Hello friends, so I’m sure other people have had this experience, but I had a child because my wife really really wanted to, and I wanted to make her happy. But in the leadup, I kept asking her, can you explain what meaning I’m supposed to get out of this? Why exactly do we want to do this?
If you thin about it, there is one rock-solid reason to have a child: you really really want to. But if you don’t have that strong desire, it becomes a rather difficult thing to explain why child-having is good. Because obviously you can’t have a child merely for the pleasure or the joy they might give you. For one thing, the joy might not arise. For another, it seems morally wrong to bring a human being into this world merely to serve your own emotional needs.
I would ask my wife, wait so are we having a child just because we want to? But is that right? I mean, why should the child’s entire existence be contingent on our wants and desires?
It’s very perplexing. But we did it, and we had the child, and it’s been pretty good. Generally speaking, people are like, "Once the baby is here, you’ll understand everything!" And I would say that didn’t happen. I was still like, what is the purpose of this experience? What should I be getting out of this?
On the other hand, it wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as I’d been led to believe it would be. We only had one child–we were both home because of the pandemic–she slept through the night relatively easily–and it was all fairly manageable. And she is definitely the cutest little baby person that’s ever existed, and she’s a joy to have around, and I love her and would die for her but more importantly am willing to ferry her around the house and watch her play with piles of laundry for hours and I don’t get too upset when she has tantrums, because whatever it’s gonna be over in fifteen minutes anyway. So that’s all fine.
But the other day, as I was watching her play on the downstairs bed with Rachel’s father, I had an epiphany: child-having is its own thing.
You just can’t explain it in terms of other activities you might undertake. It’s not a job. It’s not like creating a work of art. It’s not a gift, either to you or from you. It’s a very unique thing to do that is unlike every other thing you might do.
You have kids because that’s what you do. Just like your parents had and raised you, you have another child. And obviously it’s not totally disconnected from your own emotional needs and life goals, and obviously there is no moral imperative to have kids, but you also don’t need to justify it or even particularly to want it. Having a child is meaningful in itself. It comes with its own purpose. You have a duty to love the child and raise them well, regardless of how or why they came into the world. Many kids weren’t planned at all. The parents had no choice about whether to have them (I support a woman’s right to choose, but let’s say you’re a man and the baby’s mother chooses not to abort)–it doesn’t matter, you still have to love that baby and raise it well.
So yes, I still can’t say what meaning it has precisely, or what value it’s added to my life, but I don’t need to: raising a child is an end in itself. Even if you enter into it on a contingent basis, thinking it’ll improve your life, that contingency evaporates once the child comes.
As some people might be able to tell, I’ve been reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and I’ve gotten to the part where he talks about how the ethical substance is the basis of two laws, the human law and the divine law. And the human law is actualized in the state and in society, while the divine law is actualized in the family life. I’m sure this isn’t comprehensible to you, but believe me, I’m making it a lot more comprehensible than it is in the book.
Anyway, it obviously breaks down, like all Hegel’s triads do eventually (the human being experiences the divine law as living, but the human law as dead, so blah blah blah, I haven’t gotten to the next part yet), but it made sense to me! There is something divine about the family life, the way it can provide meaning freely, without competition, without a zero-sum game, without taking anything away from other people.
Hegel is also big on how reason provides forms for things, but it’s lacking on the content. For instance, you can reason your way to "I should do something with my life", but what is the something? What is the specific content of that thing you should do.
Hegel seems to skate around the idea of where that content comes from. He can’t say ‘it should come from biological nature and necessity’ because then there’s no room for reason and self-determination, and at the same time he can’t say ‘it should come from reason’, because that is clearly false and impossible. He wants to say ‘the content comes from tradition’, but that too is problematic, because then there’s no need for philosophy.
It’s hard to say where the content comes from! The closest you can say is that it’s a dynamic process, where the individual grapples with tradition and with society and somehow they come to know the answer. But this is my answer: having kids is just not like other things; it is its own thing.
That being said, I’m definitely not having another one =]