The Daily Wire reported yesterday about Michelle Obama’s latest attack on traditional values. The former First Lady was interviewed by “Blackish” star Tracee Ellis Ross and the women together lamented the fact that girls “still dream of weddings” and “Prince Charming.” The two agreed that some women (Tracee Ellis Ross included) can sacrifice family for the sake of a career and be “happy as a clam.” In fact, it would seem that Mrs. Obama — who is married with two kids — thinks this path is preferable, given that she considers it a problem when girls aspire to marriage. Ross provided compelling evidence to prove that her decision to forgo family life was the right call: “Look where I’m sitting,” she declared. Yes, the summit of all happiness is to sit on a stage with a former First Lady. Truly, this is the eternal bliss for which we were designed.
People who give up family for career are often quite anxious to announce their happiness to the world. This is the first sign that they are not happy. The second sign is that as the fertility rate in America has fallen below replacement level, and Americans increasingly look outside the home for fulfillment, we have also become a staggeringly depressed, stressed out, anxious nation of addicts and narcissists and compulsive TV-watchers.
That isn’t to say that all of the depressed, anxious, empty people are childless, but simply that we may have some very flawed ideas about where to find happiness. We fled the home, started to look down our noses at the domestic life (women and men both), decided to reject marriage and procreation, or at least put it off, and in the process we have not found any of the positive results that we were promised. I keep hearing that this modern approach to life is exciting and joyful, but I do not see much excitement or joy when I look around our culture. I see a lot of hollow people who don’t even understand happiness enough to realize that they are unhappy.
Indeed, you will see study after study claiming that people without kids are actually “way happier” than people with kids. But these “studies” assume honest self-assessment, and honest self-assessment is perhaps the rarest thing in American culture. Self-delusion is in far greater supply, which is how you end up with people who complain constantly of their anxiety and depression on one hand, and on the other insist that they are perfectly content with all of their life choices and could not imagine a better life than the one they currently live.
That being said, I would be interested to see a follow-up study with one of these “happy” people a couple of decades from now. Will she still be so satisfied with choosing career over family when she is older and all of the money and success only amounted to a large and empty house filled with nice things that nobody is around to enjoy? Will she be “happy” when her friends are planning weddings for their children, and going to their grandchildren’s baptisms, and she has no significant milestones to look forward to at all? Will she be “happy” when she is elderly and nobody is there to care for her? Will she be “happy” on her death bed, leaving no legacy behind except for the ultimately pointless work she did at some company that has long since forgotten about her? Has any dying person, ever in the history of mankind, been grateful that they focused less on family and more on material success?
Of course there are many people who do have kids but still follow a similar trajectory to the one I just described. It is possible — common, in fact — for a person to flee from family life even in spite of actually having a family. It is no coincidence that the anti-family sentiments expressed above came primarily from a married mother of two. There are many people who have families and yet refuse to look within the family for purpose and contentment. There are many children being raised by babysitters and television sets because both parents are out chasing their ambitions and treating their kids as afterthoughts. Those parents will find little fulfillment in the fulfillment of their ambitions, and one day, when their children are grown, they will begin to see that they have lived their lives upside down, treating the least important things as most important and the most important as least. Then they will attempt to forge a relationship with their kids only to find that their kids no longer need them, do not respect them, and probably do not like them very much. They too will die basically alone, and the kind words said about them at their eulogies will be half-hearted and perfunctory. “Dad was a hard worker,” someone will say. “Dad was loving, devoted, and self-sacrificial,” no one will say.
We have been made to believe that professional achievement is the highest goal in life and the greatest source of happiness. But this thing called a “job,” where people leave the home and perform a certain task for eight or nine hours in exchange for a paycheck, is a relatively new invention. And like many other new inventions, modern man incorporates his life into it rather than incorporating it into his life. And this life now consumed with career pursuits will be a life without joy or purpose, because those things cannot be found in a 9 to 5.
Where can they be found? In service to others. Service to God first, and then to our families, and then to our neighbors and our communities. Everyone in the world is called to dedicate their lives to service. Most of us are called to the service of family life. Some are called to forgo marriage for the sake of a different form of service. Some married couples are unable to conceive children so they serve as parents through some other means, like adoption. I once met a heroic couple who went overseas and became missionaries after they discovered that they could not conceive. I’m not suggesting that everyone in the world must get married and have kids. But I am suggesting that a life lived in service to yourself is a life without meaning. A life whose crowning achievement is a corner office at a Fortune 500 company is a wasted life.
Someone else will take that office when you are gone. You will not be missed. The work you did will not be remembered. You will be replaced and nothing will be lost. But nobody can replace a loving and devoted father or mother. The work you do in your family, in service to your spouse and your children, will ring down the generations and be remembered either with fondness or disdain. And it is here, in this vocation, where you can find a happiness that surpasses whatever fleeting pleasure may be brought by a pay raise or a bigger house or a nice vacation. But in order to find that happiness, you have to stop looking for it, stop looking at yourself entirely, and simply fulfill your duty.
So, I think the little 6-year-old girl who dreams of being a wife and mother one day has the right perspective. She understands something about human happiness. She understands the meaning and purpose of life. She understands it better than most adults — even famous and wealthy ones, even certain First Ladies.