Sunday, February 06, 2022

Bad Advice

 We have given the wrong advice to young people for two generations WRT having children. We have said "get to know your spouse, get settled, be more prepared for parenting." But children get by on what we feed them (within reason) and vegetables are cheap, and babies don't have any awareness of whether they have to share a room or even a bed with siblings - for years.  We talk about wisdom in order to raise children, but really, I learned with my first foster child, who was eight when I was not yet 24 myself, that the job does not require much wisdom most of the time, it requires being present.  A sandwich needs to be made, make it.  A diaper needs to be changed, change it. This sort of crying means tiredness and you need to get this four-year-old home.  That's it. What is needed when children are small is mostly energy, and at 38 you have less than you did at 18. The things that make parents feel more ready are largely irrelevant to the child, and by the time they are old enough to make comparisons, you are 10 years older and wiser yourself. And now you have experience to boot.

For a decade I have been telling young couples "Have more children and worry about them less." Because that seems a bit shocking I do expand on the topic and develop it. I think I will now amend that to "Have more children, have them younger when you have the energy, and worry about them less."

Within reason, of course, but people who are going to be decent parents anyway usually don't have any new magic they are going to learn by waiting an extra five years. The responsible ones are usually responsible already. And observing the little ones at church today, darn but you need energy as virtue #1. We have clearly underrated that, to the detriment of a lot of young moms.


Thos. said...

Regardless of the reason they give, most people who wait to have children are doing so for selfish reasons.

I'm sceptical as to whether five or ten extra years of self-centered focus is really going to help someone be any better at focusing on their kids and their needs.

Donna B. said...

I do not disagree with anything you've written, but I think you may be underestimating the pressure on women to have a "career" firmly in hand before having children, who will, as you say require energy and attention that such careers also demand. For many women that has meant 6-7 years of education after high school just for starters.

I think it might be easier for men but not by much -- especially for men who want to be (and thus likely will be) good fathers. Not to mention that there's a minimum stability required to be able to provide the sandwich makings and diapers.

Margaret Ball said...

FWIW, I felt lucky that I'd already traveled extensively and had some career successes before starting a family, because paying adequate attention to my children required essentially dropping out of the world outside our home for years. Whether that compensates for the lack of energy I can't say.

One good side effect of dropping out is that now the kids are grown, I've got 35 years of science fiction TV shows to catch up on.

Douglas2 said...

As a young bachelor I rented a room from a family where the fellow was well known in Christian circles in that country as a speaker on philosophy and ethics.

I several times heard him say that it is not enough to encourage women to delay career and get on with having children (if having children is their desire); we must also re-adjust our society such that women at age 30+ can as easily get accepted into undergraduate programs, internships, and entry-level jobs-with-advancement-possibilities as 18-year old women and 22-25 year old women.

I know as both an employer/manager and as an educator that there's a lot of maturing that happens between 18 and 22, and the mature students and kids-with-some-real-world-adulting are always the best students, interns, or assistants in comparison to the straight-into-college kids.

But I can see that individuals' concerns about 'missing the boat' are valid.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I agree firmly with those comments, because there is not only social pressure but real practical-consequence pressure on women to do exactly as is mentioned here. The sacrifice, given the current cultural configuration, is quite real.

Yet that is indirectly my point. We have all banded together to tell women (especially) to do the very thing that is going to cost them the most for the goals they might have. The rules favor those who very visibly put career on a high plane, even though they may be only superficially the better bet for competence.

Yet part of this is their own buying into this (as well as their friends and husbands) - or rather, the buying into this that the people who came before did. Growing up when I did with the Jesus People cultural changes of the 70s, I was conscious of the reality that my decisions affected not only me, but other young fathers who would come after. Sometimes you have to be a bit fanatic. Or maybe a lot fanatic.

David Foster said...

Donna B..."For many women that has meant 6-7 years of education after high school just for starters"

That additional 2, 4, or 6 years *after* college...for the law degree or the PhD or the MBA or whatever...hits right at the intersection of the career-launch window and the fertility window. Yet people are being told that they *must* have such postgraduate education if they want a serious career.

If a woman can get started in her career, get to know the field, and establish a good reputation, it makes re-entry into the marketplace much easier after N years of full-time motherhood or part-time work. Thinking of someone in particular...she made a very wise decision in *not* going to law school.

There is happily pushback building against the idea that everyone needs to go to college. Now there needs to also be pushback against the idea that for those who do need to go to college, they also automatically need the postgrad stuff.

Obviously there are exceptions, if you want to do semiconductor physics for example, but I suspect those fields are a small % of the total.

mc23 said...

Agreed. Raising children is very egalitarian, humbling prospect.

A simple parent is apt to do as well as sophisticated one and raising children is the most important thing most people small or big will do.

I tell younger people the biggest requirement to raise children is energy so do it younger if you can. Parents don't so much direct or their children so as much as they shelter and care for them.

james said... Yes, lots of energy...

JMSmith said...

I agree with what you say, partly owing to the fact that I did it so differently. I had the first of my three children when I was 42. I was extremely unwise at 22, but was unaware of my unwisdom and not childless because I thought myself unwise. I was, fortunately, still quite energetic at 42, although perhaps not so energetic as my children would have liked. We did lots of things together, but I wasn't up to playing one-on-one basketball. One advantage of having children this late is that I seldom had to work late or on weekends, so I was "present" more than I might have been ten or twenty years before.

Now that I'm 64, I am more conscious of being more a grandfather's than a father's age. I am detaching from life, and I don't think this is what my children need when they are just getting started on their own. My love is, again, more grandfatherly, and consequently not particularly useful. A young man who is twenty needs a father who is forty--who is still in the fight his son is just joining. From a selfish perspective, I will attest that it is really hard to have children grow up and move away at exactly the same time one's career is ending. Deflation of the ego may be a good thing, but when it happens too quickly, it really, really hurts. My body sometimes physically aches with grief.

As it happens, I am the son of young parents, so my father is still alive. A son in particular wants his father to witness and approve whatever success he has in life. He wants to show his dad the new grandchild, the new house, the new office, the new workshop, the new whatever. And an old father denies his son this need. With luck I will see my oldest son at the age I was when he was born, and for any triumph he or his siblings enjoy after that, I will not be "present." I must live with the fact that I will do them this harm,

One last significant fact. None of my children has ever complained to me of my being old, but all three have said that they intend to start families in their twenties. And when they say this I always answer, Amen!