Below is a self-survey with a list of questions and considerations to ask before planning to have children. This survey isn’t intended to provoke a specific answer. Such surveys do exist — trying to convince people that having children is horrible or wonderful. There is, of course, no one universal answer for everyone.
Most existing lists of questions to ask before having a baby are focused on questions that couples should discuss about parenting styles and what religion (if any) they’d like the child to be indoctrinated into. You’ll see the same points raised when reading articles on questions to ask before getting married.
A Google search for “should I keep my…” has as the top suggestions: baby, beard, dog, pay stubs, laptop plugged in, and landline. So, babies are apparently among a collection of things people aren’t sure whether they want to keep or not. But that’s for another discussion at another time. This survey isn’t intended to help with whether one should keep their baby.
This survey is more focused on how well prepared and suited for parenting people are. It’s a tough list of questions for that reason. Someone who really wants to have a baby probably doesn’t want to explore questions and issues that might make them feel like they shouldn’t have children. It’s like a person who really wants an expensive sports car, but can’t afford it. They don’t want to have a rational discussion about financial planning, saving for retirement, and budgeting.
Before getting to the survey, let’s reflect on a collection of common sentiments regarding parenting. You may have heard something like this before:
“Nobody is really prepared to have children. Those who say they are going to wait until they are ready, find that there never is an ideal time to have children. The best time is now. Sure, there is no end to the checklists of rational criteria we should consider before starting a family. But children are the result of love, and having them should be a decision made from the heart and not the head. Children aren’t always planned, but they are always a blessing from God. Parents always worry about how they will make it work out, but it always does. Children born into severe poverty, broken homes, and abandonment have ended up being some of the wealthiest, most successful, and influential people that ever lived. Do you think the parents of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or The Beatles had everything planned ahead of time? No. They were undoubtedly afraid. They probably felt inadequate. They certainly wondered how they would make ends meet. And look at how those kids turned out! There are numerous rags to riches stories in this world, so if you’re worried about money, you shouldn’t be. Perhaps you think you won’t be the best parent in the world. No parent thinks they are adequate. It’s an adventure. Just dive in and figure things out as you go along. It will all work out. Just have faith and follow your heart.”
I think that fairly sums up the mindset of many people when it comes to parenting. It’s a viewpoint that has guided many couples to start families, and it’s mostly true, much of the time.
However, if you read the above sentiments, and feel that perhaps a decision as serious as starting a family deserves a little more thought, planning, and preparation, you may find the self-quiz below helpful.
Self-Quiz: Should we have children?
The title of this survey is “Should we have children?” not “Should I have children?” The reason for this is because having children really should be a “we” question. It’s certainly true that there are amazing single parents (moms or dads). There are courageous single people who decide to adopt. Yet, the phrase “It takes a village” really applies here. Even if one feels they don’t need a man or woman in their life to be a good parent, and they feel they can go it alone, ultimately you’re going to depend on someone. The village is going to be involved at some point. So, it really helps to phrase the question with “we” rather than “I.”
- Education. Do you have enough money to raise children and provide them with a quality education? Not just K-12 education, but higher education that can ensure a good quality of life as an adult. How well will they be able to fly when you push them out of the nest? There is also the very important aspect of education that extracurricular activities, sports, and clubs provide. A young person can enter life with all kinds of head knowledge, but if they don’t have confidence, teamwork skills, and communication skills, they may still struggle as an adult. Sports, music, and other activities can help empower people for a lifetime of success.
- Finances. It’s estimated that raising a child costs about $250,000. But there are financial considerations beyond just the immediate needs of your child from birth to age 18. As mentioned above, education costs can be considerable. In addition to raising your child, do you have an additional $1 million or more in a retirement fund to live on that will ensure you don’t need to go to your children in your old age for financial support? That’s an important part of the financial equation. Housing could be a separate topic, but it fits under the heading of finances because having children requires having adequate space for them to play and develop a sense of self.
- Happy. Kids are naturally happy. They laugh at the silliest of things. They are easily entertained. Joy is their ecosystem. Their cheerfulness, creativity, wonder, and positive outlook can be contagious. When children are continually around brooding, jaded, cynical, critical, angry, negative, mean, spiteful, unforgiving, and depressed people, it tends to bring them down. They don’t just have a bad day because of it. The effects can be long-term. Ideally, young people should grow into adulthood with those positive youthful traits continuing to grow with them like branches of a tree continually getting bigger. If as an adult you have fostered positive youthful virtues and traits, and can help a young person grow into having those traits, then that would be helpful as a parent. If as an adult you are predominantly finding yourself in a cloudy swirly malaise of negativity as described above, then parenting might not be for you.
- Location. Do you live in a community conducive for raising children with the support and resources parents need? If you live in a very polluted city, or a crime-infested urban environment, or a very economically depressed area, or a place without parks, museums, or zoos, you may not be in an ideal environment for a child to grow up.
- Maturity. Do you have the emotional and psychological maturity to raise children? Are you a responsible, reliable, dependable, and a good decision maker? Do you have lots of time and money left over at the end of the month, or are you always a day late and a dollar short? Are you self-sufficient when it comes to your own needs? Are you ready to settle down? Can you offer the children an environment free of arguments, fighting, stress, tension, and instability? These are all important maturity questions. If you have trouble just supporting yourself and staying above water, adding a baby to the mix isn’t going to improve the situation and won’t be fair to the person you are bringing into this world.
- Older Children. Everyone assumes their children will be supporting them in their old age. What if you have kids who need your support even when they are adults because of emotional, mental, physical, or financial reasons? Are you prepared for that? Are you financially able to support your children when they become adults?
- Parents. For those who have parents needing care and support, depending on their health and financial needs, you may already have the equivalent of children you are responsible for. So, when asking yourself how many children or dependents you can handle, begin with the ones you already have.
- Pride or Shame. There’s sort of an assumption that parents will have numerous opportunities to be proud of their child’s accomplishments and successes in sports, academics, music, dance, civics, relationships, and in their career. But that’s not guaranteed. You child might not grow up to be president, or a world-famous neurosurgeon, or the next Bill Gates. They could find failure in all areas of life. Instead of being featured in the news for some great accomplishment, they may end up getting into trouble very publicly. There’s also the inevitable disappointment that comes when your child doesn’t pursue sports or the career choice you want for them. Are you going to love them, support them, and stand by them regardless? A strong drive for many people in having children is to live vicariously through them – like the pageant moms who pressure their daughters into that activity. But what happens if your kids don’t want to pursue the thing you never got to do and were hoping to vicariously experience or re-live through them?
- Sacrifice. Are you able to make the sacrifices of time and money necessary to have children? That may mean giving up some material possessions you enjoy or eliminating an activity such as travel or dining out. Are you generally a self-sacrificing person presently? Looking for ways to give to others while having less? If not, having a baby won’t suddenly make you into a giving selfless person. While some people say becoming a parent changes them, it’s not a guarantee, and people shouldn’t look to parenting as an elixir for chronic selfishness. If you’re someone who likes to drink alcohol frequently or do drugs to the point that you shouldn’t drive, then parenting isn’t for you. When you’re a parent, you are on-call 24×7 and must be sober and able to respond to any crisis. While not common, sometimes children are born with conditions that require substantial sacrifice – giving up everything to support them. Does that scare you? Or, do you welcome that kind of commitment? Everyone is different. Some people are well equipped and others aren’t. If you think that parenting is just an 18-year commitment, you need to think again.
- Support. Do you have a reliable support network of family and friends to help you as a parent? Even two successful and established adults who seemingly have their lives together will tell you that they struggle with the responsibilities, time commitments, and financial demands required to be good parents. Inevitably it takes a team of people to raise every child. In fact, every child is raised by a team of people. The only question is: Will you choose that team? Will they be responsible positive influencers? Or, will your child be influenced and shaped by disruptive peers, gang members, bullies, and playground drug dealers?
- Time. Do you have a lifestyle and personality that would permit spending sufficient time with your children? If you find you’re frequently feeling very busy and never able to catch up, then having a baby won’t magically give you an additional 30 hours of free time per week. You need to have exceptional time management skills to be a parent. A good way to answer this question is to consider if you would have the time required to own a dog and take it for walks every day. If you don’t have time for a dog, you don’t have time for children.
- Why? This is perhaps the most difficult and most revealing question. Why are you having children? People give many answers to that question, such as: I’m lonely, they are so cute, I think it will help our marriage, I want someone to unconditionally love me, I sort of lack direction and purpose in my life but I think having a baby will help me find meaning, we have a farm (or garment factory) and having more children to put to work would be profitable and cheap labor, I want someone to take care of me when I’m older, I want some kids to help with chores around the house because I can’t afford a maid, having more kids will save money on baby sitters, I only have one child and feel they need a companion, I want someone who is dependent upon me, I got bossed around when I was growing up and now I want someone I can boss around and yell at in the grocery store as I yank their arm out of its socket. These are a collection of reasons why some people might have children. Some better answers to that question might be: I believe I’m naturally giving, caring, nurturing, self-sacrificing, patient, and compassionate; I want to give my child opportunities that I never had; I believe I’m a good role model; I have a great spouse, network of friends, family, and extended family who can help me raise my child; I live in a great community and can afford exceptional schools that will help my child grow up to be a happy self-sufficient adult; as a doctor / lawyer / engineer I’m grateful to have been given an excellent education that resulted in a prosperous career which allows me to afford to give a child all the best opportunities and experiences growing up. These are good answers to the why question.
To reiterate what was said above. It’s definitely true that some children who were born into less than ideal circumstances have turned out very successful and well balanced. However, that’s not likely a guaranteed outcome. For every success story there are probably a million others that weren’t as successful. We don’t hear about those stories.
The bottom line is that some people are amazingly equipped and gifted as parents. If you are in that situation and want to have kids, then have a dozen. Have two dozen! We need more well-adjusted, competent, compassionate people in the world. There are people who are not exceptionally equipped to be parents due to extreme poverty, addictions, drug problems, chronic health issues, or for other reasons. Yes, they can certainly have children biologically speaking, and it’s their right. Yet, those children are likely to experience some difficulties and suffering growing up and later in life.
Nobody has a right to decide who should be allowed to have children and who should not. The homeless heroin addicts with HIV living under the bridge have the same right to start a family as anyone else. It’s wrong for any person or agency to play god and decide who can have children and who can’t. Having children is a human right. But as adults explore the powerful liberty of parenthood, reflecting on serious questions of preparedness and ability seems wise for everyone involved.
Note: Not included above is the more abstract topic of population thresholds. There is certainly plenty of undeveloped land remaining on the earth for everyone to provide everyone with a physical place to live. However, there does seem to be some legitimate concern regarding water scarcity, food scarcity, waste disposal, employment, war refugees, and adequate infrastructure for an increasing global population. Here’s what we know. As the world population increases, the number of people suffering increases and the intensity of their suffering increases. Can we have more people? Yes. Without a doubt. Is it compassionate, kind, and wise to continue exceeding our plant’s ability to support us? No. So, there will be some people who choose not to have children out of concern that we’ve reached a breaking point on this planet. Because the debate about overpopulation is such a volatile and emotional issue, it was left out of the above article.