The Great Happiness Debate: Childfree vs. Parents

5 years ago

The argument pendulum of who’s happier – parents or their Childfree counterparts – is swinging more frequently than the Six Flags Buccaneer ride, and frankly, I’m getting a little seasick.

After decades of common belief that Life Without Kids was life unfulfilled, a wave of studies produced a good amount of evidence that the Childfree were more satisfied with their life choices, and experienced greater levels of happiness. Perhaps a little overzealous at this turning of the tables, some of them used this like a weapon in defensive rants against the “breeder” lifestyle. But over the past month there’s been a new flood of articles purporting exactly the opposite – that parents are happier. And thus we’re back to the Childfree getting “you’ll regret it!” and “children are the greatest joy” and other choiceBINGO remarks.

Why are we all so defensive about our own happiness, and judgmental about each other’s?

Maybe we’re ALL happier now, and shouldn’t we ALL be happy about that?

Before being voluntarily Childfree became an acceptable choice (though some might argue it’s still not), there were a lot more reluctant parents out there. People who had kids to please their mother-in-law, fit in with their friends, fulfill some societal role, or simply didn’t realize there was an alternative lifestyle available. But now, advances in more convenient birth control and better educating teenagers has decreased the number of accidental pregnancies.

And now that there are more options, and better ways to control outcomes, it stands to reason that of the people now having kids, a greater percentage of them really want those kids. And are thus more likely to actually enjoy their time with them and feel that it’s been a rewarding experience. By the same token, as the number of people who decide to remain Childfree increases, this is off-setting the number of people who are childless by circumstance and are (understandably) very unhappy with the hand they’ve been dealt. Sounds kind of utopic, right?

So why are we still fighting each other for the Happiness crown?

We should be striving for an equal 50/50 split on the happiness scale

As much as I complain about the every-kid-gets-a-trophy thing, this is one debate where I really hope there’s no winners or losers. Why should we be rooting for people to be unhappy with their life choices? So we can point our fingers and say “told you so!” or just sit back with a smug smile and enjoy? Sounds healthy.

I want as many happy parents out there as possible. Because happy parents tend to be engaged with their kids and less likely to allow them to scream at the top of their lungs for dessert while you’re trying to enjoy a nice Chinese chicken salad at the Cheesecake Factory. And parents should want the Childfree to be happy too. Because when they’re truly happy with the lifestyle they’ve chosen, they’re less compelled to publically sneer about baby showers and make a huge fuss over society’s glorification of motherhood.

Luckily, as the dialogue around this subject becomes louder, and women are waiting longer to have babies, people are really taking the time to think this through. And when having a baby becomes an educated decision rather than an impulse or societal requirement, everyone wins.

Why does it matter so much who’s happier anyways?

From the Fence-Sitter perspective, I’ll say it’s because we’re looking for an easy answer. I’m doing a lot of things to try and figure this out – blogging, processing sage advice from you guys, listening to friends and family, reading articles, books and other blogs, talking with Drew all the time and even soliciting advice from the cats after a glass or two (or bottle) of Chardonnay. [You can probably guess where they weigh in.]

But of course, what I’m really hoping for is some incredibly studious looking doctor/researcher figure to leap from the shadows with a clipboard and tell me that without a doubt, I should go for Option [insert right answer]. That I’d be a fool not to, that all the evidence points in its favor, that my happiness and life satisfaction are virtually guaranteed.

Not gonna happen, I know. And meanwhile, the Happiness War has done nothing but distract me, making me think there might be an empirical answer if I just wait for the right evidence to appear. But at least there’s a silver lining in knowing that as long as we make the choice that’s right for us, the latest flip-flopping of evidence reassures me that we’ll probably be happy.

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