I can only list these questions because to-have-children-or-not is a decision that’s began to entrench itself in the periphery of my mind. In the years to come, I’m going to have to make a choice about whether to have a family or not. Or maybe I won’t. Perhaps some turn of fate will make the decision for me. Who knows?
Of course, like many things, the more questions we ask the more we discover we can ask. And when it comes to having children or not, one of the most interesting that reveals itself concerns meaning. Phrased succinctly: “If I don’t have kids, what’s the point?” Think about it. We all strive to build our careers, to have a home, to accumulate experiences and competencies and connections. But if we cannot share and leave these things to our descendants, what’s the point? Why bother amassing anything if it’s all going to slip through our hands like grains of sand when we die? Let me give you a concrete example.
I recently met a retired couple. They’re eighty-ish with no kids. Right now, they’re travelling all over the world, going places, doing things, seeing as much as they can. They summed up the rationale of their hectic schedule: “We might as well spend our money. We have no kids, and we don’t want to leave it all to the government.” If you’re anything like any other human being, you’ll detect a trace of emptiness in such an existence. But just a trace.
See, one of the upsides to having children is they provide a reason to live and work and do your best—a deep motive. They act as something upon which we can concentrate and focus the meaning of our lives. As a parent, you give decades of great effort to a single entity. You try your hardest to raise your child to be a good, decent human being. But when you don’t have kids, the meaning of your life isn’t taken away, it’s just dispersed. There’s no carrier of your DNA to raise and protect so you seek other outlets of meaningfulness.
To me, the issue of meaning is, consciously or unconsciously, one of the central factors in the decision to have kids or not. Those who choose not to have a family must make peace with the lack of concentrated meaning, or settle into a sustainable nihilism. They must replace the meaningfulness of a child or three by discovering meaning in multiple other activities and outcomes. And those who do have children? In some ways, they’ve got it easy; there’s great satisfaction in having something so obvious to live for.