The "happiest" marriages would be those without children: to support this claim, an English survey, conducted by the Open University. According to the survey, carried out on a sample of 5,000 people, couples with children would tend to be more dissatisfied with their married life than those who do not.
Therefore, to that sample of people interviewed by the pollsters, children are "enemies" of marital well-being and therefore should be avoided "to stay well as a couple" (which – just to clarify – in the long term would lead to the extinction of humanity). Letting aside the wording of the questions put to the people interviewed, a single young bride we have asked thinks otherwise: "Children are like the roof of a house: if the foundations are solid, the roof completes the house, otherwise everything collapses." In short, perhaps the children can be seen a bit like the "thermometer" of the quality and solidity of a union.
Indirectly, however, the investigation presents us with many questions: what do we mean by marital happiness? What do we expect from life and marriage? Are we able to see and appreciate the beauty of sacrifice? Is it really the children's fault, or are we spouses sometimes not being able to “rally together” to commit ourselves to a shared goal and to make skating between the various commitments to find time for us?
We talked to a young 26-year-old American mother living in Germany about these aspects and others. She obtained her degree in philosophy in Rome: Alicia Duren, married for four years, mother of two girls. She is particularly sensitive about the role and the future of the family in society and very mindful in seeking motivations and answers to the problem of birth rate.
In your opinion, why can children be perceived as a source of unhappiness for the couple?
Happiness is often identified with pleasure, with "external tranquility," with the absence of thoughts and concerns. There is at work here a hedonistic conception of happiness. If we think this way, then no: children do not "make us happy." Because they bring "disorder," unforeseen events, they don’t allow us enough sleep...
But if happiness is "giving oneself" and building together – even in fatigue! – something beautiful and lasting, so family is a source of joy!
My husband and I have never laughed so much as we have done in these years, we are delighted to hear the noises of the girls, to see the fraternal community that they are already creating between themselves. This is true happiness for us, true serenity. Of course, we have experienced so many moments of chaos and concern, but we could never say that we are not "happy" to be parents together.
The children, however, take time away from us and from the couple. What can you say to those who are afraid of opening up to this life for this reason?
That is better to live for someone else than for oneself. If you do not give, you will lose nothing; however, you will not receive anything, and you will lose yourself.
When I was alone, I mean without a husband and girls, life was much simpler. I had more time for "myself" – I didn't have to think of anything else but myself! – but, on the other hand, I didn't have anything pushing me to better myself. Family life is a continual giving of oneself, something that not only betters the community you have created, but betters you.
Many want to lead a life of eternal boyfriend/girlfriend. Others, on their part, want children, but they continually postpone, denying themselves the possibility of sharing their best years with their children.
They think having children implies aloss of love between themselves, instead it is a manifestation of that love.
According to you, therefore, children are never the "true cause" of the unhappiness between spouses...
I can say in total sincerity that now, after almost four years of marriage, I love my husband even more because now we have given ourselves to each other completely. We have something unique (our daughters) that unites us in an absolutely unrepeatable way. This gift, this "Yes" to life, has made us closer.
We live out our marriage as "allies," we team up, and we commit ourselves to not neglect each other despite the many things to do. And now, just because we have to make an "extra effort" to find time for each other, it's even better to be together.
Because if giving oneself to others leads to happiness, do many close themselves up?
In my opinion, those who only pursue their "freedom," who do what they want without thinking of others, are simply afraid. Because loving makes you vulnerable.
When I held my first daughter in my arms for the first time, I felt a thud in my soul. I felt a "pure" desire to really give myself to another. I was sure at that instant that I would die for her; it was a strong feeling, which in my personal selfishness I had never felt before. And to die for another, even if it is wonderful, is scary.
One last question. Couples who choose to have many children today are often considered "unprepared" or "masochistic." What do you think about the decision to have a large family?
I am the oldest of five children and I am aware that the greatest gift my parents gave us was saying yes to life. Many decide not to have many of children because they think they cannot give them the best. But... what exactly is the best? When I attended university, I was a nanny for rich families who had everything… except happiness. Yes, it's true that there are things that we really need, like a roof, food, education… but an iPhone won't make your baby happier. A brother to love is instead the most beautiful gift he can receive.
My husband and I have two girls and we want a large family, we do not set limits. When I say this, the first reaction I get is of total surprise. People find it hard to believe it, as if we were completely mad. It is true that this unconditional openness to life is not for everyone, but one thing is certain: our culture sees life as something that chains you... yet the true chain is the slavery of our egotism, against which everyone – I for one! – must fight in order to be truly be happy.