Advice | Carolyn Hax: Does the ‘right’ reason to have kids actually exist?

Hi, Carolyn: From what I can tell, all the following are the wrong reasons to have kids: 1. To keep a relationship together. (It could make it worse.) 2. To have someone to take care of you in old age. (That gives them a role they didn’t ask for.) 3. To make your parents happy. (It’s your life, not theirs.) 4. To copy your friends. (That’s immature.) 5. To give yourself a life purpose. (You shouldn’t make new people to feel purposeful; get a hobby.) Etc.

So what are the right reasons? Do they actually exist? The only one left that stands up to scrutiny seems to be, “Because I wanted to,” but that actually feels like it’s WORSE — it has LESS substance than some of the others, which I think we all agree are garbage.

Right Reasons?: Well, no, it’s not WORSE, because wanting children is an inner motivation, whereas your “wrong reasons” are mostly external — plus, to a child, being wanted doesn’t just have substance. It’s the most precious substance there is.

Plus, the parental wanting-to can be a desire to give love. (And receive, but no guarantees there for sure.)

The wall you seem to be hitting is that children can’t ask to be born — so parents are always making that momentous decision for them. Even if you personally are sooo grateful to your parents for having you, that doesn’t mean you have the standing to assume your child will feel the same way.

In that sense, you’re on to something. Having a child is always presumptuous.

And there are people who choose not to have children for that reason — they’re not comfortable foisting life on anyone. In some cases, they themselves feel their parents were selfish in choosing to have them. If your beliefs are along these lines, then I think that supersedes — for you, at least — anyone else’s “right” reasons. Either you’re comfortable with the fundamental presumptuousness of conceiving children, or you adopt, foster or don’t become a parent at all.

But I’m following your logic thread here; there’s also the logic of the innate. Just because we have the intellect to override some of our drives doesn’t mean instinct is completely corrupt.

It’s good to challenge our defaults, yes. And I not only want my big decisions to include some moral calculation and situational awareness tempering any visceral drives, but also hope the same of the people on the highway with me. Literally and figuratively.

So for the people who are pro-life in an actual sense, vs. an overreaching forced-birth sense, here’s what I would call a good reason to have kids: a yearning for family life, with all the risks, rewards and wild cards that entails — plus the means to provide for any children in your care, plus a belief the children you add to the world are, for lack of a better way to phrase it, justifiable.

Besides verging on self-parody, that last part also is so malleable as to be meaningless. Each of us can define “justifiable” to suit our own needs.

But people have strong opinions, you may have noticed. And unless we want other people’s strong opinions to determine what happens in our bodies — vs. trusting ourselves and our own yearnings, or lack thereof — we must also give others room to decide for themselves.

Thanks for the light topic.

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