Apparently I need to marry my cleaning ladies

I thought loyalty, fidelity and good parenting were key to a solid marriage. Since shared housekeeping now appears to be a top marital priority, however, it seems I should ditch Mr. Bookworm for my cleaning ladies, who are wonderful in rescuing my house from the layers of dirt that deposit themselves, no matter what I do:

The percentage of Americans who consider children “very important” to a successful marriage has dropped sharply since 1990, and more now cite the sharing of household chores as pivotal, according to a sweeping new survey.

The Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting found that children had fallen to eighth out of nine on a list of factors that people associate with successful marriages — well behind “sharing household chores,” “good housing,” “adequate income,” a “happy sexual relationship” and “faithfulness.”

In a 1990 World Values Survey, children ranked third in importance among the same items, with 65 percent saying children were very important to a good marriage. Just 41 percent said so in the new Pew survey.

Chore-sharing was cited as very important by 62 percent of respondents, up from 47 percent in 1990.

Of course, I’m not convinced that this poll is quite reliable, since it seems as if only faux adults responded.  How else can one explain this response?

The survey also found that, by a margin of nearly 3-to-1, Americans say the main purpose of marriage is the “mutual happiness and fulfillment” of adults rather than the “bearing and raising of children.”

I’m not the only one who finds that approach to marriage a bit unnerving, not to mention the possible death knell of a healthy, future-looking society:

The survey’s findings buttress concerns expressed by numerous scholars and family-policy experts, among them Barbara Dafoe Whitehead of Rutgers University’s National Marriage Project.

“The popular culture is increasingly oriented to fulfilling the X-rated fantasies and desires of adults,” she wrote in a recent report. “Child-rearing values — sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity — seem stale and musty by comparison.”

Frankly, I enjoyed life a lot more before I had children.  I slept when I wanted and got enough sleep; ate when (and what) I wanted; needed a dictionary to figure out the phrase “car pool;” had a clean, organized environment; went out dancing; and seldom felt intense frustration.

I also knew that my life, while fun, lacked purpose, and represented a perpetual immaturity.  That’s kind of high falutin’.  What I really knew was that I was becoming incredibly selfish.  That frightened me.  Even if you’re like me, and have a reasonable degree of self-discipline and are not given to decadence, a life free of responsibility for others eats away at your soul.

Nowadays, while I regularly ask myself rhetorically “Why did I have children?  I was so happy without them,” I’m always able to answer that question by looking at the fact that I am a much, much nicer person than I was before I had children.  I’ve become more thoughtful, more flexible and more compassionate.  Don’t believe me?  Ask those who knew me 30 years ago.   Children are a necessary step on the road to growing up, not just growing older.  People who intentionally avoid having children (as opposed to those who for reasons beyond their control are unable to have children), are living a Peter Pan life that is neither good for them, nor for the world around them.

14 Responses

  1. But if you want children you don’t need men anymore, either.

  2. […] Virginia University Link to Article rutgers university Apparently I need to marry my cleaning ladies » Posted at […]

  3. Hello Bookworm,

    One of my closest friends was a counselor for outreach programs back in Houston. He told me after decades of induction that women normally grow in maturity when they have children. When they have children they take their attention away from the narcissistic Self to an Other, something outside the Self. It’s generally no fun doing years and years of gentle repetition to a child who is mostly stomach and appetite and “I want”. But that’s how a children become adults.

    With men, the dynamic whereby boys grow from savages into manhood is usually through their interaction with older, mature men. A kind of mentor relationship, if you will. Through “monkey see, monkey do”, boys gradually take on the mantle of adulthood through imitation, gentle repetition, and, frankly, the tacit threat of violence (though if done correctly, violence could be more along the lines of, “I’m really disappointed in you,” than the threat of a physical slap.)

    I remember one story a friend told me where the oldest boy in the house told his mom, “I’m a man now. I can do whatever the hell I want!”

    The father who sat comfortably in the living room turned to his son and said, “Okay. You say you’re a man now. Now, do you want me treat you the way I would treat any man talking to my wife that way?” he stood up and loomed over his son, all 220 pounds of him, “Or you can be my son.”

    The boy cowered at that point and said, “Excuse me, Mom? Can I have more casserole?”

  4. Or it’s entirely possible they just don’t much like children…

    That’s the highest purpose of marriage? (And indeed, life?) Reproduction? Dogs, cats, goldfish, and houseflies reproduce: it isn’t that tricky. In fact it’s far trickier not to. (Three fifths of the kids born in this country get started by accident; worldwide it’s about 80%).

    What about all those people who marry (or second marry) in their fifties, sixties, or even seventies? They do it because they have an appreciation, a mutual symnpathy and an enjoyment of/with each other. They have to have kids now, or they’re Peter Pans?

    I don’t think so.

    The fact that the importance of reproduction has been dimminished makes perfect sense for a thinking species (as opposed to, say, ants) at this stage of development. There are over six billion of us now. There aren’t six billion of anything else on the planet anymore, except perhaps all species of birds lumped together – and some kinds of insects. We are in no realistic danger whatsoever of facing extinction anytime soon. (Always granting, yes, yes – God it’s a broken record; we don’t blow ourselves up – okay?)

    But what it means is there’s a sufficiency of us. Maybe the first duty of each individual organism amongst us is no longer reproduction; maybe that most fundamental of fundamental drives is weakening its grip. It certainly seems to be among the Caucasians – white people are checking out of here, with precipitously falling birth rates everywhere.

    A more interesting question is: are they doing it deliberately? Has a race-wide decision been taken on some subconscious endocrine level that it’s time to say farewell to Mother Earth? I don’t know – but the data could certainly be interpreted as at least looking that way.

    Which, though entertaining, drags us somewhat afield from the point.

    I know plenty of people who never had any interest in reproducing themselves who are not ungenerous, not self-centered – just fine. And I know plenty who aren’t so fine – but I know plenty in each category who have had children, too, so I have to think it’s more of an individualized thing. When there is no need – and there isn’t – to add to the stock of humanity, maybe enjoying yourself a little around the edges is okay. There’ll always be something, or someone, available to which or whom to be unselfish.

  5. JJ:

    I’m curious why you say there’s a sufficiency of us. How do you know?

    Seriously. Throughout history, increasing population has led to increased wealth (more hands), increasing knowledge (more brains), and a generally higher standard of living. “Overpopulation” always seems to mean “too many of _those_ people.”

    The Earth is not overpopulated. None of the apocalyptic predictions of the Zero Population Growth movement have come true. Remember the food riots of 1980? The collapse in India? The famines and global war of the 1990s? That’s what “overpopulation” was going to cause.

    Yet somehow it didn’t. India has grown in population AND made the jump from third-world to first-world status. America has grown 50% in population since 1960 AND become the richest nation that has ever been.

    Why do you say there’s no need to add to the stock of humanity? Think of what we’ve accomplished so far — what can ten billion humans create? What _can’t_ ten billion humans create? Or twenty? Or fifty billion? Imagine ten times as many geniuses, ten times as many billionaires, ten times as many composers and artists, ten times as many scientists, ten times as many craftsmen. How many problems could withstand that many brains and hands?

    There aren’t too many humans. There aren’t ENOUGH yet!

  6. “Children are a necessary step on the road to growing up, not just growing older. People who intentionally avoid having children (as opposed to those who for reasons beyond their control are unable to have children), are living a Peter Pan life that is neither good for them, nor for the world around them.” – Book

    Mother Teresa intentionally avoided having children which, I’m guessing, is what led to her thoughtless and selfish lifestyle.

    You gotta feel sorry for someone like that. Why couldn’t she simply follow the ascribed path for growth?

  7. You entirely missed my point, T.S. Nuns, like parents, intentionally make a commitment to be responsible and care for others — Mother Theresa more than most. In fact, there are tons of people who haven’t had children who lead unselfish lives. But your average person, who has no children and no hire calling, tends to live in ever more narrow circles, not because s/he is bad or intrinsically selfish, but because there is nothing to force him/her out of those circles. For most people, therefore, children are the simple, easy and natural way to achieve maturity.

  8. The earth is certainly not “overpopulated,” Trim – every human being on the planet would fit neatly into the state of Texas with less population density than currently exists on the island of Manhattan – but still: you don’t think six billion plus is about enough?

    Evidently you don’t. Although when the oil runs out – which it inevitably will, and that fairly soon, if the industry projections are even only about right, not precisely right – then the cheap and easy fertilizer and mass production of agriculture is gone, not to mention all the other stuff that cheap energy brings – and the population will crash right down to the (so-called) “carrying capacity” of the planet, which is, as near as anyone can estimate (guesstimate) about two billion, more or less. The discovery of cheap energy (oil) and the industrial revolution that grew therefrom made the explosive growth possible; what happens when it’s gone remains uncertain, and probably not pretty.

    I would point out that increasing population per se did not lead to any of the great stuff you cite: cheap and readily available energy did. The oil, however, is finite.

    I never indulged in the nonsense the apocalypticists put out, including ZPG or Paul Ehrlich. I am, however, something of a macro realist. America was the richest nation – and by a comfortable margin – well before the population growth of the 1960s: the additional people added nothing to that.

    Dunno. The answer remains to be seen. But I do take some issue with the idea that the finest thing any of us can do is reproduce.

  9. For most people, therefore, children are the simple, easy and natural way to achieve maturity.- Bookworm

    When I read that “Children are a necessary step on the road to growing up, not just growing older,” I thought you meant just that.

    I agree that sacrifice and service to something bigger than oneself are crucial, but my point is that people (not just nuns) find many ways to achieve that.

    I also know people with children who are not very compassionate and/or mature. Arrested development makes for a hilarious TV show, but it’s not all that funny in real life.

  10. Great post, Book.

  11. Some of the commenters here are being obtuse. Obviously the point of this post is that people who don’t have children tend to be more self-absorbed. The lack of dependents that would naturally force their focus outward makes them highly susceptible to increasing narcissism.

    This is not a rule, but a trend. Just because it may have been inelegantly expressed in part doesn’t mean it isn’t an excellent insight.

  12. Thank you, Chris. You’re right about two things: (1) it wasn’t one of my more eloquent or elegant posts and (2) that’s what a I meant to say.

  13. I thought your post was quite elegant myself, but then I ignored most of the quotes and just read the uninterrupted block of text at the end; so that could be it.

    I try to never miss a chance to not miss a point.

  14. I guess you haven’t met some the parents I’ve met. Having children is just another way for them to be self-absorbed. They move from “It’s all about me and my needs” to “It’s all about my children” – and the hell with everyone else in the community.

    Selfish and self-absorbed people may or may not be changed by having kids; there’s no generalization there that is supportable. And unselfish, caring people can always find ways to care for others whether they are childless by choice or because of infertility.

    The one generalization I do feel comfortable making is it’s always idiotic to make comments that start from the premise that anyone who doesn’t make the same life choices you’ve made must be selfish.

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