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 “..no 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?