So now people need reasons to have children?

Were my parents’ motivations serious enough to justify my life and the lives of my four siblings? Surely not. How could they be? We are five independent human beings with whole lifetimes of hopes and dreams and triumphs and failures all our own. Expecting twenty-somethings to have morally sufficient reasons for something so consequential is fairly preposterous just on face. As it happens, my mother and father both came from a religious and conservative culture, so they just went ahead and had us anyway without worrying too much about it. Irresponsible morons. Just see how that turned out!

Parents aren’t tasked with justifying their children’s very existences. The fact that many now feel pressure to do so really explains a lot, both about our falling birth rates, and about the puzzled, exhausted state in which American parents now find themselves. If parenthood is just a normal stage of married adult life, it’s possible to love your kids and care for them while also accepting that they are unique individuals who will eventually go their own way.

On the other hand, people who see childbearing as a personal project for which they need adequate justification are thrown into a paralyzing cycle of worry and over-programming, not to mention crushing guilt every time a child experiences disappointment or failure. It’s hugely burdensome for parents, and as some have recently noted, it’s not even good for the kids. But the only real solution is to recognize that having kids is not per se a call to ascend to unfathomable heights of completely selfless service and love. It’s what people do. It’s part of married life. It’s normal.