By Tim Middleton
There comes a time in all parents’ lives (in fact, probably more than once) when they ask themselves one very important, soul-searching question. This might come at 3:00 in the morning of a cold winter’s day when the baby is screaming her head off for no apparent reason, but equally it may come when the phone rings and the speaker identifies himself as a police officer or the school Headmaster; it might come at that moment when the teenager has crashed the car (again) or when the child must be rushed to the hospital for any number of reasons. What exactly is this question?
Children: Who in their right mind would have them? The thought may gradually rise to the surface of our minds when parents are confronted by dirty noses, dirty backsides, dirty clothes or dirty minds. It enters our consciousness subtly when the child cries, screams, shouts, moans, kicks, scratches, hollers. It sinks deeper when the child answers back, defies orders, accuses bitterly or goes silent.
Children: who, indeed, in their right mind would have them? It is a question that many a teacher may well have thought to themselves as they look out at the sea of children in the classroom, many a judge may have pondered as they consider delivering judgment in the courts, many a policeman may have raised as they attend a crime scene. Are these people qualified to have children?
If we are going to answer such a question, perhaps we might answer that careless people are the ones who would have children — as the old saying goes, “Kids in the back seat may cause accidents. Accidents in the back seat may cause kids.” More seriously, we might declare that thoughtless people are the ones who would have children as they may not have really thought about what it means to be a parent. After all, parenting is a costly business — it costs us our finances, requiring a lifetime of savings and earnings to look after them; it costs us our freedom, limiting the things that we can do as adults; it costs us our fun, as the heavy weight of responsibility bears down on our every waking moment (and indeed every moment when we would be hoping to be sleeping). Who would do such a thing to themselves?
Even more depressingly we might be tempted to suggest that hopeless people have children. They are the ones who may well ask in a fit of desperation if there is any chance of a refund or a swap! The frustrating thing about children is that just when we begin to think that we have cracked how to handle that particular stage of growing up they change, completely, and we have to learn very quickly how to deal with this next stage. Why do they not stay the same? We are tempted to think that they do it deliberately, to confuse us, to irritate us, to wrong-foot us.
Children — who would have them? What the question is really asking is this: What is the point of having children? Why do we have children? Would it not be easier to have a dog or a cat, after all? They give more love and affection in return, play happily, sleep much of the time and do not have mood swings or temper tantrums (unless we want them to ward off uninvited intruders).
Why, then, do we have children? Are they simply our pension scheme, ready to look after us in our old age, as we look after them in their young age? Are they actually there so we can fulfil our previously failed life’s ambition? Do we have them to keep up with our neighbours, to fulfil our own parents’ desires, to complete society’s expectations, to prove we are an adult, to provide us with great amusement and entertainment, to give us a sense of power? No, it is none of these reasons.
We all know, however, that the answer to the question is we would all have them, all the more so if they have been tragically taken away from us in an untimely or unnatural manner. The truth is that none of the above explains the situation appropriately; rather, the only explanation possible is that selfless people willingly have children. Children are a responsibility, for sure but they are even more a gift, a joy, a privilege, a blessing. We want them to have more life and more love than we have experienced; we desire they delight in the precious gift of life. We have an amazing task!
No-one in their right mind would ever ask the question “Who in their right mind would have children?” We all would! After all, our parents had us — just as well, do we not agree?
- Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
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