Babies don’t fix anything

Every now and then I hear people talk as though having a baby will somehow fix a part of their life.  Don’t get me wrong, I love babies.  I think there are lots of people who aren’t having babies that should.  Still, it needs to be clear that having a baby, whether it’s by birth or adoption, will not fix anything.

I’m not trying to overstate things.  I really cannot think of a single thing that is a baby can fix.  Let’s look at the things people hope will improve:

  • Your marriage – Saying that having a baby will fix your marriage is a little bit like saying adding a second floor to your house will fix a crack in the foundation.  If there are major problems in your marriage, having a baby will make those problems bigger.  If you have a strong marriage, having a baby will test that strength and then reveal how necessary it is to have that strength all the time.  A baby will not strengthen your marriage.  A baby will simply remind you that you need to strengthen it on your own, or make you appreciate that you already have.
  • His commitment issues – This is the one that scares me the most.  Whether a guy and girl are dating or married, girls often think that the guy will be more likely to stick around/propose/appreciate her more if she gets pregnant.  I shake my head when I hear that.  Sure, the guys on TV and romantic movies have these delivery room moments where they take one look at a child and swear from that day forward that they will do right by this child and his or her mother, but that is not the standard response.  For me, with the birth of each of my three children, I looked at my wife afterwards and was overwhelmed by the show of self-sacrifice and devotion that I had just witnessed.  I looked at my new babies and committed to help these vulnerable little creatures find their way in the world they had just been born into.  But with each birth, I was terrified.  Despite having reason to believe that I possessed the physical, emotional and spiritual resources to make raising these children possible, I was still scared.  Sure I was committed to being a good father, but with each birth it seemed that the bar was raised, the bar of being a good father and husband was moved up, possibly out of reach.  If a man hasn’t already committed himself to you, the emotional turbulence of having a baby will not stabilize him.
  • Your relationship with your parents/in-laws – This is one of the things that people underestimate about marriage, that their parents will continue to interfere with their lives.  Sometimes there is an idea, and sometimes it’s spoken outloud, that if there was a baby involved, the relationship between the child’s parents and the child’s grandparents would be smoother.  That’s not true either.  A healthy relationship between parents and their adult children involves support when needed and freedom to make their own decisions.  Adding a baby to that mix is great.  They help when you need help, and they affirm the parenting decisions you make.  If there is an unhealthy relationship of pressure, guilt and judgment, that will make the already difficult process of having a baby more difficult.  If those parents second guess your parenting decisions about naming, feeding, clothing, and simply raising your child, that causes extra stresses on you and both your relationships between you and your baby and you and your parents/in-laws.
  • Your biological clock – This is a force that should not be underestimated, but it cannot be the primary deciding factor about if and when to have children.  The same impulses that will make you want to have a baby will also make you second guess every decision you ever make about that baby.  Every time that baby gets sick, misbehaves, experiences failure or even cries, you will wonder if there is something you did wrong to create this problem or if there is something you can do differently to fix it.  The answer will almost always be no, but that won’t stop you from contemplating all sorts of other answers.
  • Your credibility – In some places, women and men are taken more seriously if they have a child, preferably more.  As a married pastor with well-behaved children, I benefit from this kind of thinking.  This credit however, is temporary.  Whatever credit you get for having a baby will be lost when that child inevitably grows up and disappoints you or the people who measure you by your parenting skills.  Sometimes people will see that you are a parent and then give you credit for balancing work and family life, but that’s a really hard thing to do, and you don’t get the credit until you demonstrate it, and you may not ever be fully convinced that you deserve the credit at all.
  • Your bottom line – There are all sorts of tax credits, benefits and incentives to have children.  It can get you into somebody’s will. It can be a good long term business ownership transition strategy.  It’s obvious that kids are expensive, but they don’t need to be as much as we are told.  Still, no matter how carefully you draw up a budget, kids have a way of finding and creating extra budgetary expenses.  Kids know how to milk money out of their parents.  I’m sure you can think back to a time you convinced your parents to spend money, on ice cream, toys, vacations, etc, that they weren’t planning to spend.  That was in a time when parents could say no to their children and still be part of the mainstream.  Times have changed.

The reasons to have children are for more simple.  I firmly believe that each of us are equipped with the tools to raise children.  But a solid relationship and a healthy sense of self need to be the beginning point, not the destination.

1 Comment

  1. The biological clock point is a particularly interesting one to me. We’re seeing a lot of studies showing how many extra problems happen from having kids older than we evolved to have them. The problem is that since we also delay adulthood in so many other ways, we simply aren’t mature enough emotionally, spiritually, and financially to actually have them when it is physically healthiest for us to do so. I clearly agree with you that the latter trumps the former – don’t let the biological clock be the deciding factor – but more importantly I ponder how we can work to make sure the next generation is actually prepared for parenting when their biological clocks tell them they should.

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