Having kids is a ton of work. There is no argument there whatsoever.
Kids change everything. They lock you into their schedule, they suck away your time, they wreak havoc on women’s bodies during pregnancy and childbirth, they sneeze straight into your mouth and pee all over your couch (we’re in the middle of potty training right now so it’s a sensitive subject).
So of course, you’d say that having kids is about the most selfless thing you could ever do. Right?
My wife and I recently had our second kid, and I keep thinking back to a certain phrase we kept using before she arrived.
“I want to have another kid.”
And the whole “I” and “want” tipped me off that this may actually be a selfish thing. It can be traced in lots of ways that young couples talk with each other, and even how you talk to friends and family before you’re ready to settle down. The phrases sound like:
“I want to have children.”
“I want to have a girl.”
“I want a big family.”
“I want to have 3 kids.”
“I want to play football with my boys.”
“I want to dance with my daughter at her wedding.”
“I want to be the coolest grandpa in the world.”
“I want my kids to take care of me in my old age.”
And those “I’s” and “wants” keep showing up!
I’ll admit, the thing that got me thinking about this was this chart about climate change that I ran into:
It’s essentially saying that you are choosing to have a child at the expense of planet earth 🙂 I’m sure this could be argued, but don’t worry, I’m not about to dive into a full on global warming discussion. But the graph did open up my mind to the idea that there is more than one way to look at the decision to have children.
The way I see it, you’re either nobly having kids because you think it’s the right thing to do, or you’re selfishly having kids because you want them.
Of course, it’s a complex thing and deciding to have children depends on many factors. Here are 7 of them, and my verdict as to whether the factor is a noble or selfish reason.
Pressure from Grandparents
Your parents want grandkids. That’s just a fact of life. And most of them will pressure you ever so unsubtly to get moving on that. A grandkid is probably the greatest gift you can give your parents. So sure, we’ll say you’re doing a good deed by giving them someone to spoil.
Gifting Society with an Awesome Human
Many of us, mistakenly or not, think we’re pretty awesome. And we assume that we’ll have an awesome kid that will be a net positive for the planet. Our son/daughter will be our gift to the world! They’ll win a nobel prize! They’ll solve global warming! They’ll win a gold medal in the Olympics and inspire billions! But is that really the case? Or will they just be another average person, consuming away at the planet?
Verdict: Who are you kidding. Your kid will probably be average 🙂 Besides some rare exceptions, selfish.
Create a Mini-Me
People want to live forever. That is apparent in the stories we tell, the religions we believe in, and the diets that we attempt. One way that we can “live forever” is through our kids. A piece of us gets passed down to them, and then they’ll pass that piece on and on forever.
Verdict: Ultimately this is a fun and exciting and special thing, passing your genes and traits onto a new human. But it’s ultimately a selfish wish. Adoption is the nobler alternative because it involves less “you” and more of raising a child who needs a home.
Continue My Legacy
Similar to the point above, we want our legacy to live on! We want our stories to be told, our “family business” to stay in the family, and our gravestones to be constantly adorned with a fresh set of flowers. We want our story to continue being told in the next generation.
Verdict: There it is with “our legacy” and “our story.” Selfish.
Match Your Own Family’s Size
I’m sure there’s a graph out there somewhere for this, but perhaps the biggest indicator of how many kids you have is closely related to how many siblings you grew up with. If you came from a big family, you’re much more likely to have a big family. If you had one sibling, then two kids probably sounds about right.
Verdict: Selfish. This is ulimately about your wants for a certain-sized family. Matching what you are used to is ultimately done because you’re most familiar with that family set-up and feel like it will bring the most joy to you.
For many people, having children (or not) is closely tied to religion. I grew up being taught that it was essentially a religious duty for us to have as many kids as we could handle, and this graph very clearly shows that the teaching was successful (I was raised Mormon). It’s not hard to see that faith has a huge impact on how many kids you feel that you should have. It is interesting to note that the people who do not feel such pressure (Atheists and Agnostics) tend to have the fewest.
Verdict: Noble, since you are having kids as part of a “higher calling” or sense of duty to God.
In nations where population replacement is an issue (like Europe), perhaps people view having kids as their way to give back to the motherland and keep it strong. Or on the flipside, some may choose (or are forced) to not have kids to help a population problem (like in China). Or perhaps not so long ago a tribe viewed another child as a way to strengthen the military or production power of their group.
Verdict: Noble, since you’re putting the interests of your country/tribe ahead of your own.
Propogate the Human Race
Like any living thing on earth, we are naturally driven to make sure that our species survives and thrives. It’s a natural thing that we’re wired to do. But in case you haven’t noticed, humans are doing just fine. And since we have way more brain power than anything else on this planet, we’re capable of looking at graphs like the one below. Adding another human into the mix isn’t going to ensure our species’ survival. And some would argue that at this point it’s doing the opposite.
Verdict: Used to be noble, but has been selfish for the last 500 years or so.
Now I’m not saying that if you trend towards the selfish reasons that you should stop having kids. Because that would be hypocritical, since (here I go again) I want to have one or two more myself. But the next time that you’re complaining about how you have no life because of your kids’ huge demands on your time and attention, just remember something. You (probably) wanted this.
I guess the point of this article isn’t to influence you one way or another about how many kids you will have, but to just let you consider the many factors that go into deciding to have kids, and realizing that they aren’t all noble like we’re sometimes led to believe.
The most unselfish thing would be to take every factor into account and then pursue each of the noble factors. Does that mean adopting? Not having kids? Having exactly 2 to replace the population? Ultimately it means putting society’s needs above your personal wants.
But most of us will not stop and think about what is best for society. And that’s totally ok. It’s a complicated thing. And ultimately, having children is a huge part of the human experience, which I believe we are all entitled to have. For me, parenthood has expanded the depths of my emotions more than any other experience. The love for my children is something indescribable, as well as the fear for their well-being and the hopes for their future.
I believe that everyone who wants to experience that should be able to do so. And that’s ok.