Topics

Why Do Couples have Children, Anyway?

Katherine Marsh of The New Republic is hoping to have a baby, so she is taking a folic acid vitamin after breakfast each day. Folic acid, she explains, “is the gateway drug to parenthood–the idea of having a child becomes serious when you start worrying that it will have all its fingers and toes.”

But lately she has been worring about all the media reports she has been reading that seem to say that parenthood is a negative experience. She concludes:

Whereas, 150 years ago, the reasons to reproduce were in part economic–children could work the family farm or take care of you when you were old–in the modern era, economic motivations gave way to psychological ones, as parenthood became equated with happiness and personal fulfillment. Today, with even that in question, it seems to me that the only reason left to have a kid is biology. But biology is an irrational force that doesn’t seem an entirely fitting impulse on which to base a life decision unless you’re a penguin or a drunk teenager in the backseat of a car. And that’s the paradox of twenty-first-century parenthood. Even before it begins, it forces couples to pit what is most primal–a desire to have a child–against a world in which negotiating a family life is increasingly complex. But implicit in the hype over how miserable parenthood has become is the expectation that it should somehow be more dependably enjoyable than the rest of life. The first step toward improving parenthood–and giving parents the support they need–may be simply to debunk that myth.

Recently, I decided it was time to stop reading and observe live human parents. Luckily, there are some very tired and overextended specimens in my office. But, rather than appearing unhappy, they seem to have developed the enviable ability to find happiness in the smallest things–the constantly bewildered expression of a newborn, for instance, or the linguistic foibles of a toddler. Becoming a parent certainly complicates life–but it can also simplify it. So, while parenthood may bring neither solvency nor sanity, I’ll keep taking my folic acid.

Good for her. May she and her husband be blessed with the gift of life.