The most defensible, obvious answer to both of the questions above is “No”.  Biology, instinct, and the innate need to survive and thrive fuel our animalistic drive to procreate. Hormones propel us to copulate and populate, so chow can one lay the blame for overpopulation at the feet of media and advertising?

 

For starters, in developed countries at least, children no longer have utility beyond fulfilling the (selfish) desires of parents. As many others have reminded us (as in the first story on the following link) children are no longer needed to work the farm or otherwise help support modern families. While children were once a valuable asset, they now appear exclusively on the debit side of a family balance sheet. They are expensive, and the return on capital is not something that can be measured with a calculator. (Nor should it, I promise all the detached, cold calculus leads to something resembling a point.)

 

So how do we modern, western humans place a value on having babies and raising families? Well, this is where one might reflect on what we see in commercials or hear from celebrities. What about the endless celebration of babies on movie and TV, starting with Disney movies? Which life events are repeatedly, FOREVER, packed with the most drama, joy and possibility? How many babies do you think are born to TV characters every year during sweeps week? More importantly, WHY?

 

Money?

 

Babies are big, big business. Since the value of children can no longer be calculated, corporations are compelled to fill us with fantasies of a perfect life dependent upon, or punctuated by, a perfect child. The messages we constantly hear and see tell us that babies are priceless, and they make us happy. So, am I imagining things, or is this possibly the western worlds most effective marketing scheme?

 

Since babies are priceless, there is no ceiling on the amount of money that can/should be spent on them. If you do not spend every earned and borrowed penny on them, you are depriving them, and probably guilty of bad parenting. Your kids probably won’t succeed because you didn’t buy them every possible toy, tool and opportunity. No one is allowed to openly disagree. Parents, especially celebrities, must constantly and publicly repeat the same vague platitudes like “It’s amazing!” or “It’s all about the baby.” or “It gives my life meaning.” If you have 1 child, their birthday better be the best day of your life. (Meaning that it was all down hill from there?) If you have 2, it better be a tie!

 

Biology does not account for these things, does it? So what does? Marketing? Brilliant marketing?

This item is priceless + it is virtually guaranteed by your neighbors and celebrities to make you happy + fear + guilt + insecurity = ?

 

What do you think?

 

The links in the text above provide more links to related stories. And here is one about an actor swimming upstream:

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Are Childfree Men Misunderstood?

Childfree Men (Credit: virtualDavis)

Childfree Men (Credit: virtualDavis)

Childfree discussion and debate generally focuses on women, curiously quiet on the topic of childfree men. But a March 2012 Psychology Today post by Ellen Walker (clinical psychologist and author of Complete Without Kids) titled, “Childfree Men: Misunderstood and Often Maligned!”, examines childfree men. Walker’s look at the reasoning behind childfree men’s choice and the perception of childfree men within our society is thoughtful and compelling

Childfree men fly under the radar screen more often than their female counterparts. In our culture, the role of father is not deemed essential in the life of a man. For women, on the other hand, many consider being a mother to be a chief purpose in life. Some people go so far as to propose that this is a woman’s main reason for existing. But men who do not become dads are still viewed with suspicion, and they often get a bad rap! They are often thought to be immature little boys who never grew up and whose primary goal in life is to play. (Psychology Today)

I’ve laughed off this last judgment often enough. In fact, I’m happy to admit that there’s some truth in it. But these dismissive stereotypes inevitably can damage a man’s character and — as Walker points out —  can even damage a man’s workforce opportunities.

Employers often prefer men who are dads, as they are viewed as more reliable and responsible employees than are guys who have no one to consider but themselves. (Psychology Today)

This is ironic given the fact that childfree mothers are perceived as profiting in the workforce due to increased focus, lack of maternity leave, etc. (Read Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?)

Childfree men also risk stress induced by failing to living up to social expectations.

It’s hard for many people to imagine that a couple simply would prefer to be on their own, unencumbered by children and the responsibilities that come with parenting. (Psychology Today)

Negative stereotypes are attached to childfree men of any social standing including celebrities who are often painted as immature playboys if they choose to remain childfree. Witness George Clooney and Simon Cowell, both childfree men inspiring endless tabloid, who both devote themselves to their careers and civic goals and are wildly accomplished.

Archetypal Childfree Men

Childfree men are as diverse as their female counterparts, with distinct personalities and differing reasons for not having or choosing not to have children.

  • Childfree by happenstance: “Some have simply never met the right partner with whom to create a family, and their ambivalence about this is such that they’re not going to go out to actively seek it” (Psychology Today).
  • Childfree by choice: “They have made a conscious decision to not have kids, either due to lifestyle or to life values. If they are in a relationship, it’s with someone who shares their view and also has chosen a life without kids” (Psychology Today).
  • Childfree by circumstance: “They would have loved to have become fathers, but they simply couldn’t make it happen. Perhaps their partners were infertile, or perhaps they never married due to shyness or other barrier to meeting a mate” (Psychology Today). These men may wish to be fathers and may feel grief that they do not have children or have the chance to be fathers.

I would augment the first two examples. With respect to childfree men due to “happenstance”, I suspect that ambivalence transcends matching up with the appropriate partner. Men often say, “It really didn’t matter to me whether or not we had kids, but it was important to my wife.” Perhaps this is bravado, a sort of guy-to-guy way of dumping the parenting instinct on your spouse. But I suspect it’s sincere. I’ve never felt a burning desire to be a father. I’ve been curious at times, and I’ve even felt a poignant twinge of sadness now and then. This is especially the case when I witness my brother interacting with his daughters or my sister-in-law and brother-in-law interacting with their sons. But these same children, as my nieces and nephews, more than compensate for the few glimpses of sorrow. And in all cases these wonders and laments are short lived. From what I can tell, this ambivalence toward having children does not hinge upon finding the right mate. Some of us simply feel ambivalent about having children!

Walker’s notion of childfree men who’ve been motivated to forgo childbearing due to values or lifestyle overlooks some other likely reasons that both men and women elect to remain childfree. A couple of obvious examples are genetics and economics. Many childfree men and women do not consider their gene pool or their earning potential sufficient to safely risk procreating. Perhaps she sees these as somehow falling under the broad value/lifestyle categories, but these are important and relevant considerations when evaluating whether or not to have a child. If reproducing is genetically or financially risky, some prudent men (and women) opt for prudence.

Childfree Men Tomorrow

With an eye to the future, Walker acknowledges that choosing to remain childfree is becoming an increasingly acceptable option for individuals and couples. Perhaps low-cost and no-cost contraception, shifting social norms and broader education will reduce unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, resulting in intentional childbearing and a stigma-free childfree option. Walker concludes with an optimistic prediction:

Who knows, maybe in twenty years, no one will bat an eye if a man doesn’t have kids. He won’t be viewed as an immature playboy who never grew up. He may even be perceived as someone who is more able to fully focus on goals and aspirations, because he is not distracted by the responsibilities of parenting. (Psychology Today)

Let’s help make her prediction come true, childfree men!

 

Is Having Kids Selfish?

The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his monumental book Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins suggests that we are basically envelopes to carry our genes around and make sure that these get copied and passed on into the future. It’s perhaps a little extreme a view, and he tempers his arguments, but ultimately the whole goal of existence is, well, to keep existing, and the best way to do that is by making fresh copies of the genetic material — which would otherwise suffer wear and tear — and for most of us multicellular organisms that means by having kids.

This is probably not the reason any of us would state first for reproducing, but is having kids selfish? Based on an unofficial summary of what I’ve been hearing over the years, here are the top 5 reasons people give for having kids:

  1. Because they’re so wonderful and fun!
  2. Because that maternal urge is just too strong to ignore
  3. To pass on my values and beliefs
  4. To keep me young and active
  5. To have someone who’ll love me even when I’m grey and saggy

Notice something all these reasons have in common? They’re pretty selfish. They’re all based on the parent, not the kid. So I’d be wary of labeling people who choose not to have kids as selfish. Surely deciding we’re so important that it’s worth procreating to pass our genes on into the future is the most selfish thing there is?

OK, so there will be a number of years characterized by almost total self-abnegation, as you feed, wash, cuddle, play with, protect and nurture  your offspring, but it’s like altruism. Under that selfless devotion, there’s a hidden agenda: you’re actually batting for your own team.

And then there’s the issue of overpopulation. Surely we don’t need more humans on our small planet? So to all those of you who have taken the decision not to have children — which cannot have been an easy one, and which will probably continue to be the source of much debate — I say, “Bravo!” You have overridden that seflish gene impulse and are working for the good of the planet by preventing overpopulation, at the cost of sacrificing your own genes. Luckily thanks to writing we can pass on values perhaps more effectively than via offspring!

So when my friends ask about having kids, my response is always the same : maybe. It’s an ENORMOUS responsibility, and it’s entirely ours: the children never asked to be born. Yes, kids are great, but aren’t our lives great already? Women today don’t need kids to fulfill our lives now that we have great jobs and careers and no longer live in the shadow of our menfolk.

Many were the conversations my husband and I had before taking this big step. We had such a great life, why change it? We made a list of pros and cons, and finally figured we were a happy, stable and financially settled couple and we could raise happy, stable children to become positive contributors to society. One of our arguments was that so many unhappy and unstable people have many kids, so shouldn’t there be a few stable, happy ones to balance that out? It was almost our civic duty to bear children. But if perchance we couldn’t have children, that was no big deal. It was a very logical, calculated decision. I never understood this irrational maternal urge that some women get, which pushes them to bear children regardless of the circumstances.

Until I actually HAD children myself. Now I fantasize about having more children all the time, and my motivations are purely selfish. To my surprise I loved pregnancy (and getting pregnant was fun), and thanks to epidurals I simply LOVED giving birth, and little babies are so cute, and toddlers are a scream, and my sons are heart-stoppingly wonderful. I want more of all that joy! This passion for children is completely unexpected and it mostly encompasses my own progeny. The only non-selfish reason I can bring up to justify having another child is that it would be nice for my first two to have another sibling to comfort them when we parents die.

My worry as I write this is that some day my sons will read it and think I didn’t want them, or regret having them. They were both babies conceived in love and anticipation, and I love them more than I can express without going all maudlin. They have enriched my life and changed my perspectives, and if I could relive my life I’d do exactly the same. But if they had never existed, well, things would be pretty good too, and almost certainly a lot less noisy.

George Clooney not interested in kids

According to Canadian news and George Clooney, he does not intend to make any good looking babies because he is dedicated to movie making or

George Clooney

Image by manfrys via Flickr

something. But who cares? Let’s focus on the real newsy part of this news story:

George also revealed he has no plans to dye his greying hair and is embracing it instead.

How’s that for shattering taboos and expressing one’s (actorly) individuality? We get it George. You’re intelligent and independent and won’t sell photos of your beautiful offspring because you don’t give a shit about what Hollywood or the Celebrity ‘zines think; but grey hair…? Seriously? What’s next, no more teeth whitening?

Okay. Clooney is a good talker and is committed to being childfree and child-proofing his house in Italy would destroy its architectural integrity and… grey hair. The man seems to know what he wants.

“I’ve always known fatherhood wasn’t for me. Raising kids is a huge commitment and has to be your top priority. For me, that priority is my work. That’s why I’ll never get married again.”

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Bold, Brave or Belligerent?: Roseanne Barr (Mother of 5) Bashes Baby Making (on TV)

Roseanne's outfit (from magazine)

Image by Alan Light via Flickr

From Roseanne’s Nuts on Lifetime:

Roseanne Barr: “The most out-there thing I’m saying is, ‘Don’t have babies. Don’t get married and have kids. Have a larger life than that.’”

Roseanne Barr’s (grown) son: “You have five kids! You can’t talk about that. You have five!”

Roseanne Barr: “I know I do, that’s why I have the right to say it! If somebody would come to me when I was sixteen years old and go, ‘You don’t have to get married or have a baby, that’s bullshit!’ I would have fuckin’ flipped! Cause I never heard one human say anything like that. I was so brainwashed to have five kids for the Jewish Nation. And now I’m like, wow, that wasn’t even my own life!

Check out the complete Nuts conversation with Roseanne Barr and other posts on Happily Childfree » Blog Archive » As Seen On TV

 

How to Explain your Childfree Choice

"How to explain why you've chosen not to have children", by Scott Meyer

"How to explain why you've chosen not to have children", by Scott Meyer

As we’ve pointed out before society has a deeply engrained bias toward to breeding portion of the population. Biology ensures this bias. In the big picture it makes biological sense. Procreation prevents extinction while advancing evolution.

Nothing new there. Except, I’d like to offer up a warm “Thank you!” to all of the breeders around the world who are saving the human race by breeding so that I can focus on my energies elsewhere. Yes, as is often pointed out to me, if we all stopped having children humanity wouldn’t endure for long. I get it. I agree. And I’m deeply grateful to all of you who’ve opted to perpetuate the human race…

Of course, that isn’t what most DINKs are thinking about when they opt out of the breeder program. I’d venture to guess that most DINKs feel pretty confident that enough babies will continue to be born despite our personal choice. And, yes, their are some childfree folks who genuinely believe their choice should be universalized (Don’t dismiss until you’ve considered this. Still hoping for a thoughtful, articulate post on this topic.), but I’m not one of those folks.

So can we step beyond the bias? Perhaps not.

According to Lilit Marcus childfree women endure a deluge of judgment.

Despite the advancements that women have made in the public and private spheres, our bodies – and the choices we make about them – continue to be a battlefield. (TODAYMoms)

In many respects the 20th century was marked by a leveling of the gender playing field. And yet I am consistently made aware of how much more difficult it is for a woman to explain that she’s opted not to have children. When I express my childfree choice I often get hit with a barrage of questions, but acceptance is rarely hard-won. Men who choose not to breed are given a pass in the way that cowboys weren’t forced to pick the new drapes or iron petticoats. Deep in our cultural DNA we make room for men who break with conjugal and domestic conventions. But women are rarely granted this same freedom.

it shouldn’t be important whether a woman has children or not, but most of our culture doesn’t concur. “You’ll change your mind when you’re (five years older than age I am),”… I tried to imagine the opposite situation  – a woman my age (28), pregnant or with a child, being told that in five years she’d change her mind about wanting to be a mother. Or what about a guy my age being told that his “daddy instinct” would kick in soon and he would start wanting to pop out kids? I’m old enough to vote, to drink alcohol and to die for my country, but I’m still being told – sometimes by my own peers – that I’m not mature enough to decide about my body, my family and my future. (TODAYMoms)

Hats off to Ms. Marcus for saying it like it is! Women have a singularly difficult time explaining their childfree choice as I witness again and again when my bride sidesteps the patronizing, dismissive comments and endeavors to communicate her intelligent, considered choice. This is especially challenging with other women who often seem to consider Susan’s personal choice an affront. Instead of explaining her choice Susan frequently ends up listening to an emotional diatribe about the merits of motherhood.

Is their a sensible way to explain your childfree choice? I continue to believe their is, but the conversation rarely remains sensible for long and too often veers into emotionally charged, defensive territory. Perhaps we need to develop a less antagonistic methodology. And perhaps parents need to asses why they become so sensitive when our childfree choice is personal and doesn’t imply judgement of their own choice.

Do you have a foolproof way to explain your childfree choice?

Five Reasons Childfree Adults May Be Happier Than Parents

"Psychology Today" magazine... Could...

Click Here for the full article: Five Reasons Childfree Adults May Be Happier Than Parents | Psychology Today.

This post may be worth revisiting, especially for those uncertain about having babies, or how doing so may affect their life and relationships.

To sum it all up, don’t have a child because you think it will bring you happiness or improve your marriage. If you’re not content with your life prior to kids, this discontent will likely continue after the child is born. Plus, it’s important to recognize the challenges that parenting will bring. There are positives and negatives in every life choice, and it’s important to weigh these out as you create the landscape of your future.

Psychology Today is an excellent resource for a variety of perspectives and studies.For more information search “parenting” or “childfree” on the Psychoogy Today website. There are many compelling pieces by Ellen Walker, Ph.D., author of Complete Without Kids.

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Am I Selfish For Not Having Kids?

Prince Albert (later King George VI) and his w...

Prince Albert and his Wife Elizabeth with Their Labrador (Image via Wikipedia)

Despite my friend’s frequent reminders of “yet another woman over 40 who has successfully had a healthy baby” stories, I’m not the gambling type.

My friend thumbs through People magazine, identifying the aging celebrities touting their late-in-life offspring.“Look, 50 and a healthy baby,” she beams.

“That one had a surrogate,” I quip.

“Oh, right, she did. But she had twins at forty-two,” she’ll protest.

“And a staff of forty nannies and household servants, and tell me in ten years that she doesn’t get cancer from all those hormone injections,” I counter. She sighs and closes the magazine, failing to put me on the parent track.

The truth is, it isn’t really about my age. It’s a convenient excuse, but if I were in my twenties with all else being equal as it is now, I think I’d still make the same decision not to have children.

Early in my first marriage and in my twenties, before I got a dog I stopped every dog I passed on the streets of New York City.

“Oh, look at that one – soooo cute!  And a yellow lab and a chocolate lab.  I just looove labs.  Can I pet your dog?”  I would coo.

I finally got a yellow lab who became my pride and joy for fourteen years.  She outlasted my first marriage.  Everyone thought I was practicing to be a “real”  mom with her.  When she died she was succeeded not by a ‘real” baby but by an energetic male yellow lab instead.  As it turns out, I was practicing all along only to be a dog mom.  Sorry to disappoint, but I think I’ve done well with those skills.  Does this mean I don’t get to celebrate mother’s day?  Can I be a mom if my dependent happens to be canine?

The same impulse for babies, however, never emerged.  Passing strollers never merited a second glance from me.  That was a strong sign to me to avoid having a baby.

Okay, so not every happy parent started off ogling babies on the street.  Nonetheless, the fact is there is just so much I still want to do with my life that I don’t think even if I were twenty years younger I’d be able to accomplish all that I hope to do.

I’m not just talking about my career. We’re busy people, busy seeing friends and family, busy doing volunteer work, busy working, busy traveling, skiing, biking, hiking, kayaking, waterskiing or windsurfing, in short busy being involved in our community, and in our world.

So, then, why do so many people think I’m selfish for not having kids? Is it selfish to forgo children when you could perhaps raise one successfully, when you have no obvious major impediments to parenthood? Is it selfish for me to want to work on myself, to be the best person, citizen, sibling, wife, daughter that I can be? Could I work on myself and achieve the same goals if I had kids? Knowing me, probably not.

Some people would say it is self-centered to reproduce yourself.  The world is already overpopulated and there are already so many parent-less children who need a good home.  It’s a good point. We’ll have more thoughts on this topic later.  It’s in important one but since this piece is an introduction of one founder’s background and viewpoint, I will save that meaty conversation when I can interview multiple folks on the issue.

Frankly, the thought of disseminating my genes multiple times over just scares me.  I like who I am and I’m proud of my family and heritage, but, boy, I think one person like me in the world is really enough. I’m a handful all my own.

The way I see it, I can have an influence on a greater number of kids if I don’t have my own.

My hope is to be the adult who doesn’t treat them like a parent would, to be the person they can ask embarrassing questions, the person they can call in the middle of the night and say, “I need help. Please don’t tell my mom.” I want to be the person who takes them on safaris in Africa, fashion shows in Paris and hang-gliding in Bora Bora. That doesn’t seem selfish to me.

As my cousin’s 8 year old child said of me in the car once while I was driving a heap of kids down a dirt road in the country: “You can talk about it in front of her. She’s not a mom.” That made me feel good. They all nodded in agreement and spoke of a subject that would have been just too embarrassing or dangerous in front of their moms. It was an enlightening moment.

I recently became a CFES high school mentor in our local public school. I help juniors with the process of choosing, applying and gaining acceptance at the colleges of their choice. It’s a great program and if I had children when the majority of my friends did, I’d likely only be thinking about college preparation only for my own kids instead.

Let me be the mentor, friend, aunt, water ski and windsurfing coach to a number of kids.  Most children don’t have enough positive adult influence in their lives outside of their parents.  That’s where I enter.

Upcoming Posts:

  • Wednesday March 16: What I’ve learned From Hanging Out With Moms and Why are The Dads Having More Fun?
  • Friday March 18: Forging My Own Kid-less Path
  • Monday March 21: Dog Mom and über Aunt Will Travel
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