Today’s The Day by Katie M. Berggren

“Wantology” and the Decision for Partnered Parenting: Imaginary constraints, critical thinking and arriving at what you actually want in a family – and a partner
Wantology took quite a beating in the press last year. It was held up as the poster child for a culture that now looks to experts to solve everything including experts who can help us determine “what we really want.” However, a close examination of the concept reveals that there is considerable value in understanding wantology, inglorious name notwithstanding. Ms. Kevin Kreitman, the person credited with developing the process simply notes that wantology is “a critical thinking method…so you can’t be trapped in your own assumptions, beliefs and perspectives. It’s a skill.” By any name, most would agree that this is an excellent skill to cultivate.
Writer Claire Gordon, an objective participant in the wantology process, breaks down the idea even further by emphasizing the decoupling of needs from wants – and decoupling external expectations from the true inner voice. Then, one must separate the want from the implied solution in order to be more precise about the desirable outcome and how to get it. Altogether, this allows one to assess the degree to which one is “floating” or actually navigating toward a very specific goal. For instance, one might start out thinking that he or she wants a promotion and/or a raise when she really wants to work in an entirely different industry and cut down on expenses. The latter, of course, implies a completely different strategy from the former.
Those who are considering partnered parenting as their parenting strategy of choice are, perhaps, already a step ahead in analyzing what they want. Given the enormous amount of cultural bias toward marriage as the necessary condition for parenting, the “decoupling” of the two as really separate choices is bound to feel somewhat revolutionary. One outcome of decoupling marriage and parenting has been the rise of single-parenting-by-choice although one might argue that such a choice is still well within a restricted cultural assumption that marriage is the only all-or-nothing partnering arrangement. Another interesting cultural bias is found so often within marriage that it is frequently not considered worth comment. That is, the desire “to have children” but without the slightest interest in parenting per se. Marriage as the implied solution to having children without parenting has been a common strategy for husbands (and some wives) for millennia and the subtext of dynastic histories from King David to Henry VIII to some corners of corporate America. It might be fair to say that it is this assumption about marriage plus children minus active parenting that is among the most powerful drivers of the current critical thinking that leads many to get creative about children and literal parenting partners – or going it alone if marriage is perceived as no guarantee of sincere parental partnership. That said, the desire for children without parenting need not be viewed negatively if it is explicit and upfront. The prize for the best arrangement of this sort must surely go to the partnering of two same-sex couples where one couple actually raises the child or children while the other (often including a biological parent) offers extended family friendship and constructive guest appearances on a regular basis. As in all agreements, the gold standard is in meeting expectations.
And speaking of critical thinking about one’s assumptions, beliefs and perspectives about having children, a fascinating area of study has been of those people ages 41 and over who never had children. What do they think of this choice? According to a 2003 Gallup poll, when asked if “you had it to do over again,” only 24% said they would stick with having no children, while more than 70% said they would have them. Astonishingly, the majority said they would have two or three children.
One can imagine, from one’s own circle of friends, the constraints, perceived and otherwise, that lead to the decisions to be child-free. High among them must include unsympathetic partners, no partners, finances, health, infertility, no opportunities to adopt, and no interest in or talent for child-rearing. Less obvious is the change of thinking and/or circumstances that crystallizes a complete and often profound change of heart. Here I am reminded of a couple I met some years ago who announced that they had decided not to have children even though they could tell that they would really enjoy having adult children in their golden years. They were definitely on to something. Several polls on happiness have compared people with children and without and found that both were equally happy; but, the happiest of all were people who had adult children no longer in need of custodial and financial care, i.e. the job was reasonably well done and the parents were largely pleased with the result. So it would seem that one highly overlooked question in the critical thinking process of deciding to have children is “what child are you most interested in, small, medium or large?” Childhood has several individual stages, each representing significantly different skills and responsibilities for parents. It is no wonder that the question of having children evokes very different responses and I would venture to guess that young people who visualize the intensive care of infants and toddlers as a pleasing, evolving task will opt to have them. Those who visualize their abstract and anonymous infants as inescapable, unaffordable, never-ending drudgery will opt out. In fact, an informal UK survey asked whether current parents regretted having children, with 11% indicating that regret they did. Not surprisingly, the content of the answers of these 11% – citing financial stress and loss of time for work, relationships, and leisure – suggests that many if not most of this 11% are currently navigating the choppy waters of early childhood when it is easy to get lost in the sloppy moments vs. the original objective.
Clearly though, age confers a broader perspective on the finite aspects of infant/small child care and the overall achievability of success and pride at the end of the road. For those considering child-rearing partners by marriage, couple partnering, group partnering, family partnering, or something we haven’t thought of, partner selection and ultimate agreement is indeed greatly enriched by getting to know what you want (and don’t want) as a parent. Those who are considering childlessness they might regret can ask the same questions, perhaps concluding that partners should not share ones strengths and weaknesses but complement them. Not crazy about infants? Find a partner who is. Do teenagers seem like the most insufferable creatures on the planet? Seek the partner who can’t wait to take them camping. Also, consider the commitment of the extended family that comes ready-made with your prospective partner or donor. Adoption of older children should also figure high on the list of considerations for people seeking parenthood but who remain unsure of a decades-long commitment requiring the full spectrum of revolving parenting skills.
Definitely, it is worth engaging “a critical thinking method” that confronts your “own assumptions, beliefs and perspectives” as it relates to something as serious as becoming a parent or parent adjunct – or in skipping the whole parenthood thing entirely. But while we are doing all this thinking and analysis, we need also to consider the difference between abstract children and the real ones. Our human tendency to fall madly in love with the latter must also figure in the reckoning, neither overestimated nor underestimated in its ability to get most parents-by-choice through thick and thin.
Gordon, Claire. 2012. Unhappy at work? A wantologist will help, for $200 an hour. AOL Jobs: July 17.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2012. The outsourced life. New York Times: May 5.
Newport, Frank. 2003. Desire to have children alive and well in America. Gallup: August 19.
Parenting News: One in 10 parents regret having children due to financial strain. 23 November, 2012. http://www.bollyfirst.com/parenting/news+on+parenting-267690.html

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