April 23, 2014

The Happiness Project – “Lighten Up” on the Childfree

Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

The NYTimes bestseller by Gretchen Rubin is a year-in-the-life exploration of a writer trying to live her life happier. What does that mean? Each month is broken into a theme: energy, love, play, etc. April’s theme is “Lighten Up” with a subtitle: Parenthood. Hmm. Maybe that means you don’t need to “lighten up” if you don’t have kids or you are already pretty enlightened?
Nope. Not according to the author. Rubin cites a study that says “child
care” is only slightly more pleasant than commuting, and one that says
marital satisfaction declines after the first child is born (picking up
again after they leave the nest). Then she disputes these findings, all
the while complaining about her kids and marital satisfaction mostly
relating to fights about her kids.

“Now as a parent myself, I realize how much the happiness of parents depends
on the happiness of their children and grandchildren.”

Really? But then again the kids did give Rubin a reason to write a bestseller.
We at WNK believe that by being childfree, everyday is a project in
happiness.

From the Happiness Project Blog:

Do your children make you happy? Some research says NO! I say YES!

Read the article here

Hey WNKers have you read The Happiness Project?

 

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(Child)Free Money #2: How much $ can I save by not having babies?

In (Child)Free Money #1: Can I afford to have kids?, we introduced the USDA’s “Cost of Raising a Child Calculator” and noted the high cost of having kids.

A middle income family, defined as a married couple with two children and a before-tax income averaging $79,940, spent approximately $13,050 per year on each child for their first 18 years of life.

Assuming the $13,050 as a starting point (spending varies and depends on household income), parents spend $234,900 per child just to get them out of High School.

So, congratulations, by choosing to remain childfree. Instead of having 2.1 kids like the average U.S. family, you saved about $470,000, and that is just the beginning.

That number assumes that there is no inflation or that wages keep pace with child-rearing and living expenses. It does not account for higher education, the boomerang babies, lost wages or productivity or unmeasurable costs of added stress and inadequate sleep.

It also doesn’t account for lost savings. The cost to parents is not only what they spend, but the lost opportunity to invest that money.

If instead of spending $13,050/child annually, you invest that money the end of each year to age 18, you will earn $107,000 in interest and save nearly $343,000 by not having just 1 baby.

If you invest $26,100/year instead of having 2 kids you will save $685,000 – before college!

These results assume investment in secure tax-exempt, insured bonds. The investment is virtually riskless. Based on average yields for similar investments over the past 18 years, I assumed an average return of 4.25% for an average investment period of 9 years. Feel free to write if you want more details.

In the next installent we will calculate saving/cost through college graduation. (Hint: ouch!)

 

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Dads Are Using Their Kids’ Sporting Events to Get Out of Household Chores

“at least dads are doing something to keep kids from mucking up the house with their dirty fingernails and carelessly-brandished Ring-Pops”

OK. Lets agree to save the anthropological discussion about how men are not meant to be domesticated for another post, or another era maybe? In the meantime, perhaps someone can do a study of mens’ dorm rooms, bachelor pads and fraternity houses so we can conclusively report that MEN ARE DISGUSTING! We are the last beings anyone should want to be responsible for disinfecting! Men will give themselves double diarrhea or watch The View (or give themselves double diarrhea by watching The View) in order to avoid cleaning toilets, so “I have to drive to a swim meet while listening to (childfree) Justin Bieber songs” must absolutely be an acceptable excuse to get out of household chores. No?

Those conducting the report, or commenting about it, don’t necessarily think so:

“men aren’t making much progress in taking over some of the less-glamorous housework. “The fathers we studied,” said Kremer-Sadlik, “are finding ways to create a new ideal of fatherhood, but they are not creating a new ideal with their partners.” He added that some fathers even use sporting events as an excuse to get out of doing housework”

via Dads Are Using Their Kids’ Sporting Events to Get Out of Helping with Household Chores.

Leila Revisited

Matti

Image via Wikipedia

In reflecting on the movie Leilait is easy to see the conundrum couples face in traditional cultures when they can’t have or don’t want children.  Many cultures just don’t accept childless unions.  How many people do we know, however, who really might be having children largely for their parents, or for the tradition of having children to carry on their family gene pool, so ingrained in every society, even the most modern of ones?  It’s not uncommon.

I have to admit, the continuity of family heritage, and pleasing one’s parents or in-laws with the gift of grandchildren are compelling reasons to procreate.  My own parents and in-laws have been exceptionally supportive of my decision not to have children, but if I told all of them tomorrow that I had changed my mind, or that I was pregnant, would they be over-the-moon elated?  You bet.  Multiple year-long celebrations would be initiated.  Who doesn’t like to make people you love that happy (especially because of all they did for you)? Who doesn’t like the idea of having your parents and in-laws helping to shape your child if you know they would be great at it?  That part of parenting would be ideal – the part where the baby’s grandparents are cooing over the child, playing on the floor, cleaning up the mess, while you’re reading a book or having cocktails with friends.  But, then the grandparents leave, and you’re stuck with all the responsibility.

Perhaps if we lived with our siblings and parents as adults, like in some traditional societies, raising a child wouldn’t be that daunting, what with all those extra hands to help out. Frankly, multiple wives made it much easier too (but don’t get too excited about that idea until you see the film Leila).

Leila grippingly explores the consequences of ignoring one’s own needs and instincts, and one’s own biological destiny to please another entity, or a culture at large.  It serves as an important reminder to know ourselves and our partners and to ensure that when our partner tells us that he or she does not want a child, to believe it and to discuss that choice with frankness and honesty.

Moreover, people choosing not to have children or questioning whether it is the right choice also need to have those same frank conversations with their parents.  Hopefully, if they love you enough, and if they are not as imperious and opportunistic as Reza’s mother, they will happily accept the grand dog or cat and more quality time together (because you’re not saddled with the time demands of parenting) that you offer them instead.

Barren in Iran

Leila (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I recently watched Leila, a mesmerizing Iranian film that debuted  by Persian film director Dariush Mehrjui. It chronicles the story of a young married couple (Leila and Reza) living in modern Teheran who can’t conceive a child.  More exactly, the couple learns that she, the wife cannot have a child. Trouble ensues.

In one of the earliest scenes the viewer meets the young man’s mother, who, while celebrating her daughter-in-law’s birthday announces that she can’t wait to meet the couple’s son (only they don’t have one).  This woman, so insistent that her only son have a child to carry on the family’s lineage (never mind her handful of daughters who might procreate) soon learns, that her wish won’t be possible.  The couple jumps through some fertility hoops to no avail, and the Reza consoles his wife by insisting to her that he really has had no interest in having children all along.  Leila seems to believe him, and they resolve to enjoy each others’ company without the distraction of children.

Then Reza’s mother intercedes.

Leila and Reza’s love is palpable. Their connection and mutual admiration seem strong. But their love and ties are harrowingly tested in a tug-of-war between their modern marriage and Islamic tradition, between their dreams and Reza’s mother’s dreams.  The film offers a glimpse into the complexities of living in contemporary Iran and the complexities of giving back to one’s parents.

Leila’s mother-in-law persistently, deceptively convinces her that Reza is desperate to have a child. She harasses Leila incessantly until Leila agrees to permit her husband to marry a second wife who can give him a child. Though adamantly opposed to the idea, Reza eventually yields to his mother’s desire and to the traditional Islamic expectations of him.

We watch the heart-wrenching process of selecting a new bride through Leila’s eyes. We witness and understand her anguish.  Ironically, it is Reza’s sisters and father who try to convince Leila to refuse the second marriage. (Ostensibly polygamy is legal in Iran provided previous wives agree.) Leila’s family is horrified when they discover Reza’s plan to remarry.

Leila’s doubt that Reza would be happy without a child and her decision to encourage a second marriage inevitably proves devastating to her union with Reza.  She signs her fate away to external factors and concludes: “God has not given me a child.  He has given me the gift of eternal patience and endurance.”  Her choices test the limits of that endurance (and the viewer’s).

I won’t spoil the plot, because the film is worth watching. We never really know why Leila consents to her insipid mother-in-law’s wishes. Does she hope this will make her a better Muslim and wife? Does she simply wish to please her new family? Does she too desperately desire a child even if impossible through her own DNA? Or does her self sacrificing decision reveal unconditional love for her husband?  Perhaps all of these factors are in play, but the film is so compelling precisely because we never learn the answer.

Why I Said ‘Yes’ to Kids

Today’s guest post is from Ana June, a mother, wife, writer, photographer and jewelry artist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

In the spring of 2008, I sat down late one night to write the first installment for a newspaper column I called Planet Mom. While my youngest son slept on the couch next to me, I stared out at the night sky and tried to conjure my muse. By midnight, I had it–a relatively clear, concise, and honest introduction to the life I live as a mother to four. (Full installment is here.) In it, I wrote the following:

“This act of mothering is life in the raw. There are moments that threaten to unhinge me, followed closely by those that offer a glimpse of enlightenment.”

Nearly 3 years later, the truth in this statement still holds. Being a mother, especially to a brood the size of mine, is absolutely dichotomous. It’s unhinging and enlightening, sometimes all at once!

Choosing to become a mother was, for me, a no-brainer. I always knew I would have children…. Furthermore, I always knew I wanted to have children. This desire must have been hardwired or something–I can’t explain it much better than that. Having children gave me so very much–the opportunity to lose myself and find myself… the thrill of finding and dancing on the very edge of my every possibility. Being a mother has made me more human, more frazzled, more fully alive, more tired, more fully in love, and more humble than anything else I have ever done.

That said, motherhood doesn’t define me entirely, and it shouldn’t. I am also a photographer, a writer, a graphic designer, and a jeweler, though not necessarily in that order at any given time. I own my own business, set my own hours, and have been turning a profit for several years now. Today, Wednesday, I am a writer and a jewelry maker. I am both writing this and babysitting my jewelry kiln as it sinters tin and copper into bronze (making two sets of custom wine charms!). Next to me, dull gray pendants that will soon metamorphose into fine silver await their turn in the fire. I am an alchemist.

I am also a traveler. I returned from a whirlwind trip to New York several days ago, where I was photographing a friend’s wedding. I was blissfully childfree for this journey, and it was awesome. It was awesome as well to come home and see my family again. A few years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my husband, kidfree, to Baja to shoot the Baja 1000 with and for a group of firefighters who ride for The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (the prelude to that story is here. I apparently never posted the actual story). In a nutshell, that adventure was awe-inspiring, remarkable, incredible…. fill in the blanks. But again, it was also awesome to come home and see my family again.

Family is the absolute ultimate for me, and of course that is defined in large part by my children. Because of this, I simply don’t see parenting as duty-driven more than I see it as motivated by a deep and abiding love. It is not a job, it is my heart.

I can’t and won’t sell it to anyone, however. It is not something to do unless you feel that undeniable drive within you to create a child. It is never something to take lightly. It should never be a should. It was absolutely never a should in my own life–in fact, quite the opposite, since I was very young when I got pregnant with my son. I chose to have my children when I did–Soren, who is now 17, was born three weeks after I turned 22. I birthed him at home, with a midwife, and when I looked into his little face for the very first time I saw God. This agnostic borderline-atheist truly and absolutely saw God. You see, God isn’t some big judgmental guy lurking about the heavens waiting to smite sinners or whatnot. No… God was the design of my son’s newborn face. God was his first cry.

And I can’t expect anybody else, not even my son’s father, to understand that moment like I did. That was my moment as a mother, and I was fortunate to have three more like it in the years that followed.

It was for moments like this that I became a mother. My decision to do so had very little to do with economics or leisure or opportunity for myself. It had everything to do with feeling and expressing a love that eludes definition. It wasn’t happy happy happy, but it wasn’t sad sad sad either. It ultimately isn’t any one thing. As I recently wrote in another post on my blog (full post here):

“…motherhood is the end-all-be-all of a woman’s existence…except when it isn’t. Motherhood will thresh your very soul and lift you to heights of joy you never thought possible… except when it doesn’t. Motherhood will sweep you up to the pinnacle of beauty…. except when it’s anything but beautiful. When you have shit on your hands because the baby decided to do gymnastics after you removed the stinky diaper and the phone is ringing and the dog is barking and the older kid is whining about cookies or some such… and the diaper pail is full and the room smells like digested green beans and you haven’t showered in two days and your breasts start leaking and then the baby pees all over the changing table and all the while you suspect, in a grim sort of way, that your mortgage check will bounce this month….

Nope, that’s not beautiful at all. Motherhood isn’t always anything except raw, demanding life. Base and beautiful humanity.”

And though it is a commitment, that sometimes makes you feel like you should be committed, it can be–should be?–one gleaming facet in a multifaceted life.

It should follow the sentiment I have tattooed on my upper left arm:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

No matter what we choose in this life–parenthood or not–there will forever be more to explore, more to learn, more to love. Or at least, there should be. And that is the only should that I, personally, understand.

Postscript: For anybody who is still unsure about having a child, ask yourself this: if you attempted to place your coffee mug in the cup holder of your car, one frenetic morning, and found that the space was already occupied by a large piece of dusty, hairy, dessicated bacon left therein by one of your children (one of your teens, in fact!), how would you feel? Your answer to this may help clarify your child-bearing decision…. at least a little bit. :)

You can follow Ana June on her blog, Non Compos Mentis Mama, or visit her professional site, Ana June Creative.

Two is Enough: Childless by Choice

Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choise

Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choise

I’ve just read a lengthy excerpt from Laura S. Scott’s Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice. I’m hooked!

I’m pretty certain that Susan and I could have written this book… But just to make sure, I’ve ordered a copy. I’ll share my thoughts once I’ve consumed the whole book and passed it along to my bride for her thoughts. If you want a jump start, the excerpt appears in this article: “More couples going childless by choice?” To whet your appetite here’s a passage that grabbed me right off the bat.

I recognized just how strange I must have seemed to him. Here was a person who could not imagine a life without kids trying to understand a person who could not imagine a life with kids. I was struggling to find the words to explain why someone would choose a childless marriage, and “love” and “companionship” were all I could come up with. It was the most honest answer I could give, but it clearly did not satisfy him, leaving me with the very distinct feeling that the underlying question was “Is love enough?” (TODAY.com)

This is an all too familiar experience. I can only imagine how strange I must seem to my brother, the father of two intelligent, funny, athletic, beautiful girls. How strange I must seem to unabashedly relish time spent with my nieces and yet opt out of having children myself. Perhaps we’re not meant to fully comprehend one another’s choices…

I could understand why parents might have difficulty wrapping their brains around intentional childlessness. It was strange, even to me. Here I was, a healthy, happily married woman, surrounded by parents and parents-to-be, yet I had never felt a pang of longing for a child. I enjoy spending time with kids and I understand the appeal of children, but I’ve never wanted one for myself. (TODAY.com)

I suspect that many childfree couples will identify with this book. The notion of a guide intrigues me. Is that tongue-in-cheek? Or does it genuinely intend to instruct? Will it help me communicate to my parent friends why loving children but choosing not have have them is not a double standard? I’ll keep you posted! In the mean time, if you’d like to purchase a copy of Two Is Enough you can find it on Amazon. Cheers!

FlashBack: Standout Stories That Previously Appeared On WNK’s FB Page Only

We wanted to share some the year’s best stories about parenting, children and the childfree, including emphasis on the environment, economy and psychology.

1) THE NO-BABY BOOM – Probably the most engaging, enlightening piece so far about the choice to be childfree, the CF lifestyle and growing community. It appeared in Details magazine. If you’re willing to read only one story, start and stop here.

2) ARE THERE DISADVANTAGES TO BEING CHILDFREE? – We’re not here to start a cult or hoist an ideology on the unsuspecting. We want an open honest discourse about what life is like and how big choices related to conceiving, adopting and parenting affect ANYBODY.

3) DOES HAVING CHILDREN MAKE YOU HAPPY? – What do you think? Have you read these other WNK stories? Are parents or the childfree more fit or healthy?

4) WHY MORE KIDS? – The Russian and South Korean governments want more babies! Riddle: Which is less sustainable:

A) A movement or community (like the childfree) that can’t rely on brainwashing their offspring to continue growing? OR

B) An economy that demands constant growth while resources are limited and fewer participants are incented to make babies?

5) HOW TO LAND YOU KID IN THERAPY - Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother report

6) WHINING IS THE WORST SOUND IN THE WORLD – Dare to disagree?

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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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Get Your Freakon(omics)!: “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting”

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Freakonomics » Freakonomics Radio, Hour-long Episode 2: “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting”.

Unless you have a lot of time to geek out on Freakonomics, you can skip the radio show and just skip to the text below. Taken from a transcript of the show, this exchange serves as an appropriate follow-up to the Freakonomics on fatherhood post. According to these economists, the increase in parenting duties for college-educated mothers, and the cause, is even more freaky/intriguing:

RAMEY: So, in the 1980’s, the average, young, college-educated mother spent thirteen hours per week on childcare.

DUBNER: That’s Valerie Ramey again. She and her husband Gary, also an economist, analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey.


RAMEY: Now, it’s 22 hours a week. So, the amount of time has increased by nine hours a week.

DUBNER: Nine hours. So, that’s about a seventy percent increase, that’s a huge increase.

RAMEY: It’s a huge increase.

RAMEY: Now, what’s interesting is over this same time period, the wages of college-educated women have really increased. So, the opportunity cost of time has increased at the same time they’ve decided to spend more time taking care of their children.

DUBNER: So, to an economist, like you, that has to be a little bit baffling, yes?

RAMEY: Yes, it is a puzzle.

DUBNER: After declining for decades, the amount of time that parents spent on childcare started to rise in the 1990’s and then skyrocketed in the 2000’s, especially among college-educated moms. Why? The Rameys found a surprising answer: college. Specifically: the increased competition for kids to get into good colleges. These high-end parents weren’t simply babysitting; they were chauffeuring their kids to the kind of extracurricular activities that look good on a college application. The Rameys called it the rug-rat race. You want to know the strangest part? Valerie Ramey was a prime offender — until her family put a stop to it.

 

 

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