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Is it worth having children?
Or should we just enjoy the extra money and time we will have without them?
I wrote this post a couple of years ago, and since then, many friends have brought up this subject with me again… many of whom have since gotten married, and are now wondering the same thing… Except this time, the question is now reverberating in their subconscious as their significant other’s biological clock begins to tick louder with each passing second! I’d welcome your comments on the subject too.
René Descartes was a French 17th century philosopher, most famous for his saying "I think therefore I am." What makes him stand out for me, is that he was a fierce rationalist - relying on reason as the best guide for belief and action. This was in an age when many philosophers backed up their arguments with appeals to god, Descartes trusted in nothing more than the power of human logic.
I am no philosopher, but I do see myself as a fierce rationalist too, often relying on logic to solve many of my own conundrums. It is with this logical hat on, that I would like to discuss the topic of having children, and why this may, or may not be a good idea. My overall conclusion is that while young children may bring many moments of joy and positives to young parents, the real reason for having children is the benefits which accrue to the parents when they become old.
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People are increasingly unsure about kids, and the US and European fertility rate is at an all-time low. According to Pew Research Center study, 1 in 5 people will remain childless. That’s doubled since the 1970s. Heck, up to my early 20's, I always thought I never wanted kids.
Leigh Weingus wrote,
“Having kids was once considered a necessity for every woman, but the last few years have shown shifting trends surrounding settling down.”
As Bryce Covert wrote: men want kids — and women aren’t so sure.
“In a nationally-representative survey of single, childless people in 2011, more men than women said they wanted kids… Another poll from 2013 echoed those findings, with more than 80 percent of men saying they’d always wanted to be a father or at least thought they would be someday. Just 70 percent of women felt the same.”
Most parents will tell you, having children is an extremely selfless act, and from the moment they are born, your life is irreversibly changed forever. From having just oneself to think about, you now have a separate human who relies entirely on you to keep them alive, clean, healthy and happy. Yet, most parents will describe their heart bursting with joy and immeasurable contentment from that moment they first lay eyes on, and hold their new born child. Now as most parents will know what this feeling is like, the best description I have heard is:
Having a child makes you understand what it feels like to have your heart live outside of your own body
- Cant remember where I heard this, but wasn't me :)
I agree with this statement, and I remember the overwhelming anxiety I felt when I had to leave my first kid at nursery for the first time ... amongst the saddest things I have ever had to do. That being said, it isn't all rosy at all. In fact, my overall argument is that all these emotional 'costs' are never really registered by most parents. Many parents never say the words out loud: "I wish I never had kids" even though there are moments where they absolutely feel this way. This is not to say they do not love their children, or wish they were dead... not at all... this just means they are normal human being with emotions, and they happen to feel overwhelmed at that particular moment. I think that is totally ok, and indeed, logical!
I feel myself itching to go on tangents with individual anecdotes right now, but I will control myself to keep this shorter. There are numerous downsides to having kids as a young adult; both emotional and financial.
Think about the emotional toll on your relationship with your spouse, the many months of sleepless nights, the endless worry about another human resulting in personal neglect. The positives are lovely too, such as the immeasurable value of a smile when a baby who doesn't know your name recognises you as you walk into the house after a long day… the sheer joy on their face is something no words can quantify. The immense pride you feel in every milestone, from sitting, to crawling, to walking and talking… This is normal development, but you still feel like you ought to be proud for making that far - and you should!
This list of positives goes on - first role in a school play, or first sports game, or first day at high school, acceptance into university, marriage, grandkids - nothing is guaranteed of course, but this is the trajectory to make my point: Over all those years, parents make countless sacrifices, such as foregone holidays, overlooked purchases, extra work to afford things for the kids, maybe even huge loans for education etc.
Is it all worth it? Could you have simply NOT had kids and then enjoyed your time and money for yourself and your partner?
Well - here's the thing... Many of the older people I meet without kids, can absolutely say they have lived extremely enjoyable lives... by and large they have better cars, cleaner homes, have taken more holidays to more destinations and basically done all the things which they could afford or had time for because…. they had no kids! However, there is now nothing to look forward to.
Where do they get joy? How do they feel about their own legacy? Who will mourn when they're gone? Who will inherit their watch collection? As they move into the twilight of their lives, they simply have all the same things they've had all their lives - time and money - but nobody to share it with, or to pass it down to.
That’s where having kids will pay dividends. My logical reasoning leads me to believe that all the positives and negatives of having kids can balance themselves out for younger parents... but as these parents start pushing 50-60 years of age... the real upside of having children comes to light.
Parents can watch their children grow into something great, maybe even change the world. Even if they don't, there is immense satisfaction just from having someone to pass your knowledge and wisdom on to - and watches too of course! Parents can watch their offspring have their own children, and watch their grandchildren grow up and enjoy spoiling them.
In my opinion, that is the most overlooked value of having kids. Today, many young adults prefer instant gratification and rewards today, and perhaps overlook this aspect of children. By the time the penny drops, it is simply too late. I also think some people simply feel they are ok with this and others just haven’t given it much thought. There is no correct answer.
I have several older friends with whom I have discussed this; they say things like “we simply didn't have the time” or “we were too busy enjoying life and didn't think about it” - but one thing is common among all of them, and that is they all allude to the idea … “I often wonder what it would have been like to have children.”
I think that most people are unlikely to openly admit to such huge regrets - to say, at the age of 60, that you wish you had kids, is quite a big statement. One which, potentially, might feel like admitting a massive ad irreversible failure in life.
This isn't to say having kids is right or wrong - it's a choice... but a choice which is unlike any other; one which changes the entire trajectory of your life in almost every respect.
I guess I will find out eventually. So will you.
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