The Emergence of Kids as Kings

In her review of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After in the Christian Science Monitor, Teresa Mendez writes:

According to DePaulo, only in the past decade have personal circles shrunk to squeeze out all but a soul mate. "Where once the tendrils of love and affection reached out to family, friends, and community…" she writes, "now they surround and squeeze just one person – sometimes to the point of asphyxiation."

I disagree. I do think personal circles have shrunk, but not because of the dominance of a soul mate. They have shrunk because of the emergence of kids as the dominating force in families.

I’ve been talking about this with my school friends for a couple years — despite being the benefactors of such grandiose focus, it still raises questions like, "If and when I become a parent, how will I possibly maintain social friends or pursue personal hobbies if kids are such an all-consuming effort?"

I do think the emergence of kids as kings is uniquely American. For one, it seems to be glorified in our national media, and two, I didn’t witness anything similar in my travels in Europe and Asia.

This past holiday season, for example, my family received several Christmas cards from other American families. Several of them only included the kids in the picture, not the parents. You know something is wrong when parents are ousted from their own Christmas card.

8 comments on “The Emergence of Kids as Kings
  • Great topic Ben.

    Seeing how I have two nephews and a niece (all between the ages of four and six)I’ve seen firsthand just how children come to dominate a life.

    Sometimes friendships are maintained if both friends have children; i.e., playdates and other activites such as b-day parties and the like. However, time to take part in “grown-up things” such a movies or even a dinner out in town are certainly diminished.

    I’ve recently met a girl who I’ve taken quite liking to, one who is quite honest in the hesitancy she has over both marriage and child rearing.

    “There’s so much I want to do,” she said. “If I ever have a child I want it to be wanted, not brougth into the world to fulfill some sort of social obligation.”

    As for myself, well, at this point finding out I got a girl pregnant ranks among my worst nightmares. Nonetheless, there are many things I want to accomplish in life, and I still can’t imagine having a child along for the ride. It’s for this reason that I’m grateful to have my nephews and niece.

    And I’m sure they’ll be grateful to have an Uncle down in Miami once they reach their teens!

  • Children dominate, and yet they don’t. I still have a thriving life outside of my kids (though generally only during work hours).

    It is true that dads are spending more time with their kids than ever before, but they are also spending more time at work than ever before as well. I don’t know what’s losing out (besides sleep), but I’ll bet that things like clubs, bowling leagues, and other 50s relics top the list.

  • >I do think the emergence of kids as kings is uniquely American. For one, it seems to be glorified in our national media, and two, I didn’t witness anything similar in my travels in Europe and Asia.
    Interestingly, I believe the same though with different conclusion.
    As far as I can recall, participation by parents into kid’s life and education choices, or being a pro-active parent is more common in the US than in India.


  • I think one of the main reasons for this seemingly sudden emergence of kids as kings has a number of causes (IMHO):

    1) The nuclear family is not what it was in our parent’s time. As the younger generations have held off longer to get married and start their families they are finding that when they do take that step…many of their friends have not yet reached that stage.

    2) It use to take a village to raise a child. Now…more often than not…parents are either taking on the burden themselves, or pawning the children off to daycares and nannies. With the cost of childcare on the rise (always) it is more often taken on personally…leaving little time for social interaction with anyone who isn’t in the same boat.

    I am a mom…a wife…a business person…and a student. I often find that I just don’t have the time to “play with my friends”. When the time DOES arise…it is often difficult to find quick babysitting. My single or non-child-having friends make plans on a whim…when they get the notion. I use to as well. You get the urge to go grab a drink…play some pool…hit the clubs…even grab a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, it is similar to suddenly deciding to fly off to Greece if you happen to own a PitBull. You have to find someone who is willing to take the risk and responsibility of watching your child even for a moment so you can take a break.

    Without the village’s support…you are often left with full arms and no help. And for the single or non-child-having friends…often the idea of a child is scary…don’t know how to act around them…what to say…what to do…so it is just easier to NOT be around them…which includes not being around the adult that is attached to them!

    My social life…is my work! Great topic…love your blogs!

  • I really do not think that the kids as kings phenomenon is limited to America. In Japan, most marriages turn sexless and go south after the children are born. Then the men have affairs that the women patiently tolerate. It’s a stereotype, but from what I’ve heard has elements of truth. Women tend to completely devote themselves to their children. On the other hand, paternal involvement isn’t like what it is in the US. So it is somewhat different, as it doesn’t require sacrifices on both sides.

    Actually, my personal view of marriage is that I would only ever marry if I wanted to have kids. I’m happy with serial monogamy and don’t really see the need for a legal bond unless there are children involved.

  • I think there are plenty of single but happy people, but most happiness research shows married people happier than single. However there is no research to suggest parents with kids are happier than simply a married couple.

    Serial monogamy is lovely to a point, but eventually I’d want a deeper emotional connection with one person.

    Also, I think you’re right Japan is similar to US in the status of kids.

  • Great topic. Too much to say on this in a blog comment, but I agree that it’s a problem – for singles, married couples without kids, and for parents.

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