mother, father and child

Life: On Having Children

Should people have children? Put starkly like that, the question sounds almost offensive. Of course! Procreation is an animal instinct, and societies everywhere have thought that bearing a brood is good. So why is it? Do we ever really ask? Parents can muse endlessly about the cost of kids, about the names they might give them, about the timing of their appearance. And when an infant is born, it becomes its own justification as a human being, of course. But why is it that reproduction per se is thought a fine thing? Might it be an assumption to be challenged? Could it be that not having children will come to be considered more virtuous?

There are reasons to think so. Only last month, it was reported that the population of Britain is on the rise again: that prompted anxious comment about exhausting the resources of our island home. Alternatively, many of the old reasons for having children have disappeared. It used to be regarded as a civic duty, as the culmination of marriage, or as a sign of being blessed by God. Does anyone believe that now?

And you’d better be careful should you come to the conclusion that you do not want kids. Cameron Diaz recently admitted as much. The actress spoke of the risks of being ‘shunned’ by society. She was touching on a profound taboo.

So what grounds might there be for having children? A common suggestion is that the desire to reproduce stems from the operation of our selfish genes. Breeding is as natural a compulsion as breathing. But many people don’t want kids, whereas not many people don’t want to breath. So it must be more complicated than that.

A different suggestion is that human procreation is the product of love. Children are the result of making love; they are a kind of overflow of the intense affection shared by would be parents. But then again, shared love is not always the context within which pregnancy occurs.

So a third possibility is that having children is a particular expression of the desire to be creative. Bertrand Russell called it entering the ‘stream of life.’ Plato put reproduction down to the promptings of beauty, which would explain why babies make us feel good. And there could be other expressions of such creativity too, from charitable acts to writing books.

But whatever your decision, it is surely a fascinating question: why might you want a child?

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