I joke that I spend half my time worrying about where to live, and half my time worrying about having kids. Hah! It’s really more like 90% about kids. (I can worry about multiple things at once.)
Blogging tends to help me organize my thoughts, so here we go.
Should one have kids?
Well… from the perspective of the world at large, I don’t see many reasons for/against. I guess overpopulation is a thing, but the US is below replacement. Like, it’s imperialist and paternalistic and etc, but the way to stop overpopulation is not for you or I to have zero kids instead of two; it’s to make sure that, throughout poor countries, people have contraception and personal security and stuff. Yeah, your kids will eat food and cause greenhouse gas emissions, but you’ve got to think that the world’s better for you being in it, and therefore it hopefully will be for your kids too.
From the perspective of the not-yet-existing kids, I don’t see many reasons for/against either. I tried to see the point against it! But it doesn’t ring very true, if you read that post. Even though I may rather never have existed, I think most people are pretty happy to exist. Therefore, I don’t think you’re doing a bad thing by having kids.
So it seems like whether you should have kids is all about you.
Points in favor of having kids
- Maybe you just want to. If this is the case, there you go! That’s easy, and you can stop reading here. I’m going to write the rest of this assuming you, like me, don’t have this inherent drive that some people seem to be born with.
- It’s new and unique. I’m not being glib; this is a very good reason. Same reason I like traveling. Spending a month wandering around India is not more pleasant than being at home, but it’s new, and it’s worth it to try new things. Expands your world.
- Old age insurance. You can’t necessarily count on your kids take care of you, but I imagine it’s nice to grow old with kids.
- Potential grandkids! This sounds great.
- It’s a chance to perpetuate your values at least one more generation. I mean, if you think your values are pretty good (and I do), you might want to do that.
- See the world through kids' eyes. If you’re feeling old and jaded (yep!) maybe having a kid around will make you want to finger paint or play with legos or something again.
- Unknown upsides. Like, people say things like “you can’t imagine what it’s like to have kids.” One friend said of her daughter: “I didn’t know what it was like to love someone so much I want to eat her.” I would like to know what that’s like!
- I think most people who have kids are pretty happy to have them. Even big nerds like me!
- Even if the truth is “kids suck, but parents don’t admit it”… I’m generally a fan of placebos.
Points against having kids
- I mean, the usuals: sleepless nights, diapers, angsty teens, etc.
- But seriously; take a step back and look at #1 harder. Your life satisfaction will go down. Life satisfaction isn’t just your day-to-day happiness. It makes life harder in a way that isn’t necessarily “beautiful struggle.” This cartoon. (warning: creepy, not funny.)
- Loss of freedom to travel or take whatever job or join the Peace Corps or whatever. Having kids expands your life in one way, but cuts off opportunities for you in other ways. Also constrains where you live a bit.
- Relatedly, costs a lot of money.
- You can’t really go back and un-have kids.
- Opens yourself up to more risk: I understand your child dying is basically the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Right now, I can’t know that level of grief, but if I have a kid, I could. (This is not a huge point because “better to have loved and lost”, but it is a point.)
- What if your kid has severe autism or something? You have to at least listen to this podcast before you hype up kids to me.
What am I thinking?
The “in favor” point #2 is the most convincing to me. In the same way that I’ll travel around the world for no real benefit, or try meditating or whatever to expand my human experience, I might as well expand my experience by trying having kids. Plus point #7 (unknown benefits) - maybe they’re the same thing. #8 helps; if I’m an average SSC reader, something like a 96% chance of being at least neutral on the decision (and over 50% chance of 5/5) feels pretty good.
Having kids does cut off certain possibilities in life - but I wasn’t doing them anyway! Seriously, the path I’m on is “white collar corporate job and traditional marriage.” Not saying this is bad or good; I have very many feelings about this (best served in another post or series of posts)… but it is about the easiest path to have kids on, so might as well.
The rest of the upsides and downsides kind of even out. You make your next five years worse in order to make your future years better. Maybe it’s the biggest challenge you have left in life - and in that case, how exciting to get to the top of the hill!
(maybe “over the hill” means not that your life is over, but that you get to bike downhill from here and it’s pretty great.)
I don’t know what to do about the severe autism or the possibility your kid might die. I guess you just hope it won’t happen - and it probably won’t. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and be paralyzed - what happens if I increase my odds of “life-altering terribleness” from 0.00001% to 0.00002%? Meh.
Still, it feels like everything adds up to about a -1 on a scale of -10 to 10, with a standard deviation of about 20. It feels hard to imagine how good or bad it’ll be. Or, let’s be honest, on the basis of feelings it feels like about a -5, because I viscerally feel all the downsides. But on the basis of thoughts, it’s +4. I think it’s maybe a tiny bit unwise to have kids, but I’m pretty much completely uncertain about it.
(When I mention this to people, they’re like “what??? but… you’re still planning to have kids?”
Talk with me about it? It’s about the biggest thing left in my life I will ever need advice on, probably, so I would love to talk with as many people as possible. If you’re interested, I will find time to phone with you.
Adam Jaffe - Jun 6, 2018
I don’t have kids and don’t know if I’m qualified to answer. I’m pretty sure I want them, but at the same time, I have so much quiet time to myself right now that the reality is unimaginable. I spent a weekend away with my friend and his two kids a few weeks ago, and it really dawned on me that YOU CANNOT ESCAPE THEM. You cannot just leave them alone in the house while you go to the gym, or go buy some milk. Younger kids especially get fussy and upset constantly over the tiniest things. After a day of work, it’s really nice to unwind in peace for an evening, and it’s tough to imagine coming home and having another exhausting job to do until bedtime. By all accounts, it does get easier as they get older and start having regular school days and going to friends' houses etc.
BTW, I also have that fantasy of joining the Peace Corps at some point. On the other hand, Peace Corps is something you can do at any age. And I do feel like I traveled enough in my 20s to not feel like I’ve been cheated out of seeing the world.
I have no real helpful advice, but I’m nonetheless fairly certain that I still want them and will have them. I have a goddaughter, and hanging out with her brings me more joy than most other things these days. Last Christmas, I taught two young girls who surprised me with homemade banana bread. It’s those little moments that make me want to be a dad. I’m sick of just focusing on career ambitions (or as you put it, life isn’t just one big college resume) and feel like some domestic stability would be nice at this point in my life.
Joe T - Jun 4, 2018
A few points:
1 We’re primates and primates are programmed to reproduce, like most living things on the planet.
2. Children can help one refocus from our seemingly innate narcissism.
3. It’s scary, uncertain, and rewarding.
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