Single vs Family: the right to choose

By on September 29, 2011

A recent article in The Japan Times suggested that Japanese people in their 20s and 30s are delaying marriage and family due to income concerns. I got married when I was 39 and had my first child at 41. I didn’t plan to get married and have kids so “late” and income (or lack thereof) definitely was not a factor in my delayed timeline, so I can’t help but think that young people who delay marriage and family might be influenced more by reasons similar to my own.

A desire to find myself. By the time I was 25, a majority of my friends were married with babies in tow. At 26, three months before my own wedding, I passed up my impending trip to the altar in favor of pursuing my dream of backpacking through Asia. Crazy as it seemed to my family, I realized there were just too many things I wanted to do for and by myself that wouldn’t be the same if I were married. I knew that if I didn’t do these things I would end up living with regrets and “what ifs”. This desire to discover myself, follow my passions and live life without regrets landed me in Japan and kept me there for five years as I began developing and teaching the principles I now use in my coaching and consulting work. It also spurred me to leave yet another significant relationship behind in Tokyo to return to Canada to pursue the next evolution of my business.

Fear of making the wrong choice. With the increasing prevalence of divorce, young people today are well aware that marriage may not be forever – and of the steep price paid by the couple (and their kids) when it isn’t. In my case this led to me being much more cautious – some might have even said somewhat cynical – about falling in love. The divorce statistics provide ample evidence that marrying your high-school sweetheart is more likely to guarantee disaster than a lifetime of bliss. Being conscious of this puts a healthy set of brakes on the rush down the aisle that is often precipitated by overzealous youthful romanticism.

The older you get the pickier you are. When you have a healthy fear of making the wrong choice and take the time to get to know yourself, you become more aware of what you want and less inclined to settle for anything less. Marriage and parenthood involves sacrifices. As much as I love my husband and my son, I am the first to remind my single friends (when they are lamenting their singledom) of the many freedoms that I took for granted when I was single and childless. Coming home to an apartment that looks exactly as it did when I left it? Blissful! Eating nothing but popcorn for dinner just because I feel like it? Decadence! No one to question your latest clothing purchase? Freedom! Time to just sit and daydream, write in your journal, go for a run, or read a book without anyone interrupting you? Peace! The challenge with delaying marriage and family is that the longer you delay it the more difficult it becomes to give up (or at least be willing to bend on) all of the wonderful rights and freedoms of being a single sovereign individual.

Young people today are increasingly aware of themselves and of the realities of marriage and family. Might it not be possible that they are choosing to remain single for the many benefits and opportunities that it offers? Perceived success as a person should not depend on marriage and family. If there were less societal pressure on people to see marriage and family as the only alternative, possibly even more people would opt to remain single and/or childless – or at least enter into relationships with a more realistic understanding of the work involved in making them work. This increased understanding of the importance of finding fulfillment as an individual, outside of a relationship, is a healthy trend – not a harbinger of economic and societal meltdown.

That said, all of the above reasons I cited for delaying marriage and children to begin with, are what have made my experiences of it so rewarding. My burning desire to know myself and follow my passions continues to ensure me that my husband and I are the perfect fit. Whether inspiring me, infuriating me or simply leading by example, he is always there to challenge me to live up to my potential and follow my dreams. My certainty that I made the right choice leaves me with much more energy for all of the other pursuits in my life both as an individual and as a family. Our mutual pickiness means that we don’t let things boil below the surface until they blow up. We tend to call each other on our stuff as it happens and luckily, because we are not twenty, we have the maturity to handle it with grace, learn from it, and make ourselves, our relationship and our lives all the better for it.

The bottom line is that there is no one choice that is best for all. Single is not better than married (or vice versa) – just different. Sure, you miss a significant life experience if you don’t have kids, but there is also a lot that you miss out on if you do. Again, neither is better – just different. At the end of the day what is most important is that each person looks at their own needs, desires, and dreams and honors their own right to choose.

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on Amazon.com). She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work helps individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. Learn about career and entrepreneur coaching programs (and download some free tools for meaningful work and living your purpose) at www.kyoseicoaching.com or their workplace transformation programs at www.kyoseiconsulting.com