2 March 2022

Is having children really the 'most meaningful' thing you can do?

| Zoya Patel
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Children

Watching a child grow, adapt and learn about the world can be truly wonderful, but surely there are greater joys. Photo: Nathan Dumlao.

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.

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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?

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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?

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Maria Guadalupe Gil Barba10:32 am 14 Mar 22

I agree that people can do meaningful things even if they don’t have children. However, I have always thought (since I became a parent) that people who don’t have children have not fully lived. It’s hard to grasp this if you are not a parent, but there’s is whole bunch if experiences and feelings that people who don’t have kids could simply never experience.

Being a parent is hard work; some people find it rewarding, but many others do not. Neither position is wrong. However, unfortunately many parents naively think their ‘little angels’ are the most amazing thing in the world, and fail to see their child objectively the way other people see them. The two grown men (aged in their late 20s) who live down the road from me will not move out of home as their mother does everything for them – cooking, washing, cleaning. She pays for everything and says her ‘children’ need her. It’s quite sad and pathetic. The sad fact is that many people have children because they don’t want to be alone. The fact is that most children are not useful or helpful and won’t grow up to be productive members of the community. Most children will grow up to be very mediocre adults, with many living on welfare (or in jail), and a burden on society.

Yawrrrrn!

and I’ll leave it at that.

The author has raised her own doubts about having children a number of times on this forum. Being a typical representative of the snowflake generation she worries kids will interfere with her me focussed self indulgent lifestyle, so seeks validation from social media for her continued ambivalence. Parenthood is a privilege and a chore, a joy and a responsibility. The best parents have emotionally maturity. Keep working on it.

Frank Spencer10:22 am 04 Mar 22

Well said. Totally agree. The author’s last post was about the shame of the Australian flag in this day and age.

Yes, I am beginning to tire of the ‘issues proposed for us to go along with’ myself.
Having kids was hard work, still is a task when they’re parents themsleves.
BUT, I’d not be without the love that flows and grows. We did the ZPG thing and only had two. Both boys when we wanted one of each.
And it still made grandchildren a possibility. Which is different but still wonderful in its own way. Viz. you can get told off for not believing in :- Unicorns, Santa Claus, Werewolves, Ghosts, Fairies and etc.

My response was that – believing in God – was a good bit harder! I’ve yet to tell her that being a parent with a partner is hard work, too!

And she laughed. Making cakes with her – since three or so – is still a THING and I hope it lasts. We usually make two – one for us to slice into that day – plus one for her Dad and Mummy.

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