A family seems like such a good idea. A spouse you love, a child or children to link you to the future, a home that is a refuge from the myriad cares of the outside world – and so on and so on. Why does it turn out so disastrously?
That must be qualified. There are, presumably, happy families out there – you just have to look for them.
Spa! (Aug 25) doesn’t. On the contrary, its theme is family unhappiness – more accurately, family “weariness.” It polls, first of all, 2,000 married men aged 30-49: “Does your family make you tired?” Yes, say 1,180 – 59%. The 41% who say no are a minority, but a not insignificant one – so it’s not all bad. Spa! then pursues 500 among the 1,180, probing for details. As you read them, you can’t altogether suppress the thought, the heartening minority notwithstanding: What a life-crushing, soul-stifling institution the family is!
What is it about family life that crushes and stifles? Ranking first and second among respondents are a wife whose demands or moods cause, or intensify, exhaustion; and – surprisingly perhaps, coming in far ahead of seemingly grosser irritants like the sexless marriage (ranking third), an insufficiency of free time (fourth), money worries (seventh) and having to care for aging parents (ninth) – is “interference from, or continuing dependency on, one’s parents.”
“She’s impossible to please!” is a recurring complaint. You come home from a hard day’s work – 12, 13 or 14 hours’ worth, as often as not – to a wife who sounds more like a boss than a tender, loving life companion. If you don’t help with the housework, you’re a deadbeat; if you do, you’re a bungler.
“Mr Takahashi,” 34, took paternity leave when his wife gave birth, only to find himself more a hindrance than a help, in his wife’s eyes. Quarrels over the merest trifles grew explosive. The couple pulled back from the brink of divorce, but affection between them is pretty well dead, and what’s left? A lifetime of putting up with each other for the child’s sake?
That’s sad but at least benign. Then there’s “Mr Fukami,”39. “I liked her for her strong character,” he says, recalling feelings for his wife earlier in their relationship. Now he wishes he’d read the danger signals better. The “strong character” is diabolic – she douses him with hot water, or throws furniture at him, when he fails to fold a towel to her satisfaction. (Spa! doesn’t give us her story.) He finally resolved on divorce when she locked their child out of the house in mid-winter. Who gets the child is not mentioned.
Then there are parents. You’re grown up and on your own, but either they fail to realize it and distance themselves accordingly, or else you yourself are so psychologically dependent on them that you’re the one who can’t let go. This is not surprising, Spa! hears from a trio of psychologists it speaks to. Men now in their 30s and 40s grew up with dad so busy at work as to be quasi-absentee, with mother and son clinging to each other for mutual support and developing various complexes as the years passed.
Some parents, made use of as babysitters for the grandchildren, demand in return a say in how the grandchildren are raised, to the irritation of their own children, the grandchildren’s parents. Are the grandparents being utterly unreasonable? Who’s to say? Then there’s “Mr Yoshikawa,” at age 32 having to deal with a daily barrage of email from mom: “Are you all right?” “Have you eaten?” – and so forth.
“Mr Hosaka,” 34, has a slightly different problem. His parents have a newspaper distribution business operating out of their home in the country somewhere, which they want their son to take over. He’s busy in the city and wants no part of it. “Lately they’ve changed tactics,” Hosaka sighs. “Instead of going after me, they go after my wife and child, talking up how good life is in the country…”
The cumulative effect of Spa!’s anecdotes is to make you wonder: Who invented the family, anyway?© Japan Today