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.

Author: halffastcyclingclub

We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us rode coast to coast across the US. It was so much fun, he's doing it again in 2022! If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.

24 thoughts on “Children”

  1. Hooray for spring! And great write up. My kids are wonderful and I just adore them. They grew up and escaped the house though, darn them.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Grad school is expensive. And they are an adult guest then. Guests that stay longer than three days have to help with household chores.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. One day, while visiting, they asked me, “Dad, would I be a loser if I moved back home?” I said, “If you’re like Dustin (a comic strip character) and move home to lie on the couch and watch YouTube videos, you’re a loser. If you move home so you don’t go further into debt to go to grad school, you’re smart.” They moved in, earned a degree, got a job, and moved out. Definitely not a loser.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent essay. I’m passing this on to both of my sons, one who has a child and one who doesn’t. I tried to guilt the one who doesn’t to have one the other day and I feel like a real jerk. I apologized within a day or so but I can’t take it back 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. While you can’t take it back, a sincere change of heart, sense of ambivalence with regret for having spoken one side of it aloud, or heightened understanding are always welcome. Perhaps if he reads this and really hears your apology, it will help. I hope so.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. moment in my life (and that of my colleagues and friends) everyone was ‘trying’ and one guy carried a beeper so when his wife was ovulating, he had to go home. I didn’t understand that.

    The pressure on a woman of a certain age to “start a family” can be brutal.

    One of the two times my mother actually phoned me was to tell me I had better hurry if the Good X and I were going to have kids.

    Which begs the question, did my “reluctance” to have kids have anything to do with having had a bad mom that I had to raise? No. Our mom is our mom and she’s what we know as mom. We’re not born with nor do we grow up with a bunch of mom alternatives in our minds. Whatever is our home life is our personal home life and it is normal for us. She was a lousy mom, but she was mine and the good I got from her is immense and forms a major aspect of the Martha I like today.

    Is it because I don’t like kids? I love kids and I’m a kid magnet. There are no kids in my life right now and my life is the poorer for it. The other adults in a kid’s life have an important job, maybe as important as the parents’ job. My Aunt Martha inspired me. My teachers encouraged me. My many and various aunts and grandmothers simply loved me and said, “Yes!” Wow. That I have done the same for others and taught more than 10,000 post-adolescents? Fuck motherhood.

    But here I am defending what was never a decision but an aspect of my identity.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Self-knowledge is coupled with self-doubt. I remember the day I realized there was no “because” to my not wanting kids. I felt there should be a “because.” There’s no “because.”

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It also occurred to me how many people (including my mom who did NOT enjoy her children) said, “You don’t know what you’ll be missing if you don’t have kids!” That was certainly true but, on the other hand, they would not know what they might be missing by NOT having kids. BUT the prime directive is part of our DNA. I always wondered if there weren’t a glitch in mine that I felt the way I did.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll vote for not a glitch. Too many people who shouldn’t have children do. I don’t know (exactly) what I’ll be missing if I don’t jump off a bridge into traffic…doesn’t mean I’ll do it. Maybe here is where I’ll confess there were times that my parents were late getting home and I hoped that they’d been killed in a car crash and I could be raised by my older siblings. Give me the right prompt and who knows what I’ll spill.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You’re right on about the illogic of that remark. I don’t think there’s a glitch, either. I loved my parents. It’s my nature, even seeing — in later years — objectively, what my mom was — a drunk, abusive, narcissist. I loved my stepsons and my niece — all of whom I was involved in raising. The boys on bikes were very important to me, and I often think how my life would have been diminished without them. My memory of my 3 year old little neighbor boy, Andy, running down the street yelling my name and coming to my yard because he saw me outside? I ran out to catch him because it was narrow state highway! Half as wide as the street in front of my house here. The kids up my alley — I miss them every day. So many times I was accused lacking some “love” aspect in my heart because I didn’t have my own kids. So dumb and so wrong. It’s amazing what people will say about the life choices of others. I guess it shouldn’t be amazing, but it is.

        Liked by 1 person

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