Why do we have children? I was asked this by a young man recently, who, along with his partner, are not planning to have kids. It’s not a question I’ve ever really thought about, and off the cuff I couldn’t come up with anything resembling a decent answer. Not that I needed to. He doesn’t need to be convinced and I don’t need to defend my choice – but it got me thinking.
I’m more than happy that we had children, all four of them. And I remember with fondness the play fights we used to have, wrestling on the floor, or reading them bed time stories, or hearing the patter of tiny feet rushing to the door when I got home from work, the excited sounds of “Daddy, daddy!” bursting from their lips. I remember with less fondness the nappies that would sometimes leave you almost dry retching, the nights of broken sleep, the immense tiredness that would descend on us (actually never really left us) as we desperately tried to find some time to rest (taking it in turns, as I’m sure most parents do), the struggle to pay bills, the tantrums, both in the early years and as teenagers (though they were demonstrated in different ways and with different problems).
But I couldn’t put my finger on it really. Maybe no-one can, in a way, because having kids is most likely due to much more than just one or two things.
I was talking to a client recently, who, with his wife, had tried 14 times with IVF, and had only 2 months ago decided they couldn’t do it any more. When I spoke of the possibility of adoption, he said his wife would do so in an instant but his head just wasn’t in that space yet. It was sad to hear him speak, though he was a genial kind of person and quickly shook himself out of it to ‘get back to business’.
Is it our desire to leave something of ourselves behind? A legacy? Maybe, but that sounds rather hollow and clinical to me. Is it just our biological clock? Maybe, but (and I’m most likely showing my ignorance here) I could understand that more for women, their bodies so purposefully designed for conceiving and nurturing, but we men are still pretty driven, broadly speaking, to desire a family as well.
Is it having someone to pour ourselves into? To give meaning to our lives, as we help another soul, somehow made from us and connected to us, to grow up, navigate the world, and hopefully ‘conquer’ it in their own way?
I remember the sobering, somewhat surreal sensation of finding out for the first time I was going to be a father. A feeling of ‘lost at sea’-ness came over me. My life was about to change forever and I was totally unprepared for it. I wanted it of course…. just didn’t know what it would mean.
And then when our children were delivered. The first time is what sticks in my mind the most, but each one was special in its own way. I could pretty much describe each birth to you, and that description would be different every time. But I do remember the first time, of being incredulous, astounded really, that this small human being hadn’t existed 9 months ago, and somehow we had brought him into the world. I was truly dazed for a couple of days.
I never really questioned why we wanted children – it seemed natural, we planned for kids, and we had them. Perhaps if we had been denied, like some are, maybe I would have been able to articulate why it was so soul destroying to NOT be able to have children. I remember people describing to me that they felt somehow incomplete, cursed, or somehow less than whole because they could not have children. But was that their own anger at their bodies, rather than a genuine emotional result of not having children?
My oldest brother simply left his run too late. He had had a couple of failed relationships, and by the time he had settled into a strong long term relationship, he and his wife were just a little too old. I’ve never probed him about it, and I don’t suppose I ever will, as I don’t want to cause pain for him, but I know he wanted children and still feels a sense of loss.
So I haven’t answered the question have I? Biological clock? Desire to leave something of us behind when we shuffle off this mortal coil? Anticipation of the pleasure and pain of raising children, investing our lives into them along the way?
My wife and I had contemplated, only briefly, the idea of adopting a child as well, rather than just have our own children. And I had asked myself at the time, “Would I love them the same as my own kids?”. I came to the conclusion, perhaps naively, that I would. And it was on the basis that I would have invested myself into them, that I would have sown my heart and soul into them, and they would have become precious to me.
I may have missed some glaringly simple answer in this blog. Some of you female readers could be shaking your head right now, and saying under your breath “Men!” “Why it’s simple, we have children because…..” If that’s so, I’d love to know what your answer is (please give your comments!)
For me, I don’t need an answer – but I’d like one. I’d love to have had a decent answer for my young friend, even though his choice not to have kids is as valid as my own.