Sunday, January 08, 2006

Childless women Unhappy? Nah.

A study published by the Journal of Health and Social Behavior ("Clarifying the Relationship between Parenthood and Depression") notes that:
"People with minor children at home, non custodial children, adult children at home, and nonresidential stepchildren all report significantly more symptoms of depression than non parents when controlling for sociodemographic factors," says Evenson. "In fact, there is no type of parent in this national sample that reports less symptoms of depression than nonparents."
This has been variously reported in relation to Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa as parents being less satisfied with the holidays than non parents. I wonder if this is simply because there is so much more pressure to have the perfect holiday when there are children involved; you want Christmas to be perfect for them. The pressure to provide the perfect, happy, Christmas family is too much. Childless people usually don't have a small person expecting a certain "show" for the holidays that requires parents to keep things "happy".

The holidays always seem to bring out the worst stress for people: seeing and dealing with family members they don't usually see, dealing with the undercurrents of weird family dynamics and ignoring aunt Xs drinking problem or the presence of the fifth different boyfriend in five years from a remote cousin. most people are not their best when the holidays come around. When children are involved, there is the crushing need to make sure they enjoy the festivities (and make them the center of attention).

But hard on the heels of this study was an article in the BBC News that explains that the prevailing belief is that people without children must be less happy than people with children, even if it is not actually true for most people.
Parents widely believe that to be childless is to be unhappy. They tend to pity their friends who do not have children, believing they "could have no conception of what they were missing".

Yet alongside this pity, is a feeling that those who have opted not to propagate are "selfish, inflexible, unfulfilled and lonely".
I really have to wonder how people came to these opinions. It certainly doesn't describe anyone I know.

I've had friends with children declare that I "just don't know what I'm missing" or that I am selfish or self-centered to remain childless (?!) or that I couldn't possibly be really, really fulfilled without a child. Um. No. I'm very happy childless, I do know what I'm missing. I live in the world, I am around children. I like children -- I just don't want to do it myself.

I don't understand it when women explain to me this "ticking clock" thing that demands that they have children, or the sometimes obsessive drive to have them. I don't think that people who have kids are wrong -- it's just as incomprehensible to them that I would not choose to have them. But it's like taking sides in a religious war. To suggest that my life is full and happy without children is seen as a criticism that someone with kids made the wrong choices and I'm somehow "superior" -- which is exactly the same way that I feel when someone extols the virtues of having children. I guess we just can't see the other side. Women who admit they don't want kids are still seen as incomplete, or unfulfilled, or -- usually -- misguided.

With more and more women choosing to remain childless, I'm wondering how long it will take for the mistaken view that childless women are unnatural or to be pitied to change. The National Center of Health Statistics confirms that the percentage of women of childbearing age who define themselves as voluntarily childless is on the rise: from 2.4 percent in 1982, to 4.3 percent in 1990, to 6.6 percent in 1995 (the most recent available figure). The number f women aged 15-44 who do not (or do not yet) have children continues to grow.

From my own experience, it seems that roughly the same number of women are choosing to have children, they are just choosing to do it later and have fewer kids. Does that invalidate the women who opt out of motherhood? I don't think so. I think as women have more choices in life, they start to view having children as one of those options, not a default position or mandatory role for them.

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