I have to admit, this is one of my all-time least favorite posts on the blog. The thing that appealed to me most about MMM's philosophy from the start was that it wisely rejected a lot of the most toxic aspects of modernity in favor of a more traditional, conservative viewpoint: saying "enough is enough" to money instead of pursuing unlimited greed, ambition, materialism, and consumerism; rejecting mindless passive entertainments like TV and video games in favor of active hobbies and reading; fostering a sense of self-reliance and responsibility for one's life; seeking fulfillment from community and family (I was very touched that MMM and his wife quit their jobs to have more time to start a family) instead of accumulating status symbols or empty job titles; all of this stuff made good sense to me and represents the kinds of values our insane culture has drifted far away from. A little bit of that modern insanity crept into this latest post, however.
The first blindingly obvious fact is that it isn't about what it claims to be about. I was perfectly ready to believe MMM thought that everyone should have the number of kids that feels right to them... until he wrote a long, vaguely defensive post arguing that 1 child was hands down the right number for him (he even has the spreadsheet to prove it). Nothing screams "I have a dog in this fight" louder than than spending 1,000 words explaining why you don't. Barely even reading between the lines, the real story seems to be that he originally wanted more kids but was emotionally unprepared to make the sacrifices involved, and wrote the post to assuage his guilt over ultimately deciding to stop at 1. Why would he feel guilty? Presumably because now his son will grow up without siblings and his grandchildren will grow up without aunts, uncles, or cousins, plus MMM Jr. will probably someday find this post complaining to the whole world how his parents' marriage was "stretched to the thinnest of threads" because he "displaced the needs of the relationship" and forced them to pass up precious, precious "social and travel opportunities". Hence the need to hilariously offload the blame to a random library book THAT TOTALLY OPENED MY EYES, MAN about how only children don't do any worse on the SAT or whatever, therefore there is no downside to denying them siblings and they won't secretly hate you for it when they're older (protip: you can find books and studies justifying virtually any lifestyle choice you want, including chopping off your genitals and becoming a Scientologist. That doesn't make all these choices equally legitimate).
The reason this is so disappointing is because it reflects so many of the selfish attitudes against children and family that are commonplace in the wider culture. People who want "maybe 1 kid, but not until I'm in my 30's and have been promoted a couple times and own a German car" are a dime a dozen, and it's always sickening to hear. People whining that "I can't stand other people's kids, plus I would hate to not sleep through the night and I can't deal with puke or diapers" make me wish that their parents had had the same attitude. People can find a million reasons why having children is too much bother, and all of them make them sound like overgrown children themselves (not unlike people who are too devoted to consumerism to accept a frugal lifestyle). If a huge part of this blog is about beating it into people's skulls that money, job titles, and shiny new cars are secondary, not primary things in life, then it's really embarrassing to drop the ball so badly here because children and family absolutely are a primary thing, the exact kind of thing for which it's worth sacrificing the former. It's pretty rich for a guy who constantly crows about "Badassity" and takes people to task for having "Complainypants Disease" to whimper about having to postpone some of his travel plans for literally several years because his ungrateful infant son had the temerity to have needs of his own. Parenthood is about paying forward the gift of life you've been given, and sacrificing many of your own desires for the sake of participating in something much larger and more profound than your self. It's more honest and forgivable to cower away in terror from that reality, than to try to define it down to a mere lifestyle choice, like buying a house vs. a condo.
This is getting pretty long, but I wanted to give a few quick responses to some of the more absurd reasons people give for not having kids:
"I'm doing the planet a favor by consuming less resources and not contributing to overpopulation"
- You're not conserving anything, and I promise you that the people who wind up consuming those resources instead of your kids (largely Third Worlders these days, where birthrates have exploded and nobody cares about conserving the environment) will think it's hilarious, at least until you and your family line is so utterly erased from history that not even they can remember.
"Siblings are a coin toss, they might get along and they might not"
- Nothing is certain in life, but unless you're a complete failure as a parent the odds are very heavily on the side of them being at least good friends and helpful supports to each other, if not lifelong best friends. Yes, I know you have one dubious anecdote to the contrary, it convinces no one.
"I don't want to take time off from my career to have kids"
- We admittedly have insane expectations of women where this is concerned these days. The smart thing would be to have women marry in their early 20's, have kids while they're young (and the odds of a successful pregnancy are dramatically higher than in a 30's geriatric pregnancy), and then do the grad school and career thing afterwards if they want. This would require making it possible for men to support the family on a single income in the mean time, which I support, but that's beyond the current scope. Putting off kids for years to accumulate degrees and money and job titles is a dangerous race against the clock for women, one that many of them lose permanently.
"I can't stand the diapers/not sleeping enough/cleaning up messes"
- It's incredible that people who have the long-term awareness to embrace frugality don't understand that kids are only infants/toddlers for a tiny fraction of their lives. Yes, it feels like it lasts forever while you're in the middle of it. It's also over literally before you know it, and it's not at all uncommon for parents to cry over how fast their kids grew up as they become teenagers and go off to high school/college. Have a little temporal perspective; in the big picture parenting has very little to do with the things named above.
Having said all that, believe it or not I don't mind it if people don't want to have kids, as long as they're honest about the reasons why: too immature, aren't up to the challenge, don't want to give up their jet-setting consumerist lifestyle, etc. That I can respect. Claiming that it's all one and who are you to judge, anyway? is where, as MMM might say, I can see we have a lot more to learn together. But to publicly blame your child for damaging your marriage and interfering with your social calendar, that's truly hateful behavior and that earns my contempt.
To wrap up, here's a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that is extremely on-point:
“There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, and for these we have the respect and sympathy always due to those who, from no fault of their own, are denied any of the other great blessings of life. But the man or woman who deliberately foregoes these blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow-heartedness, self-indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate aright the difference between the all-important and the unimportant—why, such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him, and who though able-bodied is yet content to eat in idleness the bread which others provide.”