Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Reach of Materialism

One of the issues that is always simmering in my head is the reticence of young couples to have children, particularly to have more than just the average two children per family.

In talking about this with my son-in-law, he told me of a young woman who has "given in" to her boyfriend's wish to buy a house before they get engaged. A year ago, it was their goal to get engaged and married by this year. But the plans have been shelved and she has agreed to move in with her boyfriend in a new house, get engaged, and then save up enough money for the wedding they wish to have.

Of course, this means a huge compromise for this young woman. She never intended to "live with" her boyfriend; she wanted to realise her dreams of engagement, marriage, and living together in that order.

So what changed?  Did the boyfriend put pressure on her to move in together?  Did she fear that she might lose him if she didn't?  Is fear the real problem here?

As usual, when I talk with my husband about such things, he always presents a different take on it. I said that living together necessitates contraception and that is the problem. Giving in to the sexual lifestyle of everyone else is what is driving this couple. But my husband shook his head. "No", he said, "It is materialism. They want stuff and it is easier to get that stuff when you aren't married and there is no chance of a child messing that up".

Two generations ago, young couples courted and married, without the thought that they must buy a house first. Some will say, it was easier to buy a house back then and a house was within the range of the average couple. But it is still within the range of the average couple. The problem is that the house they dream of has changed.

No longer is a three-bedroom bungalow the house that they move into. If they do buy such a house, it is called a "starter home". Yet, when I grew up, most families on my street lived for years in the same three-bedroom bungalow regardless of how many kids came upon the scene.

Most of us have much more than our parents ever had. And still it is not enough. The drive to have more and more stuff does push couples into a lifestyle where a double income is considered absolutely necessary. Rare is the couple who believes that they can make do on one modest salary.

But isn't that what previous generations did? For example, across the street from our house, is a small three-bedroom house. The first two bedrooms are small by modern standards, possibly 10 by 12 feet. The third bedroom can only hold a pull-out couch and a television set. Yet, the lady who lived in that house until recently, was the mother of two children. As well as a family of two adults and two children, they also had her mother and father living with them, as well as her sister who was single. Her mother and father died in that house, as did her sister. When I met Mary Clare, she was living alone in that same house at the age of 89. She was buried from that house that held three generations. She told me stories of how her children would peek out from their bedroom on Saturday night to listen to the adults singing around the piano downstairs. It sounded pretty happy.

When she died, her son sold the house to a young couple who have since raised the house to build a full size basement. They live there with their dog. There will be no children.

So what is really driving the move towards smaller and smaller families, or families that consist of just a couple with no kids? I sense that my husband is right: it is materialism, plain and simple. We just want more and more for ourselves, before we can consider sharing it with anyone else. The trouble is that, the more we get, the less inclined we are to share it with anyone. Least of all children who place such constrictions upon our ability to get more stuff.

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