Step One: Get Married. Step Two: Have Kids?

Yeah, I know: I’m, like, really, really far from starting a family.

Like, this weekend, out at a downtown bar where there were, actually, a decent number of evidently attractive men–an event that seems to occur about as often as the solstice around here–I stood on the periphery, completely disinterested.

“I wish I knew some cute guy so we could go over and I could introduce you,” my friend E remarked.

“Oh no,” I assured her. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not feeling all that sexual these days.”

It’s true: I mean, don’t get me wrong: I still think it’d be nice to have/desperately want a boyfriend. But for whatever reason (perhaps, dare I ponder, the staggering sequence of disappointments that has been my love life for the past several years has finally caught up with me) I’m going through a phase in which I really can’t be bothered to put in the the effort that it takes to put myself out there.

(Don’t worry too much: put me in front of a shiny object and I will flirt with it. It’s how I’m wired, whether I like it or not.)

But still: as you all know, I think about these things–love, relationships, marriage. And yes, children.

I’ve been thinking about this last one recently a bit more than usual. So I was intrigued when I saw this story on the Times “Well” blog.

The post reports on a new study from the Pew Research Center that surveys what people say are the most important factors in the success of their marriage. The Times headline was that children rank surprisingly low: behind good sex, behind money, and just above similar political views.

Apparently marriage has overall become more “adult-centered” as people have fewer children and wait longer to have them–which would suggest that people are still having children, they just generally find them less interesting. Or essential to a happy partnership, whatever.

Which is intriguing to me, because what I’ve been thinking about lately–in regard to kids–is the cultural expectation I think is imposed on women, especially, that we ought to have kids at all.

When people ask me if I want kids, I say yes. I’m pretty sure that I do want children. I like them, especially when they’ve grown up a bit, and I certainly want a family as I age. These single years are nice, but I’m ready to be done with them relatively soon, thanks.

But lately, when fielding this question, I’ve brought up the sense in which it feels kind of problematic: I think I want kids, but I also think that–as a woman–that’s the default position.

I think we’re raised to believe that motherhood–pregnancy, childbirth, parenting–is an essential rite of passage that defines us as women. I think I want kids, but I also think that desire can be hard to separate from the cultural baggage that I, like all of us, have grown up with.

It’s not just women, of course, or children: heterosexual families are the norm in this country, and to be single–or coupled and childless–is inherently transgressive.

But I do think that the popular conception of motherhood is uniquely, and deeply, entwined with that of womanhood–and that this can complicate the already fraught and rather enormous decision about whether to reproduce.

I know women who know they don’t want kids. And I know women who know that they do. But I also know many who aren’t sure–or who might not, but feel like it’s something they should do.

I’m not sure if that study suggests that fewer people think having kids is essential for a fulfilling or successful life.

But it’s still kind of nice to read about a growing recognition that kids aren’t all that necessary for a happy marriage.

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3 Comments

Filed under Love Life

3 responses to “Step One: Get Married. Step Two: Have Kids?

  1. Very interesting study. This is definitely something that comes up all the time. You are actually lucky to not be in a relationship in this instance. You get to avoid the questions, “when are you two getting married/having babies?” I’m on the “I know I want kids one day” train, but one day is not for a number of years. How do you feel about this whole biological clock theory?

    • How do I feel about it? I believe in it, that’s for sure! I’d like to be pregnant by 32. Which is sooner than many friends who are in relationships. I’ll elaborate at some point…:)

  2. E

    I still have to read the study, but I know that in one of my classes we learned that having children significantly decreases marital satisfaction. There are a few different factors potentially involved: sleep deprivation, less time for romance, and increase in general anxiety.
    Kids do not help relationships, which I think people are starting to realize. What is interesting is that many women I talk to, and I am including myself in this group, do have some biological urges to nurture and raise children. I also believe that many men have similar, if less strong, urges to nurture and raise children. So, despite the fact that children take over our lives and ruin our relationships, we still instinctually desire procreation. If we didn’t, the species would die.
    I also think that because of many different factors in urban areas, people choose not to have children more often than in rural areas. This could be attributed to cost of living, educational opportunities, etc. However, if you have seen the movie Ideocracy (labeled as a political comedy, but it gives me nightmares), it illustrates the trend of educated citizens choosing to have fewer children, while the uneducated have like 20. People of a lower socio-economic class do tend to have more children, despite having fewer resources. Many of those children have a lack of educational opportunities and remain in poverty. So, who knows, maybe our instinct to have kids will eventually work against us, and we will end up with an Ideocracy.
    That is why I eventually want kids- I am not going to be a perfect mother, but I am educated and capable of giving my children the resources they will need to become productive and intelligent citizens.

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