"Psychobabble is the means by which people talk about themselves without revealing anything, and certainly without having undergone the painful process of genuine self-examination. It is, in effect the public manifestation of self-obsession without any commitment to truth."
- Theodore Dalrymple
Have The Child-Free Fur-Parents cracked the Code To Happiness?
In 2022 there was a “pope-dog”-craze, after the Pope criticised young adults for choosing to have pets over children. The observation is legitimate, as 1 in 4 of members of Generation Z choose to have a pet instead of a child, citing the high cost of children, focus on career, and climate change. Incidentally, a study out of Michigan is among the first to differentiate between those who don’t yet have kids or otherwise can’t, and those who choose not to. Finding that the latter, the group with the euphemism “child-free” also refers to a 1 in 4 proportion of the subjects. It also claims that child-free couples are happier than the others. Why couldn’t the pope leave people to live their lives as they please?
I understand the attraction, a pet gives you unconditional love without making you change anything in your romantic, professional or residential life. But is it love, or is it the guarantee that someone’s always happy to see you? I have been told that cats would eat their owner if found dead on the floor long enough. Be that as it may, it is well documented that at least dogs have a positive effect on your mental health.
It also doesn’t reduce your freedom. Once trained, a dog can be home alone by itself, so you can go to dinner or to work. It does reduce some creature comforts. Enough to falsely let you believe that you’re suffering like an adult does for your responsibilities. The fur-parents like to tell us how it’s just like having a child because they are forced to go “walkies” early in the morning. Few things drive me as nuts as listening to this. Can someone tell me where the kiddie-kennel is, for when I desperately need to have some time to myself or take that spur of the moment vacation? What you’re really telling me, I want to answer them, is that you sacrifice your creature comfort to a certain point and call it “adulting”.
Then of course you can choose the dog according to your individual leisure requirements, adopting an old dog for example. “Dear gynecologist, for my fourth child I would like to reserve one that only needs one hour of activity per day and sleeps for 20.” So, maybe it’s not exactly the same as a child. Which only proves the child-free fur-parents’ point, that having a child would force unwanted change on their lives or themselves. I have heard from many, that even when they are told that life will change for them, but they will appreciate and enjoy that particular change, they answer that they do not wish to be the sort of person that wants that change. They love their life already, and the risk isn’t worth taking. We have idealized the “self” for decades at this point. Does it then come as a surprise that people growing up with nurturing this self as the ultimate virtue should regard any change to its state as a threat and avoid it like you would a parasite?
It's not uncommon in urban areas that the professional lives of singles’, before even considering settling down are roughly 10-15 years in duration, in which they get used to having a certain salary and build up consumer behavior accordingly. The realization that this type of spending isn’t compatible with the cost of a child can be almost crippling. Stands to reason, there must be a clear return on that sacrifice. The fear of maybe one day realizing that you’ve changed your life for the worse only grows the longer you wait, like standing on a diving board looking down. In the end, it must be a leap of faith. Faith that everyone who swears by it knows what they’re talking about. I have had this conversation too often in therapy and in life. What frustrates me is this: when did we send the concept of “having children” into the boxing ring with “happiness” as its’ opponent?
Growing up, my friends were told to do with their lives whatever would make them happy. A message that is still given to kids and teens today.How is a teen or even a 20-something year-old supposed to know what will make them happy in the future? And when a parent in their 50s, says “do what will make you happy”, I am quite sure that they have a different concept of “happy” than their teen. The latter will likely interpret happy to be what they desire or idolize today, like self-realization and money for independence. Then they will act like the experimental rat in the cage, when given a button to push for food. They will end up pushing the button until their stomach bursts.
I would rather tell my kids soemthing like this: While you are young, with all the opportunities, potential and beauty that youth has to offer, set yourself up in such a way that you are ready for the rainy day. Happiness can’t be the thing that guides your choices, it has to be the future where you are able to face your mortality with minimal regret and a legacy. If you set it up right, happiness will surely visit now and again. But you are less likely to end up in the psychiatric clinic.
I’ve yet to hear of a profession or the job that is so meaningful, it fulfills you throughout life and guards you from its inevitable hardships. My father, who was the managing director of a big company for 2 decades told me that as an employee, I will always feel more loyalty towards my employer than they will show towards me.
I will also paint my kid the following picture, that I’ve seen a version of quite a few times:You’ve found the job and profession that makes you happy. You work your butt off until you’re 35. You’ve had an amazing life so far with travels 4 times a year, a gorgeous flat with all the trimmings like in the movies and your dog’s name is “Loki”. You’re dining out with friends often and always look well put together and stain-free. Then the market takes a turn and, despite your credentials, you’re out.
Now you feel betrayed and the career that defined you is of no consequence because no company equal or better than where you worked is hiring. When seeking emotional refuge with your parents, who have always been the award-winning supporting cast in your previous dramas, you might discover they have gotten old – maybe they need to start advanced medical treatments. Fast forward two months and you’re sitting at a psychiatrist’s office, sleep-deprived, asking: “why can’t I just be as happy as I remember being as a child?”
I recognize the parental fear of guiding wrongly and being blamed for failure, or worse coming across as authoritarian. My parents received a lot of criticism for pressuring us into things, but they managed something I am trying to emulate; to guide strongly without being tyrannical. They set an example of family happiness being the source of fulfillment, and the rock onto which you can cling during life’s storms, without becoming unmoored and swept away to sea.