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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Props to Margie for pointing this out.

I can understand not wanting to have kids. You can dedicate your life to your partner and yourself, have beautiful things and time to enjoy them. You can work as much as you want and spend the money you earn on yourself. You can give the time you would have given to children to your projects or your beliefs or your friends or your family. No kids can mean a gracious, fulfilled life.

I can understand wanting to have kids. Having kids means lots of loud, goofy fun and more laughing than you ever expected. Having kids means endless work and putting yourself last, and being hopelessly in love with incredibly adorable and demanding small perfect people who are just as in love with you (until they reach junior high and turn on you). It means watching the people you love most in the world go out and get hurt and feeling every second of that hurt. Having kids is inviting messy chaos into your life and taking your chances.

I can understand not wanting kids. I can understand wanting kids. What I cannot understand is not knowing whether you want kids. Having kids and not having kids are not alike. Not even close. The choices are not remotely equivalent. How do you answer the question with “Eh. You know, whichever.” How do you not know?

27 Comments:

Blogger LizardBreath said...

That makes total sense to me. You look at having kids and see huge positives, of a kind you've never experienced and can't really understand until you do, and huge negatives, which you could say the same thing about. It would be very, very easy not to be sure whether the positives outweighed the negatives, or vice versa.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I have two kids and I'd say that I can understand not knowing. I still don't know if I want these kids some days! Because many of the joys of parenthood are hidden to the outside eye, it can be hard to see what tips the scales agains all of the selflessness that goes into parenting, espeicially when the joys of a child-free life are so obvious. And yet, you know the hidden joys are there. But are they worth it? You don't know. ANd therein lies the delemia.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Rob E. said...

I have to say that I agree with your wishy-washy commentors. There are a lot of variables that can figure in when deciding if you do or do not want kids. Two spring to mind immediately, but there are others.
Partner: Now if your number 1 priority is to have kids, you can use that as a basis for choosing a partner. Or you can decide to have kids in the absense of a partner. But if finding a partner rates higher in your priority than having kids, then you can find yourself on the fence on this subject depending on the needs/wants/expectations of your partner.
Economics: I've heard people say that if you waited until you could afford kids, you'd never have them. That may be true, but there's always degrees. I know what my parents went through financially raising us, and frankly, and selfishly, I'm not up for that. That doesn't mean I don't want kids, and yet, so far, I've made the choice not to have any, so that puts me on the fence on that issue, too.

If I somehow ended up alone, in my dead end job with a couple of kids to take care of, would I be sorry? Would I wish them away? No, because I agree with all the pro-kid arguements you put forth. Would I make a consious decision to put myself in that situation? No, because I agree with all the other points as well.

Classic flip-flopper. I guess that'll come back to haunt me if I ever run for office.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I can almost understand "Either option is fine, because I would make the best of it." But "I don't have a strong opinion about having kids or not having kids" baffles me, because they those choices are entirely different, intensely immediate in your daily life and binding for the rest of your life.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

"How do you not know?"

What's so hard to understand? The people who have already made up their minds are the crazy ones because they are usually making their decisions based on mythology rather than actual experience. My nieces (aged 9 and 10) just spent the last 3 weeks with me and the experience did not instill a desire to have children.

FWIW: A new study just came out showing that parents -- all parents, in all kinds of parental situations, children young, old, etc. -- are much more prone to depression throughout life than non-parents. Your genes want you to have children but they are selfish and don't care about you.

1:24 PM  
Blogger capella said...

I want to have children, and I want to not have children, and I don't know which desire will turn out to be more persistent.

Aside from the many practical issues, I would not be ready to have children at this point in my life. I am still trying to learn how to be an adult. I need to learn who I am and how to be selfish before I can give so completely to someone else.

I think it is possible that, as I age, the reasons I want children will become more compelling and the reasons I do not want them will become less so. I hope that's what happens. But it might not. I have seen people be content with career-focused, solitary existences, and I think I could be too.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see someone saying they could have it either way, and they don't really care. Like, if their in the right situation then they want kids, but, if that situation doesn't come around, they're happy without kids too.

Me personally, I want kids. I'm absolutely convinced the world needs more people just like me.

Justin

2:04 PM  
Blogger Pandax said...

I dated a man who wasn't sure whether he wanted children. When I asked him about it, he said that he assumed he'd figure it out when he met the right woman.

It's not an easy decision. There are many factors involved including finances, health, family support, lifestyle, etc. I'm pretty sure I want kids, but I'm damn scared about actually having one.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And a ridiculous family court system, and ridiculous child support payments.

Guys get screwed if there are kids and a divorce.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous erich said...

The MR-plugged Stumbling on Happiness had a few insights on this subject, noting that "having kids makes you happy" is a society-serving myth. Additionally, the book points out how bad we are in predicting how happy our dreams will make us.

Even so, I believe that right now, at 27, I am not interested at all in kids. There is no need to close the door, though. At 37, I may be totally fulfilled with my own life and want to bring others into this world.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reproducing is a huge disadvantage to survival (for humans an easy life) to the individual, but absolutely necessary for the species. Evolution tries to solve this with oxytosin ( google it). I feel that if you are naturally low in this hormone, it explains why you don't desire children. The people who do don't understand those who don't and vice versa. I also cannot imagine how you wouldn't know.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

I'd like to toss my support behind those who embrace the paradox of having kids and not.

Just because two things are mutually exclusive doesn't mean that one must have a strong opinion one way or the other.

Entering college students often don't know whether they want to join a particular profession or not even though it is something that is important to them and there is good and bad in each option.

I often don't know whether I want to eat ice cream or not. The nature of the good in eating ice cream is completely unlike the good in not eating ice cream. And yet I am perplexed with this choice constantly.

More than these silly examples though, I can see the wisdom of the Taoist approach to having kids even more. It is easy to desire having kids and not be able to for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I would suggest maintaining a "whatever" attitude until an actual pregnancy takes place. This makes it less of a disappointment if it doesn't happen.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

As you point out, having kids involves positives and negatives, and the magnitude of many of those factors can be extremely large. So you have:

LifeScore(Kids) = LifeScore(NoKids) + P1 - N1 + P2 - N2...

And those P and N factors can run from 0 to a very large number, all dependant upon your personality, and that of your kids, and what becomes of all the interrelations between everyone involved.

I can definitely understand not knowing what to make of it. It wound up being a big positive for me (or I have rationalized it as such), but I had no idea the full extent of what I was getting into a priori.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Maybe I've spent more time around kids since I've left college than lots of people (with the second generation of siblings and the perfect nephews), but really!

Having kids around is vastly different from not having kids around. Surely you can see the contrast. Can you not extrapolate to full time? Once you've done that, do you really not know which you want?

Sure, you would have to modify your guess by some unknown factor for their being your kids, but even so, I still think the two lifestyles are so wildly different that I can't imagine being ambivalent between them.

5:30 PM  
Blogger capella said...

Some people are naturally ambivalent. By which I do not mean they (ok, we) are indecisive per se, but that we continually feel ourselves pulled strongly to multiple polarities. I think sometimes this can be a very stimulating and fruitful way to be, and other times it can lead to confusion and indecision.

There is also, of course, the separate issue of people not knowing themselves very well.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous jenn said...

I've known since I was 17 that I didn't want to have children. I tried to talk myself into it a few years ago--you know, toyed with the idea because I'm all about introspection and change; also, my sister and a good friend both became pregnant and had babies, and both said emphatically, "You can't deny yourself this experience." I will forgive them their forcefulness because they were still in the thrall of creating new life.

A decade beyond my high school declaration, I still don't have any desire to have children. I've grown tired of trying to rebut the meaningless statements of people. "Oh, you'll change your mind when you have your own" or "Give yourself a few years." Such remarks once angered me; they seemed at once an insult ("you don't know your own mind") and an ostracization ("this is not normal").

I don't hate children. I like children, especially when I can play with them for a little while and then give them back to whomever they belong when they get fussy or need a diaper changed. Some might call that selfish. Maybe it is. All I know is that I'd rather be a cool aunt than a mother.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous harryh said...

A lot of people don't want kids, but becaue of pressure from society feel that something is wrong with that desire, so they don't feel comfortable with it or, expressing it, or especially celebrating it.

Instead they just say they're not sure. Then, if they do end up having kids, they just make the best of it.

-harryh

8:48 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

Can you not extrapolate to full time?

No, you cannot because it is a nonlinear dynamic.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous thelonious_nick said...

I disagree that our society encourages child-bearing and that there is some sort of myth that having children makes you happy.

My wife and I were trying to have a baby (for the longest time), and then she was pregnant for nine long months. During that time, all I ever heard was how little sleep I would get after the birth, how little time I would have for myself, how I would no longer have any extra money, etc.

Hardly anybody ever mentioned that having a sweet little baby who smiles when you come into the room and giggles when you put something silly on your head and dances* when you sing a song is the best feeling in the world.

*I will admit that baby-dancing is better than Bob Dylan.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Rob E. said...

Well, I've had plenty of baby/kid experiance, and I think that I could extrapolate to full-time. And I've had plenty of non-kid experiance. I don't have to extrapolate that. I live it. And still, I perch happily on my fence. In a perfect world where I could magically align the other facets of my life to accomodate a child, then that's what I would choose, probably. But I don't live in that world, and while my life is very good right now, it's also not stable, and one thing a child will not help with is stability, so I choose not have a child.

I think the ice cream analogy is perfect. (nicely said, bob v., and so much more succintly than me) We're in a heat wave now, so I usually choose ice cream over the healthier benefits of not having it, but that swings the other way in January. So if kids are ice cream, perhaps my life is currently in January. If my life swings around to July, we'll reevaluate the situation.

Apologies if the "Babies are Ice Cream" thing heads into dreaded metaphor territory.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Ah, thanks, Rob. I had forgotten about the moratorium on metaphors. I hope our dear host doesn't ban me.

Despite the bad rap that ambivalence gets, embracing the paradox can be enlightening. It encourages thought experiments related to each option and a probing search of one's own priorities. It may be convenient/critical to just make a decision, but sometimes we should dig deeper before doing so. I wonder if there are certain professions in which ambivalent people excel...

2:55 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Naw, I was wrong about metaphors and y'all were right. I don't hate metaphors; I hate bad metaphors. Bring on the good metaphors. (I still despise computer modeling, but when I write that up, you guys will probably convince me that I'm wrong there too.)

I don't know yet what you would have to do to get banned here. Being mean to each other will probably come up first. Using emoticons is a likely second. The new, open-minded Megan is practicing appreciating other viewpoints by saying nothing about not capitalizing or writing 'LOL'.

Ambivalent people excel at frustrating me.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

You better not say anything about capitalization! You wrote a bit in ALL CAPS in a comment on my blog! I'm now curious as to whether that raises your ire or just not capitalizing anything.

What does the profession of frustrating Megan pay? Is there any cash compensation, or should one do for the love of the work itself?

Here is one paying profession where I'd prefer for people to be ambivalent:
- politicians

6:03 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

All caps is fine if you actually mean to be shouting, which sometimes a person has to do to make her point.

I think people just frustrate me for the love of it. If someone is paying them to frustrate me, I would like to meet that person and discuss better uses for that money.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know a lot about adulthood with kids (married with 2, single dad with 3, remarried with 2 + 3 step-kids). I have no idea what adulthood without them would be like. So how could I know the answer to this question?

6:04 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

You could go away for the weekend with your wife and no kids, and notice what that was like. You could extrapolate to a longer period of time, imagining the details of a life without kids. Then, you could compare the life with kids you know with the life without kids you imagine.

I can't tell if this is a failure of empathy on my part or a lack of imagination on the part of ambivalent people. Spend time in both situations (which are not alike) and see which one you like better. It isn't mysterious.

(Again, I think I can understand "I would like either one, so I'll let something else decide." But not, "I don't know whether I want kids, because I can't choose between two drastically different things.")

11:07 AM  
Anonymous kvr said...

It is possible that one may want to have kids because one likes kids and wants to be a parent. On the other hand, one may be ambivalent because of what ones' kids would have to go through in life. Being born and alive and facing the world is not necessarily the best thing that can happen. There are many situations and places in the world where one would have to weigh one's personal preferences against the kind of future that one's kids may have.
This is all a purely hypothetical argument of course, given that I am single and kidless (or unkidded if one prefers :)).

6:49 PM  

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