When I read about why one woman chose not to have children (hat tip to Missy: thanks for giving me something to post about!), and then why another has remained single, my heart ached for these ladies. A light-hearted rant about why it’s better to “die alone” than face motherhood didn’t cheer me any, so I wrapped up my research with an explanation why sleeping until 10am is proof that childlessness is the better choice.
My sympathy doesn’t stem from reasons one might expect: the sadness of childlessness! the loneliness of an old maid!
The problem is deeper than that, don’t you think?
Children, spouses, families: as all-consuming as they can be, they are still just trees in that deep dark forest called Your Life. The above-linked souls seem well and truly lost in their own forests, regardless of the kind of trees growing there.
Let’s pull back and try a broader perspective. The further away our view, the less details can distract. The picture becomes simpler, people turn into ants, then disappear, then bam! The forest is right in front of you.
The question isn’t whether it’s better to have kids or not, or whether it’s better to marry or not. The real question is, how do I find meaning in life? Oh, that pesky human need to feel that life is meaningful:
I’m doing the right thing, right? What’s it all for, anyway?
Interestingly, the articles written from more experienced perspectives (here and here) seem particularly riddled with doubt and worry, although I suspect the basic question–why am I here?–drifts like mist through every forest. Perhaps the younger two authors haven’t wandered around long enough to feel the damp chill of worry yet.
Now, on to the meaning of life. Having kids is pretty much the quickest, no-brainer kind of way to find meaning. Those wiggly, squalling little blobs of secretion are great “purpose-givers,” are they not?
Yet children are only one of the myriad ways toward a meaningful life. If you decide not to have them, or if circumstances decide for you, then what? Life’s meaningless? Of course not. Let’s see, a thousand different religions, causes, good deeds, great adventures, ardent competitions, grand visions, or creative ambitions might fill up your life quite nicely. Might.
The younger two writers point out the more practical benefit to childlessness, here:
“Because we are not having kids, I’ve been able to leave my old career and go back to school full time to pursue a new passion. My husband, forever the car enthusiast, has his sites [sic] set on a new Nissan GTR.”
And here, in an inverse fashion:
“Having kids is making a decision to live a life with strollers, diaper bags, breast pumps, sleep deprivation, and the withering looks from strangers like me, who wonder why you thought it was a good idea to bring your toddler to a Victorian painting exhibit.”
These explanations encapsulate the hope that living for yourself will provide meaning enough. After all, if you don’t seek after your own interests, who will?
“For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Oh, dear. I’ve gone there, haven’t I? To the very thing that would probably provoke eyerolls and scoffing from the kind of person who writes things like:
“I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that, and I am heartbroken to live through a time where Wall Street money means these women are not treated with due disdain.”
It’s funny how that quote doesn’t bother me. Me, the stay-at-home
whore mom. I’m no more insulted than I am when my younger son gets really upset and claims he’s going to run away. How can I take the insult to heart, when the same article holds this angst:
“Convention serves a purpose: It gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis. If you don’t have the imposition of family to remind you of what is at stake, something else will. I was alone in a lonely apartment with only a stalker to show for my accomplishments and my years.”
And more angst:
“I have lost my life. I had a lot of friends, saw people, had full days. I don’t know where anyone is anymore, and I can’t even remember who it is that is gone.”
Jeepers. I hope Ms. Wurtzel finds good answers for those existential questions, and some peace in life. If she or anyone else should happen to read this post, and if she or anyone else should further happen to find themselves unable to satisfy that need for meaning, no matter what is acquired or accomplished, well.
That particular Bible quote I used is Luke 20:30-32. You could start there.
UPDATE: Thank you Glenn Reynolds! eleventy! To new commenters, sorry for the delay in approving comments last night, and thank you for your thoughts. I’ve changed the settings to allow you right in, so do behave yerselves. ;)
UPDATE: David Lat knows more than I do about Elizabeth Wurtzel, if you’d like more background.
UPDATE: This Andrew Patrick fellow’s post on the subject is fantastic. I highly recommend it, even though his superior wit chafes me slightly.