Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Founded by Mark Kleiman (1951-2019)
In which I unexpectedly think about grandchildren and realize why.
Why parents want their kids to start families.
When kids grow up, their parents often start pressuring them to get married (or de-facto married or whatever equivalent is on offer) and have kids. Those who don’t pressure, almost always hint. If the adult children don’t feel like marrying, their parents are willing to give ground. The son- or daughter-in-law is optional. The grandkids aren’t.
The adult children often resent this (I know I did). Some of the resentment is unavoidable. Life without kids contains a lot more freedom; a childless life is much more common, and in some circles more accepted, than it used to be; and even people who intend to have kids someday often don’t feel the urgency about it that their aging parents do. But some of the resentment stems from a suspicion of bad motives. According to conversations I’ve had, some young adults think their parents perceive their childlessness as an insult to their own parenting and are indignant, since no such insult is intended. Some, especially if one of their parents was a homemaker, think that they’re being asked to pay in their own happiness for their parents’ resentment towards freedoms they themselves never had. Worst of all, some think their parents are being immature: wishing they could live forever, through descendants, when they can’t.
Watching my nine-year-old son reading peacefully the other day, I realized that all this was wrong and yes, that I’d been unfair to my own late mother when she wanted me to have kids sooner than I was ready to. I don’t think Benji resents my parenting (yet). Much as I sometimes miss the freedom of childlessness, there is not a moment of my life in which I would give up Benji for it. And I don’t think I get to live forever, regardless of what I do or he does. Yet I found myself fervently wishing that he will have kids someday.
Here’s what, in watching him, I suddenly understood; and I wish more young adults could understand it themselves. I don’t want my son to have kids because I wish I could live forever. I want him to have kids because I wish he could live forever.
I’m sure I’ll noodge Benji to have kids before he wants to. The motive for the noodging will be unconditional love.
Author: Andrew Sabl
I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.
View all posts by Andrew Sabl
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