In a recent conversation with a friend, I found myself balking when he said that raising a child was the most meaningful thing you could do. He has a toddler and is expecting a second child this year.
My immediate response was, “I concede that having a child is a wonderful thing, and very fulfilling and rewarding for a lot of parents, but the most meaningful seems like an exaggeration”.
Full disclosure – I don’t have children. But I spend a lot of time with my nieces and nephew, and have enjoyed watching them grow up. I also have friends who, for various reasons, can’t have children biologically, don’t want children ever, or have had really painful and traumatic experiences of infertility, miscarriage and losing a child to stillbirth. So I feel like I have a relatively broad perspective across the spectrum of parenting (or not-parenting) journeys.
I understand that watching a child grow, adapt and learn about the world can be truly wonderful. I share the impulse of many parents to document the charmingly naïve things my nieces and nephew say, to relay stories about their achievements and quirks to people who almost definitely don’t actually care. I even regularly fall into the trap of thinking the kids related to me are definitely ‘gifted’, or especially talented at everything they do. The urge to protect, promote and support children is strong for many of us.
But it also isn’t for just as many.
Countless adults choose not to have children. They have fulfilling and exciting lives without kids in them. They feel no desire to have a child, raise a child, even to be around children. And that’s OK – indeed, there are many meaningful elements to their lives that have absolutely zero to do with procreation.
Equally, there are many, many, many people who want nothing more than to have a child, and they can’t. There are many reasons why biological children are out of reach for many, and adoption is not an easy or viable option for most.
So if having or raising children is the ‘most meaningful’ thing you can do, what does that say about the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have children? Are their lives wasted, meaningless, and destined to be sepia compared to the Technicolor reality parents enjoy?
Even if I put the issue of those who are childless to one side, having kids may actually be the most mundane thing you can do. Every person in the world is the result of someone having a child, and the vast majority of us are firmly mediocre. There’s nothing wrong with that, and sure the miracle of life is exciting, but on the spectrum of meaningful things one can do, fulfilling an inbuilt biological function doesn’t seem that astounding.
I think it’s fantastic that my friend’s children are the most meaningful thing in his life. I think all children benefit when their parents see them as being that important, integral to their wellbeing, and amazing to behold. But I also think perspective and personal feeling can be independent of each other, and on my list of things that I hope will bring meaning and value to my life, kids are just one item among many.
Is my attitude just the uninitiated view of the childless? Or is there more to life than just having kids?