C L A R K  S O R L E Y

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"the one thing in life that will make you

less happy is having children"


relationships • 11.06.08                                                     

Raising children is probably the most important job there is. If you bring kids into the world, either by accident or design, I say that is what you are doing. You may still think you are doing something else and the children are additional but I say you are first and foremost a parent. All else follows suit. From then on your identity and your responsibility are primarily tied to parenthood.

This is especially so currently when the demands of the brood are endless. Enough is never enough. Parents are run ragged trying to give the kids everything. They want them to have every opportunity in life so that their options are maximised. It is an impossible task with questionable issues attaching to the whole business of having too much.

Having it all has been the mantra for women in recent times. Having it all is plainly not possible. I don't say this from holding outdated man-values. I am at the head of the march for the emancipation of women. They too often enslave themselves in my view. No, the limitations are set by the laws of physics. Quantum mechanics aside, two things can't be in the same place at the same time. While you are pursuing a big career, you are not with the kids. Pure and simple. You may well be blessed with great energy levels as some are and can handle both jobs but even then there will still be sacrifice. In stress if nothing else. The more responsibility, the more stress. A price is paid sooner or later. Or you might be a wealthy or a powerful woman which gives you more scope. You can pay for high quality back up. But the vast majority do not have that kind of resource. For them the need to be in two places at one time is a major challenge.

(BTW - In focussing my attention on women here I'm recognising it is the women who actually have the babies, whose minds and bodies are taken over in service to childbirth and the fallout from it. A man may be involved but he is by comparison an onlooker. He is relatively remote from the experience and not subject to the same psychological conflicts.)

The status of women in society needed addressing. They fought to be freed from the shackles of being only homemakers, a huge job which had come to be trivialised and undervalued. That it is now easier for women to work alongside men on equal terms was a well overdue event. Some would say it still has a long way to go but at least the process is underway. But the solution has been patchy. It is questionable whether the overall well-being of women has been suitably served by a have-it-all ethos in which motherhood remains centrally important.

So what would be a better solution? I think that as women and men you choose between either family life or society life. Straddling both is too much a stretch. Women who push themselves through the trials of a demanding job should do that. Just the job. Those who choose family should sacrifice career in favour of the home. Men likewise should curtail their ambitions and outside responsibilities to accommodate family demands. Until more radical ways are evolved for the raising of children I suggest that is the best compromise. You are either a family person or a society person. Make the choice.

What might the more radical options be? My feeling is that ordinary mortals should not be parents at all. In the future children might be raised professionally using all the knowledge and psychological insight that can be mustered. Traditionally parenting has been a job badly done resulting in poor inheritance. The ensuing problems got passed down the generations unchecked. Raising children professionally would be about producing strongly constituted individuals, physically and psychologically, able to contribute to a better functioning society. We are not close to this. Family life too often compounds emotional ills.

Healthy societies would have these long-standing issues addressed and applied to the optimum in their social structures. Children reared professionally in genuinely enlightened environments would be less needy, would have fewer psychological problems, and be much better able to deal with the trials of life. I think they would also have better capacity for relationship. Strong individuals are needed for good relationships. Given that bad relationships are the source of all conflicts including wars then healthy associations are the best elixir for a peaceful world.

What is outlined here is a radical but reasonable trajectory for the future improvement of human congress. Of course the current culture with its long history will hate such a concept so wedded is it to its conventions. People cling to what they know especially when it is attended with big emotion. They have always done that. And always time supersedes them.


I read a piece in The New York Times quoting academic Betsey Stevenson who said: “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children.” There won't be many mothers I imagine prepared to say that too loudly. Perhaps they should.

And if Stevenson’s remarks aren’t off-putting enough, try Nirpal Dhaliwal in the Sunday Times last year. His comments about yummy mummies are extreme but the false impression given by the yummies about parenting is something that wants to be shot down and Dhaliwal doesn’t miss and hit the wall.