Every now and again, people need to be reminded that children are not toasters. No, this isn’t about kids identifying as household appliances (yet) but about reducing life to cost-benefit analyses and about applying utilitarian arguments to the value of life. Utilitarian arguments almost always end in less life, but if people insist on being logical about becoming parents, there are also utilitarian arguments in favor of having kids. They aren’t the reason to have kids, as anything involving utilitarianism will go sideways, but becoming a parent is not as irrational as purported.
Apparently, Seth Rogen, who rose to fame by starring in a movie about settling into life as a responsible partner and father after slipping one past the goalie during a drunken tryst, has never experienced any of those counterarguments, nor did he listen to the lines he was saying in said movie.
Rogen, who is married without kids, recently explained the logical reasons he and his wife are glad they chose not to have them. And his reasons are logical! No parent will ever tell you that children are not time-consuming, expensive, and destructive. They definitely prevent you from doing things, buying things, and having things not get destroyed.
They also give you the opportunity to revisit books and movies you loved and watched when you were young. Doing so renews your love for those classics as you watch the next generation absorb them. Goonies never die, and the movie will always be fantastic, but watching it with an 8-year-old reminds you of what it was like to see it for the first time when you were his age. Likewise with reading “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” or “A Cajun Christmas.”
But from a utilitarian perspective, not having them also prevents you from doing things you might like to do. At least they prevent you from doing those things while avoiding appearing creepy or childish. You can continue telling fart jokes long after you should have stopped when you have kids, for example, which is something Rogen certainly enjoys. You can go to waterparks and interactive museums without people assuming you’re a predator. Because even if those places are cool, they are not cool places for middle-aged dudes to hang out.
Hearing the siren song of the ice cream truck a few streets over excites you again. Explaining the intricacies of “Looney Tunes” gives you the chance to appear delightfully wise. In this way, kids counterintuitively connect you to your past, even if it was, like, a really long time ago. Nostalgia is best in small doses, though. That’s not a reason to have kids.
The real benefit is in the new things, like teaching them how to use a hammer or cook a meal or load the dishwasher. Even though those lessons require cleaning up the tornado-level damage that occurs when preparing something complicated like rice, they quickly make your life easier as they start to become independent and take things off your plate.
Not that anyone thinks about school-aged kids or teenagers. All the arguments against becoming a parent boil down to babies, and babies are labor intensive, but they do grow up. While this results in them getting less cute, they do gain the ability to do things like running to the grocery store for a gallon of milk or to Target to pick up the printer ink. They can walk the dog and take out the trash. They can organize the pantry and clean out the fridge. The older ones can look after and cook for the younger ones, freeing you up. They can fight, viciously — though that isn’t very useful, so forget I mentioned it.
More important than the way they connect you to the past, though, and from a less utilitarian angle, is that children are the future. No, not in the “We Are the World” sense, but in that they are your bridge to tomorrow. They are your legacy, particularly if, like most of us, you are not going to live for earthly eternity in glory or infamy.
Children are a reason to build. They are the impetus for cultivating beauty and greatness, for creating durable foundations. They are the why when it comes to thinking about what the world will be like after we’re gone. And if we do it right, they will be the reason we get to spoil grandkids while our own progeny worries about finances and finding time to sleep and family heirlooms being destroyed.
All we have to do is just do it, figuratively and literally, and enjoy what comes next, whether it’s laughing at a fart joke, buying a Bomb Pop, or both. Utilitarian? Maybe, if you squint just right, but utilitarianism is for suckers anyway. So just let go, say “Hakuna Matata,” and be glad your parents were not so calculating.
For as Rogen’s character said in “Knocked Up,” when explaining to his daughter how she came to be, “Mommy said ‘just do it already!’ which was very confusing to Daddy, so I took the most literal translation. But between you and me, it was the smartest thing I ever did ’cause now you’re here.”