27 January, 2014

Those throwaway comments

My habit in the afternoons is to listen to a National Radio programme as I work on my computer.  As I expected, having seen reportage of yet another article commenting on whether people with children are happier or not than people without children, this was inevitably raised in a panel discussion.  (And yes, I've blogged about it before.)

It's becoming tiresome to me, this focus on these studies, as parents always react with a sense of indignation.  How dare anyone suggest they might have been happier without children?  Yet they seem perfectly happy to declare that their lives would have been more miserable without children.  And they seem incapable of looking at empirical research objectively, rather than deciding that if it disagrees with their own experience, then it must be wrong.

The announcer - a man who is usually sensitive to different people and lifestyles - then said, "people who don't have children don't miss anything.  Their lives don't change."

This is, I believe, a huge injustice to people without children.  It's not uncommon though, such a throwaway comment dismissing our lives. I know certainly that life at 50 without children is vastly different to life without children at 25 or 30.  So even if he and his guests knew what it was like not to have children earlier in their lives, they don't know what it would be like now.  They don't seem to realise that it is very different negotiating life in a pro-child pro-parent society through your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.

One man said "I would not be the man I am today if I didn't have children."  That's very fair.  Of course having children changed him.  But my point is that he doesn't know what kind of man he would be today if he didn't have children.  He only knows what kind of man he was before he had children.  

And they completely ignored the issue of those who might not have children, but had not intended that this was what their lives would be.  They ignore the fact that couples and individuals who go through infertility or pregnancy loss or stillbirth, or who never find the life partner they want to have children with, find that they have to adjust their beliefs and expectations for life.  And they do.  We do.  And in doing so, we often go on to live very happy and fulfilled and engaged lives.  Because we know we want to make the best of our lives, whatever they deliver.  So I ask people who are tempted to make throwaway comments about those without children, to please don't ever dismiss the loss and the heartache and the personal growth we have gone through to get here.

PS.  And as I write this, they've gone on to discuss the electioneering that has begun, focusing on families not individuals, and now they're talking about school requirements for tablets or laptops etc.  I wonder if they'll discuss anything (other than Lorde at the Grammy's) that is relevant to people without children?


  1. I have no doubt that people who don't have kids are happier than people who do. And I think a lot of people with kids would concede that as well. Some may even admit that THEY THEMSLEVES would be happier without kids, but it's hard to find a parent who would say that out loud because if you do you are a terrible and you will surely injure your kids mightily by uttering that truth. So I don't think people with kids can even have an honest conversation about their own happiness and how it relates to their children, not only because they don't know who they'd be without children, but because they are obligated, by society, to express a certain amount of satisfaction with being a parent.

    But on a anonymous survey, the truth comes out. And it's an important truth, one we should acknowledge more openly.

  2. My furs were rubbed the wrong way when I read this bullshit line "people who don't have children don't miss anything. Their lives don't change."

    I've been partly bemused about this type of study because I think happiness is a state of mind and it fluctuates. And sometimes happiness can coexist with sadness at similar proportions. And it reminds me about one happiness study I found years back, in which the result was that there was a tribe of people somewhere which came at the top of the list, even though they were practically poor and they had no high tech or anything like that at all. What are the criteria of happiness? What makes one happy may not necessarily make another happy and vice versa. OK, I'm way off the topic now ha ha...but I agree with you that I'm also upset that they don't take us into account. With all the many layers of losses that we've experienced and the many lessons, it's like we don't exist at all. Harumph!!!!!

  3. The whole argument about better/worse is ridiculous and entirely subjective. Everyone has to play the hand they're dealt; it's up to you to make the most of the life you have, kids or not.

    Like Amel, I seized on the line that your life doesn't change when you don't have kids. EVERYONE's life changes over time, whether you have kids or not. Certainly, having kids is a dramatic change, but our childless/free lives are not static and not without dramatic changes of other kinds. This reminds me of a post I once read in which the (childless not by choice) writer noted that parents seem to be under the delusion that we the childless/free are out partying every night, etc. They base their vision of our lives on the lives & freedomes THEY had pre-kids -- when they were in their 20s, in college, etc.

    But I'm not the same person I was back then. I may be free to party more than a parent is, but that doesn't mean that's how I want to spend my time now that I am in my 50s. ;) Just because I have kids doesn't mean that I don't have other sorts of responsibilities and restrictions on my time.

    As you said, "I know certainly that life at 50 without children is vastly different to life without children at 25 or 30. So even if he and his guests knew what it was like not to have children earlier in their lives, they don't know what it would be like now." Yes, yes, yes.

  4. “I have noticed that most people in this world are about as happy as they have made up their minds to be.” (Attributed commonly to Lincoln, but actually not determined.)

    I think different people have different "set points" for happy. I have always had to work at it, and even tho we are several years past the possibility of children, i still have a real problem with it. I think, whatever the situation, it is common for some people to think wistfully about "the perfect life."

    For me it would be 2 or more children, happily helping me bake and make Christmas ornaments. (However, i have a friend with a handicapped child and i'm quite aware of how that limits her life, and it would have been quite possible that is where i would be.) But for a busy mama with those 2 or more children, perhaps it would be the vision of more freedom than she has - working in a lab to cure cancer! Singing on the stage at American Idol!

    The truth is life is a certain amount of drudgery, and how we manage it determines our contentment.

    I don't know if i really said what i mean here. I hate throw away statements, too. Anything that relegates part of the population as unimportant or incapable of understanding divides us more and makes it so much harder to relate. Somehow, people with children get away with it - with impunity - to downplay our experiences and claim they understand life so much better than we.

  5. Your thoughts on this are as always, right on. I'm about to head into my 40's and wonder how different (and how similar) life will be. And I know the battle for a voice in society will remain.

  6. As Loribeth said, "Everyone has to play the hand they're dealt".
    I have friends who are single or divorced, and one friend who was widowed in her 30s. I'm sure that some days they feel bad about not having a partner, but most of the time they just put on their big-girl panties and get on with it.
    If I think about life without my husband, I shudder and think "God, that would be horrible." But if I'd never met him (sorry sweetheart) it wouldn't be horrible, it would be missing something big but it would be okay. And I know this, not only because I managed for 33 years without him, but also because I see my single friends living their lives and being okay.
    I'm sure that people without children feel that life without them would be horrible. That's natural, you don't want to imagine these people that you love not being there. But, while I've had my moments of "waaah not fair" and mourned my empty arms, this life I have without children isn't horrible. It has some horrible moments, but that's not the same. Most of the time I'm okay, and some of the time I'm very happy indeed. Because that's the hand I've been dealt, and wishing for a different hand isn't going to change anything.

  7. I have not only loved your post (as usual), Mali, but I have absolutely loved reading all the responses to it. What an insightful group here... I think we could all author a joint book on happiness and involuntary childlessness.