So imagine you have a couple of friends. They’re both fond of you and you’re very fond of them, but you find hanging out with them a bit tiring because one of them wants to be looked after all the time and the other one is emotionally manipulative: she spends half her time telling you how great you are and the other half shouting at you because you won’t buy her ice cream. And then she wants to play a game with you, for three hours, except she’s making up the rules as she goes along and you don’t get to choose what they are. While you’re trying to play the game, the first friend keeps hitting you in the face and giggling. Also, neither of them pay their way and they both want to be with you all the time. In fact, they’re both living with you and expecting you to feed and keep them.
To put the above paragraph another way: if you’re used to dealing with adults and with situations you can walk away from, having children is something of a culture shock. There are parents who think everyone else should be parents too. Go on, they urge, you won’t regret it, it gives life meaning, have two! Have three! Have a dozen, why not? You can stop any time you like. Everyone else is doing it. Do you want to be left out, alone in your old age, with nobody to look after you? It’s a BIOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE.
Well, of course it’s worth it – at least most people find it’s worth it, and I certainly do. But while children are great, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them as a thing to do with one’s life. In fact, studies suggest that non-parents are generally happier. Apparently being richer, less tired, less tied down by responsibilities and more in charge of one’s own life turns out to promote well-being: who could have seen that coming?
I’m not promoting childlessness either, particularly. It’s just that I’ve read posts by parents who think everyone should have children, by non-parents who think parents should have to justify their parenting, by parents who regret having children, and by non-parents who regret not having children. And I fall into none of these categories. Yet the category I’m in is surely not a rare one: I’m a parent who’s happy to have children and also happy for other people not to.
I love having happily childless friends for purely selfish reasons. They’re available to go to the pub, they’ll come over for dinner, sometimes they’ll even babysit. I can go for an outing with them and they’ll enjoy the novelty of playing with my daughters while I lie around eating chocolate. Friends who don’t have children, but do like other people’s children, are brilliant for parents.
So I would urge all my friends who don’t want kids to continue resisting any social pressures they may encounter, and instead to devote their energies to entertaining my children. And in return for their helpfulness now, I shall encourage my children to visit them in their old age and bring them fruit baskets. Or enormous bottles of gin. Whatever will seem appropriate to the 2050 pensioner.