On Having Children and the Cost/Benefit Analysis


As the years go by, I have come to realize that one of the durable news items has to do with the cost of having and raising children.  Such studies inform us that having a child results in extraordinary expenditures (both direct and indirect).  We may be talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars per son or daughter.  

I can understand the fascination with performing such studies.  Maybe the idea is that a couple can take such information into account and make a highly rational calculation as to whether having children is worth the costs.  After all, if you have the children there is money you will have to spend on them and not yourself.  In addition, your time will be restricted by their needs.  If you have children, you will take less impressive vacations, see fewer high quality stage productions, see fewer films not made by Disney, eat at fewer great restaurants, etc.  All of those things are true.  But I have to say that I would not make the decision to have children on that basis.  

Having children is what might be called a sui generis experience.  It is not really comparable to anything else.  You cannot truly generate parallels between the allure of vacations in Europe, for example, and day to day life as a parent.  

Being a parent is sui generis because it is the only way to experience the mountainous responsibility for new life.  You must provide for the child’s survival, but that is the lowest level.  You are also responsible, to some degree, for how the child will live and who the child will become.  I think that if you do it correctly, you come to care more about your child’s life than your own.

Nothing hurts me more than to see one of my children rejected by others.  Nothing gives me more joy than to see one or both of them happy or successful.  Having a child is high risk.  It is high risk because you are sending part of yourself out into the world, but that part of yourself is more vulnerable, less wise, less capable than you.  And sometimes all you can do is watch.  Parenting is painful.  

But having a child is also high reward.  I wouldn’t trade anything for the first time my daughter realized she could make me laugh or having been able to comfort my son after an early surgery left him disoriented and frightened.  Parenting is joyful.