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.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl is a Visiting Professor in the Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics and in Political Science at Yale University.