Monday, March 4, 2013

Why Have Kids?

{Guiri, enjoying cake at her 1st birthday party, Nov. 10, 2012}
"Tell me, why do you have kids?"
                -- Asked no one. Ever.

But as a married woman in my 30s, I get the, "When will you be starting a family?" question (mainly from meddling strangers) more than I'm comfortable with.  "Starting a family" is an expression that gives me the creeps; reminds me of other creepy words like spawn, progenerate, breed. While spawning/progenerating/breeding is the norm for most couples, I've often wondered why people aren't questioned for their reasons behind why they are having children. I often wonder if most people have ever really asked themselves that question: Why are you having kids? The decision to procreate is the biggest and most irreversible decision of our lives and one that deserves serious analysis. But it seems people have children out of expectation, instead of introspection. WHY HAVE KIDS? Do you feel a child will provide you with unconditional love? Is it that you think babies are cute? Parenthood will complete you? All your friends have kids/we've been married for a while, so "it's time"?

These questions sound harsh, but so are the assumptions that a woman who chooses not to have children is either selfish or barren. Why does a woman owe an explanation for not having children, when there is no justification required for having children?  This may be news to some, but:  A woman can contribute important legacies to the world besides children.

If you think parenting will provide you with unfailing, overwhelming joy, you are probably wrong. As I teach in my Sociology classes, research repeatedly shows that the majority of married couples report a decline in marital happiness and lower rates of overall happiness compared to non-parents.

So, why have kids? This is the title of Jessica Valenti's book. I'm reading it now and it is the main impetus behind this post. Last week I mentioned our ambivalence about having kids, and wanted to explore that in writing. Closely related to my ambivalence is this fantastic article in The Atlantic about the fiction of motherhood and "having it all," which I read last summer and which has resonated with me since. Then last week I read this article which counters the Atlantic article and reminds women that everyone's definition of "having it all" varies and you have to figure out what "having it all" means to you.

My husband and I have been sitting comfortably albeit ambivalently on the Should-We-Have-Kids? Fence for years. This is weird considering I am seriously Type A about planning everything else in my life except this. The thing is, we love our independence, our jobs, volunteering, travel, languid mornings at our favorite coffee shop, going to foreign movies and ethnic restaurants, etc. But...the ol' clock she is a ticking and lately, I've starting looking at motherhood in a whole new light.  The culprit? Guiri Cupcake Castillo, our dog. Since this fur baby came into our lives a year ago, we started realizing we want to wake up early on Saturdays to take her to Puppy to Princess School, we want her to be with us as we lounge outside our coffee shop, we miss her when we're traveling without her and at work, and we love carting her from dog beach to Petco on the weekends. She brings so much joy to our lives and taking care of her makes us happy.  And, maybe a baby has a *similar effect.

So it's time to ask myself: Why do I (think I might) want kids? I've come up with a number of rational answers: I want to create good, thoughtful citizens who can make the world a better place. I want the life-affirming, life-enhancing experiences that I'm sure a parent/child relationship can bring. I think my husband would be an amazing father and I think I'd enjoy navigating parenthood's challenges. On top of all that, someone very wise recently told me having kids is the meaning of life (!!) But, there's something deeper.  I don't know, maybe parenthood is separate from rational analysis. Maybe for some, it's a deeply instinctual drive, or just the powerful curiosity of wondering what your spawn might look like. In any case, this drive is not the same or even existent for everyone.

We are fortunate that in this country, in most cases, we have the choice to procreate. With this freedom of choice should also come a deep respect that supports women and families regardless of whether they decide to have children or not. This means not assuming a childless woman is infertile or selfish.  It also means my not concluding that most parents haven't chosen carefully instead of carelessly to bring a child into the world. Although, I still doubt some people contemplate things as carefully as they should and I still think some reasons for having children are better than others. I am not trying to be the Reproductive Police here, I am just advocating for some serious thought on a momentous decision that has long-term social effects beyond just the parents. And on the subject, gay men and women must be afforded the right to parent if they choose! Please watch Daddy and Papa if you haven't seen it. It is required viewing in my Soc. classes and it is closely related to my feelings on this subject.

Sorry for the wordy (maybe inflammatory?) post. If anyone is reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


This does not mean we are trying to have kids, or will have kids. (Sorry, mom!) It's just me thinking publicly about life path decisions.

Also, we know our friends/family are/will be fantastic parents. I just worry about the uneducated masses procreating. Are only stupid people breeding?  {More inflammatory words. I just can't help myself!}

* Please understand I realize having a dog is NOT the same as having a child.


  1. Don't have kids til you both are ready! While Calvin is my greatest accomplishment, his early arrival was unexpected & it brought a lot of stress. My grey hair didn't come from a top Hollywood hair dresser, contrary to what you've heard :) Kids are great, but don't go pooping out kids just because its expected!... excellent post Coco! !

  2. Really? I thought you were intentionally going for the George Clooney look! :) Thanks for the insight and positive feedback, Coco.

  3. I am leaning towards no children at this point in my life. I too have wonderful dogs who are my babies. However, I look at my friends with children and I do not envy them. I like flying to Vegas on a moments notice, and I love not having to cut 1/4 (or more) of my income for childcare and various other child related expenses. Probably the most convincing to me, are the older couples who decided to not have children and the things they were able to do with their lives. I definitely do not look down upon others for the choice of having children, but right now it is far from anything I want. ~Pito-son

  4. Absolutely fantastically written! As a very happy childless-by-choice couple, we know that it absolutely was the right decision for us. Jason always knew he didn't want kids. I always assumed I would - like you said, that is what you do, right? And I always liked kids and babysat as a teenager, so of course that's what I was supposed to do. Then life intervened and I didn't meet my right partner until age 34, by which time I realized that I really liked my life as is - able to sleep in, able to travel for long trips across the globe, able to decide to leave a stable job to do my own thing because I didn't have others relying on my income, etc etc. And I didn't feel a hole in my heart or my life either. I had (and have) close relationships with my best friend's two kids - their whole lives I have been their aunt and them my niece and nephew despite not sharing blood. And now I have a niece I so very much adore on my side, and five kidlets on Jason's side (who live around the country, making it tougher to be as close to, but still enjoy having a relationship with). Being an aunt rocks - I get the honor and privilege of helping to raise that great and thoughtful citizen, and I get to add to her knowledge and skill base with things that her parents aren't into and wouldn't teach her. But I get to go home, get some sleep, and live the flexible life I enjoy, need, thrive on.

    I don't do the volunteer tutoring that I used to do, as another way to help the next generation without having my own child, but that is always something I can go back to. In the meantime, I am very involved in philanthropy, as a way of being a caring and giving citizen, and that is truly going to be a huge part of the legacy I leave - my philanthropy.

    Long response, but, yeah, I so get it. And, I promise you, Jason and I absolutely do not feel that our lives are any less rich or whole for not have kids. Actually, we feel it is able to be even richer, as it can be the life we want, and not the life we have to live because of someone else's needs.

  5. Thanks for the input, ladies!

    Bethel, when I wrote this post, I thought of you and our talk at the Ken Cafe right before I got married. I loved your "don't follow anyone else's dogma" approach to life, recounted it to Flavio after, and have reflected on it many times since. That little conversation will stay with me forever. We are so lucky to have met you - you were the perfect person to marry us.

    On our honeymoon, I read Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. Have you read it? Gilbert is also childless-by choice and writes about the importance of the "Auntie Brigade". Again, I thought of you and your relationship with your nieces and nephews, and with the community. I googled it and found the (long but worthy) passage, if you're interested:


    “Childless women — let’s call them the “Auntie Brigade” — have never been very well honored by history, I’m afraid. They are called selfish, frigid, pathetic. Here’s one particularly nasty bit of conventional wisdom circulating out there about childless women that I need to dispel here, and that is this: that women who have no children may lead liberated and happy and wealthy lives when they are young, but they will ultimately regret that choice when they reach old age, for they shall all die alone and depressed and full of bitterness. Perhaps you’ve heard this old chestnut? Just to set the record straight: There is zero sociological evidence to back this up. In fact, recent studies of American nursing homes comparing happiness levels of elderly childless women against happiness levels of women who did have children show no pattern of special misery or joy in one group or the other. But here’s what the researchers did discover makes elderly women miserable across the board: poverty and poor health. Whether you have children or not, then, the prescription seems clear: Save your money, floss your teeth, wear your seatbelt, and keep fit — and you’ll be a perfectly happy old bird someday.

    In leaving no descendants, however, childless aunts do tend to vanish from memory after a mere generation, quickly forgotten, their lives as transitory as butterflies. But they are vital as they live, and they can even be heroic. Even in my own family’s recent history, there are stories on both sides of truly magnificent aunties who stepped in and saved the day during emergencies. Often able to accrue education and resources precisely because they were childless, these women had enough spare income and compassion to pay for lifesaving operations, or to rescue the family farm, or to take in a child whose mother had fallen gravely ill. I have a friend who calls these sorts of child-rescuing aunties “sparents”— “spare parents” — and the world is filled with them.

    Even within my own community, I can see where I have been vital sometimes as a member of the Auntie Brigade. My job is not merely to spoil and indulge my niece and nephew (though I do take that assignment to heart) but also to be a roving auntie to the world — an ambassador auntie — who is on hand wherever help is needed, in anybody’s family whatsoever. There are people I’ve been able to help, sometimes fully supporting them for years, because I am not obliged, as a mother would be obliged, to put all my energies and resources into the full-time rearing of a child. There are a whole bunch of Little League uniforms and orthodontist’s bills and college educations that I will never have to pay for, thereby freeing up resources to spread more widely across the community. In this way, I, too, foster life. There are many, many ways to foster life. And believe me, every single one of them is essential."


    Happy International Women's Day!

  6. Honestly, Sarah, your words mean the absolute world to me!! I adored getting to know you guys, so loved being able to be a part of your loving and fun and totally supportive relationship, and am incredibly honored that I was the one allowed to celebrate that with you! And for you to have remembered those words and taken that to heart - I appreciate it so very much. It is totally the case - we are the only ones who actually live our lives, so other folks' opinions really can't matter that much. Jason and I regularly re-affirm with each other that "I have your back, you have my back?" and that we are the only team members with a full vote on what our lives include. Doesn't mean we don't get opinions given (yeah, Mom), but no voting power.

    I love this piece!! I will copy and save it, and I expect I will share it many times myself. It is completely true, and I see such a neat and rich legacy, in such a different way, for me, by being the aunt to not only the six little ones in our families (especially to Sage, living so close), but through my philanthropic efforts, so that extra aunt to many here in San Diego (and globally) who might need that extra help.

    I know that my great aunt was super close to my Mom, and had her (and us) in those final years, so was never alone. But, yeah, it really is about having the resources and health, as you can never guarantee that the kids you have will be around to take care of you anyway (they may not be capable of it for many reasons, or just not willing to) - that is so not a reason to have kids, in my mind.

  7. Agreed! All of it. And like the article you posted today states, definitions of success vary and you have to think about what motivates you, personally, since you're the one living your life.

    Gilbert's book Committed was a wedding gift from a friend and I recommend it to all your brides. Some great insights on love, marriage, and being your own woman. Highly recommended.

    You were absolutely the perfect person to marry us. So happy we get to keep the friendship going.


  8. I'm so glad that you saw that article I posted, as I was just about to share it with you here to be sure. It said it all so well!

    I am so very happy that we do as well! xoxo


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