I was talking to my father-in-law the other day about Clancy’s youngest sister, Zoey. Zoey is presently abroad doing good deeds in a third-world part of the country. When she gets back, she’s probably going to graduate school. At no point does she plan on marrying or having children. Which is a shame, not only because she has the genes for it, but moreso than a lot of people she has an outstanding temperament for it.
When Clancy and her sisters were young, the Himmelreich parents decided that they would make sure that the education and preparation the girls got would be enough so that they would take care of themselves. Unlike with her cousins, they would not take the path of endlessly higher education and the debt that comes with it, nor would they need to marry a man to support him.
The drawback to this approach is, of course, that it makes one far less likely to become grandparents. Not that none of them couldn’t manage to have kids if that’s what they wanted, but the emphasis on self-sufficiency early on can make it harder later on in life to then turn around and surrender a portion of your fate to someone else.
In a sense, when you become a mother, that’s partly what you’re doing in the middle-to-upper classes. Some women stay at home and some continue to work, but even those that continue to work have to take patches of time off and usually end up putting their career second. When there are kids involved, it’s hard for their to be two careers. Even in two-income households, it’s usually one career and one job. Clancy and I don’t even have kids and I have had to make the sorts of sacrifices generally reserved for mothers. It’s fortunate for all involved that I am not remarkably career-oriented as the more career-oriented someone is (and the Himmelreich girls were certainly taught to be career-oriented), the less likely they’re going to make those sacrifices.
For all of the complaints about child support and alimony, they can serve the useful purpose of encouraging the sort of trust that people need to make in order to have and raise kids. It becomes much, much harder to convince the Himmelreich girls of the world to stay at home or make career sacrifices when it becomes “each person for him/herself” in the event of a divorce.
The scale can certainly tilt too far in the other direction, as some suggest it already has, but it’s important to recognize that there are competing values here. Helping the partner that sacrificed during the marriage in the event of a divorce encourages sacrifice. The biggest problem with alimony is that it is not very compatible with no-fault divorce. The guarantee of child support is not only important in support for the child, but also in this vein.
As for raising kids (and girls in particular), I’m not sure there is a solution to this dilemma. We will probably raise any daughters we have with similar aims than Clancy and her sisters were. They will be able to take care of themselves. It is my hope that our marriage and family life will be a better inspiration for the joys of family life than is the Himmelreich marriage and the problems that occurred earlier in it.