The Kids Aren’t Alright

Recently I talked to my grandmother about one of the biggest choices in her life.

“Grandma,” I asked, “how would your life be different if you didn’t have any kids?”

(Grandma had 8 kids.)

“Oh….oh I can’t even imagine that,” Grandma said. “I had the time of my life raising my kids. And now they take of me.”

I’m not sure what I was searching for in asking that question. I think a part of me wanted to know about disappointments, the disappointments adults have after raising their children and maybe they’re expectations aren’t met in regards to how their grown-up children treat them. You spend 18+ years putting so much time and energy and money into your kids, and then they grow up and barely remember to send you a card on Mother’s Day? Why set yourself up for that?

Then the other day I read an article about happiness. It asks the question: Does having kids make you happier?

The answer: Basically, no. With caveats.

The article says that in raising kids, you experience moments of irreplaceable pure happiness (like when your 3-year-old throws his arms around you and hugs you with all his strength after you get home from work) amidst a sea of stress. If you think of any act of parenting, this seems to be the case. Kids are, by and large, a hassle, but they give us a mission and bless us with glimpses of sheer love.

The argument against these thoughts is that it’s not all about you–you don’t have kids to make yourself happier. You have kids to perpetuate your breed, your family line, to add a living legacy to the world. Although, in a way, aren’t those reasons just as selfish as the pursuit of happiness?

All of these thoughts contribute to my continuing doubts that I should have kids, of course. But the article does end on a somewhat encouraging high note. It says basically what my grandmother said, that when you’re old and you can look back on the childrearing experience, the good times stand out among the stresses and the aches and pains. Selective memory, essentially.

So are 18 years of stress and only occasional happiness worth the many blissful years that follow?