Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Family


Boy, is this an awkward topic.

As I work to unhinge myself from a life that no longer makes sense to me I am becoming aware of all sorts of new possibilities and opportunities. On the other hand, I am also questioning a great deal of what I have been conditioned to believe constitutes happiness in the first place. In some ways, this is sort of inherent in this process of simplification. To question the need for a 3,000 square foot house, the virtue of becoming trapped in a lucrative but unfulfilling job and even the merits of living a lifestyle full of unmitigated excess is to question your own assumptions about the very nature of happiness itself. In all the ways that matter, the old paradigm is dead. In its place is an urgency to question all assumptions about what truly makes a person happy.

Which brings me to the third rail of the voluntary simplicity movement: do you need to have kids to find happiness? More to the point, is procreation a prerequisite to happiness?


When I first went to law school I felt like I was following the path of least resistance. The steps were pretty clear to me: finish law school, get a job, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. While I don’t think I had a very clear sense of why this seemed like the right path to take, in retrospect, this seemed like the right path precisely for the same reasons buying a huge house and coveting a high-paying, stressful job seems like the right path for so many other people. Our society conditions us to accept the “normal” path from the day we are born. To deviate from “normal” by choosing to forgo our right to procreation is to embrace the unknown and accept a life outside the mainstream. More importantly, choosing not to have children challenges the choices made by those who have found their own version of happiness in the realm of the “normal.”

This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with the “normal” path. Every day I surf my way through people’s blogs and I get a glimpse of what it would be like to have a family of my own. I won’t lie to you, my dear reader. There have been times when pictures of a family doing stuff together have left a heavy lump in my throat. I have seen myself in those pictures, holding something small and precious, something that can live on after I am gone.


But, is having kids really for me? Believe it or not, there are a growing number of families that have chosen not to have kids in the first place. Some couples base their decision on ethical concerns (“having children only adds further stress to our natural resources…”); others don’t feel they will be good parents; still others see children as a threat to their financial and social independence (i.e., a child born today will cost a family anywhere from $130k to $260k).

All of these reasons resonate with me. The last two, in particular, brings up all sorts of conflicting emotions. I know that, at least for the foreseeable future, I would be a TERRIBLE father. I am still too selfish, too damaged, too quick to assuage my own needs at the expense of anyone, or anything else. Things are getting better every day, but this is a process that has to take its own deliberate course. I need time to heal. Right now, I just don’t have the time and/or energy for anything else.

I’m also weary of the strain having a family will have on my long-term plans. How can I travel the world when I have to be at home and do the responsible parent thing? How can I take months-long bike rides when there is a little one depending on my emotional and financial support at home? How can I embrace simplicity when the very act of becoming a parent seems anything but simple?


“Stop your whining, Jack,” I tell myself. “Just be the best person you can and everything else will fall into place. In the end, you will know the answer.” That’s pretty good advice.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Green City News | Proudly Powered by Blogger