Parenting: There Is No Substitute

My good friend Ben dipped his toes into interesting waters with his latest post about how he’s not sure if he wants to have children. While I posted my thoughts on Ben’s blog, as I am wont to do with particularly thoughtful and/or lengthy comments, I’m reposting them here:


It doesn’t make sense to argue in the abstract whether it’s better to have children or remain childless.

The fact is, raising children is hard work. In some ways, it’s harder than it’s ever been, given the decline of the household servant, the extended family, and the local community.

(Admittedly, things like infant mortality are far lower, and modern medicine has made death, a common fate for children in an earlier era, an infrequent and therefore overpowering tragedy)

When people ask me about being a parent, I don’t sugarcoat it. It’s hard work. You have to give up a tremendous amount, including things like eating out, carefree vacations, and a good night’s sleep:

It costs a tremendous amount:

And yes, all the happiness research shows that having children causes your happiness to nosedive and only fully recover when your blessed bundles of joy are packed off to college.

And so I always tell people the same thing: “There is no substitute for being a parent.”

I don’t mean that you have to be a parent, just that no other experience is like it, good or bad.

The problem, of course, is that it’s a pretty irrevocable choice–the government doesn’t let you abandon your kids if they crimp your style (unless you’re Britney Spears).

Here, it seems wise to follow Daniel Gilbert’s advice and use surrogates:

Talk with people who are similar to you, but at a later stage in life. Talk to both parents and non-parents. Remember, surrogates are a better predictor of how you will feel than your present self.

P.S. Even from a young age, I always knew that I wanted to be a father, so I may not be the best guide for the ambivalent!

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