Remember being a couple, with no kids in the picture? You had time for morning sex. Showering every day was normal, not a longed-for luxury. There was money to travel, at least once in awhile. You never arrived at work only to realize your blouse had baby spit on it. Then you had kids and everything changed.
If your kids are older, a lot of things changed back. Eventually they do sleep through the night and stop puking on your work clothes. Still, life is never the same after kids, and a lot of parents look back on the baby years with a mixture of happiness and dread. It’s not a phase they’re eager to repeat.
Bryan Caplan, author of a new book on why parents should have more kids, has a tough audience. Not only do a lot of parents, like myself,not find his arguments persuasive, there’s the whole world of young people who haven’t had kids yet. Will they be persuaded that big families are really better?
Not really. More and more young couples are deciding not to have kids at all.
In what Details magazine calls The No-Baby Boom, many young couples are opting out of parenthood in favor of, well, other stuff. Hiking. Concerts. Dinners out. Movie nights on the couch. All the things you used to do before you took up changing diapers.
Birth rates always decline during a recession, so it’s hardly a surprise that they’re low right now. Details thinks there may be more than money holding people back from having kids, though:
But for the child-free, the benefits go beyond dollars and cents. There’s less guilt, less worry, less responsibility, more sleep, more free time, more disposable income, no awkward conversations about Teen Mom, no forced relationships with people just because your kids like their kids, no chauffeuring other people’s kids in your minivan to soccer games you find less appealing than televised chess.
In other words, the word is out that parenting is a tiresome chore. New York Magazine’s article last summer about how unhappy parents are struck a chord with many. Research consistently shows that people are less happy in their overall lives, and particularly in their marriages, when they have young kids.
As parents age, though, their happiness increases. People over 40 are happier with kids than those without.
Kids can’t be the only path to happiness, though. Global birth rates have dropped dramatically since the advent of the Pill, and nearly one in five American women now skips out on having babies altogether. Do the child-free by choice couples regret their choices as they age? Are they missing out once they reach their 40s and 50s, when parenting – according to the research – becomes a joy rather than a hassle?
Not so much, says Details:
Many assume that an eventual feeling of regret is another drawback of the choice to remain childless. What if you reach middle age and begin yearning for the family life you never had? Who’s going to care for you when you’re old? And yet, of the more than 60 people Laura Scott interviewed for Two Is Enough (some as old as 66), not one expressed qualms about his or her decision. Actually, regret is more common among the breeders. In a 2003 survey of more than 20,000 parents that Dr. Phil conducted for his show, 40 percent reported that they wouldn’t have had kids if they’d realized the difficulties of raising a family.
Woah. Regret is more common among breeders? For real?
Parenting is super hard. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I suspect that will always be true. It takes an obscene amount of time, attention, energy and money. But does anyone really regret it? Having a child changes so much of your life, it’s impossible for me to imagine what or who I’d be if I weren’t my kids’ mom. That would be like regretting having blue eyes, or being an English speaker. I can’t change these things, they’re part of the fabric of who I am.
Plus, in the case of my kids, the hard work really is balanced out by a steady diet of love, joy and laughter. I may feel frustrated by their antics at times, but my overwhelming feeling about being their mom is one of love and gratitude.
Maybe regrets about parenting are just a huge taboo that no one talks about. Do you have any? Do you wish you were part of a child-free couple, even some of the time? Would you trade your babies for the free time, money and sense of self you had before giving birth?