should you have children?

Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a subject to blog about, so tonight I’ll borrow Syd’s thoughts:

If you decide not to have children, you’re also going to have to learn how to fit in to a world that doesn’t understand you.  When people find out that you don’t want kids, be prepared for their shock.  But take comfort in the fact that it’s not as bad as their reaction would be if they found out you were secretly a serial killer.

from How to Fit in Without Kids

It’s an interesting debate. My wife and I certainly talk, with curiosity, about people we know who have chosen not to have kids. Yet ten years ago, I counted myself among those people. Until I met my wife I had little interest in having children; actually, if I’m honest with myself, I had none. I don’t know why, exactly – I had a good childhood, I was happy with family life. I simply didn’t care that much about having kids. When I look back, and try to be honest with myself, it was selfishness. I was busy with my life for a lot of years. I worked very hard, I played very hard… I traveled, I socialized. I spent a lot of time doing stuff for me. Children just seemed like they would be an inconvenience to that life. And I was right.

It’s a trite and tedious comment to say that once you have kids, everything changes. It’s true, though. My life revolved around ME until I was a husband, but even then I had plenty of time for myself. Bubelah and I were both working and could do things as separate people. We didn’t have responsibilities. Sure, we thought we did – we thought the family visits and the social events and work-related crud were responsibilities, but now I know that pales in comparison to nighttime feedings, pouring juice, wiping butts, preparing food, playtime, storytime, sicktime, and bedtime. And when work bummed me out I could take a vacation. You can’t do that with a kid. You certainly can’t do it with two (or more).

So I get Syd’s article. Now that I have two children I look at childless couples and – sadly – my first thought is usually “wow, too bad, I guess they can’t have kids” – as if no-one could rationally choose that path except through the accidents of biology. But then I reflect, and I think that the world would be much better off if people could seriously and thoughtfully consider their rationale for becoming parents. How often is it societal or parental or other types of pressure that lead people into thinking they ‘need’ kids? How many people NEED to reproduce? The world’s not lacking for people, last time I checked.

I’ll throw out one more trite saying: now that I have kids, I can’t even vaguely conceive of life without them. And I’m not just being sentimental, because it’s hard to have kids and many times they are just not fun. My son and I had a meltdown last night when I punished him (no bedtime book) for calling me a name shortly before bedtime. I was mad, he was mad. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t feel the joy of parenthood at that moment. As I write this I had to jump up from the computer and put my daughter back to sleep after she cried – for no apparent reason. But I still feel an overwhelming sense of closeness to my children that’s impossible to dismiss. I’ve felt endless hours of tiredness, boredom, irritation, and so on, but those hours have been tempered by moments and flashes of pure joy – first words, hugs without reservation and the usual glowing types of experiences parents tout. They’ve been cut with many hours of cute songs, fun play, interesting outings and charming displays.

I love my kids. But does that mean everyone needs children? No. No more than my love of warm weather means everyone should move to a temperate climate. Choices are made about one’s life, and although we tend to make children a central life choice, it’s not the only choice and in many senses may be only one of many. Where to live, what work to choose, who to associate with as friends, religion, diet, money – these are all important, too. You can live a full life with children, but you can live a full life without – just as you can live a desperate life with children, or without.

What you shouldn’t do is judge other people’s choices. There’s an old saying that has always seemed to me to be the epitome of reasonableness and nightmarish lack of concern for other people: “the world needs ditchdiggers, too.” That’s harsh, but you know what?  It’s true. Well, in the same sense, not everyone NEEDS to have kids. Some because they shouldn’t, and – let’s face it – some people don’t want them, even if they’d make great parents. It’s a shocking thing to say, I think, coming from a parent; but it’s true. So parents – treasure your kids. People who aren’t parents – and don’t want to be – will be just fine the way they are.

9 comments

  • Because me and my fiance both came from large families, we thought 4 kids would be a great idea, but now we’re reconsidering. We’re definitely interested in having at least 2 though. I see some people having kids (many out of wedlock at my age), and I can tell if someone is good with them or not. It’s sad to see some people use them more as accessories, and I believe some people just aren’t meant to have any. But who am I to decide?

  • Steve, what I really appreciate about your post is the part where you say some people shouldn’t have kids not because they would make bad parents, but just because they don’t want them (I’m paraphrasing, I hope that’s still in line with your point there.)

    I think of parenting as a very rewarding job. A hard but very rewarding job. I think there are other jobs like that (doctors saving lives must be a very rewarding job), but I don’t want to do those jobs either. Parents sign up for this amazing but hard job, and the ones that really wanted to do that job don’t mind that it’s hard, because they really wanted to do it.

    Some that may have made good parents (or as good as most people doing that job), may just not be interested in that job. It’s as simple as that. Better to leave that job to the people who are really interested in it.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post on the subject.

  • I was just writing a post about this in my drafts and saw this.I am one of those women who do not feel the ‘urge’ to have children. I love my nieces and I work with children all day but I am satisfied just not having one of my own.

    I am getting a lot of pressure from people now who think I should have a child, although I don’t see what business it is of theirs. We all make decisions in life and if I choose not to have children then it does not affect them in any way.

    One lady even told me that ‘God wants us to have children’ because it says in the Bible to be fruitful and multiply. My response was ‘so then why are some people infertile?’. That shut her up pretty quickly.

  • Yes, it is a hard job. But sometimes when people “sign up” for it without realizing just HOW hard it would be, there’s no turning back, no quiting. Unlike a doctor. Being a doctor probably is rewarding, but if the doctor quits tomorrow b/c it’s too hard, no one will suffer. But a parent cannot quit his job of raising a child ever!

  • @Bubelah: Ain’t that the truth!

  • Pam McCormick

    Refreshing to see a intellectual discussion on having children INSTEAD of the religous attitude or the entitlement view.A percentage of people do not really think thru having children,the commitment of time/resources.My husband and I are 56 and have a married daughter in her 30’s.We both went to college and thought about “none or one” as you can see we chose one child.I agree with everything you wrote about and wish more people would think about the individual child, their level of commitment of resources.

  • I totally agree with your post.
    That being said:>) If one chooses not to have children then please don’t tell my children that I did such a good job, they hope that they will look after them when they are old. I have a sibling who is childless by choice and is now a widow. She looks to my kids for support. They love her- but they should not feel responsible for her- no matter how much she writes them into her will. Heck, I don’t think they should feel responsible for me!

  • Whenever I see this type of discussion I can’t help but think of the movie “Idiocracy” and how there are so many folks who have many kids for all kinds of reasons, but often it seems the people who you’d think would be wonderful parents spend too much time fretting over all the issues associated with parenting and end up having none. In the end it is a personal decision, but sometime I think folks way over analyize it. If you need to beat it to death with tons of calculations and justifications, you either really don’t want it or you’re just running scared from a spouse who does.

  • @getagrip: Actually, the dirty little secret is that hardly anyone over analyzes this decision. It’s much more simple than that, you either want them or you don’t, there’s not a big decision-making-process over whether you want them or you not (for the vast majority people.)

    You may think that those of us that don’t want them over analyze the decision, but that’s only because everyone is always asking us, “WHY DON’T YOU WANT KIDS!?!” So we give you a bunch of reasons. But the truth is, we just didn’t want any, the same as people that did want them, it’s not like they made some big list or something, they just wanted ’em. Simple really.