Why did I have kids? I suspect this question is asked a lot more often than usual these days. Self-isolation and home-schooling have thrown most parenting routines for a loop the last two months. Even stay-at-home parents are uttering exasperated, “I didn’t sign up for this shit!” Or, in the case of veteran at-home parents with tween and teen kids, “I thought I was done with this shit!”
It’s a question that’s been on my mind too, though not solely for the reasons above. It began in earnest back in February, well before this pandemic became “real”. In my continued quest to procrastinate my entire life away, I was perusing social media when Twitter’s annoying habit of showing me tweets from accounts I do not follow, sucked my eyeballs into a smoldering kerfuffle over a parent’s tweet that the 2019 daycare bill for their two children was $40,217.
A shocking sum to many, myself included, it was presented as proof that subsidized daycare is desperately needed. Two opposing sides quickly gelled and entrenched, volleying rhetoric such as “this is a public good” and “it’s your choice, not my problem” back and forth in a bizarre volleyball game where no points are scored.
As expected, much of the debate focused on the impacts to women and how access to and cost of daycare keeps many women out of the workforce. As a stay-at-home dad, and one rendered completely unemployable in my former career for doing so, I’m all too familiar with the sacrifice mothers often make.
Still, the choice argument consumes me. They are, after all, right. Outside of criminal acts, failed contraception, or infertility, procreation is absolutely a choice. We may choose wisely or we may choose recklessly, with influences ranging from culture to religion to maturity, but make no mistake, it is a choice.
Which begs the question, if you’re willing to pay $40,217 per year to have someone else raise your children during the work week so as not to disrupt your career, why have them at all?
I confronted this uncomfortable question a second time just a few days ago, thanks to yet another tweet inexplicably landing in my feed. A self-employed, work-from-home, web entrepreneur, and local online celebrity, expressed joy at Alberta’s re-opening announcement. It would finally enable them to return their young child to daycare and get back to work.
Again, I was taken aback. In the midst of a global pandemic, this parent was openly grateful at being able to send their toddler to a riskier health environment because it would allow them to refocus on their work.
Both tweets triggered hours of rumination and self-reflection on my part. For starters, it exposed a perverse benefit of already being unemployed/underemployed prior to a pandemic, like my wife and I. Self-isolation was already our norm, affording us plenty of free time to adapt to home-schooling. Having kids in the middle grades helps as well.
But more to the point, if careers are so important, why did these peole have kids at all? Why do any of us have kids? Why did I have kids?
The obvious answer is instinct, a natural drive to procreate. And it’s strong. The lengths some of us go to just to have a child is awesome. Or bewildering, depending on your point of view.
Of course, that too is a choice. It’s all a choice. Or is it? Do any of us have any compelling reason for reproducing? Or are we all pawns to the continuation of our bloodlines.
As a species, we don’t need more kids. At least not from all of us. We’re collectively eight billion with billions more projected to come. Hardly a crisis.
In the comments to the aforementioned tweets, some argued that “this [lack of affordable childcare] is why the population is decreasing” which “impacts the economy.” I find the implication we have a duty to breed future consumers repugnant, but I suppose it’s a reason.
Bringing us joy is another rationale often spouted. There is truth to it. I love my kids dearly and they do provide me plenty of joy. So do pets. And hobbies. Music. TV still has its moments. And the web is good for flashes of glee fairly regularly. Like kids, they can also be not-so-joyful, albeit (usually) cheaper.
The only other answer I could dredge up was the one that, in part, motivated my decision to start a family over a decade ago. Wanting someone to look after me in my final years. Based on accumulated evidence, I expect my epilogue to be a bit of a struggle. It’d be nice to have someone trustworthy who loves me (knock on wood) to look after me.
That too is selfish. I’m certainly no more noble than those wishing to keep working. Perhaps making my decision while in the frustrating and fearful grasp of an undiagnosed, chronic illness swayed my moral compass?
I don’t know that there is a “good” answer to this question. I do think, in general, humans breed too much and too nonchalantly. I also think that judging other people’s reproductive decisions is a taboo best left unbroken, especially by someone whose own such decision would render any judgment grotesquely hypocritical.
Instead, I want to celebrate a group of people that do not get proper recognition in our society. More often the recipients of badgering and unwarranted pressure from family and friends, sometimes innocently, sometimes intentionally, in my mind, they are unsung heroes of an overpopulated, over-consumptive world.
I think those that choose not to have children are courageous, even inspiring. Talk about swimming against the tide! I sometimes wish I’d been as bold. And when debate is consumed with how much society should reward us for having kids, I sometimes wish others had been as well.
Our gut reaction is to question or judge them for shedding the shackles of base instinct, rejecting what the rest of us seemingly do out of habit. But they should be applauded. They’ve made a far more reasoned, self-aware, and difficult choice than most us breeders.