How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Family?

A debate on the wisdom of remaining single and without children.

I’m having a debate with myself on this question: When is it wiser to have a family versus stay single?

Marty Nemko #1: If you have a great career or are headed for one, family can impose a too great a price on it.

Marty Nemko #2: But many people find family to be the best part of their life.

Marty Nemko #1:  Many people with great careers don’t feel that way, especially if they feel they’re making a difference. And no matter what career, many people find family causes more pain than gain. Think of how many people fight viciously with their spouse, often ending in an exhausting, years-long divorce proceeding with financial ramifications that can last many years. And while we romanticize children, think of how many people are deeply estranged from their kids. And even if not estranged, think of all the stresses: from non-stop hours of inexplicable crying to the Terrible Twos’ tantrums to school problems if only refusing to do homework, bad friends, drugs, ill-advised sex, pregnancy, screaming matches. And ultimately kids have the power to blow off their parents.

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Marty Nemko #2: You’re viewing a ¾-full glass as ¾ empty. Most people do, net, feel that family is the best part of their life.

Marty Nemko #1: I’m not arguing against family. I’m saying that the decision to have a spouse and children should not be reflexive, which for many people it is. Even today, many people feel pressured to marry and have kids. How many parents say, “So when are you getting married? I’d love to be a grandparent.” And when you see all your friends getting married and having kids, it’s easy to feel you better do it too.

Marty Nemko #2: No one could advocate blindly following societal strictures but your tone is too anti-family. You’re also assuming that family interactions can’t be improved. Relationship counseling, parenting coaching, and yes, Psychology Today articles can help.

Marty Nemko #1: Don’t forget about extended family: the wayward uncle, the obnoxious aunt, and of course, the in-laws. There’s a reason there are a zillion jokes about painful in-laws.

Marty Nemko #2: Again, you’re being too negative. Many people like their in-laws. And if you don’t like one or two, you can usually minimize interaction with them. That’s hardly a reason to stay single.

Marty Nemko #1: Well, there’s another factor you can’t say is unimportant: freedom.  A single person comes home after work and on the weekends and has the freedom to do what s/he wants: eat what and when s/he wants, go out or collapse in front of the TV. When you have a live-in partner, not to mention kids, your life, which wasn’t your own at work, continues not to be: “Daddy, mommy won’t let me watch TV!” “Honey, our place is a mess. Would you clean up while I’m making dinner. “Sweetie, can I tell you about my day?” or “We need to talk about our relationship.”

Marty Nemko #2: Again too negative. It usually feels good to interact with your kids and your partner.  Even household chores can feel good, a relief from the workplace’s  stressful and intellectually demanding tasks—and with housework,  you quickly see the result of your efforts. One minute the dining room is a pig sty and ten minutes later, it looks nice.

Marty Nemko #1: Let’s wrap this up. Like most decisions, whether to stay single depends on the individual. Introverts might prioritize the solitude, extraverts the interaction. Remember, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have relationships. But if you stay single and have your own place, you can be social when you want. It’s not forced on you every day. And regarding children, I know it’s not the same as having kids, but many people feel they have enough kid time by visiting, phoning, or Skyping with nephews and nieces, volunteering to be a Big Brother or Sister, or tutoring kids.

Marty Nemko #1 and #2: I hope this internal dialogue will help you get a bit clearer about what’s right for you.

Wikipedia’s profile of Marty Nemko tells you more than necessary.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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