Should You Have a Child?

Questions to help you decide if it’s right for you

Many people feel that being a parent is the best part of their life. They well may enjoy nurturing their kid(s)' growth, and the many good moments, for example, watching their child’s developmental steps: rolling over, babbling, first words, first day of school, behaving as you taught him or her, falling in love for the first time. They value the lifetime of close bond, family get-togethers, having grandchildren, and the prospect that their kids will care for them in old age.

But other people end up concluding that having a child wasn’t the best use of all the time and money. Having a child is an 18+-year major commitment. Your time is no longer your own, and the average middle-income parent spends almost $300,000 raising just one child through age 17. That doesn’t count college, let alone graduate school, or if the child returns to live with you as an adult. And parenthood is filled with the need for patience. A few common examples: when baby won’t stop crying, getting your stubborn toddler into the car seat, dealing with homework, and a teen who abuses substances. There are additional challenges if your child has a physical or mental condition, for example, autism. The iconic curmudgeon philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer asks, “If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist?"

For some people, the downsides of parenthood are beside the point — They want at least one child, period.

But if you’d like to help ensure you’re making the decision rationally, your answers to these questions should help.

If you’re considering having a child with a known partner, each of you might answer the questions separately and, afterward, compare your answers.

Your wants

Would you feel good about bringing a child into the world s/he will inherit? Some people are optimistic about society’s present and future; others are far less so.

How involved a parent would you want to be? Some parents want to give it all to their kids, even if it means being an overindulgent, helicopter parent. Other parents opt to do a just-acceptable job, allowing the child much independence and addressing only serious problems. Does your position on that affect your decision to have one or more kids?

How about your job and career? Do you plan to stay in it? Work hard enough at it to achieve your career goals despite parenting’s demands? Do you want to and are able to pay for childcare? Or, at least for parenthood’s first years, do you want to scale back your career or even stop working? In toto, do this paragraph’s questions make you want to have a child(ren) more or less?

How many children do you think you’d be wise to have?

The broad question: Compared with how you’d otherwise be spending time and money, does having a child seem wise for you?

Poor reasons to have a child

Some people have a child, at least in part, because of pressure from parents or peers: “I’d love to have grandchildren.” Or you see your age-peers having kids and you feel you should join the crowd. Those seem inadequate reasons.

Other people have a child mainly because they want someone who will love them. That too is a poor reason. It too often creates overly high expectations, which if not met, leads to disappointment and enmity.

Your capabilities as a parent

How likely are you to be a good role model for your child? If you’re a reasonably responsible and kind person, great. But if you or your prospective co-parent is a lay-about with a temper and a substance-abuse problem, think twice before having a child.

Do you think you’ll be able to consistently enough strike the balance between permissiveness and strictness? Some parents have trouble setting limits for their kids, while others go to the opposite extreme—They're punitive. Of course, this is a special challenge if your child is too willful, a risk-taker, or otherwise uses poor judgment. The good news is that, while far from a certainty, if you and your partner are reasonably responsible people, chances are — for both genetic and environmental reasons — your child will be too. Of course, kids aren’t miniature adults. Even kids with potential to be responsible adults need guidance and usually, relatively firm boundary-setting, for example, regarding bedtime, friends, and compliance with your requests to, for instance, “Come to the table. It’s dinnertime!”

Will you be patient enough? Consider the examples in this article’s second paragraph. You needn’t be perfect but will you be reasonably patient rather than too often frustrated and overreact by yelling or punishing, which usually yields worse problems?

Do you have enough money? Of course, there’s no need to be lavish, but do you anticipate having sufficient money at least for basic furniture, diapers, food, clothes, health care, childcare, etc?

Other choices

If you decide you want a child, there’s the question of when. Think about your career and personal demands and goals. Think about your maturity to be a parent. Do you have a suitable partner now? Think about your age. Risk of an unhealthy baby increases during the 30s and beyond. What would the Wise One within you say would be the right time for you to have a baby?

Do you want to be a single parent, coupled, or communal? If you want to be a single parent, do you want to use an anonymous donor from a sperm or egg bank? Or would you want to ask someone you know to donate?

Do you want to biologically have your own baby? Use a surrogate? Adopt? If the latter, do you want to use a U.S social-service agency or look into an inter-country adoption? Holt International is a nonprofit that has facilitated international adoptions for 60 years, claims a 95% family-satisfaction rate, and its reviews on external websites are good.

The takeaway

Few decisions are as life-changing as whether to have a child. I hope these questions will help you decide more wisely.

The previous installment in this series is Should You Be in a Relationship? Planned ones include, “Should You Buy a Home?” and “Should You Get a Doctorate?”