02 June 2010

The 18 Year Marathon

...a new UCLA study that documented the life of middle-class families, videotaping their dinners, conversations and leisure activities:

The U.C.L.A. project was an effort to capture a relatively new sociological species: the dual-earner, multiple-child, middle-class American household. The investigators have just finished working through the 1,540 hours of videotape, coding and categorizing every hug, every tantrum, every soul-draining search for a missing soccer cleat.

So what did they find? The general conclusion is that family life is extremely stressful, a relentless barrage of problems, mishaps and negotiations. One of the graduate students who spent time with the families referred to the experience as "the very purest form of birth control ever devised."

...And yet... it's much easier to quantify pleasure on a moment-by-moment basis, or document the swing of cortisol levels in saliva, than it is to quantify something as intangible as "unconditional love". Changing a diaper isn't enjoyable, and teenagers can be such a pain in the ass, but having kids can also provide a profound source of meaning. (I like the amateur marathoner metaphor: survey a marathoner in the midst of the race and they'll complain about their legs and that nipple rash and how the endless route. But when the running is over they are always incredibly proud of their accomplishment. Having kids, then, is like a marathon that lasts 18 years.)

The larger point, though, is that just because we can't measure something doesn't mean it isn't important, or that we should always privilege the quantifiable (pleasure, stress) over the intangible (meaning, purpose). Real life is complex stuff. - The Frontal Cortex

1 comment:

catherine said...

Just finished the marathon leg for the day. Whew!