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.