A recent article in the LA Times by Meghan Daum re-frames the discussion about the choice to be a parent or to remain childless in an interesting way. Ms Daum takes exception to the usual discussion of the issue in terms that are easily characterized by the overly judgmental as “selfishness” on the part of those who choose to remain childless. She makes the point that there is another, and perhaps more common factor in this decision – a couple’s evaluation of their desire and ability to take on the responsibilities of parenthood.
In a world in which some constantly harp on the need for strong family values and personal responsibility, it seems to me that far too many people choose to have children who have no business being parents – and this is NOT something that can be determined by one’s socio-economic standing.
My wife and I recently took on the responsibility of raising a puppy – our first since our previous family dog came into our household at the age of 8. Having successfully raised two children, I have no illusions about any real parity between raising children and raising a dog. However, the experience has caused me to realize that there are people that are not willing to make the commitment to properly train and care for a dog. The instructor in the obedience class we just completed admonished one of our classmates that she was being a “mom” to her dog, when she needed to be a parent.
Personally, I have occasionally wondered about couples who are childless by choice, but it has been a result of the joy we have experienced as parents, and the knowledge that we have been equal to the task. But knowing as I do how challenging the task can be (neither of our children were “easy” kids to raise, believe me) I have to respect the decision of those who are not confident of their ability to acquire the skills (mostly through trial-and-error) necessary to raise children.
I’m glad that this discussion is continuing, and hope that the thoughts of people like Ms Daum will allow more people to feel free to make the choice to remain childless. I also hope that those who choose to raise children recognize that it is a choice, and not an expectation or obligation. I like to think that we’ll have more happy and well-adjusted children and fewer damaged adults walking around as a result.