Children are worth having

Are people who have children selfish? Would the world be better off if more of us were childless?
Barbara Lilley | Aug 17 2009 | comment  

Children sometimes cry or need attentionIn an August 3, 2009 Maclean's Magazine article, “No Kids, No Grief”, author Anne Kingston takes a look at what appears to be a growing and vocal section of society – people who have decided against having children.

The reasons for refusing to procreate seem to run along the lines of the following: it's better for the environment, children are expensive, having them means you have to give up some material things you'd rather not and my personal favourite, childless marriages are far happier.

As the mother of four and one half of a very happy marriage, I will concede that having children is not the cheapest way to live. Nor have my husband and I been able to maintain the lifestyle we once had. And yes, we have fewer material possessions than some people we know; some of that is because the children's need for food and a roof over their heads is more important to us than in jetting off to Belize at a moment's notice, but I can understand and even accept that some people are not meant to be parents.

Polly VernonI do, however, take issue with people like Polly Vernon, a British journalist quoted in the article, saying, “There's nothing selfless about having a really want to be selfless? Adopt...”. That kind of statement raises the hackles on the back of my neck. Adoption is not cheap, which makes it a non-viable option for many, including myself. I recently wrote an article for Mercatornet in which I celebrated 30 years of living with diabetes; for people such as myself, not only is the medical condition which I have a block to adoption, so is my annual income. Blithely tossing off statements claiming I'm selfish because I chose to procreate does not endear the childless to me.

Corinne MaierCorinne Maier is a French writer and mother of two who says there are times she wishes she never had children, her latest book is “No Kids-40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children.” In the Maclean's article, she says that she “...bought into the modern parenting psychology that children could be psychic curatives.” The problem with that kind of thinking is that it places enormous pressure on a child. I do not know of anyone who had children as a way of sorting out some sordid childhood memory, but the damage that could be done to a young child who is unaware of Mommy or Daddy's desire to fix the past using him as a prolonged therapy session would have child psychologists up in arms.

Ms. Maier's list of reasons why one should not have children includes things such as no more sleeping in, not being able to eat in nice restaurants, a lack of spontaneous sex and the ever popular complaint that having children means no more “us” as a couple, but only “us” as parents. Ms. Maier suggests that becoming a parent means you somehow forgo the ability to remain connected to your partner. While I would agree that many parents seem to focus only on their children, I would suggest that this is not the fault of the children, the problem rests solely on the shoulders of the parents.

It is possible, even desirable, to place an emphasis on your relationship with your spouse, without feeling either trapped in parenthood or like you are somehow missing out on something. It is a choice that parents make; whether they will tend only to their children's needs or if they will choose to place a high value on their own relationship. Parents, not children, are to blame when the bedroom routine gets boring or ceases to exist.

Daniel Gilbert, another author quoted in the article, claims that people are happier doing almost any activity over looking after their children and disputes a 2007 Pew Research Center survey that found people claimed their children are the biggest source of happiness. Gilbert claims that people only say this because it's what parents are supposed to say. The fact that most parents might actually feel this way does not seem to hold any sway with Gilbert. “The more people pay for an item, the more highly they tend to value it,”, which suggests that I only place a high value on my children because it costs money to raise them, not because I actually love them or value them as individuals in their own right.

Now, I will agree with Maier on one point; and that there is, in some places around the world, a pressure placed on parents to have perfect children, to ensure they attend only the best schools, make sure the kids are only wearing designer duds and that they have every new gadget on the market; but, we don't all live in New York City or Paris, and I would argue that even living in those particular cities does not require parents to cater to the list of “I wants” for any child.

Corinne Maier and the men and women like her, who claim that being a parent is just too much work and that we should all just focus on ourselves, are the truly selfish ones in our society. Not by any stretch of the imagination would I claim that everyone should aim to have children; parenthood is not for the faint of heart. But for those of us who know, in our heart of hearts, that having children was the best choice to make, here is my list of reasons for why you should have children (or at least consider it).

  • Children keep you honest
  • Children don't care if you're the perfect height or weight, just as long as you love them 
  • Children keep you young 
  • A hug from a child can warm your heart 
  • Children show you your own negative qualities that need to be changed 
  • A child's laugh makes you smile too (and sometimes even join in) 
  • Children remind you how much fun colouring can be 
  • One day, your child will be toilet-trained, your dog will forever need you to pick up after it 
  • Children don't leave wet furballs lying around for you to step in 
  • Breastfeeding brings you closer to your baby-it is not slavery. Scratch that-feeding your baby brings you closer to your baby-whether breast or bottle-fed 
  • Children only kill desire in a marriage if you let them – get creative 
  • Riding the merry-go-round with your children reminds you how to be a kid again 
  • Little faces that light up when you walk through the door-whether you've been gone for five hours or five minutes 
  • Snuggling in bed reading together 
  • Crayon drawings on the refrigerator door 
  • Swelling with pride at your child's accomplishments-whether it's learning to ride a bike or graduating from high school 
  • Having someone to pass on family traditions to – or creating new ones 
  • Mother's Day cards that say, “You're the best Mom in the whole world!” 
  • Father's Day cards that read, “To the world's greatest Dad!” 
  • Hugs and kisses, just because

Barbara Lilley lives and writes in Ottawa, Canada where she enjoys a busy household. She blogs at Don’t Stand on the Watermelon.

Copyright © Barbara Lilley . Published by You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. Contact us if you wish to discuss republication.

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