Sunday, June 22, 2014

Entering the hypothetical realm

I hesitate to speak too much about having children, in part because I am mostly ambivalent on the topic and in part because it's an endeavor that requires (at least) two willing parties. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little curious on how that would go -- poorly, more than likely.

That is probably why I spent more time than I normally would mulling over this interactive article from PBS. It's based on the results from the 2010-2014 World Values Survey, in which 82,000 adults across 54 countries were surveyed to gain a better understanding of what they consider most important when raising a child, whether or not they were parents themselves. The respondents were asked to select which of 11 qualities they considered to be especially important for children to learn.

In the PBS article, readers were asked to rank each of the 11 qualities -- determination/perseverance, responsibility, imagination, self-expression, independence, tolerance, unselfishness, thrift, religious faith, obedience and hard work. Their answers were then matched to which country's values most closely corresponded with the reader's.

My list is below.

The bottom of the ranking was the easiest, and the top was the most difficult. After all, how do you quantify a difference of valuing hard work at 3 versus 6 or 7? But perhaps I'm just overthinking things.

For me, it was 1. Tolerance; 2. Independence; 3. Self-expression; 4. Imagination; 5. Determination; 6. Hard work; 7. Responsibility; 8. Unselfishness; 9. Thrift; 10. Obedience; 11. Faith.

Anyone who knows me probably isn't too surprised. I have a deep distrust of authority, my money skills aren't the greatest (says the guy who went into newspapers as a career) and, being an eldest sibling, I can err on the side of selfishness more often than I'd like. Looking at those responses, I imagine I'd be one of those "free-range" parents who gives their kids a little too much freedom -- at least until the first crisis hits.

Just as interesting in highlighting how unsuitable I am as a parent, though, is the comparison with other countries' responses. The full spreadsheet is here. My closest match is Sweden, followed by Australia and Germany. Pretty good company, I'd say. I matched up exactly in five areas (Tolerance 1, Imagination 4, Unselfishness 8, Obedience 10, Faith 11) with the Swedes, and only two of my responses had four or more places of difference.

On the other end of the spectrum, my most opposite matches were Pakistan, Rwanda and Yemen. While Yemen and I agreed in some areas -- we both had Hard work at 6 and were similar on Tolerance (1 v 2) and Unselfishness (8 v 7) -- our responses were otherwise almost all flipped on the scale. My two least important were Yemen's 1 and 3 while my 3 and 4 were at the bottom of Yemen's responses.

As I said, I remain largely non-committal on the issue of having children. Parenthood obviously has much to recommend it, and I'm sure my parents would like to try their hand at being grandparents at some point. Then again, being single and able to relocate at the drop of a hat is part of the reason I'm able to pull off this "wandering journalist" act. I can't imagine foisting this lifestyle on a spouse, let alone a family.

Is this all, as this Slate article on the taboo of childlessness suggests, a symptom of being unwilling to grow up?
And what about men? Do we look at men who have somehow not procreated as missing out?  Probably not, or at least not on the same level. Thinking of men I know who have decided not to have children, there is often a belief that they are immature, Peter Pan-ish, and somehow clinging unnaturally to a freer state, an unseemly perpetual adolescence. The criticism of them is not that they are failures, as is the implicit judgment of women, or somehow unfulfilled or empty, but that they are not growing up.
A man in his 40s who decided against having children emailed me: "The immaturity verdict—I got that a lot in my 30s. The theory behind it is that every man wants a kid but some won't admit this to themselves on schedule, and so need to have their narcissism exploded by all these terrific new Moms and Dads.  Forget the question of whether men are qualified to make their own decisions at age 35—I'd say most are.  And forget that you have to be mature at least in some ways to withstand so much social pressure. The most unattractive thing about my friends at this time was that they seemed indifferent not only to my happiness, but to the happiness of my children. These kid-pushers had none of my reluctance to sentence a child to life with an ambivalent, disengaged and possibly unloving Dad."
It's hard to say. Certainly I have matured -- becoming debt-free, taking better care of my health and making large strides toward completing my college degree are evidence of that. Does that somehow mean I'm ready to be a father and am just putting it off out of selfishness or indolence? While I don't deny that's a possibility, I seriously doubt it. I'm just not in a place right now that is professionally or financially stable enough to make having a wife and kids practical. If/when that changes, I'll re-evaluate. Until such time, though, I intend to keep on as I have been keeping on -- by myself.

No comments:

Post a Comment