Sunday, September 30, 2007

For the stories we will tell

This weekend’s Globe and Mail featured a prominent story about French author Corinne Maier whose book No Kids: 40 Reasons For Not Having Children has climbed to the top of that country’s best-sellers list and inflamed many people in a nation obsessed with shoring up its fertility rate.

Some of her reasons include: childbirth is torture, children will destroy your time and your freedom and you will inevitably be disappointed by your child.

Predictably there has been a great uproar about what a horrible person she must be and what a horrible mother she is. (Yes, of course she has kids, otherwise on what authority could she write a book about why others shouldn’t?)

But I say in addition to being bitingly funny, she’s right.

First, the book is a satirical and much-needed response to the Sarkozy government which, fearing a rising immigrant birth rate, has valorized motherhood in an attempt to get French women to pop out more children. Second, most of her reasons for not having children are pretty compelling.

So why did I decide to ignore those reasons and have a child anyway?

It has to do with a Chinese proverb that my father often quotes: Don’t pray for a happy life, pray for an interesting one.

I would like to be a happy person, but I desperately want to be an interesting one. And while Ms Maier is right that people without children have a better shot at a less troubled life, she should also know that not all of us aspire to an unruffled existence.

It’s true that childless people are more in control of their own destinies. Their disappointments and failures are theirs alone and they have a greater capacity to manage and mitigate both. In a practical sense they are freer to seek lucrative careers and enjoy exotic travel and fine food and wine. They have more time to pursue whatever hobbies in which they are interested.

But that doesn’t make them interesting.

What makes people interesting is what they endure. Pain. Fear. Sadness. Disappointment. Loss. All these things parents will endure in varying degrees throughout their lifetime and that of their child.

Does parenting bring great joy? It certainly can. But there is never a guarantee that the joy will outweigh the pain. To be a parent is to introduce an excruciating element of risk into your life. It is to create something that can either elevate you or completely destroy you.

Is that not thrilling? Terrible? Heartbreaking? Fascinating?

I understand why people don’t want children. I believe it is a perfectly legitimate choice, neither wrong nor selfish. As long as you are not troubled by an unfulfilled urge for children, I think a childless life is undoubtedly easier and less turbulent.

Maybe even happier.

If 25 years from now my son is healthy and happy and our relationship is close and loving, then I will undoubtedly feel that my life has been immeasurably richer and immeasurably happier for having had him.

If 25 years from now my relationship with my son is broken or a source of pain and worry and stress, then I will be living the most profound tragedy of the human experience. I will have hoped, sacrificed and loved, but ultimately failed. I will tell a story that will break your heart.

I will not be happy, far from it. But I will have a perspective on love, life and humanity that no childless person can imagine.

And so in answer to Ms Maier’s book of witty and spot-on reasons why you shouldn’t have children, I will offer just one reason why you should have children.

Because it will make your life more interesting.

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4 comments:

Jennb said...

As a single woman whose biological clock should start ticking anyday now, I really enjoyed your post. Eloquent.

stephanie said...

I'm 29. Married for a year and a half and on the fence about kids. I think I want one kid. Or maybe I don't want any. I can't even think about it, but I have to start thinking about it because in 5 years I might be all dried up. Maybe I'll just get another dog.

I really like this post. It's very well-rounded.

Honey B said...

I've never wanted kids, and I don't think having them is inherently more interesting than not. I think it's a choice everyone should make based on their own life dreams, but in my experience, people who have kids are interesting only if they were interesting before they had kids,too. In other words, the kids aren't what make you interesting...YOU are what make you interesting. I've met plenty of boring parents, believe me; constant talk of children is NOT interesting to the rest of us.

Your comment that what makes people interesting is what they endure is thought-provoking. I think it's true to a certain extent, although I think it's perspective that actually makes people interesting. Someone who's had terrible things happen and does nothing but complain is not interesting, but someone with a pretty normal life but an insightful and complex mind IS interesting, at least to me.

Thanks for the post!

suburbancorrespondent said...

Children have taught me how to love and to be less self-centered; and I like myself better that way. But before I had them, I didn't know that I needed the improvement.