As many of you know, I recently wrote an article trying to explain baffling parenting behaviors which is currently being reamed throughout the childfree subreddit universe. The leading criticisms involve my failure to explain what makes children worth all the hassle, despite this never having been my article’s intention.
Well, that sounds an awful lot like a challenge.
And intellectual challenges can be downright fun. Just last month, I wrote an article about how every major American holiday glorifies one of the seven deadly sins and despite being a fan of Disney, I’m currently kicking around the idea of explaining the sick & twisted values many Disney films promote.
Yet picking up this childfree subredditers’ gauntlet will mean trying to explain the inexplicable, rationalize the illogical, and transform the uninitiated via hypothetical vision… this doomed quest probably has about as much chance of succeeding as inventing a mathematical formula for defining love.
Why do I say that?
Because despite all the arguments about needing to replenish the workforce or have someone to take care of you when you’re old, having kids still doesn’t make sense on paper: You put your body through a terrible ordeal, then spend many sleep-deprived years catering to an irrational being who must be constantly fed, soothed, changed, and trained into socially-acceptable behavior while fighting you every step along the way.
It really doesn’t seem like a good deal, right?
I have to imagine many childless people wonder if we secretly regret having children but aren’t allowed to admit it. That would make sense, except… most people who have a baby end up trying to have another one.
To be honest, most parents don’t need to work the reasons out on paper because they instinctively make sense. We already know we wouldn’t give up our children for anything. The only difficult part is explaining why we feel this way to people who don’t see the point.
But I’m about to give it my very best shot…
1) Because We Don’t Want To End Our Story
Many of the more strident childfree folks think we’re crazy for the pride we take in breeding, considering that every other animal on the planet has been breeding since the dawn of time.
But there’s another way to look at this.
Around 3.7 BILLION years ago, the first bacteria started teeming around dead rocks on a sterile planet. It was a miracle… that delicate bacteria turned into cells which evolved into amoebas who spontaneously mutated into fish, and so on, in an epic Darwinian battle of 10 – 14 million species, 99 % of which are now extinct.
Every step along the way, from the first vulnerable flash of cells through the lumbering age of dinosaurs, though every geological shift and catastrophic extinction event, every fight for limited resources leaving trillions of disembodied enemies and starved animals in its midst, led to YOU… with your app-filled smartphone and instantaneous drive-through coffee options.
Over billions of years, countless generations fought off neighboring tribes and vicious animals while your foremothers gave birth without any pain relief, facing the potential of dying in unspeakable agony every time. They managed through famines, wars, and droughts. Nature selected the luckiest and best equipped over millions of years, each generation holding onto survival by the skin of its teeth, in hopes of passing along that torch one more time.
Up until you, who could either snuff out that unbroken line like a candle while vegging out to Netflix, or allow your story to keep playing on for thousands of years.
2) Because Looking Into Your Child’s Eyes Explains The Universe
We’re a complex species that’s invented everything from air-conditioning and bullet trains to vaccinations and space ships. We’re so far removed from our primate ancestors that it’s easy to forget we’re all still animals deep down.
That is, until someone who once wasn’t once there looks to you with the kind of ancient recognition that transcends space and time. At that moment, you become a god who doesn’t feel worthy, a flawed human being whose every move, perspective and judgment will affect the mind behind those shining eyes for as long as they’ll recognize anything.
And you’ll spend the rest of your life struggling to wield that overwhelming power in the face of your mortal confusion.
For moments, you realize that underneath the surface, we’re all still the same primordial beings driven by the same primal urges that have dominated everything from mice to giraffes since the very beginning.
Food, fear, love, sex, and death…that’s what it’s all really about.
When cats go into heat, they don’t understand the broader implications of what they’re looking for. They only feel an immediate urge, and why shouldn’t they? Take care of that urge and nature works out the rest.
And yet, the moment they have kittens, they collapse into purring, snuggly heaps. They’re not only primed to nurture those kittens, but willing to do anything and everything to protect them despite having no socially-trained biases toward doing the “right” thing. Same with Mama bears. Same with dogs, or wildebeests, or hyenas, or any other mammal on the planet.
Sure, some animals will abandon or even eat their young, but only for specific survival purposes, unless they’re insane. No species that fails to nurture its offspring lasts very long in this epic Darwinian survival battle.
And we’re no different. Whether it’s caring about getting a promotion, trying out the latest mascara, or shelling out our hard-earned cash to buy the latest BMW after noticing the airbrushed beauty in the ad, the grand puppet master beneath the surface remains our overwhelming need to pass on our genes.
The invention of birth control may temporarily obscure this fact, but it’ll smack you square in the face from the first moment you look into your newborn’s eyes.
3) Because Love Matters More Than Money
People with pets live longer than those who don’t have them.
Now, I don’t want to get off on some tangent at this point, arguing about whether having pets is actually similar to parenting. You could make a good case for pets being easier to deal with and I wouldn’t disagree… you can’t leave kids at home with some food and water while you go out partying with your friends and kids will definitely challenge your authority in much more ingenious and creative ways.
But my question is: why do people choose to have pets at all? You have to clean up their poop while shelling out your hard-earned money to feed them, fix them up when they’re sick, load up on flea-prevention methods and compensate for any damage they caused to your apartment.
So unless your particular pet is literally earning its keep, the math of pet ownership also doesn’t work out on paper. What do you get in return?
Companionship. The belief that you matter to someone, that someone loves you and cares if you ever come home. It’s enough to add years to your life and the same reason Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol is considered a tragic figure, despite having all that wealth.
Now, I realize that many people will still be tempted into making arguments about why cats or dogs are better than children, but that’s not my point. My point is that intangible factors make an enormous difference to our happiness. Even if your dog is awesome, he still represents a net loss of money and freedom.
As do kids.
Yet, people still want them.
4) Because Kids Aren’t “Cool”
And I say that with the utmost respect.
They don’t care about listening to independent bands no one’s heard of and won’t decide whether to like you or not based on your music collection or the stylishness of your clothes. They also won’t be disgusted by your overeagerness to be with them.
Because kids like what they like, unafraid of anyone judging them as they tear off their clothes and scream while running around in wild circles. They’ll unabashedly worship Mickey Mouse and take more delight in chasing bubbles than you’ll probably ever take in anything again in your entire life.
Sure, this disregard for public opinion can be an inconvenient quality, like when kids start throwing spontaneous, epic tantrums about such unbearable oppressions as having to drink water out of cups that are red…
But it also brings a lot of unbridled enthusiasm to the table, because kids don’t yet get the appeal of all-encompassing, world-weary blasé.
Kids haven’t been burned yet, so they don’t affect quasi-sophistication by keeping others at a distance or automatically assuming everything’s going to end in doom.
Kids don’t understand that running along a beach is free, so you’re not supposed to revel in feeling the sand beneath your feet or giggle about chasing seagulls until they fly away.
Kids appreciate the simple pleasures in life like the amateurs they are, not understanding that anything harder to come by is supposedly better, or that the highest mark of intelligence is a default stance of misery.
What idiots, right? Except that most people are nostalgic for childhood. Whatever reminds them of that time before cynicism sucked their souls into crispy husks remains strangely compelling.
Children help bring that back. They even appreciate you at your very dorkiest.
A joke that bombs with other adults will make your children choke with laughter. My kids find it downright awesome when I make car sounds while pushing them around the grocery store, telling them we’re about to head down “cheese street” for more cheddar. They know all about Cerealopolis and the hidden valley of Cheerios.
It doesn’t matter if I do this in yoga pants with my roots coming in and countless grown-up observers assuming I’ve lost my mind… my kids might randomly grab these judgey strangers while yelling “GROCERY MONSTER,” and I can’t help but chuckle as the unexpected contact makes the grabbed adults go rigid.
My kids help me escape the prison of caring about “cool.” I can appreciate the simple things in life without feeling simple-minded. The ecstasy they feel in just being able to run at full speed toward a squirrel is infectious… and the unclouded observations they bring are profound.
I know that someday my children are bound to have to have problems with my lack of coolness, finding me embarrassing and having issues with my selected style of jeans. It’s because they’ll need to feel independent, having to go through many stages to achieve that end.
And I know I’ll make many mistakes along the way, despite trying my best. And they’ll be angry about them.
But no matter what, on some level they’ll still want my approval.
Because no matter what, they want me to love them. There is no trial period. There is no baseline of hipness for me to satisfy. It was a done deal from the first moment we met.
This is unconditional love in its truest form and I’ll try my very best to be worthy of it.
5) Because They Make Us Better People
While I’m not saying kids are the only way to become a better person, I do think they generally have this effect. Because children teach us at least as much as we teach them…
You learn to be patient.
You learn to value someone else at least as much as yourself.
You learn to have faith in your choices because you’re forced to make decisions even though someone’s bound to criticize your every parenting move. But you can’t just run away, so you learn to deal with it.
Even better, you learn to appreciate deeper layers of your world…
You know how you always notice more details when watching a movie for the second time? Well, watching kids learn about the world is like reviewing life all over again.
And when you consider life, you could just as easily make the same arguments about it not working out to our benefit on paper as you do with having kids.
For what is life, if not an endless series of waking up before we want to and fighting irritatingly slow traffic to get to boring, routine jobs that probably wouldn’t miss us, then coming home to figure out dinner before settling in at night to rinse and repeat?
We get older and older, struggling through fatigue as we watch our bodies break down and our dreams of changing the world elude us. Why not just collectively put our heads in the oven to escape the endless cycle once and for all?
In the end, it’s not the big things that keep us going, but the simple pleasures… something funny that a friend once said. A steaming croissant we once ate on a chilly morning at sunrise. A perspective-changing talk we once had over wine at a moment when we’d almost started believing everyone else was evil.
And kids bring these moments of clarity back. They claim to have just turned into a mermaid, except you blinked and missed it. They try teaching the cat to walk. They ask you where China is and if you’d like to take them there someday.
They bring you out of the world you thought you knew to remind you how it’s all still a mystery.
They’ll make you feel irreplaceable.
Because you are.
In the most unique yet boring ways.