Monday, August 2, 2010

Joy, Happiness, Duty, or Love?

Rod Dreher and Damon Linker have had a bit of a back and forth regarding Jennifer Senior's article which asks why modern day parenting leads to unhappiness. Dreher proposes that parenting is not about happiness, but about joy and that happiness is transformed into joy in the sacrifice.  Linker takes him on by saying his position is too Kantian in choosing duty over self indulgence and calling it joy; that there has to be a more integrated, less polarizing way of looking at raising children based on the Aristotelian philosophy of happiness.  (Senior touches on this at the end of her article.) 

My mind keeps recalling the Wendell Berry book titled, What are People For?.  Isn't that a great title?  I imagine how one answers that question will reveal a great deal about, not only one's relationship with one's children, but also with all other relationships.  People aren't for using, to bring us joy or happiness, or to whom we must perform some sort of duty.  People are for loving and relating.  It's not easy and it goes beyond mere affection, but in the end, that is what people are for.  When one loves another, one forgets oneself and the evaluation of one's own happiness doesn't take place, because one's thoughts are of the other.  A true humility is present.

A loving parent changing a diaper isn't getting any happiness per se, but neither is he just doing his duty in this task.  The task is done for the good and health of the child.  In doing the task, he is building the relationship on trust and kindness.  In our family, diaper changing was often a time of singing and conversing, because we were relating to and caring for our child, a fellow human, made in the image of God.

This idea that another person is going to make one happy or bring fulfillment is very damaging to both parties.  It will lead to constant frustration, disappointment and blaming the other for one's misery.  The fact that so many surveys have been taken to measure parents' happiness, as is detailed in Senior's piece, is quite telling in itself.  You may not be evaluating your happiness, but some social scientist wants to.  I can't help but wonder why and to what purpose.   Are children now seen by society at large as a net loss?  It is starting to look that way.

Love looks out for the other, cares for the other, hopes for the good of the other.  In the words of St. Paul, Love never fails. I hope someone develops a survey to ascertain if having children encourages adults to be more loving.

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