I am firmly uninterested in having children. I have several reasons; some of them merely influence me away from the idea of being a parent, while some are strong enough to stand alone as cause to remain happily childless.
1. Love and vulnerability.
I am a creature of love. I open myself completely to those whom I love deeply, for that is the best way for me to partake of the joys brought to me by that love. As they display Beauty, I glow. As they experience good fortune, I am thankful. As they treat me with care and tenderness, I am appreciative. I am also very vulnerable to pain at their hands. I can be hurt very deeply if one whom I love1 chooses to hurt me. Therefore, I give this power only to those whom I expect to work to avoid hurting me. I am very careful about this; I have striven, throughout my life, to surround myself with people who are good for me. This has proven very rewarding. Each time I hear about problems that people have with their friends and/or lovers doing stupid, thoughtless, petty and cruel things, I feel thankful and immensely lucky for having people of such Quality around me that I do not have to deal with that. I couldn't imagine choosing to lead a life of shallow friendships, false apologies, and broken promises.
But I would have to make an exception for a child. I would love a child of mine; I could not help it. And that love would kill me. It would sting me when the child rejects me, wound me when the child gets hurt, and positively break my heart when the child intentionally hurts me. I can expect my friends to be responsible with my emotions, but I can place no such expectations on a child. A child doesn't know better. Well, most of them do not. I might be very lucky and have a spectacularly thoughtful and wise child, but I'd probably be stuck with one just as inconsiderate as I was in my early youth. I know how vulnerable I am, and I know how badly I can get hurt.
Simply put, to invest my heart in someone who cannot be responsible with it is a supremely bad idea.
2. Accountability despite lack of control.
A parent is held accountable for the actions of their child. If my child shrieks in a restaurant, or breaks someone's window, that is my problem. I can do what I can to influence them to behave properly, to grant certain privileges when I think they will not be abused, but there is a huge limit to my control. I am not the child. They are responsible (in the sense of engendering) for their actions, but I am responsible (in the sense of accountability) for their actions. Could you imagine being tried for and convicted of a crime known to have been committed by someone else? Would you want to sign a paper saying "I will be held responsible for all actions taken by J. Smith of Bumblefork, West Dakota"? Well, I don't dig Russian Roulette, I don't dig taxation without representation, and I sure don't dig giving someone a blank check on my culpability.
I am not saying there should be some way around this; if the kid cannot be held accountable because they're just a kid, and no one else can be held accountable because they didn't do it, then the guy with the broken window is wrongfully screwed out of ninety dollars. (I guess it could be insured against blameless situations such as tornadoes and babies.) The parent, while not in control, is at least closest to being able to do something about it, by virtue of raising the kid. So I'm not arguing against this institution; I'm merely arguing against allowing my own subjugation to it.
3. Parental self-blindness.
I have seen (and heard about), as a very common occurrence, parents who go through absolute hell because of their child, withstanding pain, frustration, sleeplessness, anxiety, disrespect, and horrible treatment, with a couple of moments of joy or pride or whatever thrown in, who then say, "Sure, there are some hard times, but the joys of having a child are worth it." This sounds exactly like someone in an abusive relationship, and that scares me. To overlook or downplay the bad times when trying to derive a complete picture, to blind one's self, either deliberately or instinctively, knowingly or unknowingly, is repugnant to me. I hope that I am never subject to a truth so horrifying that I have to violate my principles by ignoring it in order to stay sane. (Actually, I have already proven that I am willing to sacrifice sanity in order to remain faithful to truth, so I doubt that there could exist so awful a truth. Still, the point remains that I would not willingly be put into a situation that would call for such a decision.)
The maternal instinct, and the lesser paternal instinct, have been linked directly to hormones.2 Parents make many decisions based on their hormones, not on their reason. This may be a great thing for the survival of a species, but it is not particularly good for the individual. I do not want my hormones making decisions for me. I know that there are some respects in which I cannot escape it, but when I can keep my control over my freedom of choice, such as by not having kids, I will.
4. Loss of identity.
Another event that I have commonly witnessed is the loss of identity that comes with becoming a parent. People can be musicians, mathematicians, friends, lovers, writers, and tons of other things, but once their children are born, they are parents. Everything else takes the back seat. Even if they still do all the things they want to do (unlikely; see below), that which identifies them is fundamentally changed. They are no longer characterized by their values and accomplishments, but instead by the single, trivial fact that some semen happened to squirt around at the right time of the month. This is not only about others' perceptions of them, and their perceptions of themselves, but also about parenthood becoming the center of their lives, around which everything else revolves. Everything they do has to take into account that they have a child. ("We stayed together for the kids' sake" being among the more far-reaching examples of this.)
5. Loss of freedom.
This is where I want to put "The Childless Couple,"3 an Ann Landers column from long ago that sarcastically bemoaned the freedom of said couple to travel where and when they wanted, and to escape the restrictions, torments, worries and inconveniences of caring for children. Ultimately, I can live the wonderful life that I want to live only if I do not have children. I can have dinner over at the Smiths' house without having to find and pay a baby-sitter or inflict my child upon my hosts. Dinners at home need only accommodate me and my hypothetical mate, rather than us plus the (frequently finicky and poorly-expressed) preferences of a kid or two. If I am out some day and having a particularly good time, I can choose to stay through the evening and night. I can keep fragile things out on display. I can take month-long vacations to places that children would not like or be able to handle, and forget the constraints of the school year. My hypothetical mate and I can spend all day having sex, or walking through the park, without being bothered by anyone or anything. This, of course, is a tiny subset of the many sorts of quality, magical one-on-one time that I cherish. Parents have to struggle to catch even brief moments of such time. Marital happiness almost always declines, or vanishes entirely, once the couple has children. Why in the world would I choose to destroy my happiness with my mate?!? I could go on with the examples. The point is that taking care of a child is a tremendous responsibility that leaves little room for other things.
Go ahead, tell me that I am overestimating the negative impact of a child on the parents' lives. And I'll tell you that you are ignorant, like nearly everybody is before they have children. One-third of parents, in a study in England, said that if they had known then what they know now, they would not have had children. (And consider that, of all those who wouldn't have had children had they known better, only a small fraction have the insight, guts and honesty to admit it. That one-third minority of honest folk might speak for nearly the whole population.) 6. Who knows how to raise a child?
Most people, as far as I can tell, think that they know how to raise children. Most people, as far as I can tell, do not know how to raise children.4 And here I am, not even believing that I have a clue as to how to raise children. What are my odds? I can treat them with love and decency, and carry out my responsibilities toward them with diligence and honor. But how can that be enough when I lack an understanding of the issues involved? I do not know how to educate or discipline a child. Sure, there are plenty of books and articles on the subject, but how do I know which ones to trust? Besides, different people have different needs. Some children who don't handle responsibility well need to be given it, so they can learn it. Some need it taken away, to ease the pressure. Some have a great need for independence; some have a great need for protection and shelter. Most people are not mind-readers. I sometimes am, yet I still do not feel qualified to raise a child.
Also, this can be an incredibly harsh world. Most of the truly good people I know have learned great things through great suffering. I sure did. It is the most common route to wisdom, strength, and compassion. But suffering also wrecks people. Do I really want to bring a child into a world that demands this? Do I want to watch them face an almost-dichotomy between experiencing hell and making it hell for others, and hope morbidly for the former? Or hope against probability that they figure out Good without being subjected to too much Evil, then watch that hope get shattered no matter which of the other two paths they take? And again, I have only influence, no control. The child may grow up to be a terribly evil person. How would I feel about having sacrificed twenty years of my life, then?
7. I have better things to do with my time, money, and energy.
The time spent taking care of a child is staggering. The Beauty that I can create, the wonders that I can experience, and the ways in which I can help people in that amount of time are of incomprehensibly huge value to me. With that time free, I can shower my mate with all the romance and affection she deserves. I can create great works of music, maybe even great works of philosophy if I am lucky enough to fit it into language. I can work to the betterment of the lives of all whom I love, and to ultimately make the world a better place. I'm happy to let the other six billion people make babies; I wouldn't contribute much to the world or to myself by joining them and wasting my talents, compared to what I can achieve given time and freedom.
Appendix. Aren't there mitigating factors?
Of course there are. There are evils almost as great as having children, and the day may come when I face a Hobson's choice between such evils. I might, for example, find my soulmate, who absolutely refuses to not have children. In such a case, we would probably have to work out a compromise, such as raising a left leg and part of a kidney. Also, over the last several years, I have become competent at staying happy through even the worst situations. The sacrifice of happiness entailed by childrearing would still be quite real, but even with a child, I would find some solace in my thoughts, like a detainee dreaming of freedom while being marched toward the ovens. Just so you know.
1. I am using "love" here to mean the deep,
intense love I have for those Worthy folk to whom I feel close. In this
discussion, I am not referring to the brotherly love for humankind when I
use the word.
2. From an article in Discover magazine several years ago. Sorry, I can't cite it exactly; I do not remember the issue.
3. "The Childless Couple" is here. (Outside of Yvelheim)
4. Quotes: 14