What was your reasoning for deciding whether to raise children?

post by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-05-15T03:53:23.776Z · LW · GW · 15 comments

This is a question post.

To answer anonymously, you can write on my Admonymous and I will share the answer here


answer by mingyuan · 2020-06-28T19:37:55.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always been enamored of babies, but I've known and asserted for as long as anyone can remember that I don't want to have children. My sister has known and asserted for her whole life that she does want to have children. So to some extent it feels innate. When I was a kid I was told "don't say you don't want kids, that could easily change when you grow up." But I'm in my mid-20s now and in a stable relationship, and I've never wavered on that point once in my life that I can remember. I still have ~15 years left to change my mind, but I'd be fairly surprised if I did.

Both my sister and I did a fair amount of babysitting, and while she found it very rewarding (and went on to work with kids professionally), I found it extremely draining and a constant struggle. I have fatigue problems and had lots of trouble keeping up with the kids; I constantly second-guessed how stern or lenient I should be with them; I was garbage at telling stories of any kind; I couldn't keep running when they wanted to play tag; my arms got tired bouncing a crying baby; when one girl smeared her poop on the walls I just wanted to throw up my hands and cry. I often say that I love babies, but only because I can give them back.

I think there are a lot of things on top of that that make me a bad fit for parenting. I need a lot of sleep and a lot of alone time. I don't always have my emotions very well under control and I know from experience how scary that can be for a child. I have a lot of things that I want to accomplish that don't involve children, and I'd certainly have to make major changes to the way I live to accommodate a child. I also date people who don't want children, so suddenly changing my mind on that point would be a dick move.

Another big one is pregnancy. While a lot of women my age (including my sister) go a bit crazy with the desire to physically be pregnant, I find the idea absolutely horrifying. I have enough health problems and hypochondria without adding pregnancy (and its after-effects) to the mix, and there's also something I just innately find quite disturbing about it, to the point where I subconsciously avoid friends when they're pregnant. I'm in a play right now where my character gets pregnant and the idea of donning a fake belly was so creepy to me that I could barely even talk about it, and even gesturing to my normal stomach and pretending there's a baby there onstage makes me feel really uncomfortable.

So those are some of my many reasons. I think you can see pretty clearly that nearly every single factor points in the same direction, although there are two exceptions - (1) I really love the feeling of a soft warm baby in my arms, and (2) I am descended in an unbroken line from the very first self-replicating molecules, and it feels bad to, like, spit in the face of my fishy ancestors by stopping the line here. But those two things are not nearly enough to outweigh the others. So it's a no from me.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-06-28T22:14:40.435Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is such a thoughtful answer. Thanks for engaging with the question, I've also been thinking about this lately myself.

For me I also think I'm not going to have children. I've been engaging more with why I want them lately (I'm dreaming of growing old with a close-knit family with 3-7 kids), but I don't think the state of the world is giving me that choice. Concretely, I've had enough experiences of trying to share responsibility for important problems with other people who can't take them because of kids.

In general it's hard to share important responsibilities, because there's very few that I trust to step up to it, but also because many of the people keep explaining that they can't take these responsibilities on (especially quickly), as they've made commitments to their spouses and children. There are just too many things I need to be responsible at this point in history, that this is a commitment I can't make. 

Perhaps the world will become increasingly stable as I grow older, meaning I can make these sorts of commitments, but I mostly expect the world to become more chaotic (though I'd like LW to become a more stable and valuable institution over the decades, so there's that).

I do think about having a relationship like I know some people have, like Elon Musk, where he has ~6 kids but in many important ways is not responsible for them (e.g. doesn't live with them). I think my parents might think I'm a monster for doing it, which pushes me against, but if I found the right partner who wanted something like that, I think I'd like it. (I think this is not a fair ask to make of people in general, but it's a big world and for some people I'm sure this would be strongly positive sum.)

I think there's a judo move here that I don't want to skip over, where first I should actually engage with what it is that's there to be wanted about having kids, and then engage with the reasons why I won't choose that, as opposed to going along with what I feel I'm naturally going along (i.e. not having them). I don't want to regret not having seriously considered it, or to realise I was lying to myself about not wanting, that doesn't sound healthy. So I've been doing that more lately.

Replies from: mingyuan
comment by mingyuan · 2020-06-30T18:49:17.663Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a good thoughtful response as well! I think the calculus is actually significantly different for men vs women, where the Elon Musk option is unlikely for men, but feels kind of unimaginable for women. Obviously not every single parent relationship in the world is gendered this way, but honestly I'd guess like 98% are, maybe more. And on inside view, you know I'd totally end up the mother figure in any relationship. On the other hand, I'd be fine living in a group house with someone who had a kid - indicating to me that it's not participating in raising kids that I don't want, but being responsible for raising kids. (Also the pregnancy thing, as I mentioned. Shudder.)

So yeah, if I were a man in a non-precipice world I think I could easily want kids. But that's not the situation, so... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-06-30T19:06:56.492Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, agree on the men/women differences. 

Being in a house with kids also sounds like something that would get me a bunch of things I want. I guess people in close knit communities used to have more availability for this - you could go help out at the nearby school, for example. My Dad lives in a pretty healthy community in The Netherlands, and for many years ran a weekly Chess club for the kids there, which had like 30-40 kids come every week. He works in the Chess industry and would help the strongest kids go to tournaments and more.

I notice there are several alternatives here that sound like things I’d find meaningful that don’t involve having kids myself. I’ll think more on them...

answer by Viliam · 2020-05-15T21:42:10.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My genes followed their programming, allowing my mind to make up rationalizations on the way. Here are some clever rationalizations for you:

Having kids is like cooperating in a multigenerational Prisonner's Dilemma. If you think your existence is a good thing, remember that someone paid the cost of that. Paying the cost of having other people like you exist is how you reciprocate.

If you are awesome and your partner is awesome, by making kids you make the humanity and the entire world more awesome!

Being a parent is a powerful experience that will satisfy your curiosity in many ways. You will have to assume "heroic responsibility" for your kids. You will get the opportunity to observe how utterly absurd is the "blank slate" theory. You will experience altered states of mind as a result of sleep deprivation. Women get the opportunity to observe the massive impact of hormonal changes on their minds. Parenting is one of the most powerful human trips.

Watching little humans grow up and gain skills is emotionally satisfying. Even more if you can give yourself partial credit for the success.

comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-05-16T06:53:07.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks a lot for your answer!

Women get the opportunity to observe the massive impact of hormonal changes on their minds.

This makes me think, maybe this change destroys part of one's identity

Replies from: stuart-anderson
answer by complexmeme · 2020-05-15T16:14:39.930Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The book "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" was a bit of an influence. The quick summary: People often overestimate the downsides of having children, people often underestimate the upsides of having children, people overestimate the marginal benefit of more labor-intensive methods of parenting, therefore maybe you are underestimating how many children you should have (including underestimating the benefit of tradeoffs where you have more children but use a less-intensive parenting style).

I think choosing to raise a child rather than not will probably make me happier when I'm older, even though it's not very pleasant a lot of the time currently, and there is the constant additional exposure to the risk of terrible tragedy. It gives me a reliable source of significant responsibility, which overall I value. I like that I'm playing a small part in creating the next generation of humans (and thus in creating the whole set of future humans), I think that's cool, though having children is not the only way to do that.

I think that human beings are very psychologically flexible, and I haven't been persuaded by arguments that it's not the case that the vast majority of human beings have lives worth living. I also am not persuaded by arguments that favor autonomy to the extreme that it's bad to bring someone into existence because they had no choice in the matter. While I don't think this amounts to a moral imperative, I think having children is a good thing, if the quality of parenting is even minimally acceptable. Overall, I think having and raising children is good for parents but primarily it's good for the children (and, indirectly, their descendants).

answer by Stuart Anderson · 2020-05-15T05:04:43.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


answer by Coronabetus · 2020-05-15T12:55:57.344Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The main reason is because we (wife and I) find that our well-being is highest when we're around family and having kids is a great way to increase the chance of having family around for the rest of our lives. Yes, there was the well-known short-term hit to our happiness during the kids' youngest years, but we were going for long-term stability for our well-being and life satisfaction. Of course, this wasn't the only reason. We also knew we had the type of marriage that was likely to remain stable/satisfying and we knew we could give our kids' a great start in life. So, it was a good bet that the kids themselves were likely to live healthy, satisfying lives. For us, it was a pretty easy decision, especially once we were able to find our cohort buried in the research on parenthood and life satisfaction.

answer by Adele Lopez · 2020-05-17T03:43:25.847Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always loved being with kids and wanted my own to raise someday ever since childhood. It just feels like an inherently good and meaningful thing to do for me.

answer by kotrfa · 2020-06-28T09:45:37.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The contraception didn't work and it was too late for abortion (should we choose it as an option)

answer by Mati_Roy · 2020-05-15T03:55:24.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only thing I found on LessWrong about this: Review: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids [LW · GW]

comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2020-05-15T12:43:55.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's also Jeff Kaufman's Parenting and happiness [LW · GW].

answer by Mati_Roy · 2020-05-20T00:52:29.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the OP, I invited people to submit answers anonymously to be published here.

Someone submitted:

Pure selfishness, in my case. I see kids as a burden, not a blessing. No doubt these are values picked up from my parents, but they are strong enough to override my biological and social programming. Your mileage may vary.


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