Parenthood versus Childfree Part V

And last, the fifth area from Alison Cameron’s article, “Do children really make us happy? Alison Cameron compares parenthood with a childfree life” from Sydney Australia’s, The Sun Herald.  The last one:  Sense of Purpose.

From the article: Everyone needs meaning in their life and, in 2006, Florida State University found parents had ..

..a greater sense of purpose compared to adults with no children. But the US National Marriage Project 2006 State of Our Unions report found that parents were less satisfied with their marriage than non-parents.  

It concluded that as people live longer and have more single and child-free years, raising children has begun to be seen as a “disruption”. This is very different to the experience of the past, when the idea of child-rearing was seen as one of life’s defining purposes.

But for 41-year-old father of two Oivind Bakken, his childless friends seem stuck in one stage of life with little real meaning. “I feel as though they have stayed exactly where they were when they were students. Our life has changed but theirs hasn’t.”

When it comes to self-esteem and life satisfaction, career women with children beat their childless sisters, according to a 1992 study from Montreal.

But 45-year-old Cindy Tonkin, an executive coach who was unable to have children, doesn’t feel lacking in self-esteem or sense of purpose. “Not having children was a decision made for me, but it turned out for the absolute best. I coach senior women with families who are exhausted all the time. I have so much in my life. I paint and sing and recently went to the US to do an improvisation course.”

Cameron says: Winners A draw – both think they are the winners in this area.

Like the previous areas, this area deserves comment.  I would like to see the 2006 study Cameron refers to; while you can say that having children gives a person purpose, many childfree do not have children precisely because they have a clear life purpose.  They know what they want out of life, and make their lives around creating that, and it just doesn’t happen to involve children.

Whether it be their careers, or what they consider to be their life’s work or passions, there are plenty of ways to find life purpose outside of creating the role of parenthood. It could be argued that for many people, becoming a parent does not necessarily give them life purpose, but instead, the more appropriate word might be “direction” in life. It gives someone who does not know their purpose an instant answer, a clear structure, a clear direction in which to take in life.

Robin Simon, a sociology professor at the same university as the study Cameron refers to, has conducted several recent parenting studies. One that came out in 2005 with a sample of 13,000 Americans indicated that “ group of parents—married, single, step or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children. It’s such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they’re not.”  I’d say that the childfree don’t find it counterintuitive at all.

Now well-being and happiness are not exactly the same of having a sense purpose, but are certainly related. If I have a sense of purpose I sure will be more likely to feel a sense of well-being and happiness.  And working the other way, if I have a sense of well-being and am happy, I bet I have direction in my life, or at least know my passions and engage in them.

Now the idea that somehow childfree are “stuck in one stage of life with little real meaning” – hogwash.  Just because some people do not go on to have kids does not mean they are stuck or still live the life of students. Implicit here is the pronatalist assumption that we all go on to become parents as part of the path to maturity, and if don’t we are somehow immature and unwilling to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. I see just as many mature, childfree adults and mature parents.

And the 1992 study she refers to re career women with children have better esteem and life satisfaction—wrong again. Now that study might have concluded that, but others show that it is childfree single women with careers that have the highest levels of satisfaction in their lives. 1992 is a long time ago now; my hunch is that if she cited recent studies this would not be the conclusion.  My take: many things go into developing high esteem and having life satisfaction. Having children and a career might contribute to both for some women, but for others, parenthood has nothing to do with having these things. Both stem from a whole lot of life situations and experiences.

Looking at the five areas together, Cameron says the overall winners are “Child-free, by a (non-snotty) nose.”

Me, I say there are no winners or losers.  Just because you don’t have kids does not mean you will have more money, better sex, worse health than parents, better appearance, and lack a sense of purpose in life.  In the areas of money, relationships, sex, health, appearance and purpose, it is not children that make the difference, for better or worse. That is just buying into our child-centric culture from the back door—that it all must boil down to this thing called kids.  So much more goes into these areas of life to have them be what you want them to be~

What do you think?

12 thoughts on “Parenthood versus Childfree Part V

  1. I was dismayed at Bakken’s comments about his childless friend seeming to be “stuck in one stage of life with little real meaning.” Has Bakken ASKED his friends if they’re stuck in the mud and if their life has no purpose? Probably not. Sure, Bakken’s life changed when he had kids as well it should. But just because your life doesn’t “change” in that manner doesn’t indicate a life with no meaningful purpose.

    When people are asked such questions as: What brings meaning to your life? What is your life’s purpose? How has your life changed in the past 10 years? What will be your legacy? What is your greatest achievement? —- If their answers are a quick “my child(ren)”, I always feel it’s a cop-out of an answer. As if that’s what they’re expected to say, or that they’ll be chided for saying anything else.

    What irks me are people who assume that because I don’t have children then I couldn’t possibly have any achievement, purpose, goal, or legacy as equally compelling or importantas popping out a kid or two. My personal life is full of hobbies, friends, and varied interests, all of which I find incredibly meaningful (and wouldn’t trade for anything!). My greatest achievements didn’t come from one night under the sheets. They came from hours and days and weeks of learning, working, and practicing.

    1. It bugs me too that parents often think that what gives me meaning and purpose in life could never equal their chosen role to raise a child. It’s in keeping with engrained pronatalistic thinking, where parenthood is exalted. I love how you describe your greatest achievements as “hours and days and weeks of learning, working, practicing.” So well said! ~L

  2. I think raising a decent human being who can contribute to society in some way is an achievement but a long term one. Just having kids is not an achievement in itself and where do you draw the line between it being yours entirely or whether you children achieved things on their own. You cant claim the limelight if you child happens to be born a genius or a natural athlete! what were these people doing before they had children? Were their lives worthless, were they just sitting around waiting to become parents…in which case why bother with learning or anything just pop out kids as soon as you can.

    1. Raising kids is the achievement It is hard work and as we know not cut out for everyone~too often parents get too attached to who their kid is supposed to be, supposed to achieve etc. to make them look like successful parents. All too many kids get on the wrong track in life, one that is not “on purpose” with their own path in life because they put the ego needs of their parents first — whether it be conscious or unconscious! ~L

  3. When I think of things which helped build character as an adult, I list these:

    (1) Getting a drivers license

    (2) applying for, getting into, and graduating from college, including dealing with the student loan process

    (3) Applying for and getting jobs

    (4) Buying my first car including negotiating with the car salesman

    (5) Renting and later buying my first apartment, including dealing with a co-op board interview

    (6) Going through the mortgage process, including a refinance of it later

    (7) Learning how to write business letters [a VERY important skill lacking in many people these days] including letters of complaint and writing to and receivng replies from my elected officials

    (8) Taking on additional work responsibility after being promoted to office supervisor

    (9) Overseeing my parent’s finances when they were away while my mother was very ill

    (10) Starting volunteer work with several area schools

    And finally….after carefully managing my finances and as a result of never wanting to have children:

    (11) Retiring in 2008 at age 45.

    1. Hi Deegee, you definitely have mastery over setting a goal and going after it. Admirable! I can see that combined with commitment to helping others and participating in your community it makes for a purposeful life!~L

  4. I agree – they make the assumption that having kids gives people purpose, but that leaves open the assumption that those people had no purpose for their lives so they had kids to give them one. Childfree people don’t have that “void” that needs to be filled. People have kids because they don’t know what else to do with their life, so they follow the same path most people around them take. It’s easier than carving out your own path.

    Oivind’s statement: “I feel as though they have stayed exactly where they were when they were students. Our life has changed but theirs hasn’t.” sounds like sour grapes. I know he means it as a put-down, but it sounds the opposite to me. He HAD to change and he doesn’t sound too happy about it or he wouldn’t be so upset that other people didn’t have to change.

    As for who is the overall winner, I’d say those who are truly happy with their lives. There are plenty of miserable parents out there (who might be loathe to admit it) who are not “winning” and there are childfree people out there who are miserable as well. But people who are truly happy as parents and truly doing a good job of it are winners, as are the childfree who are truly living their passions and their ideal life. That’s winning.

    1. It is a shame that so often people choose the path everyone else is taking rather than figuring out their own. Making social acceptance more important than what you really want out of life so often makes for unhappy parents–but they won’t tell you that–except anonymously! Re your take on “winning” — so well said! ~L

  5. I’m a 28 year old male, personal trainer. and I don’t want kids. Its not that I don’t like them. They’re great.
    At a young age I decided that If I didn’t have kids by 25. I wasn’t having them. If I had them, then I’d want to be young so I can be around them for a long time. I put a great deal of thought into this before making my decision.
    So I had a vasectomy. Many people look down on me for this. Sure I’d consider adoption down the line. Its not an easy thing to mention to women though. Its an instant deal breaker. And its tough for a guy that has alot to offer in a relationship.

    1. Derek~Your reason for not having them is one I don’t hear as often as som eother reasons but it sure makes sense. I see couples who start having kids as late as in their late 40s and wonder if they thought about how old they would be when their kid graduates from high school, college, if/when they become grandparents, etc. I am curious–if you did not want kids if you didn’t have them by the time you were 25, why would you consider adopting later? ~L

  6. Thank you for dissecting this article and bringing to our attention some misleading facts. The newspaper it appeared in has one of the widest reaches in my state of NSW, Australia and articles are often discussed in our general weekly conversation. Not good then that some of the content was incorrect. It’s not easy living childfree in a society like mine where the government’s motto is “one for mum, one for dad, and one for your country” and, combined with the generous financial handout of over $5,000 for each new child, we are experiencing a baby boom. Makes you wonder if parents are having children for the right reasons, especially since I know a few who have some new smart looking flat screen TV’s. Laura, I would love to see an article based on your research on what it’s really like to be childfree in one of our popular magazines, newspapers or current affair TV shows.

    1. Thanks to you, Heather, for bringing my attention to the article! Deserved a five part discussion. I would love to have an article published in Australia or be on local media. Maybe during my next visit-I have been to your country and love it! I am working on the follow to Families of Two, and will definitely shoot for publicity “down under..” ~L

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