Thursday, February 1, 2018

Having Kids

The decision to have children is a personal one.   For many, it is a decision thrust upon them.

I get two negative reactions from readers when they discover I don't have any children.   Both are very odd, one odder than the other.   Some folks say, "Well, you don't know how hard it is to have kids!   It is all very well to be frugal and all, but with children it is different!"   And this first group uses "having kids" as an excuse to buy a jet-ski or get 500 channels of Cable TV, which strikes me as odd, as you would think the additional expense of having children would make unnecessary purchases seem even more obscene.

But I've seen this.  My own sister would justify lots of expenses as "our only luxury" (if you have more than one, it ain't "only" is it?) on the grounds that raising children was "so hard" so you had to "treat yourself" from time-to-time as a reward.   And I guess if you have money to burn, this is great, but she was broke most of the time and living on handouts from my parents.  You can't complain about being broke and have cable TV - it just makes no sense at all.

The second group is at least a little more rational.  Their argument is similar - it is hard to "save money for retirement" when you have expenses of little monsters running around your house.   And this is true, but again, the logic falls down.  Being frugal, in their minds, is somehow less possible when you have a family, instead of being an urgent necessity.   To me, the logic seems reversed.   If you have all the additional expenses of children, wouldn't you want to be even more frugal and moreover set more money aside for emergencies? 

Having children and intractable credit card debt at the same time strikes me as the height of irresponsibility - but it describes about 70% of the parents in this country, such as it is.

A reader writes asking me why I decided not to have kids.  You can adopt!  You can get a surrogate mother!  Why not perpetuate your DNA for another generation!   You'll have someone to visit you and take care of you when you are older!   The last two, I have direct experience with, living here on Retirement Island where half the parents are estranged from their children.  The narrative that your kids will "take care of you" when you get infirm seems to be to be somewhat inaccurate.   In most cases, "taking care" of Mom and Dad amounts to helping them move into assisted living and visiting them once a month - or once a year.  Other than that, the retirees here largely don't interact with their adult children very often - at least not in person.

In a few cases, yes, I have seen elderly parents move in with their kids.  But it is rare among my peer group, as most of the folks here have pensions or money set aside, and don't need to take that drastic action.   In fact, the one couple I know who did this, did it out of necessity, as they "lived large" in life and didn't handle their finances well.   Everyone thought they were "rich" until the money ran out.  And yes, a reverse-mortgage was involved.  Now they are living with their kids, who are struggling to get by on low-wage jobs as it is.  Some fun.

Of course, in other parts of the world (and even here in America years ago), this is the norm.  You have 12 children, maybe half survive childbirth and childhood (at least back in the day).  Maybe half of those end up successful and make money.   When you get older (like the ripe old age of 50) you can move in with your kids (or they never left home, either way) and they look after you until you expire at age 60.   That was the way it was done in 19th Century America, and the way it is done in many parts of the world - or was done, until recently.

As I have noted before, the concept of "retirement" in America is a modern one, dating to the post-war period.   Before then, living past 65 was not in the cards for many Americans, and the idea of moving away from where you lived, and playing golf all day in a "retirement community" as some sort of reward for a lifetime of hard work was, well, alien.  Today, we take it for granted as some sort of societal norm.   But it is a new construct, not an ancient tradition.

But getting back to kids.  I guess one reason I never went that route is that I am somewhat "old school" about such things.   Back in the 1980's when I was in school, I remember talking to some activist who told me with a straight face that someday gay marriage would be legal - and that gay couples would have children together!   Of course, that far-off day wouldn't be until the year 2100 or so - not in my lifetime.   Things changed - a lot faster than we thought they would.

And then there is the creepiness factor. I guess Mark and I are old-fashioned, but it seems kind of weird to us that gays are adopting or having children.  I guess this is the new norm, but it seems to us to be strange - we are just not used to it.  Many others are not used to it as well.   And growing up in an era where "being different" mean that you were mocked and bullied mercilessly, it would seem to us that children of gay parents would be presented with an additional set of difficulties in life from the get-go.

We've met some gays who have adopted children, and quite frankly, we were a little worried.   It didn't seem to us that they were mature enough to be having children - still living the party lifestyle.   But then again, this could describe my own parents.  OK, bad example.   But in fact, it might describe a lot of parents who have kids while they are little more than kids themselves.

And then there is timing.  Like many young men of my generation (and today's generation as well), I spend most of my 20's smoking dope and drinking beer and being a big, goofy, kid.  I was hardly grown-up at all, much less in a position to raise children.   By the time I was mature enough to be a "Dad" (which is a level I still might not have reached yet) I was pretty old.   I have friends who had children in their 60's - they will be nearly 80 by the time their youngest graduates from college - if they are alive to see it.   They are great parents, to be sure, but the timing thing is almost tragic.

A lot of heterosexual couples don't have kids, either by choice or by circumstance.   I meet a lot of people who say, "I just don't like kids" and I can understand that.   On the television and in movies, children are presented as little rambunctious angels, who are an endless joy to their parents.   And no doubt, some are.   Others - well, you've been behind them in line at the checkout while they throw down a tantrum.    In addition to behavioral problems, there are issues with medical problems, mental illness, and drug use - all of which can be heartbreaking to parents.   I know several people with "problem" children - some living at home well into their 30's.   And you read in the paper about "kids" like that, well into his 30's, living at home, killing his parents over a video game or some other trivial bullshit.

Yes, these are outliers.   But they are a finite risk you take when you have children.  And having seen them play out with friends of mine who have kids, well they scare me to death.

There is also the issue of whether you like children.   Yes, kids can be fun, at times.   Always nice to bounce a baby on your knee - and then hand it back to it's Mother when the diaper loads up with doo-doo.   I rag on my parents a lot, but when I think of all the literal shit Mother had to go through (and I am sure Dad didn't handle much of it), I can forgive her chronic alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and penchant for knife play.

Oh, that.   A reader asks, "don't you want to pass on your genes?"   Uh, well, about those genes.  I guess there is "crazy" in every family, but it seems to strike in every generation of ours.   And I've seen how some family members get it, and some get it more than others, and perhaps we all get it a little bit.   Seems like a 50/50 proposition.   Would you want to "pass on your genes" if you knew there were these sort of odds?

So for a lot of people, having kids is just a matter of "no thanks" even if they could have them.   For others, it is heartbreaking, as they want children, but due to medical issues, cannot.   And yet for the vast majority of Americans (I suspect) pregnancy is something that "just happens" when you don't take precautions, and having a family becomes a foregone conclusion. In fact there is a finite possibility that there is some little Bobby running around out there that I don't know about.  He or she would be about 30-40 years old, I suspect.

Adoption is one option for people who want to have kids but can't - and for those who had kids and don't want to.  And I've known a lot of adopted people over the years.   Most seem pretty well adjusted, although one or two seemed to lean on their adoption as an excuse to be an injured party.   One friend of mine, after many beers, would wail, "Did I ever tell you I was adopted?" to which we would reply, "Yes, in fact, every time you have seven beers, you bring this up!"   You can use your being adopted as a crutch, or just move on with life and realize that you are probably far better off than you would have been, being raised by a teenaged Mom.

If you don't have children, of course, you are sometimes excluded from this little parenting club.   I hear this all the time from heterosexual couples who decide not to have children (or can't and don't want to adopt).   The other Moms in the cul-de-sac of Foreclosure Mews Estates tell them, "you don't understand what it is like to be a parent!" which is either posited as some sort of transcendental experience or a recurring nightmare, depending on the parent, time of day, and how many martinis they had.   These sort of folks posit that having kids makes you special, and until you do, you are only half a human being.

It has been my experience that the sort of folks who say this are in the distinct minority and are usually the worst sort of parents in the world, as they are latching onto this "parent" thing as a source of identity, as well as a means of lording over the lives of small, helpless people.  If you get that sort of thing, just ignore it and find new friends.   Odds are, they will exclude you from their Mommy-fests anyway.

Of course procreating is sort of essential to the continuation of the species - which is why I guess people are inclined to do it, and in fact, it is a primal urge.   But then again, I think that the overall survival of the species takes more than just a Mom and Dad, but a society as a whole, and even those who do not have children have something to contribute, directly or indirectly, to that society.  Just because you didn't squeeze out a squealing brat does not mean your life has no worth or meaning.  It just means you don't have a little copy of yourself running around after you die.

And I am OK with that.  I guess one thing I have enjoyed about life is living on the outside looking in, which is perhaps where I get my own unique perspective on life from.   It is funny to me, but a lot of "straight" people assume that gays want to be married (sure - for the purposes of Social Security) and have kids and be "just like one of them."   But not me.   The whole advantage of being different was to be different, and please don't take offense but I don't want to be just like you.   Although, I guess, it would be fun to be a "Dad" and tell Dad jokes and drive a minivan with the family to Disney World at least once in your life - saying, of course, "If you don't pipe down back there, I'm turning this car around right now and going home!"

Sadly, I never will experience that joy.   I suspect more than one Dad would tell me I ain't missing much!