Kids and whatnot

On another topic I have no business thinking about, this is a fascinating article on the virtues of adult couples who never have children (h/t Digby). While such a decision is not remotely possible in my near future, I had long assumed that if I never became a father I would regret it (thus putting more pressure on me to find a nice girl and get married). But, as it turns out (emphasis mine):

Hanson agrees that even if mothers say they don't regret having children, as a group they're not more satisfied with their lives than nonmothers. For all the truth about the innate physiological rewards of mothering, he says, "The happy people are the ones who wanted kids and had them or didn't want kids and didn't have them."

This is true even in old age, a time when many assume the childless will suffer alone while their peers are comforted by grandchildren. Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox, a sociology professor at the University of Florida who researches aging, recently completed a study based on surveys of 3,800 men and women between the ages of 50 and 84. "For years we have heard warnings that if you don't have children, you will regret it later," she said in a press release. "But beliefs about childlessness leading to a lonely old age are simply not supported by our study." In a previous report published in 1998, Koropeckyj-Cox concluded that there is "no significant differences in loneliness and depression between parents and childless adults."

Besides, what some parents gain in intimacy with their children, they lose in intimacy with their partners....

Cain reprints one of those 1975 letters sent to Ann Landers in her book: "I am 40, and my husband is 45. We have twin children under 8 years of age. I was an attractive, fulfilled career woman before I had these kids. Now I'm an overly exhausted nervous wreck who misses her job and sees very little of her husband. He's got a 'friend,' I'm sure, and I don't blame him. Our children took all the romance out of our marriage. I'm too tired for sex, conversation or anything."

Such alienation is less likely when people don't have children. "Statistics show childless couples are happier," Cain says. "Their lives are self-directed, they have a better chance of intimacy, and they do not have the stresses, financial and emotional, of parenthood."

As a male devoid of nurturing instincts and annoyed by young children, this makes me quite pleased, especially since apparently about a quarter of American women don't have children. Chances are, too, that the more educated she is, the less likely she'll want to be a mother. And I couldn't imagine marrying someone who didn't want to pursue a career of her own; in the very least she'd have to be a college graduate, if not a fellow academic.

Since I've recently been thinking about marriage as a relationship that would be best if it were in the model of Aristotelian (or Nietzschean) friendship, I see having children as only an impediment to establishing a close bond of emotional intimacy with another person--that article certainly suggests as much. Now that we live in an age in which choosing not to have children is a very real option, I'd be happy to take it.

Of course, the real question for me is not one concerning parenting, but rather one of its conditions of possibility, viz., finding a partner. Many of my idols in the history of philosophy were lifelong bachelors, most notably Spinoza and Nietzsche. I honestly believe that I, better than anyone else I know, could get by and perhaps even flourish in such an existence, as long as I had a few close friendships.

As it stands, however, it seems that married people are on average happier than the unwed, so it remains something I strive for (especially since I'm no stranger to occasional pangs of loneliness). Of course, I should be clear here that what concerns me is not the institution of marriage itself, in its legal form (essentially a contract with certain economic advantages for the parties involved) or its religious aspects (I find the notion of "soulmates" to be especially irritating) or whatever other guise it may take, but rather a kind of lifelong companionship--again, friendship in the Aristotelian sense.

Nonetheless, for the time being, I resolve to make the most of my single life, and am now firmly resolved not to have children. That could change, of course, given the very different circumstances that the future will bring, but for the time being it seems to me to be an irrational course of action, given the other projects I hope to pursue in life (establishing close bonds with others, serving as an educator to other people's children, living comfortably and with minimal stress, etc.).

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