Sunday, July 14, 2024

Opinion | 13 parents on the best reasons to have children

Opinion | 13 parents on the best reasons to have children

(Video: The Washington Post; iStock)

“People love to tell expecting or new parents that their lives are going to be miserable,” Reason magazine senior editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown tweeted in March. A reckoning with the hardest parts of motherhood, she argued, has become a dire overcorrection. “Parenting needs better PR.”

Indeed it does. And when I asked, these 12 other parents were eager to share what they’d tell anyone considering having kids. Their families come in all sizes, and these moms and dads have a wide range of political perspectives. But they all agree that parenting is sublime — even, and maybe especially, when the job involves illness, loss or an out-of-the-blue creepy question about construction-site skeletons.

The joy of socks. The best and hardest things about parenting are, for me, the same: You care about your child’s happiness to an infinite degree. When they are down, or struggling, it can feel impossible to pull out of it. But on the flip side, when something goes well — even something completely mundane — the joy is unparalleled. I remember vividly a time when I got an email with some extremely good professional news. I called my husband to tell him about it, and we agreed that in terms of daily happiness, it ranked second only to our daughter figuring out how to remove her own sock that morning. Parenting: when socks can bring joy. — Emily Oster, author of “The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years

Lifesaving breakfasts. The best part of parenting is getting to be a kid again for them. Coloring, Play-Doh, hopscotch, Little League, bounce houses and playgrounds (and way better than the ones we had as kids). Even relearning long division was interesting. Just don’t revisit your own youth so passionately that you tear a rotator cuff. The hardest part of parenting is that you have to be an adult for them. Boundaries, guidelines, the very long learning curve of teaching kids to behave in public without a screen? Yuck.

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But being a mom got me through the hardest time in my life because they needed me, no matter how scared and sad I was. My husband died, and I had a toddler and a newborn. For me, there has never been anything so simple and profound as getting out of bed every morning because my kids needed me to make them breakfast. — Mary Katharine Ham, host of the podcast “Getting Hammered”

Little hands and big ones. One of parenting’s first joys is the feeling of a little hand in your palm, that small gift representing a child’s trust and desire to learn from you in a world full of pointy edges. These moments pass far too quickly as adolescence and young adulthood emerge — and these years usher in an independence that keeps their hands from reaching for yours. But the time in between is precious. I taught my sons how to hold a football, throw a football and catch a football until they were far better at these things than I could ever be. And while their little hands will never be in mine again, the high-fives that replaced them after winning games and the hugs that followed tough losses bring a new joy that befriends the wistful memories of the first one. — Theodore R. Johnson, Post Opinions contributing columnist and senior adviser for New America’s US@250 initiative

Geography lessons and morbid questions. The best and also hardest parts of parenting all stem from the same thing: that you have literally created a new person, who is absolutely not you or your partner and has a completely different brain and different personality. My favorite moments are when my daughter surprises me by being a totally different person than me when she turned out to be an amazing artist, or how she can actually read a map, unlike me or when she pulls utterly original thoughts from her little goth head, such as asking construction workers if they’ve found any skeletons yet or telling me that at night the woods are full of, and I quote, “the floating dead.” The hardest parts, though, are also when she’s being her own person when she’s too scared to perform at a school talent show, too full of temper and prone to strongly held opinions and stormy outbursts. But I find that treating her, always, like a person I respect, and not just a little kid, has helped me balance out all the ways she delights me and all the ways she frustrates me. It helps me to see her not as a little doll but as a messy, cool, fun, amazing human whom I’m lucky enough to get to be best buddies with for a while before sending her off into the world. — Amber Noelle Sparks, author of “And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges

Unconditional love. When my mother died, I lost the only relationship whose foundation is unconditional love. Ten years later, I entered into another with the birth of my first child. Most people go most of their lives in a parent-child relationship; either as a child or as a parent and often as both. I went 10 formative years without it, and it is irreplaceable; being without it is disorienting and isolating (especially without close relationships to grandparents or siblings, which I also didn’t have). As wonderful as it is to be unconditionally loved as a child, it is that much better to love as the parent. It was so healing and fulfilling to have that relationship back when I had children, albeit on a different end of it (the better end, at that). And to have it six times over — it’s amazing how the heart can just grow. I feared when I was pregnant with my second that I would love my daughter less; but the love just multiplied. — Bethany S. Mandel, editor of the Heroes of Liberty series

The end of regret. I am someone prone to regret, second-guessing decisions I’ve made even far back in the past. Having kids did nothing less than end that forever for me. Here’s why. All parents know that if things had been slightly different, even by a second, you would have ended up with slightly different kids. Different eggs, different sperm, a cosmic ray hits the initial DNA in a different place, etc. Any number of things change how your kids will turn out if you change a single variable. And because I can’t imagine wanting them to be anyone other than who they are, it resolved my regret and second-guessing. I can’t look back anymore and regret things, because if anything had been even the slightest bit different, I wouldn’t have these two wonderful boys precisely the way they are. — Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Midnight dance parties. I looked at the baby monitor in relief. The crying had finally stopped. Maybe this sleep-training stuff was working after all. Then I noticed something odd — flashing lights in her room. I tiptoed in to find my child wasn’t asleep at all. She had scooted to one end of her crib, put a hand through the vertical slats and somehow managed to reach the Hatch night light on a nearby stool. She figured out that if she tapped the top of it, the light would change colors and play different sounds and lullabies. She was basically throwing her own disco party — at 6 months old. She looked over and beamed at me. I was exhausted. It was well past her bedtime, but I found myself throwing up my arms and trying a few gangly dance moves. This is parenting: the midnight dance party you didn’t want but somehow needed. — Heather Long, Post Opinions columnist

What are the best parts of parenting? Post Opinions wants to hear from you.

New wonders and tiny woes. I had my daughter in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic. It’s not an exaggeration to say she got me through those early difficult days. Coming home from a challenging day at work, there was always this happy, sweet and cherubic baby who couldn’t get enough of kisses, cuddles and bedtime stories. (Unfortunately, the terrible 2s set in when she became a toddler, but that’s another story.) Another amazing part of being a parent is watching the joy in my children’s eyes as they have a new experience or go through an “aha” moment. There are so many of these, even in a single day. We adults would do well to seek new wonders like these, too. My kids are at the age now (3 and 5) where it’s a Hallmark moment one minute, where they’re playing together and saying how much they love each other, and then there’s crying, toys being thrown, and accusations of the other sibling “being mean!” or “being a poopyhead!”— Leana S. Wen, Post Opinions columnist

Unexpected warmth and wisdom. I once woke up on the sofa after taking care of a sick 7-year-old all night. It was 5 a.m., and my 3-year-old was holding my hand and kissing each fingertip one at a time. I asked her why she was up so early, and she said, “I couldn’t sleep because I just needed to love my mommy.” And she crawled into my arms. I was so tired, and she was so beautiful. That moment remains the perfect example of what parenting has been for me these past 16 years. — Hannah Grieco, editor of “And If That Mockingbird Don’t Sing: Parenting Stories Gone Speculative

Children’s books and treasure chests. Having children is an irrevocable decision. For me, it has been a beautifully clarifying one. Because I can’t and wouldn’t want to un-choose my children, I don’t have to ruminate about other paths I might have taken. Whenever I’m weighing a change, I can always ask what it would mean for my daughter and son, and for my ability to be their mother. They are the answer to all my questions. And while having my kids meant forgoing some possible lives, their presence made the world huge and full of potential again. I get to see my daughter’s face when the first roses of the season bloom in our garden. I get to hear my son declaring that it’s time to “go-go” as he strides toward the door for our morning walk. I get to be Mommy Monster, maker of treasure chests, builder of forts and stocker of libraries. What greater or more varied adventure could there be? — Alyssa Rosenberg, Post Opinions columnist

Travel—yes, seriously. One of the most joyous and rewarding things about parenting for us has been traveling with our two sons. Seriously. Yes, there is a period when you have to be That Family at the airport departure gate, wrangling strollers and seats and what seems like tons of other gear. But kids get better at it with practice. And the payoff from introducing them to new sights, sounds, foods and adventures also keeps getting better. Some of our most cherished memories are of trips we’ve taken with them, either all together as a family unit or as various parent-son subsets. Years ago, my wife, Avis, and I used a friend’s wedding in New Zealand as an excuse to take a family trip halfway around the world. Every day was full of new discoveries that we were all making at the same time. Every day was full of decisions — this road or that one? — that we made together. Our sons were both teenagers then, and spending so much time sharing space in airplanes, hotels and rental cars taught us a lot about giving one another space, physically and psychologically. And about appreciating our different senses of humor. We have a daughter-in-law and two grandkids now to add to the group, and it’s hard to coordinate everyone’s schedules, but we still travel together when we can. But now, I don’t have to keep track of all the boarding passes. — Eugene Robinson, Post Opinions columnist

More of everything. The best part of having a kid is how much more full it has made my life. More full of love. More full of activity. More full of noise, responsibility and pure joy. More full of connection — to my son, of course, and to my husband, my parents, his parents, parents everywhere. More laughter. More laundry. More wonder. More worry. More perspective. And on and on and on. Obviously, some of these things — especially the worry! — are not awesome. But they are more than offset by the amazing, joyous, life-affirming elements. — Elizabeth Nolan Brown, senior editor, Reason magazine

A kinder word. Children are unashamed of their big feelings and enormous capacity to love. When I travel around on our Bunch Bike with my 3-year-old and 1-year-old, I call out hellos to neighbors, to our parish church, to a particularly beautiful tree. People might think I’m doing it to entertain the girls, but I love how taking care of small kids is a permission slip for me to take more joy, louder joy in the givenness of the world. I try to soften schedules so we can pause by a very interesting flower or see what we can hit (safely) with a stick. I see more of the world, moving at my children’s pace and looking through their eyes. And, frequently, I receive more kindness from strangers than when I travel alone, self-sufficient. Because my children obviously encumber me and slow me down, people hold doors, lift luggage, play peekaboo. I’ve been drawn into conversation with strangers and sometimes wound up praying with them because my children make me needy, and thus make me visible to others and others visible to me. — Leah Libresco Sargeant, author of “Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer” and “Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name

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