When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
– 1 Corinthians 13:11
One of the parts of modern life that I find most disturbing is the gradual infantilization of adulthood. People’s life stages are delayed now from what they used to be. We get married later, have kids later, pay off our debt later, and so on. Some of that is just how things are economically and socially. Education is more expensive and takes longer than it used to, which means it takes longer to get your independence solidified. Young people can do a lot to mitigate this, but the fact that it happens isn’t their fault. It’s just something we have to deal with. But something else does happen that we have to own up to as a problem.
It’s the people that try to hold on to the life of youth longer than they should or need to, instead of trying to tackle the challenges and rewards of adulthood. It’s a serious misprioritization mixed with far more fear of responsibility and failure than people admit. We’ve all seen the examples. In fact it’s so widespread, we’ve all been the examples, myself included. But there’s something wrong with it. As unpopular as the opinion might be, I need to share it.
This is easiest to see with two major decisions of life, marriage and children. Many people delay these longer than is really necessary, or even speak against taking these steps. The major drivers are:
- Fear of commitment
- Fear of not getting things right
- Fear of missing out on something exciting
- Fear of change
These get translated into:
- It’s too expensive
- It’s too timeconsuming
- I want experiences
- I don’t want to change the relationship with the spouse
- Outside excuses, like protecting the environment from overpopulation
We used to mock men for their fear of commitment if they took too long to settle down and marry. It was traditionally looked on as a sign of childish immaturity to keep pursuing multiple women rather than deepening your relationship with one. But we now accept bachelorhood into the 30s, 40s, and beyond. These men’s argument seems to be that the modern world’s prosperity and open sexuality mean that there is no benefit to marriage. And that’s obviously wrong – experiences can be fun, but only depth can satisfy. Fifty dating relationships with beautiful and exciting women can’t equal a marriage to one good one, and spending your money on adventures forever isn’t the same as using your effort to build a life and a future for your family. We should look at a 30-year-old single man with skepticism, and a 40-year-old one with pity.
Others stick to one relationship, but delay marriage for years and years. There may be good reasons for this in some cases, but in most it just seems to be that they are enjoying their lives as they are and are afraid of change. There may be empty phrases about not needing a ring or a piece of paper to show love. The truth is that they know as well as everyone else that there is a real difference in commitment to stand up and get formally married , and they are afraid that their relationship can’t take the change. The problem is that if it can’t, the relationship doesn’t have the value they are claiming it does. A real relationship can grow through many big changes.
Still other people make it past this stage and actually do get married, but then get their marriages stuck. You may have heard the term DINC, which means Dual Income No Children. Some couples deliberately choose not to have children and others just drift into never doing so by saying that they will have them, if and when they want to. The problem is that in a world with easy birth control inertia lies with not having children. You have to make the choice to have kids. It doesn’t just happen.
And there are good reasons to delay having kids, or even in some cases not to have them at all. Extreme financial circumstances, illness or injury that greatly increase the danger, addictions, mental illnesses, or both spouses being carriers of serious genetic illnesses all come to mind. But all of these things are pretty rare, and it’s striking how often you will hear other arguments based on your comfort rather than the future children’s.
Pregnancy is difficult and painful, children are too expensive, we want to be able to enjoy ourselves, we love to travel. I don’t want my relationship with my wife or husband to change. Or the ultimate, I care about the environment – always said by someone who is quite consumerist already, and therefore seems to be masking the other reasons with something that sounds more virtuous.
The problem with all of these is that they all boil down to “I want to have fun and not put in the work to grow or take on such a huge and meaningful challenge.” Even the “children are too expensive” is usually based in the speaker’s lack of financial discipline, not actual poverty. But the point of adult life isn’t to have fun. You should be having fun, but the purpose is to fulfill your responsibilities to become someone who gives back. You need to fulfill your social and familial obligations by upholding traditions, providing for those who need it, participating in communal issues, and raising the next generation to do the same. Every person who voluntarily never has children is choosing to end something that didn’t belong only to them.
And they are also foregoing the opportunity to be all that they could have been. You can have fun in all sorts of ways, and self-respect and personal pride are better gifts to yourself than finding the flashiest or most luxurious amusement.
Raising children – like having a happy lifelong marriage – may be very hard. But that also means that it is one of your best chances in life to have the profound satisfaction of growing into a hard but vital role.