If babies were born with buttons that could be pushed to put them into a state of suspended animation—and to bring them back when we wished—a great many parents would die of old age before their children were out of puberty. There are many popular myths about the desirability and even the necessity of having children, and they are supported by women’s magazines, feel-good movies, peer pressure . . . and poor memories.
Many women who have children and care for them with loving attention would—if they could speak honestly—say that even though they love their children, they might have been happier if they had not had them. Children put a great part of a person’s life on hold, for the focus must be almost entirely upon them, on diapers, upchuck, fights among siblings, messes to be cleaned up, screaming, whining, lies, arguments , etc., etc. They are constant work, and in too many cases they are death to a mother’s self-development, ambitions, abilities, and relationships. But these things can’t be spoken of honestly because it is verboten to do so. I only know two women who have been willing to say such things to close friends, but the pressure against doing so is so great that it is amazing that even so few could bring themselves to do it.
A little girl can’t escape the insistent message that having children is a vital part of a woman’s life. It is there in the attitudes of their mothers, in the baby dolls and doll-carriages, the women’s magazines, the ooh-ing and aah-ing directed towards women with babies, etc., etc. And then, there is the desire of many husbands to want a son, perhaps so he can toss a ball with it. Or who has the pointless idea of keeping his name somehow “alive” (an attitude that ignores the mother’s maiden-name—as if her father’s name doesn’t somehow match up to his father’s). And then, there is the weird notion of keeping his “blood” somehow “alive”—in most cases, a desire that is not likely to contribute much to the betterment of the world.
One sometimes hears preternaturally fecund parents saying that having children is somehow “generosity.” As if a seed must be created from sperm and egg, to develop into a child who will gobble up various resources, all as a way of gratifying the parents and allowing them to preen themselves upon their generosity in supplying them. Actually, it can be seen as selfish to have more than two children: Americans use far more of the world’s resources than other peoples, and those resources are dwindling. In fact, over-population is the gigantic mainspring that drives most of the world’s problems, from the overuse of resources, to deterioration of the environment, to poverty, and to famines. (Such “generous” people would be of more value to society if they used their money to help those in desperate need. )
There is much to be said for being an only-child, and many studies have proved that. Only-children don’t have to compete with siblings for attention. They share in conversation with their parents and other adults. They develop superior verbal skills and perform better in school than children with siblings. And parents are able to spend more time with them, to embrace them more fully, than they would if there were two or three children—and that benefits us all.
Much of our lives are shaped by myths. Childhood isn’t really a wondrously happy time. It is a time when the little ego wants many things that it cannot be given, when the rules and traditions that lead to civil behavior in a community are being impressed upon little people who want nothing more than to do as they please. As C. Wright Mills has said, a child’s perceptions of the world have been rewritten so many times in the process of growing up that we can’t put ourselves back into the child’s mind. But we can, as adults, observe what we see before us—children are obviously unhappy a fair part of the time. We see this even in babies when, their faces red, they scream in a rage that would probably destroy us if they could. Now, who thinks that things get better during puberty?
(There is another point that should be mentioned. The average child will cost about 250 thousand dollars to raise to the age of 18, not counting college tuition and other expenses. This is a per-child figure, assuming a middle-class family of moderate means. Another reason to have only one —if any.)
Note Full Disclosure: I always feel warm when I see the little ones. Their tiny fingers and toes that look as if they were modeled from soft, pink wax are charming, and the smile-reflex is wonderful to see. They are, as yet, innocent, free from pretense, and we are programmed to respond positively to them. Nonetheless, I don’t, don’t, don’t want one—-and I’m inclined to think that young people with more than two (excluding multiple births) are careless, unthinking, or egotistical.