Rob's Soapbox Archives

March 8th, 2010

KIDS RUIN EVERYTHING

I will never forget it.

I was 19 years old and just a few months into dating a woman two years older than me.  
As with all young, whirlwind romances I met her family fairly quickly and spent a good amount of time with them, particularly her older sister and her family. At the time, the sister and her husband had two kids, an 8 year old girl and a 5 year old boy and they seemed like the typical, normal, happy American family. And they were, to be candid.

The husband was 29 at the time and had a career lucrative enough to allow his wife to stay at home with the kids. They had been married for a decade and had their usual marital spats and disagreements but nothing out of the ordinary for an American marriage in the late 20th century.

He and I became close and often golfed together or drank together or even sometimes just took drives together, which, specific to the latter activity, I never really understood. I was young, energetic and dating a hot chick, so why did he and I have to just leave the house for no real reason every time my girlfriend and I would visit them?

One day, out of nowhere, I got my answer, despite having not asked a single question.

“I leave the house for a break,” he said, “Listen, Rob…you are young, intelligent, motivated and well on your way to having a great life. Take it from me; don’t screw it all up by having kids.”

That was a stunner. This guy clearly loved his kids, was an involved dad and never seemed “put out,” with his parental duties. He also didn’t seem burdened by any of it.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he continued, “I love my kids to death and would die for them…but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t even have them.”

As I said; he was the first, but far from the last parent, man or woman, who has made such a comment to me. And in every single case, the advice or comment was completely unsolicited. I haven’t spent my life surveying parents on their happiness, regrets, buyer’s remorse or desire to re-do their life, yet more than a dozen of them have taken the time to pull me aside and warn me of the pitfalls of parenthood; specifically, I have learned, the resentment and missed opportunities it apparently creates.

 

As recently as two weeks ago I met an old childhood friend of my wife’s for the first time. She was a friendly, jovial woman who, when I met her, was moving a million miles per minute at her job. Within 30 seconds of chatting with my wife about how each other’s lives had turned out she said to Janell, “do you have kids?” When my wife said no the friend said “good for you…don’t. My husband and I just last night were sitting in our living room talking about how great life would have been if we never would have had children.”

This has been a long waged war of disagreement in our society; are kids worth it?

On one side are the “child-free” advocates who argue that children ruin lives and contribute to a society that is hardly in need of them. Additionally, argue the anti-child crowd, adults are robbed of their individuality in the name of raising yet another soon-to-be-adult who will repeat the same sick cycle.

On the other side are those who argue that your life is wasted if you don’t procreate and that it is, in fact, the most selfish thing you can do to not have children and contribute to the continuation of society. In fact, the smarter and more well-adjusted a person is, the more obligated he or she is to have children, argue the pro-birthing crowd.

As a guy who doesn’t really care for children, I get along with them stunningly well. I’ve been told this is because I don’t treat them like kids, I treat them like people. I never talk down to them, I don’t get on bended knee in a condescending way to converse with them, and I certainly never alter my voice into some childish sing-song, goo-goo, ga-ga method of talking with them. I don’t pretend that their artwork is great, I don’t say “yay” when they tie their shoes and I always look them in the eye when I talk with them. In return, I have had almost universally positive interactions with children in my adult life, including some surprisingly heartwarming moments when kids knew they could trust me and came to me for help in some of the most serious times of their lives.

So the truth is I couldn’t care less about children in the abstract. Similarly, if people want to become parents, that’s great too. I have no horse in this race and I have found that being an objective observer has granted me the ability to truly see the toll children take, and weigh it against the supposed rewards. The comments of the parents I have met along the way, warning me against becoming a father, have had nothing to do with the fact that I am not a father today. The reason I am not a dad is very simple; I already have a life.

Sadly, the overwhelming majority of people that I meet who have had children did so for one of only two reasons; either they were essentially taught that having kids is “just the thing to do,” or they always believed that having a child would “complete them.”

Yuck.

It’s no surprise then that most parents are so damn miserable and resentful. If the motivation for having kids is some pre-ordained societal creed or demand, that, by definition, creates resentment on the scale of arranged marriages. Millions of American parents are walking around today muttering “I never wanted the damn kids in the first place…”

The sicker of the two groups are those who view children as their personal pet; someone birthed solely for the completion of the parent as a person or the marriage as a family. As with all absurd notions based on sophistry, these are the parents who learn along the way that a child is actually a person who comes with a series of unending demands. Additionally, at some point the child becomes a challenge and parents like this are flummoxed that the kid doesn’t worship them for bringing him into the world. Before long, everyone is miserable.

Decades ago, Ann Landers took an extraordinary amount of heat for reporting that she had received letters to the tune of 70% of parents saying they regretted having children.

Society was outraged and demanded retractions immediately. Furthermore, scientists and sociologists insisted that study after study proved otherwise. And of course, once the word got out that it was cool to say you loved being a parent, American parents wrote letters by the millions telling Ann she was wrong.

But she wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t trying to be right. She was merely reporting a fact that following a column, she received thousands of letters overwhelmingly condemning parenting. http://www.happilychildfree.com/ann.htm

The aftermath of people trying to prove her wrong is a great lesson in human behavior; people are most honest when they are unguarded. All of my examples have come from people who just wanted to share how miserable their lives were because of being a parent; all of Ann Landers examples were just people reaching out to her saying “kids aren’t worth it.” That’s true, raw honesty.

When you ask a parent if it’s worth it, of course they say yes. Or they say “I love my kids more than anything,” which isn’t an answer. People in general, and American adults in particular, are predisposed to protect their image and their decisions. They are not about to admit to a stranger, a scientist or a survey taker that they screwed up their entire lives and all of their dreams by having children; but the overwhelming majority of them will admit it if you can capture them in a raw, honest moment of self reflection.

It isn’t that kids aren’t “worth it,” it’s that most adults aren’t prepared for the job and the sacrifice when they start the process. You can’t decide if something is worth it if you don’t know the actual cost. Of course every parent loves their children; most people love their jobs…that doesn’t mean they want them. Ann Landers was right.