Having kids won’t make you happy

News & Politics

Antinatalist clickbait is as reliable as mosquitoes in the summer. And like mosquitoes, its purpose is vampirism and viral infection.

A familiar headline emerged last week, based on a 2021 study by Jennifer Glass that has since been debunked by Brad Wilcox. It reads: “People without children tend to be happier than parents.” On Tuesday, an X account called “normie macdonald” responded:

Every single day I am filled with joy when my work day is over and I leave my office to go hangout with my wife and children. There is literally no childless alternative to this feeling. It doesn’t exist. Raising a family well won’t just fix you, it’ll fix people around you also.

I can appreciate the sentiment. I’ve made a career out of opining on the joys of domestic life. There is a deep happiness available to those who are blessed to build a family, and this opportunity is obfuscated by the culture of constant complaining and climate-related hand-wringing.

But most notions that rise to popularity in the public consciousness are tethered, however tenuously, to a kernel of truth. What makes this claim so plausible that single and childless people are happier?

Kids may spark joy, but they cannot fill a God-shaped hole in someone’s heart.

Well, what do we mean by happiness? If we accept the modern consensus, that happiness is in one’s ability to move, consume, and act “freely,” without having to subsume one’s will for the sake of another, then, yes, childless people would probably be “happier.” They are definitionally less encumbered. There are, generally speaking, fewer limitations on their freedom. If happiness is in the ability to take a food tour of Asia at the drop of a hat, single, childless people have the upper hand.

I don’t want to demean fun, single people, childless people, or their hobbies. Many single people would like to be married, and many are not suited for the vocation. Nor do I imagine their lives to be necessarily easier than those who are married with kids. Many single people are properly ascetic in their habits, while Asian cuisine remains one of my great loves in life. The earth is scattered with God’s blessings, however great or small. There’s no shame in appreciating them as they come or seeking them, within reason. But the classical definition of happiness provides context for a life of difficulty that the original antinatalist claim, in lionizing single people’s ease of access to pleasure, does not.

I like the athletic metaphor for parenting because of how well it illustrates the classical notion of happiness. Excellent athletes do not necessarily expect to enjoy their endeavor — they seek to perfect themselves in the pursuit of objective excellence, from whence temporary joy or pleasure does arise, frequently. But it isn’t the ultimate object of their pursuit.

For the Christian, the ultimate purpose in life is God. Christ is the center of the Christian life. The Catechism states that the bond with Christ takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social.

In other words, kids won’t make you happy, especially in the modern usage, because the kind of happiness elevated by a world that has decentered Christ is empty indeed. Kids may very well make you miserable, especially if your happiness depends on them in the first place. In the classical sense, having kids won’t make you happy, either, but the act of raising them presents the opportunity to glorify the One who does. Kids may spark joy, but they cannot fill a God-shaped hole in someone’s heart. They are not pawns for our own pleasure but people who share our ultimate purpose: through grace and virtue, to embody Christ.

Pronatalists would be smart to consider whether and how they are accepting their enemies’ conception of the world even as they reflexively deny whatever argument is happening on the surface. Swat the mosquito, but build a screened-in porch.

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