Why do we have children?
I know that sounds like a silly question seeing as how our parents and their parents before them and so on and so forth all chose to have children. In fact, most people who have ever lived have had children or sought to have them. This question may seem as self-evidently silly as the question “Why do we have to sleep?” There is a part of us that says the answer is “We just do.”
But that isn't good enough for me. I'm a philosopher by training, and I know that the desire to have kids is not like our other natural desires. If we don't eat, sleep, breathe, we die. But we won't die from being childless. Yes, there is the sexual urge, but the pleasure principle can't explain the desire for children. In fact, our society has sadly been able to put up a barrier between the pleasure and the progeny. Of course that barrier is often times latex-thin, but it is still there.
So I come back to the question of “why?”
Some say that it is our desire for immortality. We may leave this world and mingle with the dust, but our name, our genes, our indelible biological imprint has been stamped onto the world. But this answer does not satisfy me. If Christianity is true, then our souls are immortal. We will live forever beyond anything done in the material world per se. And if it is not true, then the immortality that children bring to you is empty. We like to say that the parent lives on in the child. But that is mere sentiment. There is no “you” in the child. You are gone. And there is no way to experience that life as yourself, so your “immortality” is empty. Not only that, it is vain. No matter the work or man, it will all come to naught as the blistered feet of Ozymandias remind us.
And some others see in children the fulfillment of their desires. I remember reading a story about a teenage girl who intentionally got pregnant. Her reasoning was that she wanted someone who would love her unconditionally no matter what. What a horrible inversion of love! To have children in order to BE loved seems so horribly cruel to me. The fruit of the womb is not something that you squeeze all of the affection out of until it is dry and empty.
And still there is the desire to live vicariously through the child. How many of us have seen scenes from shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” and cringed with pain as we wagged our proverbial fingers at these domineering stage moms. And yet let's be honest: how often to we picture raising our children to love the things we love, not for their sake, but for ours. We want to see them be great at our high school sport or to look beautiful in their prom dress or, in my case, drive around the neighborhood dressed like Batman and Robin.
While many would reject the above reasons, they still want to be parents. And this desire is large and looms over us. Some do not feel it as keenly as others, but it nestles in our hearts like thorny spurs, urging us onward. But what does this desire promise? After all, giving into hunger promises satisfaction, sleep promises rest, sex promises pleasure. But what does the desire for children promise?
Nothing. We have wishes and desires, but there is no promise of good times ahead. You could be the best parent in the world and your child could still make all of the wrong choices or evil people can impose their wickedness on them. You have no idea if your child will love you or hate you or not care. You can probably guarantee a lifetime of anxiety. I am in my mid 30's and I'm sure my parents still worry about me. When a child enters the world, a perpetual knot enters the stomach of the parent, and I don't think it ever goes away.
Now I am speaking all from supposition. I do not have children. As I wrote earlier, my wife and I are seeking adoption. But I have had a lot of time to think about it. For some, having children comes easy, for some it is a long difficult effort. When looking to adopt, it is a sustained act of the will that gets you anywhere. And our will has been set for a very long time.
But I had to have a good reason to hold on. I couldn't look to my vanity or desires vicarious living. Having the desire does not justify its satisfaction. I needed another reason.
And this is what I have concluded.
First, the desire for kids is universal. There is something in our bones that demands that we have children. Fr. Larry Richards once told the story about the night before he took his promise of celibacy. He woke up in a cold sweat and said to God, sad and desperately honest, “God, I want kids!” But he knew that he was giving them up forever.
The next day he went be ordained a deacon and he was asked if he would be a celibate for the kingdom. Understanding the sacrifice, he did not hesitate in saying yes. After the ceremony, the children from the youth group he led came to congratulate him and give him a gift. It was a medal of St. Christopher. He thanked them but they yelled at him to turn it over. On the other side was an inscription:
“Congratulations. We Love You. -Larry's Kids.”
In the space of a few minutes, Fr. Larry went from never having kids to having 160 of them. He really is their spiritual father, just as he is to me and thousands of others. He has kids. Fr. Larry said that you cannot out-give God in generosity. And that's when it hit me.
It isn't about generation. It's about generosity.
God made us. He is our ultimate Father. But he didn't need to make us. He was perfectly happy with Himself in Trinity. Perfect love and harmony forever. We cannot make Him any happier, we do not add to his glory. And yet He made us. Not out some kind of need but from the utter overflowing fury of his generosity. He gives us life for no other reason than for our good, not His.
And we are in the imagio Dei. We are made in God's image. We reflect Him. And in His wisdom he placed that generosity into our hearts. But small and simple creatures that we are, the intensity of that generosity is felt like us to be a need. A desire.
A desire for children.
We need to be parents because we need to love. And children require love in ways that parents, friends, and lovers don't. The demand of children is complete and constant. Children require us to give up our lives for them day in and day out. Children require us to be generous. A parent who is not heroically generous to a child is a bad parent. We must empty all of who we are to the child because that is what God Himself did.
On the cross, Jesus held nothing back. There is no limit to how much He loves us. He is the Inferno that gives flame to our candle-hearts. We know it in our souls that our child will have not just part of us, but all of us.
And that is how it should be.
I am bound and focused on one day becoming a father and having my wife be a mother. I am compelled because the love that I see in her, and the pale reflection of it that I return to her, is made to overflow from us. It is made to be finally be incarnate in another. Our child will fill our lives by emptying us. We will be made rich by giving everything away.
And we will be most like God when we give like parents.