With all the demands a hectic family life place upon us, you could be forgiven for forgetting what the benefits of having children are, or even why you had them in the first place. This Entry attempts to set out all the positive aspects of having a family - the noble and the self-serving, the trivial and the more serious.
No one doubts that there are negative elements of being a parent, and even for society at large. People have even written pamphlets about it1. Similarly we can all be thankful there are some people who don't want to have children, and that in general people want fewer children than before, otherwise population growth would not be sustainable. This Entry, however, is to remind us of the positives.
A - Alarm Clock
Yes, you won't be needing one as often. More seriously, children can bring structure to our lives. Because they are quite time consuming, they encourage you to make more of the personal time you have, and reduce procrastination. What is more, when you do have a lie in, or a boozy night out, you'll appreciate it much more.
B - Blame
Like an over enthusiastic pet, children offer the possibility of offloading responsibility for a range of anonymous infractions - everything from flatulence at the table to random broken things. This works better the more children you have, as it becomes 'one of them done it' as opposed to specifically pointing the finger at little Ed.
C - Conversation
A difficult art, perhaps for the British in particular, is making small talk, whether at the bus stop or at the dinner party. Once you've covered the weather, and as long as you don't go on too much, only the most hardened childless person will mind a brief update on what's happening with the kids.
D - Dynasty
This is the fundamental biological imperative, the pressure that keeps natural selection on the move - the desire to pass on our genetic material. We may laugh at frogs or deer with ridiculous mating behaviour, but are we any different when you get to the bottom of it? Deep down, many of us will feel this urge one way or another, whether through the explicit desire to have children, or through the adoption of substitutes such as pets.
E - Entertainment
It has to be said, children can be quite amusing, whether on purpose or not. The way they phrase things, the way they first move about, the way they relate to each other - you'd need to be a fairly hard-hearted person not to find that at all funny2.
F - Friendship
In the society that we now live in, where many people do not know their neighbours and spend a lot of their day either at work or commuting, it can be difficult to make and keep new friends. Having children is a fantastic opportunity to do this, and with people who share your new constraints. Ante-natal classes, children's clubs, school and nursery, scouts... You may need to replace some friends who can't tolerate your new situation, but you're still likely to be up overall.
G - Grandchildren
Many people argue that being a grandparent is much more amusing then the actual parent stage - all the fun, without the responsibilities, and when you get bored you can hand them back3.
H - Hope
In many respects, the prospect that we are leaving for our children is not great. Recent generations have not been able to get on top of sustainability, with the result that those following on will be dealing with a number of problems (notably environmental) we have created. But therein lies the hope - hopefully our children will find a solution where we have not been able to - just like the post-war generation in Europe was able to step away from the repeated conflicts that had dogged their ancestors, perhaps the next generation will be the first one to improve the Earth's environment?
I - In Perspective
Every now and then, we can all get a little wrapped up in our own problems or preoccupations. Children help us to keep our personal issues in perspective - move away from me, me, me and do something for somebody else.
J - Juggling
Not balls or flaming torches necessarily, but multitasking - cook dinner, keep an eye on the toddler and help with the homework at the same time? No problem.
K - Kid's Stuff
An adult who plays with a train set is often considered to be a geek. An adult who 'helps' his son or daughter play with a train set is a good parent, sharing quality time with his family. It's a genuine win-win. Happy child, happy parent.
L - Life Cycle
There is something to be said for adapting how you live across a natural cycle - 18 years of childhood, a decade of freedom, two decades of responsibility, and then move back to greater liberty. Children take up a big chunk of your life, for sure, but they encourage you to vary what you spend your life doing.
M - Marvel
Children look at the world through new eyes - things that we don't even notice anymore, they appreciate for their real beauty. How many of us take time out of our daily routine to admire the colours on an insect, or to have a look at an interesting machine on a construction site - children see that kind of thing, ask questions and in doing so help to bring their parents back towards the diverse and fascinating world we live in.
N - Network
Not only does having children help you meet more of your own friends, it also brings you into a network from a different generation. If nothing else, it might help you understand and not fear the lumpen youths in hoodies that hang around in the street - if you saw them in a nappy when they were a baby, you can place and relate to them differently than if you are totally estranged from all younger generations.
O - Old Age
This may be a cynical motive, but if you have children there is at least some hope that when you are old and doddery, someone might come in to the care home and berate the staff for not changing your nappy at least once a week. There is no guarantee of this of course, as they might just ignore you and wait for the inheritance, but if you don't have children, and you are the last one of your peer group to shuffle off your mortal coil, who is going to look out for you?
P - Parents
Most times (assuming you're not still in school), having children makes your own parents happy. In some specific cases and cultures, it might get them off your back; often it opens up the possibility of a different relationship with your parents. This passage can sometimes be a bit fraught as everyone gets used to new roles, but the end result can be rather positive.
Q - Queues
Having a family entitles you to a few privileges - mother and baby parking spots, family allowances, railcards in some EU countries, and you're sometimes allowed to skip the queues in airports. No one in their right mind would have children for this reason or argue that you are financially or logistically advantaged from doing so, but it does help to mitigate your loss.
R - Re-use
Re-use their stuff! The Entry on Re-using Baby Equipment tells you how.
S - Sharing
When you have a subject you're passionate about, it's great to be able to share it with your kids. And if you make it interesting for them, there is no reason why they won't be keen - generally, it's great to follow the old man's football team, or all head off to go sailing together, or whatever. Obviously, if your hobby is fire breathing or opera, you might have a few difficulties.
T - Technology
It's hard working out new technology when your brain is hard-wired for the technology before - it's like learning a new language. While the aged have to work their way through a manual, or lists of irregular verbs, the youth just live as if there had never been anything else. This is why the dictum 'if you can't work your DVD player, ask a teenager' is often true. They don't have all those ideas of video recorders cluttering up their mental space.
U - Understanding
The best way to really understand an issue is to explain it to someone else. Children give you excellent opportunities to do this, as not only will you have to explain in it simple clear terms with no jargon, you are also likely to need to repeat it. Explaining religion to a four-year-old is a genuine test of clarity and fairness, and the more scientific questions will get you thinking as well4.
V - Vicarious
You may be unable to tell one end of a musical instrument from another, or have square feet, but that doesn't mean that your progeny will be similarly cursed. Taking them to matches, watching their performances, can give you a glimpse into a world that you would otherwise never have seen. The proud dad/mum feeling as the fruit of your loins takes a bow or knocks in the hat trick is very agreeable.
W - Work
Not an obvious one, but many people find that having children is the right moment to get their work/life balance on track. It depends on your employer of course, and what your options are. As a minimum, it should give you the opportunity to think about what you want from work. For some parents, their son or daughter's wedding is also a particularly special occasion.
After careful xamination, it appears there is no X. Xcept to the xtent that parenthood increases your chances of seeing both X-rays, and xylophones. Xponentially in fact. And we have to mention xmas, which is magic when you have young children.
Y - Young
It's a truism that children keep you young, but not without truth. If you want to properly engage with your progeny, you need to be able to pull faces and play games. Whether you like it or not, you will be informed of the latest trends in music and in yoof vocabulary. Whether you choose to disdain this or go along with it, you will be met with the same withering scorn.
Z - Zeds
No one would claim that having children improves your sleep. But what it may help is your ability to get back to sleep having been disturbed, and your ability to resist distractions.