Having children does not make you happy – Part 1


As I career headlong into my thirties as a bachelor and with neither the hide nor hair of a member of the opposite sex with whom to grow old, I am becoming increasingly bemused at how many of my friends are lumbering themselves with spouses and rug rats.  The writer James Friel published a wonderful piece towards the end of last year addressing this very question.  Like me, Friel writes:

In the course of my life, I have loved and lost and sometimes won, and always strangers have been kind. But I have, it appears, been set on a life of single blessedness.

And I haven’t minded.  Or rather, I realise, I haven’t minded enough.

I had a comparatively solitary upbringing.  I had to make do with my own company and now I have become used to it rather well.  I can undertake solitary activities without feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness: reading, writing, watching films (either on DVD/Blu Ray or at the cinema – I regularly go to the cinema on my own) and a variety of physical exercise.  I am also trying to get into meditation and mindfulness.  Maybe one day I will take Sam Harris’ suggestion of being an atheist who can still have amazing “spiritual” experiences in consciousness by going off to a cave and meditating for years on end.

I have never really understood why so many other people seem to think that finding “The One” and having children is the apex of human existence.  No matter how pretty and interesting the lady, no matter who well we get on together as friends or as lovers, no matter how passionate the sex, invariably I get bored with the monotony and routine of a relationship.  I begin to resent my partner for impinging on my free time and generally find that I have better things to do.  However, I am facing increasing stigma from those who do give the pretence to be happily shacked up.  Friel continues:

They look down from the high castle of coupledom, protected from such a fate. But if I were to ask: “Why have you settled for him?  Why are you stuck with her? Were you so afraid of being alone?” such questions would be thought rude, intrusive.

Last week a friend of mine went on a date.  A foolish thing to do.  The man she met had been married three times and had a child by each wife.  An example of emotional continence I’m sure you’ll agree.  And he asked my friend, single and childless, why she had failed at life.

It was a shortish date.  Failed at life?

An even greater bugbear for me is the issue of having children.   I did not have an abusive childhood at the hands of my parents by any stretch of the imagination, however, I always wondered from a very early age why they decided to have my older sister and I since so much of their time with us was taken up by shouting at us.  I did not enjoy my school education whatsoever.  This topic is for another blog post for which I am researching extensively, but I could not in good conscience send a child to any school knowing full well the potential humiliations and brutalities that awaited them there.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, one of my cousins who was in her thirties at the time and had just had the first of four children breastfed him directly in front of me in a restaurant.  Without warning, she exposed her breast to me in public place.  My instinctive feeling was one of deep embarrassment: I did not know where to look.

When I was travelling in New Zealand and Australia in 2006 and 2007, I stayed on small farms and worked for my room and board.  Along with feeding sheep and cattle and mucking out stables, I had to look after the farm owners’ children.  With the exception of one sweet little two-year old boy who was mercilessly bullied at the hands of his older brother, I did not take well to any of them.  Furthermore, I could not see what enjoyment the parents did garner from their children as they seemed to spend so much time disciplining them and had little or no free time or money to themselves.  The experience made it vastly less likely for me to have children myself.

Since that time, I have ended relationships on the issue of parenthood.  I fail to understand why it is such a deal breaker for women.  At least two of my close female friends in their mid-thirties have ended what seemed like otherwise perfectly happy relationships because their partners at the time either did not want children or did not want any more children on top of those he already had from previous relationships.  Now they have no one, yet they are not so comfortable with being single as I am.

I have told two women that I wanted to have children with them.  The first time was in an effort to get back with a girl I before my June 2010 layoff as I realised I had taken the blogging way too far and let it interfere with my personal life.  We had split up six months earlier on the very question of having children because I didn’t want to go there.  When I told her we could get married and have children if that’s what she wanted, I was not in my right mind and now I am glad that my efforts to get things back on track with her failed.

The second woman was already married (!) and had a daughter who was then two and a half years old.  She had been dropping hints about wanting another child as practically all of her other “mummy-friends” had given birth to a second child by the time their first was two and she felt left out by the disintegration of her marriage.  I sensed at the time, and I know for certain now, that I was not being honest either with her or myself: I was simply telling her what I thought she wanted to hear in an effort to woo her away from her hellish hubby.  I also believe that I was attempting to atone for the failure of my previous relationship on the children question.

Society damns people who remain childfree as “selfish”.  Selfish?  Surely the main reason why people decide to have children in the first place is because of the enjoyment they perceive they will have in being parents.  Where does the child’s view fit into all of this?  This dark, nihilistic, existentialist thought is for another post, but I firmly believe that some people’s lives are so hapless and miserable that they are not worth living.  Life is very hard, even for those who have many material advantages.  I saw Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry recently and his character, Harry Block, a typically Allen-esque neurotic, depressed, sex addicted writer quoted Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex to a hooker as an explanation for his depression: “To have never been born is perhaps the greatest boon of all.”  Perhaps those who choose to remain childfree are not so selfish after all.

There is also the terrifying matter of what kind of child you will bring into the World.  A morbid and perverse thought though this may be, but think of any psychopath, despot and mass murderer from Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot to Harold Shipman, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: they were once cooing bundles of innocent joy in their parents’ eyes and arms.  Lionel Shriver explores this shocking concept in relation to the upbringing of a future high school mass murderer in her novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and its equally compelling film adaptation starring Tilda Swinton and Erza Miller.

Having removed the personal issues of relationships and parenthood from my chest, my next post will examine the scientific research on the topic.

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3 Responses to “Having children does not make you happy – Part 1”

  1. Bill Hicks on children | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] to my recent two posts on whether having children makes you happy, the late, great comedian, Bill Hicks, sums up my […]

  2. Hitchens on bloggers | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] conscious effort to move away from the New Atheists and read and write about other topics, such as happiness, relationships, humour and […]

  3. Having children ruins your relationships | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] to my two posts last year examining the unexpected and highly counterintuitive effects that parenthood has on […]

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