For Love or Tax Exemptions: On Why We Have Kids

When I was a bit younger and newly married, I was very open to the idea of never having kids. I had a great new husband, he was in a band, I was out of college, I had a job, we just bought a house, and who has time for kids? Kids only get in the way of all the fun things that adults can do. Over time, this sentiment adapted only slightly in my reasoning. The world is over populated as it is, why would I bring more human beings into it? Politics, environment, religion, economy – every news story was dismal and then I entered a phase where, since I could see no benefit in it for a the child, I assumed that having children was a purely selfish act.Sure, if you feel some obligation to propagate the species, or your dying last name, or your future cult, army, or baseball team, then I guess having children is a logical choice, but I just couldn’t come up with any reason that wasn’t centered around me. People would tell me that kids were so fun and you’d never understand unconditional love until you had one. People would say, “but think of all the places you could take them? Experiences you could provide.” All the things that were in it for me.So then I decided adoption was the way to go. The kids are already here, they are in desperate need of love and attention, it would help solve a global problem, while still fulfilling my curiosity about raising kids, but adoption is expensive and can take years. And I felt like having to choose foreign or national, open or closed was difficult and weird and my husband was only moderately interested in the idea, so I went back to figuring we wouldn’t have kids.Then I got a stomach bug. I was pretty sure I wasn’t pregnant, but bought a test to check.  Well it was negative, but when I looked at the little stick three minutes later and saw the negative reading I had a feeling of disappointment. I didn’t know where this was coming from. Did I want a baby? So I spent two weeks trying to analyze my feelings. When I broached the subject with my husband he said he had been thinking of it too. After all, we had done a lot of things in our three years of marriage and six years of dating. I didn’t go to all of his gigs anymore and many weekends we just hung out around the house. We still enjoyed each other’s company, but we felt like we were ready for something else to do. Some larger purpose. Was this selfish? Were we about to embark on a baby simply because we were bored? Or because we wanted something more meaningful? Or because we had used up all of our free movie passes at the local theater?  We didn’t know the answer, but decided to take the plunge. After all, it takes some people months or years to get pregnant, we’d have plenty of time to get used to the idea… 28 days later, the stick said positive.So then there is nothing to do, but get excited. Once you’re pregnant there is no time for asking “why” or “was this a bad idea?”, you simply must roll with it.  I felt as though refusing contemporary baby convenience items and reading up on natural birthing and parenting was a way to go about this whole process without feeding into an industry I hated anyway. I already ate healthy, but I stepped up the organics, read labels, read books about labels, exercised, drank plenty of water, and never, ever laid on my back.

Well fast forward a year or so and now I had a real, live baby who I was responsible for. The economy entered a recession and I had some fleeting moments of guilt as I looked into his innocent brown eyes and wondered what his future would be like. Was it selfish to bring this child into a world of war? Would we ever be able to afford to send him to college? Would he find a job? Would he be successful? Would he be happy? What were we thinking? But some nights were hard and many days were hard too and then I decided this wasn’t purely selfishness. A lot of self-LESS-ness goes into caring for a baby and so then I was left with – why do this then?

The first year was hard for me and not because of the usual suspects. We were lucky to have a baby who slept six to eight hour stretches from the beginning. He rarely cried and nursed like a champ. To date he’s had two ear infections and nothing stronger than a little cold. He’s only vomited once, so far, in this 3.5 years of life. So it wasn’t that usual stuff that was hard for me. It was the fact that my husband and I were devoting our entire days to this small thing that gave us nothing in return. Certainly when he started smiling at us, it helped, but I craved some return of emotion. Certainly I loved him and hugged him and kissed him and snuggled him, but longed for the day when he hugged me back.

Well I am now the parent of a three and a half year old and, in terms of returning love, the toddler years are the best. Now he will walk around the house singing, “Momma I love you, I love my momma” and he repeated tells me I’m his best friend and just last week he called me his sweetheart. He demands a long and tedious hug and kiss routine before either my husband or I are allowed to even step outside and he wants nothing more than our constant attention all. the. time. It is only now, that he is able to share his thoughts so clearly, that I am starting to understand the why of having kids.  The other night at bed my son said, “I love all the mommies and all the daddies.” We’ve been talking about homes that only have one or the other because one of his daycare buddies has divorced parents and this has caused some confusion amongst the three-year-olds. So I said, “Well some people have a mom and a dad, and some have only a mom or only a dad, and some have two moms, or two dads…” And he smiled and said, “oh yeah! I love that!”  So I sat back and thought that I could craft a thoughtful facebook post about that, but then I decided I had more to say than a few sentences.

Watching a child grow is truly a lesson in love, and I don’t mean a lesson in how much you love them (though that will blow your mind), but a lesson in how love works. Toddlers greet everything new person, place, and thing with excitement, interest, and love. With the exception of green beans and bounce houses, my son’s first response to most things is happiness. And I am lucky enough to get to watch and process with my own knowledge of the world. Watching a toddler grow is a true demonstration that hate, judgement, and criticism must be taught or learned. Watching a toddler get excited about an art project that involves a toilet paper tube and some yarn reminds us of the simple things. The fact that your child will play in the box the toy came in longer than with the actual toy reminds us that stuff is just stuff. And in a pile of new Christmas or birthday toys, your child will still always relish a hug and kiss from you – how many of us can say we’d feel the same?

Adult life makes so many demands on us and we see unfairness and tragedy. It makes us cautious, guarded, jaded, sarcastic, but the pleasure of having children around is the presence of a reminder of what really matters. And what really matters isn’t dishes or deadlines, it’s hugs, tents, tickling, and art projects. I have to admit, I’m generally reminded of these things only in my guiltiest moments. When I snap at my son because I’m trying to get dinner on the table and he looks so sad that I refused to sit down and color with him. It is in those twinges of guilt that I am able to remember that eating dinner 10 minutes late will not kill anyone and that someday on my deathbed I’m not going to look back fondly at how promptly I served dinner, but on those moments with my son.

So, I’m back to the notion of selfishness. To say that having a child is great because it reminds me daily of what’s important in life is fairly selfish, but the fact that this daily reminder forces me to go out into the world and act with more peace and patience in my heart is not.  I teach high school kids and, while they definitely can have their challenging moments, I now see them all as someone else’s baby. Suddenly they aren’t just students to me, they are kids. They are somebody’s kids and I make decisions based on what I would want for my child. In fact I even wrote the phrase, “Is this good enough for Dylan?” on a notecard and keep it at my desk. In those moments when I feel like throwing out a worksheet or some silent reading I think about what I would want a teacher to do when my child was sitting in that desk in front of her. When I see a child running from their mother in a crowded room, I have no problem stopping to help wrangle because all kids are somebody’s kids now. I give sympathetic smiles to the parents of screaming children at grocery stores and resturants, rather than judgement and looks of disgust because I have been there. I don’t care if that child seems too old for a pacifier or that that dad is feeding his daughter a cookie at 8:00 am because we are all trying to survive the best we can.

The first night home from the hospital I remember sitting on the couch holding my son, watching him sleep, and wondering how anyone could turn their back on their own child or do anything to harm such a perfect little thing. I held this little human who had never experienced disappointment, fear, distrust, guilt, or humiliation. He had yet to fall and scrape his knee or bonk his head. And I couldn’t think of a thing he could do that would change my feelings. He might be gay, he might be straight, he might be transexual, he might have a flair for the dramatic, he might be incredibly stubborn, he might inherit his mother’s temper, he might be laid back, someday he will probably make a bad choice, he might be smarter than me, he could have a learning disability, he could develop a physical disability, he could play football and, despite all of these things, I would love him so much it would hurt my heart sometimes (but hopefully no football, haha). And then I go to school and see the bizarre things teenagers do and say or I watch the news and listen to hate speech and lies and I hear that the economy is struggling and I just keep coming back to the notion of love and peace and how powerfully important these concepts are. Because now my job is to ready the world for my son. My job is to actively do something to make things better because I have a vested interest and if we are all acting this way, then the selfishness of loving our own children is far outweighed by the positivity we can offer as a collective.

So if raising a child helps me remember that life is about more than stuff and deadlines and that our place in this world is to help each other rather than to judge, then I’d say having children is not selfish at all, but the best way I can imagine to help us learn how to love one another and treat each other with respect. And this is coming from someone who is not terribly gooey with emotion. The toddler and I have battled through tantrums, power struggles, injuries and messes. I don’t walk around in this zen-like aura everyday. I’m a normal person who makes judgements and mistakes and lots and lots of sarcastic comments, but I think my favorite thing so far about raising a child is that every night at bedtime I get 15-20 minutes of snuggle and talk time with a person who has profoundly more insight I think than I do and everyday I get a fresh start. Simply having him around forces me to care about my actions and that alone makes the whole thing worthwhile.


One thought on “For Love or Tax Exemptions: On Why We Have Kids

  1. Very nice thoughts! I loved reading this and I can relate on many levels to your thinking. It's wonderful to relive children again as a grandparent too!!

    Love, Mom

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