I read an interesting article in Newsweek while sitting in a waiting room yesterday. I disagreed with it but when I went to leave a comment on their website, it only allowed a few lines of commentary. So here is the Editorial that Might Have Been. I encourage anyone who agrees with me to leave comments as well. The article is found at Does Having Children Make You Happy? | Newsweek Global Literacy | Newsweek.com.
The author of the article is trying to stir the pot by trying to answer this true or false type question. She cites lots of controversial statistics about how married people with children are less happy than singles or marrieds without children. She concludes that the statement "Having Children Makes You Happy" is false (even though she has children of her own.) Although I agree with her to a degree because nothing MAKES you happy if you are determined to be unhappy, the cultural idea behind this article is frightening. Pres. Monson said in his talk, "A Sanctuary from the World" (February 9, 2008, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Building Up a Righteous Posterity), that "Messages surround us which contradict all that we hold dear--enticing us to turn from that which is 'virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy' and embrace the thinking which often prevails outside the gospel of Jesus Christ." This article is certainly one of those messages swirling around us.
A big problem is that the world does not often distinguish between pleasure and abiding joy, or realize that it is possible to have both, but not always at the same time. There was once a well-known couple who faced the decision whether or not to have children. Where would we be without them? "And they would have had no children, wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery, doing no good, for they knew no sin....Adam [and Eve] fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne 2:23-25). Adam and Eve made a huge sacrifice as parents, as do each of us who choose to multiply and replenish the earth. Sacrifice is another word the world doesn't define very well. It means giving up something good for something better.
Another enormous part of having joy AND children comes with understanding the truth about life as a three-act play. This life is only the second act, where sometimes babies die or children become estranged, they cause us to change our plans and dreams, they cause us to work hard for little thanks or reward. I hope that your second act is going better than this, but face it, sometimes it is rather dismal. Don't forget, the third act is much, much better, and it goes on forever in happy families. The curtain never drops on that blissful stage.
A novel I am reading has a scene between the protagonist and a bereaved mother. The somewhat atheistic hero asks the mother if she would have children all over again, knowing they would be taken from her and she would have no one. She replies heroically, "I have someone to grieve for. Do you?" I think hell itself would be to be left "without root or branch" (Mal. 4:1).
I agree that the "swinging" single life or the life without children has many wonderful opportunities. I hope that single and childless people will be happy because they are also entitled to it. But I think they will find that something very essential is missing. "But when we have sampled much and have wandered far and have seen how fleeting and sometimes superficial a lot of the world is, our gratitude grows for the privilege of being part of something we can count on--home and family and the loyalty of loved ones...We learn that nothing can fully take the place of the blessed relationship of family life." (Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Feb. 9 2008).
Maybe the unhappiness found in so many families today is not evidence of a childless life being happier, but instead a sign that we as a society are failing to train, support, and give encouragement for those who are making the more selfless choice by living a family life. I would be hard-put to find a good mother role model in our current books, movies, magazines and pop culture. Perhaps "Elastigirl" from Pixar's The Incredibles. I absolutely love the scene where the Incredibles family is at the neighborhood barbecue and some careerist woman is whining about how she could never have children, she would have to give up her very important work. Elastigirl, who is living incognito, retired from such an unimportant career as saving the world, gives the woman a good tongue-lashing and really takes her apart. She stands up for motherhood as the most important work there is. What, you don't remember that part of the film? That's because it was cut from the movie and only made it onto the DVD extras in sketch form. I wonder why?
I am so grateful to belong to a church that provides the truth about parenthood and then gives the support and reassurance I need while making these sacrifices. M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, "There are moments of great joy and incredible fulfillment, but there are also moments of a sense of inadequacy, monotony, and frustration. Mothers may feel they receive little or no appreciation for the choice they have made...As a church, we have enormous respect and gratitude to you mothers of young children. We want you to be happy and successful in your families and to have the validation and support you need and deserve" ("Daughters of God", Ensign, May 2008, Vol. 38, Number 5, p.109).
My heart goes out to all those parents who report being unhappy. The article discussed many possible reasons, (including stress from having both parents in the workplace, and I agree), but no solution to all this misery. Here is a lifesaver to all those sinking families, one that I rely on all the time when I feel I might drown in all this sacrifice and responsibility. Are you ready? "Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ" (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, released Sept. 23, 1995 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
I need to watch myself a little more with the things I say about being a parent--to rejoice a little more and complain, even jokingly, a little less. If we could each do that perhaps those who are trying to validate their lifestyle will not tear down those of us who are working, loving, and yes, even triumphantly laughing in this greatest of causes.
--Jackie Day, "surprisingly" happy mother of three young children