“I’ll know when”. I sincerely believed this was the wisest possible answer to the question: Do I want biological children? After all, how could I possibly predict my future financial stability, my future life satisfaction, my future trust in a romantic partner, my future trust in society? Surely – if all of these things felt warm and fuzzy – it would be time.
It turns out this answer was merely a resting-place before finding the worm at the core of the apple – the ultimate question: Why?
WHY Have Children?
Why eat? Why breath? Why sleep? Do we really need answers – or do we simply understand our bodies and minds will mount catastrophic protest if we don’t do these things. Well, how about sex, how about children? Yes – it is biologically obvious we are driven to do these things. Should we question it, or just do it? Obviously the majority of the human population will choose the latter with zero hesitation. Before I offer my own thought, consider this:
A Random Sampling of Reasons For Pregnancy
In response to the pope publicly shaming people for having pets instead of children, a curious person astutely asked:
“Can someone who does want kids explain their desire to have kids to me? I swear I’m not trying to be an asshole or anything, but I personally have never once felt the desire to procreate and I’d be really interested in hearing what people who do have this desire think.”
The responses were fascinating. As you read each of them, pause to ask the following question: Who benefits from the reason? Is it the parent, or, the child? Or unclear?
“Have you asked your parents? Or grandparents? I mean, it’s ingrained in our nature. Not just humans but all animals. It’s the evolutionary desire to bring up children and give them opportunities for a life better than your own.”
“Because it’s literally the point of life????”
“My husband and I have been trying for 5 years. $27,000 out of pocket, countless medicines, procedures, surgeries, and needles stuck in my arm just about every other day for years now. Just for the chance to hopefully get the opportunity to love and raise a kindhearted human being.”
“Beyond obvious human instincts [driven] by evolution? I think that a healthy relationship between parents and children is the strongest and purest type of relationship that people can have. It’s unbreakable and I would love to experience that with my own kids.”
“When I only had a dog, I thought I was fulfilled in life. U don’t understand love until you have a child. If my dog ever hurt my child, I would not hesitate to get rid of the dog. The level of love does not compare. People stop taking pics of dogs after having a baby for a reason. It’s in our dna and it’s a primal instinct that you can only understand once you experience it. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
“I would like the opportunity to raise a well-rounded person and teach them about emotional intelligence and give them the freedom to be whoever they are without judgment so long as they aren’t hurting others, with as much love and financial support as I can offer along the way.”
“It’s a biological imperative that is not based on reasoning. Might as well ask why people eat or poop. :)”
“I have kids because I want to share the wonderful experience of life with them. It’s that simple. All bad things aside, life is pretty fucken amazing if you make the best of it. I want someone very close to me to have the opportunity for that same experience.”
“I’m not religious and i believe in personal choice. For me I believe in a sort of collective journey of a family and i like the thought that the journey goes on for mine. We have a difficult history and i don’t want it to end on that.”
“Being a parent has challenged me in ways that could not have happened any other way. Motherhood has fostered in me resilience, creativity, ingenuity, problem solving, self sacrifice, increased wisdom, patience and every other good quality a person could ever hope to develop.”
“This is like asking someone why they like the color purple. How does anyone answer that?”
“Idk, I’ve always felt a strong need to nurture and take care of people and animals from a young age. When I was younger it was mostly just taking care of my houses dogs and maybe a baby bird that fell out of a nest (took them to a animal hospital) As I got older I felt a strong urge to just be a parent. This is probably because my own parents instilled a need to nurture on me but I think moreso everyone is just different and have different levels of nurturing in them. Mine is just high. “
“It’s a basic biological urge, although it is probably obscured by materialism for many people in the modern world. As a biological entity, success or failure is determined by the completion of reproduction. That is hard-coded in our genetic makeup.”
“I knew I didn’t have a shot at a Nobel Prize, or any of life’s other great accomplishments. So I figured I’d give the whole ‘create new life’ thing a try for a while and it finally worked. Stressful, but worth it. However, I know it’s not for everyone, and that’s ok:)”
“I think my fiancée is an amazing person. She has a natural connection to children, a warm heart, and beautiful soul. It would be a detriment to humanity if this women never becomes a mother. Maybe I’m selfish, but if there is any way to add another piece of her to this world, yep”
“It’s mostly because I genuinely love children. I intended to both have kids and adopt, and I want to raise children who are loving and kind and critical thinkers, who maybe, if I’m lucky, can help other people’s lives be better too.”
“Dude, if you deeply loved your second half, you wouldn’t ask yourself this question.”
“In my case I never pictured growing up without them I guess.”
“The desire to share the knowledge & life experience I’ve accumulated with another. To show all the beauty life can offer, watch them cultivate their passions & succeed in them. To have the joy of knowing I left something good in this world. It’s a beautiful feeling of hope.”
“How does one explain the desire to have kids? It’s like wanting a family, wanting to be married, wanting relationships, wanting life itself. As a woman, my clock was ticking so loudly to get pregnant, it’s all I wanted. It was a need greater than food or sleep. No regrets, ever.”
“Honestly, I’ve just always dreamed of having children, when I imagine what happiness in the future looks like it includes having children and having a happy family like the one I grew up in.”
“To provide a vehicle for the next incarnation.”
“They’re delightful. I worked with kids and just appreciate them.”
“It’s our ultimate purpose, it’s the greatest achievement in life.”
“Never met my biological father and I always wanted to raise a child (whether mine or adopted). It used to be as a “one up that asshole I never met” but now I just want the opportunity to make a child happy in a loving home and support the individual they become.”
“U have absolutely no idea how much you are capable of giving & receiving love unless you have children. You’ll argue I’m wrong, but you’ve no gotdamn idea what you’re taking about and never will. There is nothing close & it’s laughable you’d compare anything.”
“Children are your legacy here on earth.”
Are some of these answers sincere and loving? Absolutely. Some unusual? Yes. In many of them, there is a “duh – obviously” tone, that having a child is clearly something we’re meant to do and questioning it is silly. Regardless, these parents (and future-parents) are driven to satisfy their own selfish desire for meaning and joy. Every single comment represents a new human life (or lives) being brought into the world to make the parent happy in some way – whether they’ve thought deeply about it or not. Which begs the question:
Is Procreation for UNSELFISH Reasons Even Possible?
Spoiler alert – I am not the first to ask this question, the debate is alive, and I am certain it will never end. Rather than making an appeal to pick a side – I will humbly suggest this is an idea worth considering. Consider that, not only is having a child always motivated by selfish reasons, it also potentially, on balance, leads to more suffering in the world than it does good, – not only for the child, but for the parents, and the world.
Are SELFISH Reasons Potentially Misleading?
Of course! This is not unique to having children. Selfish reasons for doing anything in life are often not what they seem. Human beings are wired to chase satisfaction, and unfortunately, we discover (again and again) satisfaction is often less than we thought, fleeting, and quickly displaced by new urges. We are, by default, living on hamster wheels of satisfaction pursuit.
Am I suggesting that having a child is merely a thoughtless attempt to feel satisfied, that will turn out different than expected? Not always, but far too often, yes. The stories speak for themselves (some shared below). This reality should compel us to consider WHY we would ever conceive a child, to consider if we are truly prepared for the sacrifice and uncertainty, the finality of this choice.
Every new human life has consequences, possibly positive, possibly negative, on the parents, the child, and the rest of the world. There is zero guarantee the positive consequences will outweigh the negative.
1) My wish is for every human being to think deeply about conception. To avoid assuming it is something one must do to support the species, their parents’ dreams, their religion, the peer pressure all around them, to give them joy, or to cure their boredom. All of these reasons are potentially problematic if anyone explores them honestly. Consider this not only before having a child, but before being in a sexual situation that might even accidentally lead to pregnancy. Not only think about when the time is right, but deeply about WHY a child should be brought into the world in the first place. You are creating a human life. How much suffering will that life endure, and how much happiness will it bring you? How much happiness will it bring them? Ultimately, if one thoughtfully explores these questions and decides it is right, so be it. But to wind up with a child and later regret it is the source of great suffering in the world – both for parent and child.
2) Today I realize so clearly – I’ve spent so much of my life preparing, worrying, building, for what seemed like an inevitability, to have children. I never seriously questioned that inevitability until now. An unspeakable amount of energy has gone into molding myself into being a provider both deliberately and subconsciously – which is in complete discordance with where I’ve arrived philosophically and what is in my nature. Through years of reflection about life, and what it means to me, and where I get my joy, and how much suffering exists in the world, I know that – while I love humanity deeply – it can be splendid to lead a life that has nothing to do with propagating it. I will devote my life to minimizing suffering for as many lives as possible before I go. Share as much joy as I can before I go. This is a wonderful meaning for a life. This feels freeing in ways I am just beginning to understand.
Well surprise surprise, guess how things have gone. Even before the pandemic we were only having a night or two off per year and our lives now entirely revolve around the children. Our marriage has just turned into a functional arrangement devoid of any passion or fun because we’re so constantly exhausted.
I feel stuck. I wish I had chosen the other direction of my wife’s ultimatum so she could have found someone that would make her and the kids happy and I could have been spared the torment of being apart of something I never really wanted. I’m torn as to whether it would be for the best to divorce or if I should give it more time. My hope is that others will read this that are questioning whether to have kids of not. If you have an inkling of ‘eh, I’m not sure I want kids’ DO NOT do it. If you’re given an ultimatum, spare your partner/spouse (and future kid(s)) the fallout and LEAVE.
After 8 years of marriage, our first pregnancy was a surprise. 1.5 years later, my partner talked me into having a second and we got pregnant right away (I assumed it would take much longer). It was hard with one but now we’re barely surviving keeping up with 2. I have postpartum depression, a very clingy baby (now toddler) and a preschooler who is basically Dennis the Menace. I’ve feel like I’ve lost myself, my career and my energy. I can’t bring myself to say it out loud because I do love them. But damn, I regret this decision.