Once upon a time, the US had an agrarian economy. You had a lot of children. You had to – that’s what kept the farm going. There were the occasional “confirmed bachelors” and “spinsters”, often code for gay or Lesbian, who didn’t have children.

We became urbanized and having children was an ingrained habit. Then we discovered birth control and mostly Roman Catholics had a lot of children. Coming from a family with six kids I was often asked if I were Catholic. I wasn’t. Maybe my parents didn’t have very good knowledge of birth control. Maybe they had poor impulse control. Maybe it was a way to get the chores done.

Time came that having children became a choice, meaning something to argue about. People who chose not have children were called “selfish”. People who chose to have children were called “breeders” or “narcissists”.

Some had children because it was still what was expected of them. Some had children as a way to remain closeted. Some had children because that’s what they wanted to do with their lives. Some chose not to have children in order to do something else with their lives. Some chose not to due to unresolved childhood trauma/poor role models. Some just never got around to it and then realized…something. (They didn’t really want kids? They thought it was too late?)

I was around 20 and visiting my older sister. She yelled at her kids in my presence, then looked at me and said, “I sounded just like dad”. That was not a proud moment for her.

I was already ambivalent about having kids. I liked kids. I liked being around them. Maybe I would be a favorite uncle, or the trusted adult you could go to when you couldn’t talk to your parents.

That day became a pivotal moment. One of Ursula K. LeGuin’s characters said, “They say here ‘all roads lead to Mishnory.’ To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road.” Ursula K. LeGuin  (1929-2018) The Left Hand of Darkness.

I realized that I did not want to be my dad. I also didn’t want to be the anti-dad. I was stuck on the Mishnory Road. I would not be a parent unless I could walk a different road.

It took twenty years. I was now with a partner with whom I wanted to have children, and I was me. I could continue to be me as a parent. My own upbringing wasn’t gone, but it no longer controlled me. I was on a different road.

I am not here to tell you to have children. I am not here to tell you not to have children. If that ship has sailed, I’m not here to tell you that you made the wrong decision. I am here to tell you that, if you already have children, you have a tremendous responsibility. I hope you already know that.

The best I can determine, the job of a parent is to support their children to grow into decent human beings. The job of a mother is not different from the job of a father. One does not have to be the breadwinner. One does not have to be the nurturer. Those are not traits that you were imbued with by the sex organs with which you were born. And they are not mutually exclusive. And is that somehow harder to understand for straight people?

If you want a Mini-me, you are a narcissist and you shouldn’t be a parent. If you have unfulfilled childhood fantasies and you want to live them out through a child, you shouldn’t be a parent. If either of those is true and you’re already a parent, you’ve got a lot of work to do. If you want children in order to feel fulfilled, get a life. Then maybe have children.

Image from TVTropes. Verne Troyer and Mike Myers.

If you ask me (you didn’t but you’re still reading so we’ll pretend you do), a parent’s primary job (after meeting the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) is to support children in answering the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and implied in that is, “what do you want to be now?” Growing up comes soon enough.

What does that look like? If your children have interests they want to explore, you find a way for them to do that. You accept that not all paths will lead to a career or a lifelong interest. You accept that your children are individual people. If you have more than one child, they are not the same and they don’t have the same needs. Your job (like a teacher’s job) is facilitator. One child may know what they want. You help them find it. Another may have no idea. You help them with a variety of experiences to explore. A third may have an idea, try it out, find it wasn’t for them, and try another.

All of these have limits. You aren’t made of money (unless you are). But, once you have chosen the path of raising children, they are the priority. Supporting their growth wins over your new toys or fancy vacations. Not every interest requires cash (or only cash). Some programs have sliding fee scales or scholarships. Sometimes your time is needed more than your money. Some of my biggest fun came as a barn dad and as the recording engineer for concerts. Coaches, drivers, mentors, and other support people are needed. Grants are available. Creative problem-solving comes in handy. One of my kids graduated from high school with more than two years of college credit. That didn’t ultimately mean two fewer years of college, but did mean the ability to focus on a field of interest and have some graduation requirements met on arrival. The other chose a major as an undergrad that cut in half the time (and money) needed for a graduate degree.

One of my kids did a partial summer program in Italy. I was hoping it would be grad school in Italy so I could save money to go visit, with an Italian-speaking guide in the family. Oh, well. Instead, I got this custom poster. They saw this poster in Italy, translated it, and made a copy in English. I think I have the only one in existence.

I didn’t join my friends on Wednesday Night Bike Rides until my younger child was five. That wasn’t a problem. I didn’t want to be away. After I started those rides, I was reading a bedtime story on Thursday night and that child said, “Daddy, we miss you when you’re gone on Wednesday nights. But you’re in such a good mood on Thursdays, it’s good for the whole family that you ride.” I didn’t ride my bike coast-to-coast until the kids were grown. That wasn’t a problem. I had other priorities. From that child, I received this t-shirt:

If it’s too hard to see, there are two pairs of cowboy boots in the image – big ones and little ones.

My advice? If you aren’t ready, don’t have kids. Go out and live a little. If you’re ready, the things you give up won’t be sacrifices, they’ll be investments, and the dividends will be paid every day.

As Joan Baez sang in Diamonds and Rust, “speaking strictly for me” the gifts of parenthood are more than I ever asked for.

Oh is also not your child’s job to have grandchildren for you. Don’t ask. If they want to have children, and you have nurtured a relationship with them, they’ll tell you. And if they don’t tell you, but they have children, it will become obvious at some point anyway.

I’m not sure what made me feel the need to pontificate today. Sorry…am I? I feel like John Lennon, singing “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out (in)”. Just a bit ambivalent about hitting the button to post this.

Welcome to spring, which arrived at 4:24 PM CDT (2124 UTC, aka GMT) yesterday; unless you’re where it is fall that just arrived.