Friday, October 4, 2013

Why have kids?

Recently I was laughing with a friend of mine who is not a mom about a common tendency among parents: using the “but having kids is so worth it” phrase when talking to child-free folks. Let me explain:

This is an age of motherhood which, mercifully, we aren’t all pretending to be perfect parents. We openly (over)share our struggles, we commiserate, we empathize, we post Instagram photos of our #mommyfails and laugh about them together. We seek out advice from one another and don’t pretend to have it all figured out. We openly acknowledge that this parenting thing is taxing, frustrating, life-changing and full of sacrifice.

We tell these war stories to our child-free friends. And then we see the reaction on their faces, we know we’ve said too much, and we tack on that cliché disclaimer “but having kids is so worth it” as if that explains it all in a nutshell.  As a parent, you know all of the wonderfulness that is packed into that phrase – but if you don’t have kids, you’re kind of left scratching your head.

So after we had a good laugh, she didn’t say it out loud, but the question that followed was implicit: so…why is having kids so worth it?

It’s so easy to see the costs: monetary expenses, limited free time, a whole library of new material for arguments with your spouse, crushed goldfish crackers in the backseat of the car.

But describing the payoff is a whole other thing. That’s because, in my opinion, the payoff is a trickle of a million delicious intangibles. It’s the feeling I get when my toddler wraps his chubby arm around my neck and breaths right in my face as he’s sleeping. It’s witnessing his silent-laugh smile when he discovers he can dim the lights in the kitchen by moving the switch; such a little thing brings him so much joy. It’s standing at the edge of my stepson’s middle school tennis court, being that embarrassing mom who is shouting and cheering him on but when he turns seeing a look on his face that says thank you for being here. There is something very powerful in that feeling of being needed, of shouldering that exquisite responsibility.

For some people, these things are worth the cost. For others, they’re just not – like the blissed-out couple lying on the beach in color coordinated swimsuits on the cover of TIME magazine two months ago (I immensely enjoyed all the discussion this sparked among parents and non-parents alike). I say, to each their own, and let’s all support one another’s decisions that lead to happiness whatever they may be.

And to my friend, I said: “It feels like Jake has never not been,” which I know makes no sense at all. But what I meant by that is asking me “Why have kids?” is like asking me “Why have a left arm?” If I never had a left arm I probably wouldn’t miss it.  But I do, and it’s such an integrated part of me and my life that I can’t imagine being without it.

What’s your answer to the question: why is having kids worth it?

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