“For us, having kids was about dedicating our lives to raising them and loving them instead of just having fun for us.” – JuliaS27
“I’m just not interested in having kids at all. Maybe I’m just selfish, but I want to enjoy life and do things without having a huge obstacle in the way.” – Craig Lloyd
Upon making the transition into adulthood, one must face the question of whether or not they want to have children. Although it is now a common question, this was not always the case when having children was an economic asset in the context of rural living. The meaning of having children has shifted in the Modern West and children are now an economic liability. Beyond this, they also restrict one’s freedom and mobility in an era where individualistic lifestyles are on the rise. So why do people decide to have children today?
Whether you relate to the first quote in this post, or the second quote, both statements characterize the modern ethos that children are now a material bourdon, but those who choose to have children do so for a psychological benefit in terms of fulfilling a need to find existential meaning. In The Normal Chaos of Love, Sociologists Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim explore the modern meaning of having children. They state that wanting children, “is increasingly connected with hopes of being rooted, of life becoming meaningful, and with a ‘claim to happiness’, based on the close relationship with the child.”
Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim state that, “in highly industrialized societies people are always trained to behave rationally, to be efficient, fast, disciplined and successful. A child represents the opposite, the ‘natural’ side of life, and that is exactly what is so appealing.” This sentiment is seen the following statement by JuliaS27:
“We’re exhausted but tonight my kids made me laugh hysterically watching Weird Al’s “Tacky.” My oldest is making a video about Minecraft, and my youngest hijacked the camera in the middle to talk about Slime. Every morning, I roll over and find one or more children (and the dog) in our bed in various spots, curled around us, flopped over us, and in that moment before my husband starts tickling everyone, I am grateful for the messy, confusing, exhausting, loving, rich life we’ve built. I love my kids fiercely, and they have taught me a great deal about life.
In a sense, parents find themselves being brought up by their children, being retaught values we “sorely miss in high-tech life,” according to Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim who also emphasize:
“Having a child, looking after it and providing for it can give life new meaning and significance, can in fact become the very core of one’s private existence. Where other aims seem arbitrary and interchangeable, belief in the afterlife vanishes and hopes in this world prove evanescent, a child provides one with a chance to find a firm footing and a home.
In the midst of modern individualistic lifestyles emphasizing “a life of one’s own,” the meaning of modern parenting has changed. Altruistically caring for another human being is integrated into one’s own need for meaning in an age of industrial rationalism. As emphasized in a previous post, The Need to be Needed is a fundamental human need. Before modern times, economic and material needs of the family secured each member’s need to feel needed since each were assets in this regard. The meaning of having children is now individualized and personal motivations for fulfillment characterize the meaning of having children, but in this new context of communal life, children give us deeper insight into Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim’s “normal chaos of love.” They teach us how to love the chaos.
This post is dedicated to Sociologist Ulrich Beck who regretfully passed away on January 1st at the age of 70, and is survived by his wife Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim.
He will be missed as one of the great thinkers of our time.
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