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updated: 11/4/2011 8:52 AM

There are good reasons to have kids

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Good reasons to have kids -- are there any? If you read last week's column with good reasons not to have kids, you may be wondering.

Well, I think there are, and as I promised, I'm going to talk about them this week. In the good old days (which I've never thought sounded all that good) kids were an economic necessity for many people. Most of us lived on family farms and, as the name implies, it took a family to run them -- the larger the better. One good reason to have children then was to provide the hands needed to keep the farm going.

And we wanted a good many of them, too. Children were often lost to birth defects and disease. In some sense, we had a large family because we knew that some of our children were not going to survive into adulthood.

Sometimes we had children by accident. Before the advent of various methods of birth control, simply expressing our sexuality in our marriage sometimes resulted in more than we bargained for.

Of course, things change. Few of us live on farms anymore. A vast majority of today's children survive into adulthood. And we have a wide variety of birth planning techniques to choose from. Yet many of us still go on having children, sometimes a good many of them. Why?

As I pointed out last week, there is still a fairly strong "should" associated with having children. It is expected in our culture that we will settle down, marry and raise a family. But, as I also suggested, "shoulds" are not always a very good reason for doing something.

I am aware of four good reasons to have children. Two seem to me to be fairly "selfless" reasons; the other two are, for the most part, selfish ones. I'll start with the former.

First, deciding to have children may be the ultimate optimism. It is a statement of faith: faith in the ability of the human race not only to survive, but to build a better world -- a world that will be worth living in, and a world that will need people. Our children are those people.

Second, having children can be a way of making our world better. If we can be good parents and can raise children who are loving, caring and giving, then we are contributing quite a bit to the future. We desperately need people like that, the more the better.

Good reasons. But not enough. Ultimately, I think having children is a selfish decision.

First and foremost, we do it for ourselves. I believe that within each of us is the need to give. We were made to give; it is part of our very human nature. Certainly that giving often gets sidetracked. Many of us have gotten so bruised and battered by this world that we have almost forgotten how to give. But the need is still there. Now, at its most basic, parenting is giving. Day and night, week after week, year after year, we give ourselves to another person. We wash diapers, work a second job, play with blocks, drive to Scouts, edit book reports, and share a lot of pain and pleasure. We also try to throw in as many hugs and "I love you" statements as possible.

Oh, sometimes we do "get" in return. Our kids sometimes reach out and give to us. And that's great. But it isn't the reason to be a parent. We will never get paid back for what we give our children; we don't need to be. Being able to give, and to watch our children struggle and grow, is repayment enough. Parenting, then, meets our need to give (that's my third reason).

Finally, parenting is our bid for immortality (reason No. 4). Even if we can't live forever, we want to. Our kids are our way of being a part of the future. For better or worse, we live on in our children.

Why have kids? Well, if we believe in ourselves as parents, and if we believe in the future, then our loving, caring, and giving children can be our gift to that future. And if we feel the need to give of ourselves in a very intimate way, then parenting can be a beautiful way to do it.

But kids are not for everyone. That much is clear. There are some very good reasons to have children, and there are also just as many good reasons not to. We certainly need to do some hard thinking before we make up our minds. If you are starting a family, or adding to one, have children for the right reasons. We will never have enough loving, caring, giving people. We already have enough unwanted, neglected, and unhappy children.

• The Rev. Ken Potts' book "Mix, Don't Blend: A Guide to Dating, Engagement, and Remarriage with Children" is available through book retailers.