Does having children make you happy: compulsory parenthood in Denmark

There is a baby boom happening in Denmark right now.   Every other Danish father pushes a stroller that is a cross between a full-sized crib and a Humvee.  Couples that have waited until their late 30s to try and conceive can rely on the government to assist them with their fertility treatment, if they need it.  Many people relate this recent ‘baby boom-let’ to the humorous campaign instituted a few years ago by the Danish government to inspire Danes to have more children (see here).

A sizable percentage of my practice these days is 35 somethings who are either trying to have children or conflicted about whether or not to have children.  Grief over not being able to, or ambivalence about the prospect of doing so, pervade many of these peoples’ concerns.  Even educated women swear that they feel a ‘natural’ compulsion to have a baby (despite the fact that they know women who do not feel this urge).  Nonetheless, a sizable number of Expats in Denmark seem to feel personally deficient if they cannot have children, or if they do not want to have children.

These people are utterly convinced that they cannot be happy unless they bring a new human into the world.  And yet, what does the data say about having children?   To be frank, the data really does not support that having children makes you happier.  In fact, quite the opposite can be true, and for already troubled marriages, the stress of having children can be the thing that pushes it over the edge.

The problem, is that culture often seems to demand that people have children.  Women and men who have just married get hounded with questions about when they will now have a child.  Workplace canteens often are full of conversations about kids and family that leave the childless people feeling alienated.  However, there is a large disconnect between the realities of having children and the myths about having children.  Many seem to think having children is the road to fulfillment and when it proves to be quite the opposite, the results can be draining, devastating, and leave one feeling like a failure.

I recently read this article which I found enlightening.  Despite a cultural taboo not to do so, some women are feeling empowered enough to talk about their regrets about having had children.  Most of these women believed that having kids would make them happy, at one time.  Time and experience changed their minds.  I think it is infinitely important for people to be able to talk about the things that are taboo. I think that these women (and men) have a lesson to teach.

Of course, people will continue to have biological children and that has to be okay from a personal liberty standpoint.  Be sure, if you decide to have children, that this is what you want to do.  Reflect, and explore your feelings.  How much of this decision is yours and how much is the influence of others?  Try not to forget, also, that having a child is perhaps the single most destructive thing you can do to the environment.  See here for a summary of some of the research.  I realize that it is a human right and that I cannot argue with.  However, I urge those of you who want children to do some soul searching about it, and those of you who are ambivalent, or who cannot conceive, to forgive yourself– you are likely doing the planet some good. I just worry that the cultural pressure to have a children leaves people out of touch with their true nature and feeling pressured to make something happen that they perhaps aren’t that suited for.  To the people I know who feel like a failure, or feel conflicted, I want you to know that I am your ally.

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