A study has found that couples without children are happier than couples with children. The same study also found that women with children are happier by than women without children. And mothers are the happiest demographic overall.
You can find the article here, and if you’re like me, those findings probably lifted an eyebrow or two. My first thought was, “This does not compute.” My second thought was to ask what implications and assumptions does this convey. Aren’t children a blessing from God? Isn’t it God’s will that godly couples be open to children? Does this finding suggest that God’s way is not actually the best way?
Well, that’s a ridiculous premise. Of course God’s way is the best way. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be his way. But far be it from the world to ignore any data that might suggest that God’s way is not the best way. No doubt this is information someone will use to argue for same-sex marriage – how can you argue that heterosexual marriage is “better” or “more natural” on the basis of reproduction if couples who don’t reproduce are happier?
This is article is an example of what we call “assumptive language.” Assumptive language is used to endorse a premise that you might disagree with by stating one of that premise’s conclusions as though fact. You end up arguing with the conclusion but buying into the premise. An example would be the opening to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, where he says, “The universe is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be.” His premise is, “There is no God,” but he skirts it by talking about the universe instead.
In this case, if the article had said, “Couples have children to be happy, but it turns out it doesn’t work,” you would argue, “But I don’t have children to be happy! They do give me joy, but that’s not the point.” However, by saying, “Couples without children are happier,” you end up focusing on whether or not that is true, without ever addressing whether or not happiness has anything to do with it.
The smoke and mirrors of the media mogul; the prestidigitation of the propagandist.
If it is true that children lead to lower satisfaction in marriage, then I believe it is due to two main factors: perspective and focus.
The meaning a couple attaches to parenthood – their perspective on the value and purpose of having children – is going to have an impact on whether or not they feel a sense of satisfaction with their life and marriage. The couple that has children out of a sense of obligation (“My mom just always wanted grandchildren”; “All my friends are having kids, it was about time”; “It’s just what you’re supposed to do”) is going to be less satisfied than the couple who eagerly desires to be parents. Likewise, the couple that has children for selfish reasons is going to find less joy in the process than the one that has children for godly reasons.
Perhaps the most common problem that robs couples of marital satisfaction and joy in parenting is when one or both parents lose focus on the marriage and instead make the children the most important people in their lives. The article mentioned that “mothers twice as likely to say that their children are the most important person in their life.” This is, at its heart, a form of idolatry, and it is no wonder it causes distress in the family. If God created marriage as a source of unity and made the husband and wife one, what does it do to the joy that couple experiences in marriage when suddenly a child replaces the spouse as the main object of affection and concern?
God’s purpose in giving us children is to bless us, but his purpose in giving children parents is to bless them. The marriage relationship is the bedrock of the family, so if there are cracks in the foundation, we tend to miss out on the blessings God intended both for parents and children. That’s what leads to couples reporting that they are less satisfied with life and marriage when they have children. It isn’t a problem with children, it’s a problem with the marriage and a problem with the heart.
No worries. Despite what this study may suggest, children are still a wonderful blessing well worth the having. But whether you already have children or are looking forward to children somewhere down the road, make sure that you keep the perspective granted by God’s Word, and keep the focus on building a strong marriage as a foundation for your children.