Should You Have Kids? Why Risk it?

Do couples without children lead happier lives?

Posted Jan 26, 2010

A friend and I are discussing a magazine survey concluding that couples without children lead happier lives.

"Why report on the obvious?" my friend quips. "Of course couples without children are happier. There is layer upon layer of their emotional lives that they will never tap into. Ignorance is bliss."

I have a different response. "No one can measure happiness," I say. "And  the focus on happiness somehow misses the point."

Americans have a constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness but this guarantee has always struck me as absurd. I once heard novelist Isabel Allende comment that we'd be better off having a constitutional right to pursue wisdom. Children are a definite gamble as far as happiness goes, although they will bring you moments of indescribably joy.

Children are never easy, so don't bring them into the world or adopt them to bolster your happiness. And don't have them if your life's purpose is to dwell in complete stillness, serenity and simplicity, or if you have a great dread of being interrupted: or if you are on a particular life path that demands your full attention.

And keep in mind that children are not a "solution." As Anne Lamott reminds us, there is no problem for which children are the solution.

To opt for kids is to opt for chaos, complexity, turbulence and truth. Kids will make you love them in a way you never thought possible. They will also confront you with all the painful and unsavory emotions that we try to hard to avoid.

Children will teach you about yourself and about what it's like to not be up to the demands of the most important responsibility you'll ever have. They'll teach you that you are cable of deep compassion, and also that you are definitely not the nice, calm, competent, clear-thinking, highly evolved person you fantasized yourself to be before you became a mother.

As I wrote in The Mother Dance, kids are the best teachers of life's most profound spiritual lessons: that pain and suffering are as much a part of life as happiness and joy, that change and impermanence are all we can count on for sure, that we don't really run the show, and that if we can't find the maturity to surrender to these difficult truths, we'll always be unhappy that our lives-and our children's-aren't turning out the way we expected or planned.

Life doesn't go the way we expect or plan, and nobody's perfect, not ourselves or our children.  Or as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross put it, "I'm not okay, you're not okay, and that's okay."

The miracle is that your children will love you with all your imperfections if you can do the same for them.