Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist, quoted from Jennifer Senior’s new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, in a recent column: Parenthood is “the last binding obligation in a culture that asks for almost no other permanent commitments at all.”
In this sense, Douthat says, it isn’t necessarily that family life has changed so dramatically in the last few generations. Rather, family life “stayed the same in crucial ways —because babies still need what babies need—while outside the domestic sphere there’s been an expansion of opportunities, a proliferation of choices and entertainments and immediately available gratifications, that make child rearing seem much more burdensome by comparison.”
What has changed are the choices: “between the lifestyles and choices available to nonparents and the irreducible burdens still involved in raising children.”
Many change marriage partners, or don’t bother to commit to marriage in the first place. However, babies call for commitment unlike any other task in our world today. Children who lack committed parents or who don’t find parent figures are less likely to handle life successfully. In contrast, those with committed parents greatly increase their chances for a meaningful life.
We often lack the community support enjoyed earlier. Incomes may have to be adjusted also. The disparity between the lifestyle of DINCs—double incomes, no children—and those of married couples with children, much less a single parent with a child—are documented.
We take our careers more seriously than ever before. Parenthood is a career that requires as much commitment as any other. Children may fail or not, but so may a career. Most children born today live after us, unlike our careers. Children are an investment like no other.
Ann Gaylia O'Barr, author of Singing in Babylon, Searching for Home, Quiet Deception, Distant Thunder, and A Sense of Mission (all OakTara), was a Foreign Service Officer in the United States Department of State from 1990 to 2004. Assignments included tours in U.S. embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia (Jeddah and Dhahran), Algeria, Canada, Tunisia, and Washington, D.C. (Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and Bureau of Intelligence and Research)