I've found myself considering whether to have children three times in my life.
These decisions were made 10 years apart and from very different perspectives. Older and wiser the second time around, I was much more aware there are a number of good arguments both for and against having children. As this is a rather important topic, I thought we might take the next two weeks and look at both sides of the question.
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There are, in fact, some very convincing reasons not to be a parent -- we just don't talk about them much. We probably feel a bit guilty just thinking about them. But deep down inside, most of us admit, even if just to ourselves, that the decision to have children is not as clear-cut as some of us pretend it is.
Our society has some rather strong "shoulds" about starting a family. First, we expect that all adults should want children. Second, all adults should be able to be kind, loving and nurturing parents. Third, all adults should be willing to sacrifice anything and everything else in the world for their children.
I don't like "shoulds." They usually result in us doing something out of a sense of obligation rather than it making sense. So let's get rid of all the "shoulds" about having children and try to look at the idea from a common sense perspective. Common sense does not necessarily dictate having children. Here are some reasons why.
1. There are an awful lot of people in this world, probably too many. We are running out of food, water, clean air, all kinds of natural resources and even room. Things look like they will get worse before they get better. Does it make sense to introduce yet another human being into this mess?
If we can't take care of all the people we have, it may not make sense to add more. There are plenty of abandoned, abused and neglected youngsters we can care for if we truly want to be involved with children.
2. Having children is an incredible responsibility. We may be bringing a person into the world who will require our care for the rest of his or her life, and will be responsible for feeding, clothing, housing and protecting this person as long as necessary. We are legally liable for the actions of this child at least until their 18th birthday.
But even more importantly, we will be mostly responsible for who our children are as people. We will form their characters, nurture their self-concept and build in them both strengths and weaknesses. They will follow in our footsteps, often down paths we'd rather we hadn't traveled ourselves.
3. By having children, we are setting ourselves up for inevitable pain and disappointment. No matter how hard we try, we'll never be perfect parents. We will let our children down. We will hurt them. We will live with the knowledge that they will pay the price for our inadequacies as parents.
We will pay a price as well. It will be hard for us not to see our children's disappointments and failures as our own. Their pain will be our pain, and we will have hopes and aspirations for our children that will never be realized.
4. Having children takes an unbelievable amount of time. It takes time to cook, clean, wash, play, teach, comfort, discipline, guide, transport, etc. That time has to come from somewhere. We are going to have less time for ourselves, spouses, friends, careers and hobbies. And there will be more than a few sleepless nights.
5. Being parents puts an incredible amount of stress on a marriage. A good many couples have children because they believe it will somehow supply (or rekindle) the missing spark to their relationship.
They are tragically mistaken. An unhealthy marriage will only be further strained by the introduction of more personalities and needs. And, sadly, mixed-up marriages usually produce mixed-up kids.
6. Finally, we need to mention money. A recent magazine article suggested it will take at least an extra $200,000 to raise a child born today through four years of college. Most of us are struggling to keep our heads above water as it is. How are we going to come with an extra $10,000 or so per year per child? Are we condemning ourselves to never having enough money for ourselves or our children? Certainly money is not the key to good parenting, but if we are honest it does play a part.
I'm afraid I have not painted a particularly attractive picture of the joys of parenthood. But that was my intention. If we go into parenting with our eyes open, we will be much better prepared and, ultimately, more satisfied with the job we do.
As I mentioned earlier, I chose to be a parent. Next week we will consider some of the positive reasons to make such a decision.