I had lunch with a group of friends today. One of them had a baby a few years ago, and so she and I started chatting about kids. I told her that my wife was pregnant with our second, and she made a funny face.
It’s hard to describe. It’s that face you see when someone is slightly surprised by what they just heard, and they also don’t really approve. It’s that face you make when you don’t agree with something that someone just said, and you want them to feel somehow out-of-line for saying it, but you don’t want to actually verbally express your disapproval. Kind of like this:
Later in the conversation, the whole table began talking about kids. Each person chimed in with how many siblings they grew up with, and how many children they wanted. When I said I wasn’t sure how many I wanted, but am thinking about having five, the table nearly gasped.
My friend then addressed me, with a kind smile:
“This is nothing against you; I totally respect your family decisions. But for me, I don’t want more than two children. I want to travel! I want to see the world. To me, there is nothing more thrilling than visiting a new place. It makes me feel so alive to breathe new air. Plus, I want my children to have opportunity. It’s expensive to have more than two children, and I want them to have good lives.”
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I explained in another article why travel is a luxury for the rich, or a foolish frivolity for the poor. Right now, I want to talk about a human’s worth. If I spend all my free money on travel, I will visit many places. I will rack up experience after experience, and absorb those experiences into my body and mind. Some will make good memories, others will make poor memories, and I won’t always be able to control which they become.
Or, I could have more children. This means that both a yearly holiday and a new child have a fixed price, which varies from person to person. I could spend $X for a Caribbean cruise, or I could take that money and spend $X on creating a new child. Which is more valuable?
Let me put it this way. If you had, say, a three-year-old child, would you trade him for a Caribbean cruise? Or a Patagonian adventure? Is the experience really more valuable than creating, teaching, and loving a new human being? This is, of course, a ridiculous comparison. No mother would trade her child for any adventure, and yet both have absolute price tags. It costs a real, fixed price tag to travel, and it costs a real, fixed price tag to raise a child to the age of three. If you have to make the choice, then one or the other is a better investment.
Not everyone will have kids. Not everyone should have kids. I do not think those who produce children are morally superior to those who do not. But neither do I believe that having fewer kids is better, or that it’s morally wrong to raise more than two kids. I recently read about a family with 9 children and 2 adults, living in an 1,100 square-foot home. That, by the way, is the same square footage my family lives in, and the three of us feel cramped here. How do they do it?
Simple. They’re organized. They make exquisite use of every inch their home has. The kids share rooms and live in bunk beds. The kids chip in with chores. It’s a well-oiled machine. Check out the family photos. They all look healthy. None of them are starving, and they don’t take a dime from the government.
Here’s another family with 12 children. The parents make good money, but they made a conscious decision not to give their children any of it. Even so, all of their children, to date, have paid their own way through college, bought their own cars, paid for their own weddings, and funded their own vacations. How? It would probably upset you if I said, simply by working hard and not spending money on things you don’t need.
And here’s an example about a retired couple in their 30s. They have a few kids and manage to school them, clothe them, and feed them well, but they only make $40,000 a year. How can you be retired, refuse work, and feed your kids making only $40k? It would probably also stress you if I said, by living beneath your means, and living off of interest accrued from money you earned during your working years.
My point in sharing these examples is that it’s not how much money you make that defines how many kids you can have; it’s how you use that money. I’m sure if the family of 11 went on a cruise every year, there would only be three kids.
I feel like the wisdom of our culture says that we should spend our money on cultivating stories for ourselves–that these stories are wise investments, without which we waste our lives. I get the impression that we regard children today as just another chapter in that story. They’re accessories that make for a good plot twist, or a road bump in the hero’s narrative. In the end, our culture sees children in much the way we see dogs: cute companions that go with you on your journey, who accentuate your style and personal brand, and then someday leave.
Instead, I think we should return to the view that children are investments. Every man who does not reproduce will die alone, if he is lucky enough reach old age. Every child a man has is one more chance to die in the arms of someone who loves him.
While lack of travel is certainly one regret many people admit when they reach old age, not having had children is a greater one. Carrie Fisher was recently interviewed about her life after Princess Leah on Star Wars. This is a woman who rubbed shoulders with the most powerful people in show-business; who traveled to far-flung, exotic places, and who lived a life that has become legend. When asked what she was most proud of in her life, she responded:
I’m proud my daughter turned out as well as she has…
When asked if she could tell her 22-year-old self one thing, what would it be? she responded:
Have more kids; put the pills down.
It’s very rare for a man to write his own obituary. Jim Rebhorn died recently. He was an actor who played supporting roles in many movies. Sensing his impending death, he wrote a short obituary for himself, which his church published after he died. I have copied it below for you. I highlighted his obituary by topic. Guess which topic a dying man wrote most about?
Life means that death can occur at any time, so the more kids you have, the better your chances are to leave some piece of you living when you pass. Noted author Neil Postman summed it up eloquently when he said,
My octogenarian grandparents visited me recently. They sat on my living room couch and played with my boy Gavin, and we talked about having more children. My papaw looked at me and spoke, matter-of-factly:
“We had four children. And now we have two.”