That’s perfectly understandable, speaking as a parent who remembers not having kids. Parenthood does, in fact, change you. Everyone’s approach is different, everyone’s experience varies, but here’s a glimpse into mine: I have a 1970 Mercury Cougar convertible that I love to work on and love to drive. It’s not especially fast, but I’ve swapped engines in it, replaced the convertible top twice, reupholstered the whole thing, installed a new front end and new dual exhaust and electronic ignition and upgraded the hell out of that thing… and yet I’ve driven it twice and barely worked on it these past nine years. Ever since my daughter was born it has sat, mostly untouched, in our garage. I also have a couple of nice electric guitars, a Fendar Jazz bass, an assortment of amplifiers, a good mixing board, and a decent drumkit. I haven’t played any of them in ages. Before my kids were born I had regular jam sessions with friends, but now my equipment gathers dust. Not because I lost interest or anything; there are no plans to sell any of that stuff. Nope, it’s just on hold, because all my spare time outside of work is spent doing stuff with and for my kids. I have no regrets over that. They’re totally worth it. They just became an all-encompassing investment of time, effort, money, blood, sweat, and tears, and everything else in my life can damn well wait.
Now that the kids are school age and enjoy spending more free time with their friends, I have a bit more time to play with my own stuff. One of the last things I did with my dad before he passed away this spring was rebuild the carburetor on that Cougar. One of my guitars leans against its amp in the living room, and I don headphones and play it after dinner every now and then. I’ve been able to go to the very occasional movie with an old friend or two with whom I haven’t been able to spend any time since we both became parents.
Non-parents often have trouble believing just how big an emotional investment children can be. They can take over your entire day-to-day life, and you can lie awake for hours at night wondering if you’re not fucking them up somehow. I used to think my own artistic endeavors and creations and good works were important. Since the kids were born, all that stuff becomes secondary or tertiary. The things my kids make, the acts they do, the people they become… those things became the reason for my very existence. I still have plenty of things to do and a few to say, but when it comes down to it, at 46 years old, most of my relevance is used up. That won’t be the case for everyone, since there’s plenty of accomplishment potentially lurking down the road for lots of folks in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, even if they’re parents or grandparents. But if you do ever have kids, you may be surprised at how much your perspective irrevocably changes.
If my kids were to die prematurely, I’d still have most of the things I had before they were born. But almost none of them would seem worthwhile anymore. All the music would be filled with grief, and I wouldn’t have my kids to sing it to. Every beautiful panoramic vista I saw, I’d wish I could show it to my kids. Every new flavor would taste like ashes in my mouth, since the people I love most dearly would not be there to tell me how crazy I am for liking it. My Cougar would be just an old car, driven by an old man, without his son and daughter driving him down the road at irresponsible speeds, with the wind whipping through their hair (or what remains of mine).
I don’t think this perspective changes much as you age. My mother had seven kids. Her third, my brother Craig, died of AIDS in 1992, at the age of 38. Her first, my brother George, died of a heart attack in 2009 at the age of 60. Neither was easy for our mother to take. She would have agreed with Theoden’s take on the situation:
Alas, that these evil days should be mine. The young perish, and the old linger… No parent should have to bury their child.
I have done a fair amount of genealogy research. I forgot which US federal census – early 1900s I believe – but one asks “Number of children birthed” and “Number of children alive”. This one ancestor (a great-great-great-aunt) of mine answered “11” to the first and “0” in the second. She was 45. And I wondered … was it any easier to cope with back then? If nothing else, there was no shortage of other parents who understood what you were going through.
I disagree that my view is nihilistic (a claim addressed in the YouTube video I posted, by the way). Nihilism is a rejection of values - whereas my position very much comes from my value for the welfare of others. I look around and see the terrible suffering that occurs (and yes, the good stuff too) and I know how to end all of that - end all suffering pain and death forever and ever.
I don’t think the question is whether on “balance” life’s joys “outweigh” their suffering. If you don’t create a person, you cause them no harm whatsoever. If you do create them, you cause them some harm (maybe even terrible harm). There is no reason whatsoever to create a person who would not otherwise be harmed by not being created. Even if all of the suffering in the world amounted to a pin prick, there is still no ethical reason to create new people.
Just because life has been relatively good to you, doesn’t mean it is for everyone. Go to any gore site on the web and you will get a taste of how terribly things can go wrong. Even milder things like boredom, shame, angst, etc are bad things to cause. How many people would you be willing to let suffer these terrible harms to perpetuate better lives for others?
I don’t believe that “life is suffering”. As to why I don’t kill myself (another point addressed in the video, btw), once you exist, you might as well make the most of it, especially because suicide can often go terribly wrong and often harms others around you (like it would my family and others who probably would not understand). Also, the human psyche has evolved to put up some very strong defenses against any such thinking. Finally, I can make that choice for myself - a child can never choose to be created.
I wish I could verbalize it, I’m certainly not a poet and not even the English major that is the wife, but I’ll give it a shot.
Love is a multifaceted thing. You love your parents. You can love a partner. You can love a friend. You can love a pet. All of these are pretty different and have a number of different levels of both intensity and depth of meaning, but love is the word that we have here, so please bear with me.
When you become a parent, whether it’s a nurse handing you a gooey person, an agency approving you for adoption, or whatever it is, you are introduced to a love that suddenly comes with a level of responsibility that you never had to deal with.
Your parents will love you no matter what. Your spouse has entered into this willingly and will be okay if you split. Your friends will miss you if you grow apart but be okay. Your pet will even be fine if you leave. All of these you’re dealing with a being who is their own being already.
But with a kid the level of responsibility is much, much higher. Huge stakes. They look to you for guidance in everything. They aren’t complete, they’re looking for help on how to do any of it. Ride the subway, pay the pizza guy, talk to a barista, any and all interactions become some kind of educational experience, some chance to learn how any of it works. Including how you wake up. How you make dinner. How you deal with everything now has a little person watching and learning and copying how to interact with the world.
And so, if your goal is to leave the world a better place than when you arrived, there is a responsibility to be a better person all the time at any time. Your kid wakes you up at two in the morning because they peed the bed? You have to fix the problem while letting them know it’s no big thing. Even if you just got home from work an hour ago and collapsed into bed. Kid wrecks that model spaceship you had since you were their age? Well, in the end it’s just a thing, calm yourself down. You kid hauls off and hits you in the face for telling them no for one thing or another? You’re not going to be the kind of person who hits a seven year old, are you?
You have to take the hit and resolve yourself to be better next time to make it so they don’t get to the point where they want to hit anyone. That is literally on you to solve another person’s behavior and make them a better person. Because they are also your legacy. They color the relationship you have with your own parents because now you have a better grasp of their perspective. You want to share things with your kids that your grandparents taught you. You start to see how humanity lives and creeps forward at tiny steps because you have contributed to it in a new and different way. You are making a new thing that will continue on long after you’re gone.
Because you also start to think that you are going to be gone. That it is a real thing. The taste of birth has a very real flip side and you do not want anyone to pass too early, especially not your kid. It’s probably less about making life worth living and more about making sure that you are there for them to help them through anything when they turn to you. It’s a big responsibility that you lay on yourself and why you see a lot of parents suddenly look into healthier living and taking care of themselves, they realize that someone needs them a lot more than they ever understood before.
A little rambling, and for that I apologize, but hopefully it lets you see why I can’t click that link above. Thinking about the loss of one of my kids makes me think an awful lot about what I could do to prevent it, and an unpreventable tragedy like the one mentioned above would make me spend the rest of my life wondering what I could have done differently that day and if there was anything else I could have sacrificed instead.
The kids become a giant part of your life. You see and interact with them every day and to suddenly lose one would leave a giant hole in your life. And because the child was so integrated into your life you would be surrounded by reminders of what you have lost. Yes, the hold could be filled with other things, but it would take a lot of time.
It’s kind of unreal that Richard knows 3 families who have lost a total of 4 children. The odds against that happening have to be a million to one. I’m part of a small social circle and if one of our friends lost a child we would be devastated since we’ve known and spent time with these kids for pretty much their entire lives.
So should we just line all the non-breeding adults (like myself) up against a wall and shoot them? Can we just go ahead and assume that they certainly have no social worth, and that their lives must certainly be only misery?
The loss of a child is undoubtedly profound. But let’s not profess some kind of religious fervor that existence is meaningful only by dint of one’s child-rearing.
I don’t think anyone is saying that in any manner. Not even that the lives of parents are richer or more fulfilling, only that it works for us and we find it fulfilling.
If this was a thread about painting and artists weighed in with what they loved about making art, would you assume they were saying that non-artists lives weren’t worth living? We’re trying to explain why the loss of a child is so devastating and not saying that it’s the only thing that makes life meaningful. There are billions of non-parents that have wonderful lives, I certainly see them and have pangs of envy about just going to the movies or just away for a long weekend.
Thank goodness for modern medicine. My youngest would have died at age 4 without it, and my daughter probably at 18. And anyone who has done genealogy knows that any family with more than three or four kids probably lost one before age 5.
I’ve often wondered, as I suppose any parent has, what would continue to bind me to the earth if my child died.
That is straight up posing the question “Is life meaningful absent children.”
Also: I think that exploring loss, and the particular loss of children (my family lost two), is worthwhile. But there is a cultural tendency to mythologize parenting beyond the specifics and particularities of actual relationships. I want to challenge that, hence my post.
There’s a difference between moral nihilism and existential nihilism. Quoth Wiki:
Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.
Since you think that the value of creating a human life is so low that it would be immoral to create a human life even if the entirety of human suffering added up to a pinprick, it follows that you hold life (and the creation thereof) without value. Hence, nihilism.
Okay, first, I’m going to take issue with your use of the word “ethical.” I’m just going to assert that your use is wrong, since I really don’t want to get into a discussion of ethics versus morality right now, and pretend you used the word “moral” there.
I agree that by not creating a life, you are causing the person no harm whatsoever, but you are also causing them no joy whatsoever. I think that the morality of an action must be weighed on two axes: the net benefit of the action (the total amount of benefit caused, minus the total amount of harm caused), and the fairness of the action (who is getting the “harm” and who is getting the “benefit?”).
When it comes to creating a life (assuming a two-parent family), there are primarily three people being harmed: the parents and the child. These are the same people receiving the benefit. Assuming it’s an intentional pregnancy (which you kind of have to do in order to weigh morality), they are choosing to take the harm that will come upon themselves, and absolving that part of the moral equation, leaving only the harm and benefit upon the child: if it’s a net benefit, it’s fair to the child, but if it’s a net harm, it’s unfair. So, in this case, both axes for measuring the morality of the creation of the life are identical: if the child gets more benefit out of life than harm, it’s a moral action, otherwise it’s immoral. And, since an act cannot become immoral in retrospect, the only factor is whether the parents think that it will be a net benefit to the child.
Now, admittedly, morality is subjective. By your standard, if I could wave a magic wand and make Earth not exist any more, that would be more moral than allowing a single pin prick’s worth of pain to occur. I reject that moral standard utterly.
Oh, I’m certain that there are people out there whose lives have had more suffering than joy. However, the only perspective from which I can truly view the world is my own. I have to make a decision: Do I think that my child’s life would be more joy than suffering? Would cause more joy than suffering? The only perspective that I can use to answer those questions is my own.
Seriously? Let me go back and find some of your own quotes…
I’m not saying that your point of view is that life is nothing but suffering, but you seem to be of the point of view that life is more suffering than joy, and that people, as a whole, would be better off being dead.
A child can never choose not to be created, either. In fact, unless they are created, they can’t choose anything at all. Wouldn’t the greatest moral choice to be to leave the choice of existence or nonexistence to the person him/herself?
You are arguing that “So should we just line all the non-breeding adults (like myself) up against a wall and shoot them? Can we just go ahead and assume that they certainly have no social worth, and that their lives must certainly be only misery?” based on the initial premise of “That is straight up posing the question “Is life meaningful absent children.””
I am telling you that nobody is saying that non-breeding adults do not have social worth and that life is meaningful absent children, but that the author of the piece feels that the loss of their children would make them lose their connection to the world.