Back when I was trying-to-conceive my first child, I was regularly active on a women’s TTC message board. On it, we usually talked about things like fertility charting or celebrity pregnancy news. But one day, someone posed this serious question:
Why Do You Want To Have Kids? Really?
I didn’t respond to the thread at the time, realizing that I didn’t really have a well fleshed out answer for myself. Why *did* I want kids? Though I felt and knew that I should have kids if I were able – I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more that influenced my desire for them.
This wasn’t the first time I’d ever pondered my responsibility toward genetic offspring for future generations though. The first time the question struck me was in 2006, very early into marriage, after having watched two movies that had just come out: Idiocracy and Children of Men.
Idiocracy is a comedy about a dystopian future in which humanity has bred itself into stupidity through generations of couples with higher-intelligence not having kids, and couples with lower-intelligence having many kids.
Children of Men is a science fiction thriller about another dystopian future where, for unknown reasons, human fertility has completely stopped. A baby hasn’t been born for almost two decades, and humanity has begun to age itself out of existence.
Though the movies had completely different tones, I found their comparison to have a rather profound affect on my understanding of what fertility and human reproduction meant in terms of the larger picture of humanity. They instilled in me the concept that the ability to conceive and raise children was not just a precious gift bestowed upon us, but also a heavy responsibility. A responsibility that I, a capable adult human, may or may not have an obligation to participate in. After all, I was a healthy, intelligent, likely fertile woman – why shouldn’t I contribute to our future humanity in such a way if I could?
But I didn’t know if defaulting to movies was an appropriate way to answer the message board question though, so I didn’t say anything.
When asked before I had kids why I wanted them, I could only understand the importance of human reproduction by relating it to movies I’d seen.
Years later, I was eventually and thankfully privileged to experience the conception, gestation, and then birth of my own children. Without getting too metaphysical here, I found the experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting to be transformative. KP and I have created, and are now sustaining, life. The actual lives of individual people separate from ourselves. This is no small feat and I find it bewildering that so many are able to brush off our capability to reproduce as at best the means to a desired life accessory, and at worst, an undesirable inconvenience that must be regulated and restricted.
But… if you’ve read my blog before, you know that I tend to think about things waaay more than it seems most do, lol – so I’ve long ago accepted that many people don’t ponder the complexities of life as I do. Oh well, they just miss out on all the fun. 🙂
I’ve now have some kids.
And a long winded new perspective.
As you may know, I’m currently pregnant with my third child. And oddly, I find myself questioning my motive for this pregnancy much more than I did with either of my first two children. I’ve been stumbling into articles about “why have kids?” or about the anti-natalism or childfree movements – and it seems there’s a lot of belief out there that parenthood, and especially motherhood, not only holds one back from a more ‘significant’ and ‘productive’ potential, but also leaves a person in denial of their regret over the loss of that once-childfree-potential. Instead, parenthood is consumed by the mind-numbing-ness of dirty diapers, tantruming toddlers, never-ending carpools, bratty preteens, and rebellious teenagers…when you know, they could actually be doing something meaningful with their lives otherwise. Many use this as a reason to remain childfree, a choice that they believe will allow them to lead better, happier, more fulfilling lives than if they had chosen to reproduce.
This is not to say that I don’t think that women (or men) that don’t have kids are incapable of leading happy and productive lives, on the contrary, I think that we ALL have our place in the world and can contribute in equally meaningful ways to humanity regardless whether or not we produce or raise offspring. But I also think that there’s a lot of misconceptions out there about what parenthood is really like, and a lot of shortsighted perspective – and not enough honest contemplation.
So here we go. I’m once again asking myself the question posed on that message board, this time determined to answer: Why do I want kids? Really? Am I crazy? Brainwashed? Ignorant of my own selfishness? As someone who likes asking the hard questions in life and someone who’s not afraid of my own honest confrontations – let’s confront these questions head on:
Why did I want to have kids?
Why have I kept having children?
Am I selfish for procreating; is three kids too many?
Do I secretly regret motherhood?
Why would I want to force a new life, unable to consent, into a world full of suffering?
The big bolded questions directly above.
Let’s start with REGRET.
In the articles I’ve read, it seems to be a common acceptance that surely most highly intelligent women regret motherhood in someway, having had to “lower” themselves to the tedium of raising children and the loss of productive time contributing to a career, academics, philanthropy, society, etc.
It’s worth noting here that regret is a very heavy word and a somewhat useless concept. Because you can only regret something in the past that can no longer be changed, the only productive quality of regret is to convince another to choose a different future path for themselves…you can’t change your own past. Yet, because regret is a fleeting emotion, adaptable over time and dependent on one’s limited perspective, it is not always a reliable enough emotion for another person to base their own life decisions on.
With that note, let me be brutally honest. Motherhood has been a challenge that I -even in all my years of education, and being a comp counselor, and working with kids beforehand- was not prepared for. Motherhood has changed me. Completely. I am not the same person I used to be. I will never be that same person I was before. That person is gone. It’s not even the changes in my physical body (which really, for all the stress people place on it, have not been a significant issue for me and not something to worry about), but also how what I previously thought as mental, psychological, and physical needs have drastically adjusted.
Yes, parenthood will change your life. It’s ok to be scared of that change. But this change is NOT a bad thing.
Do I sometimes miss the freedom of pre-kid life? Do I miss those days where the house was calm and I could do things -actually *think* about things- without half my mind constantly distracted? Do I miss the days of quiet before the seeming incessant noise of whining and needing my attention and immediate solution to every single little problem that comes up that my kids can’t yet solve on their own? Do I end many days feeling like I’ve gone just slightly crazy but I pretend that I’m totally fine because the only way I can maintain my sanity is if I tell myself this is surely normal for all parents, right?
Yes. Yes. And Yes. And another Yes.
But truthfully, I ALSO sometimes miss the excitement of being single, just as I sometimes miss still being in my mid-20s with a more youthful appearance and more energy and more of my life ahead of me to dream about.
It’s normal to miss things from our past that we can never have back again. This isn’t regret. This is part of the human experience.
There’s no guarantee that life will bring you what you want no matter which direction you take. Your perfectly emotionally and physically compatible new spouse could become paralyzed soon after the wedding and become an invalid you must care for. Your carefully preimplantation genetically-tested child could suffer a later disability that affects their -and your- quality of life forever. You could choose to remain unencumbered, single, and childless, and still find yourself stricken with a horrible and incurable -and socially alienating- disease. Or maybe none of that will happen. Life is a roll of the dice no matter what. Opening ourselves up to the unknowns of the future is not easy to do. But we cannot set ourselves up to regret something that has not yet happened either.
Has having children changed who I am? Yes. Do I regret having had children? No.
Regret is dependent on one’s perspective.
Next, let’s tackle the big ethical anti-natalist question:
Is it wrong to bring children into the world WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT? No one chooses to be born, life has been forced upon on us all. Why force life onto someone who might not want it?
Like the issue of regret, we need to first note that this is a somewhat useless argument. It’s unanswerable. A paradox. Regardless whether or not we “should” force others into life without their consent, no one is able to consent before they’ve been forced into life. Therefore the conclusion that we should not force one to be born without their consent cannot logically follow.
Anti-natalism takes the following stance, which logically speaking, is valid. HOWEVER, because their main premise is flawed and the resulting paradox impossible to be proven true, their argument can never be sound.
(quick logic lesson: a sound argument and a valid argument are two totally different things. A valid argument is an argument that ‘follows logically’ yet could still contain false premises – but a sound argument is one that is both valid AND all premises are true. Sound arguments are best.)
Pardon me while I get all math-y and logic-y here for a moment. This stuff is fun for me, lol, but you can just skip over it if it confuses your brain too much (though it never hurts to learn something new either…just sayin’… 🙂 )
As a perhaps easier-to-understand example: there are plenty of instances in the world where it is considered good that we SHOULD force an action on another (B) without first obtaining consent (~A).
Looking at the second Venn diagram above, the blue shaded area contains all the following instances and more: paramedics saving an unconscious victim, a parent securing an unhappy child into a carseat who doesn’t want to wear their seatbelt, a witness jumping in to stop the impending physical assault of another, a stranger running into the street to push someone out of the way of an oncoming car, a neighbor taking an elderly person’s arm to help them across a street, etc. Even if someone did not consent to being conceived (~A) it is still reasonable that they should be given life (B).
The premise of non-consent in an argument against procreation is not a strong defense and imho, not worth serious consideration.
Another anti-natalist issue against having children is that of suffering:
Why should we bring children into a world full of SUFFERING and pain? Why encourage the continuation of humankind and all the destruction that comes with our existence?
To be fair, the issue of human suffering is one that I’m currently immersing myself in. This past year especially I’ve contemplated and internalized the tragedy of death unlike ever before. I’ve thrown myself into the personal stories of people’s friends, loved ones, spouses, and children dying. I’ve cried many, many, many tears over people I’ll never meet, said vicarious goodbyes to people who don’t know me. I’ve allowed myself to feel and soak tragedy in, trying, somehow, to better understand its purpose.
Though I don’t claim to know it all yet (who does?), I am inclined to believe that life is made up of both suffering and joy, unfortunately doled out to each of us in unequal portions. Some lead lives of privilege, others endure lives of hardship. But we all experience suffering at some point, some more, some less. We all will die. Some sooner, some later. Life is not fair. But I don’t believe this makes non-existence preferable.
(I realize that any antinatalists reading will likely jump in here stating that I’ve fallen prey to “optimism bias” or self-delusion…or as some may call it: HOPE. To which I unashamedly admit and embrace. Hope is a common theme in this blog of mine, as well as a concept I believe necessary to human survival. Without hope, it is probably easier to assume the position of antinatalism in the first place.)
What I think it boils down to is the acceptance of two things:
1) That we do not have ultimate control over everything that happens to us, and
2) That suffering does not equal wrongness/evil.
On the contrary, I believe that without the experience of unhappiness one can never know happiness, just as without the experience of suffering one can never know joy.
Yes, there is great, and unfair, suffering in the world. Yes, I have been privileged to be born into a life that set me up to likely live relatively free from some of the worst sufferings. Perhaps I would be having a different conversation if I were in a place where I felt that the children I brought into the world would ONLY ever know agony. But even in the worst circumstances, even when life is short-lived, even when life seems nothing but misery in comparison to another’s – I truly believe that some beauty, some joy, some good, still exists. And I don’t feel that I am qualified to judge the quantity of my possible future child’s suffering against their potential value for beauty, joy, and good, to the point where I refuse their existence on the lone reason of avoiding suffering.
No one is immune to suffering or to death.
But this doesn’t mean life is not worth living.
You might now be saying: Ok, ok, ok Ronni – we get it. You’ve defended yourself against some of the reasons people choose NOT to have kids…but you still haven’t answered the main question:
Why exactly did you want to have kids?
There’s this idea of “selfishness” that gets thrown about on both sides of the to-have-children-or-not-to-have-children debate. It’s said that it’s “selfish” to have children and it’s said that it’s “selfish” not to have them.
And you know what? It’s selfish both ways.
I have children because I want to have children.
- Because I believe I can make a good parent.
- Because I want to contribute to the next generation -and to humanity as a whole- in a hopefully positive way.
- Because creating and sustaining life has opened my eyes to understanding life in a completely new way.
- Because even in the midst of all the frustrations that parenthood brings, parenthood also brings deep joys that can’t be experienced the same elsewhere.
- Because living every day with a young and growing life right in front of my face forces me to see and appreciate life in all its different stages. Makes me recognize the beauty and joy in the wonder of life itself. Who are we? How do we learn? How do we develop from tiny, helpless newborn – to creative and independent child – to questioning and exploring teen – to establishing ourselves as young adults – and then to becoming contributing members of society…just as the stage *I *am in now. The challenges and joys of parenthood have helped me understand myself more fully.
Just as contemplating death gives me more meaning to life, so does contemplating my children’s lives and how they process and grow and develop into eventual adult human beings.
Right now, I’m watching my 5 year old daughter. She’s sitting at the kitchen table, supposed to be practicing handwriting the letter D. But instead she’s just sitting there, playing quietly with a plane, a dinosaur, and a My Little Pony toy, probably hoping I don’t notice and make her go back to her writing.
The stories in her head right now I can’t even begin to imagine. The stories she has yet to create in all the years ahead of her are even more impossible for me to envision.
I’m sure my parents thought the same of me once, when I was a little girl. Wondering where I would go, what I would do with my life, what my mind would one day create. And here I am now, writing a blog online (which I’m sure they never foresaw, lol), living my own parenthood adventure each day, experiencing my own joys and struggles watching my own children grow, making sense of my own life. Just as I once grew from nonsensical stories in my head into the coherence of my own adulthood, my daughter is currently on this same journey for herself.
I have no idea what the future holds for either her or I. Suffering or joy. Happiness or pain. No, she did not consent to being born into this world. Neither did I.
But I’m glad I’m here right now. I’m glad that my daughter’s here and that my son’s here and that my soon-to-be-born child is here inside me moving around. And I hope that my children one day too will be thankful to be given their opportunity at making their own lives for themselves just as I am using the opportunity of my own life.
If this is considered selfish, then I accept the label of selfishness.
So why do I have children?
Because I believe that, for all life may bring, for all that one experiences through it, for all its’ suffering and pain and joy and happiness – that life and having had life is good.
And I want to be part of what’s good in this world.