Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a very un-valentine-sy topic. Last week, a headline caught my eye: Indian man to sue parents for giving birth to him.
You might think it’s an Onion article, but it’s actually for real, reported by the BBC. And I knew it was real the moment I read the headline because I’ve definitely had similar thoughts. Not that I’ve ever thought of suing my parents, just that I’ve thought many times that it’s pretty dang unfair that we bring kids to Earth and they have no say in the matter — no say in where they are raised, how they are raised, who they are raised by. I mean life can be miserable, and I think there are a whole lot of people who probably wouldn’t have opted in if they’d had the choice.
I enjoyed the article and hope you read it. You may be surprised to hear that the man suing his parents actually has a great relationship with them. Here are a couple of excerpts:
Mumbai businessman Raphael Samuel told the BBC that it’s wrong to bring children into the world because they then have to put up with lifelong suffering.
Mr Samuel, of course, understands that our consent can’t be sought before we are born, but insists that “it was not our decision to be born”.
So as we didn’t ask to be born, we should be paid for the rest of our lives to live, he argues.
You might laugh, but I agree with his line of thinking. What I mean is, it’s always bothered me when I hear parents say things like: You should be so grateful I was willing to give birth to you! Or: What about all those nights I stayed up feeding you? You owe me big on Mother’s Day. (Am I the only one?)
From my point of view, kids don’t owe their parents anything. The parents chose to have the child — and ultimately, I would argue they had the child for selfish reasons. The parents wanted a child, wanted to raise a child, or wanted their genes to get passed on. Maybe they wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth, wanted to pick out clothes for their child, or teach their child, or show-off their child. Maybe they felt having kids was a commandment from God, and they wanted to be obedient people. But that’s still a selfish reason. No doubt the parents felt biology pressuring them, and society pressuring them, but ultimately, I believe we parents choose to have kids (by adoption or by birth) because we want them. It’s something we do for ourselves. And the child has no say in whether or not they wanted to be here.
So my take is that parents owe their kids, and never the other way around. I forced my kids to come here, so I sure as heck better be willing to do whatever it takes to help them be as happy as possible. It might mean working more or working harder to provide material goods for your kid, or it might mean working less, and spending more time with your kid, depending on what their particular needs are.
Should we look at our parents (or should our kids look at us) and think: Wow, they sacrificed so much for me. How could I ever repay them? Or should we think: Wow, they sacrificed so much — they must have really wanted kids. My existence is a gift to them; I sure hope they enjoyed parenting me.
At the end of the article Mr Samuel says:
“I wish I was not born. But it’s not that I’m unhappy in my life. My life is good, but I’d rather not be here. You know it’s like there’s a nice room, but I don’t want to be in that room,” he explains.
As controversial or confusing as that may sound, I totally get it. I have felt the same way many times since my early 30’s. Like okay, I’ve given this life thing a good solid try. I’ve experienced lots of things. I’ve embraced those experiences fully. And now I’m done. Time to get off the ride. And then, when I realize I’m still here, it’s like what? Wait a minute. You’re telling me I’ve got another 50 years of this ahead of me? But why? I’m all good. I’m totally fine to be done now.
I’ve been wondering about why I think like this when others don’t, and I’ve considered that it may be related to my depression, but really, I think it’s a separate thing. I don’t feel sadness or despair about it. It’s more matter of fact. And I end up mostly resigned, like okay, if I can’t get off the ride, then I suppose I’ll do my best to enjoy it. By the way, I’m not trying to be dark here; I don’t see this as a dark thing at all.
What are your thoughts? Can you relate to Mr. Samuel’s line of thinking? Or does it seem bizarre to you? Do you feel like you “owe” your parents for the life they gave you? Do you feel like your kids “owe” you? What should our obligations to our parents be? And what should our obligations to our children be?
P.S. — There are a lot of sub-topics in this post and maybe we need to have a whole separate discussion on the topic of euthanasia, and when and why someone might want to opt out of life with minimal drama and pain.
P.P.S. — I suppose we could argue that kids who are adopted at older ages do have some say in the matter of who is raising them. But even then, they got no say in whether or not they would be born.
106 thoughts on “When Your Kids Sue You For Giving Birth To Them”
Oh my goodness, THANK YOU. I had no idea we had this in common. I share your sentiments almost exactly. I haven’t found too many who’ve felt this way, but your post made me realize I also haven’t offered up this conversation. When I hit 35 I felt this way related to my career, “I did what I set out to do, can I retire now?”. When I turned 40 last year, I started to feel this way about life in general. Not in a sad way, but through very matter of fact and grateful lens. That said, both my parents died last year 6 weeks a part and my Mom was only 65. It’s fair to say that had something to do with it.
I don’t want to die, but I’ve several times thought, “If I died now, I’ve had a good run. It’s ok.” It’s an interesting feeling to have, especially when you’re someone who still likes to learn and experience new things. For me, it was more the realization that there are more things and places than I can consume in a lifetime, so my measure of success isn’t to rack-up those numbers, but to thoroughly enjoys the ones I have the fortune to consume. That makes most days feel have that “It would be ok” feeling. I have a family, my husband and children whom I adore — and who would disagree with my death being ok, but then it becomes a separate conversation of how or life and death impacts those around us. This would make for excellent deep coffee date conversation with a good friend.
“For me, it was more the realization that there are more things and places than I can consume in a lifetime, so my measure of success isn’t to rack-up those numbers, but to thoroughly enjoys the ones I have the fortune to consume.”
I like how you worded that.
Congratulations you have reached the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs! Your next step is working on your self-fulfillment. Best way to do this by helping others to reach the top of the hierarchy as well as helping others gives the most fulfillment. So find someone, see what level they are at and help them however you can.
Levels of said hierarchy:
1. Physiological needs (food, water etc)
2. Security needs (safety etc)
3. Belongingness and love ( friends, family)
4. Esteem needs (prestige, money)
5. Self actualization ( thats you !)
Good luck and enjoy :)
Hah! Tirza, I think your comment is being a bit snarky, but at the same time brings up several interesting topics:
1) Like duh. That’s why people who have reached a place of financial security often spend their later years on service missions and doing humanitarian work. But that can turn selfish really fast. Are they really helping? Or does it just feel good to be taking some action and feel like they are helping?
2) Why is your description of self-fulfillment (an attempt to help others) favored over wanting to simply be done? Just as a hypothetical: If someone was satisfied and done with their life and ended their life, then they would leave resources (the ones they had accumulated, and the ones they would no longer need moving forward) for the rest of humanity.
In your scenario, they might be able to help people, but may cause even more damage in the attempt (think: issues with Tom’s Shoes). If they knowingly end their life, the end result seems to be a more guaranteed net positive (even though those closest may need to mourn them).
3) Are we the first generation where a large number of people could experience a done-with-life feeling? And how much of this is wrapped up in privilege? If someone is desperate to feed their family every day, do they have time to ponder how they feel about being alive?
4) How many generations could choose or not choose the number of kids they had? Are our kids the first who could say: I wish I hadn’t been born, simply because their parents had a choice?
5) In the pre-modern world, the average life expectancy was 30. And now it’s 80! Maybe we aren’t evolved to live that long. Maybe nature is telling us we’re done.
6) For people who love being alive, I think it’s really hard to comprehend that there are other people who don’t love being alive. The first group is so traumatized by the idea that they have to assume the second group is mentally ill.
But I think that’s silly. Why would we assume everyone likes being alive? Even at it’s best, life is really, really hard. It’s easy for me to see why people would say: no thanks.
7) Related to that, there are some people who have a strong instinct to prepare for the worst so they can stay alive once the zombie apocalypse (or whatever disaster) hits. But there are others who feel that they would rather die as soon as possible in that scenario. Every time I read about WWII and concentration camps it is clear to me I would not have been a survivor; I think I would have died very early on (and the idea of being someone who dies early on does not stress me out).
I thought I was the only one, too!
“Like okay, I’ve given this life thing a good solid try. . . You’re telling me I’ve got another 50 years of this ahead of me? But why? I’m all good. I’m totally fine to be done now.”
And like you, I don’t feel dark about it at all. I’m not bored, or not trying, I have lots of good stuff in my life, and I am happy with my choices, but dang, I’m kind of done.
To the main point of your post, I completely agree that all the effort and sacrifice should flow in the direction of one’s offspring, that they truly don’t owe us a thing, and that we do owe them for all of the reasons you outlined. But I’m at the time in my life where I’m questioning the effort and sacrifice I’m finding myself obligated to make in the other direction, toward my parents. What do I owe them? The financial and emotional sacrifices I’m making, as well as the time required, are absolutely taking from my children. Sandwich generation blah, blah, blah; I’m struggling with the ethics. For now, I’m tending to my parents at the expense of my children. To be clear, my kids aren’t suffering, but my bandwidth is shot and some things are slipping through the cracks, promised activities are no longer financially feasible, etc. To hear my mother and her pals tell it, we really do owe them.
“But I’m at the time in my life where I’m questioning the effort and sacrifice I’m finding myself obligated to make in the other direction, toward my parents. What do I owe them?”
The sandwich-generation situation is so real. I wish I had some good advice. I’m reminded over and over that we really don’t have a good set up for growing old in our culture, and we don’t have good models of how to do it.
Wow, you hit the nail on the head here for me. My last 2 years have been consumed by sacrificing time and energy I’d give my kids in favor of taking care of aging and ill parents (to say nothing of taking care of myself which isn’t even on the radar). It’s impossible and I wish I’d have had any idea it was coming. It was like looking blissfully down this beautiful path my family was on and getting smacked from behind by a freight train I never saw coming.
Everyone tells me how wonderful we are for upending our lives and taking care of our parents this way. I just wish instead they’d say it would be absolutely okay if we admitted that it’s more than we can really handle. And we shouldn’t risk breaking our family to take care of aging parents. But like you, I get the sense that everyone thinks we owe them.
Such an interesting topic! Maybe it’s my religious background coupled with a bit of wonder/hope/fairytaleness (a word? sure!), but I think my kids DID choose to be born. And I think somehow they DID know they were coming to me and my husband. At least I tell myself that when I want to ship my teenagers off to boarding school somewhere. :)
I hear you. I always wonder how being pre-assigned to a family overlaps with the concept of free-agency.
I completely agree with this and have no religious background and absolutely nothing in my history tethering me to this idea. Especially with my second daughter, I already knew her when she was born. I didn’t feel it as strongly with my first, but I lost two pregnancies between them and when my second was born, I immediately knew why. I don’t say this to diminish that loss, or anyone else’s loss, but it was so clear to me and still is sixteen months later. But, I also believe in free agency. For whatever reason, the two concepts aren’t in competition.
This is such an interesting topic. I laughed at your opening line. Like Audrey, you and Constance, I have also wondered about the meaning and satisfaction of life. I’ve led a very good life. A really envious one actually. And yet I do not feel like a walking hallmark card. I wonder if perhaps my personal, emotional pyramid is lopped off at the top. Maybe it’s because I tend to be more logic driven than emotionally driven, which seems to be rarer in females.
But I have a mother with a personality disorder who made Mother’s Day (and most holidays) extremely traumatic. I have often wondered “Why did you bother to have children…multiple children? You make it clear that we owe you and seem to be continually burdened by us.” As such, I don’t ever expect such gratitude from my children. I find doing so actually instills the opposite response in those it’s required from. If I’ve been a good parent, my kids will want to be around me. Interestingly enough, when asked why they had children, many mothers will say “Because I wanted someone to love me the rest of my life.”
Thank you for such a thought provoking topic. It makes me think about the Pro LIfe argument in a different light as well. And the Chinese cultural philosophy of Filial Piety. Sooo much to think about. Will be enjoying this rainy day going down this rabbit hole.
“If I’ve been a good parent, my kids will want to be around me.”
That idea gets to what I believe — that if we develop a good relationship with our kids, they’ll find joy in that relationship and want to maintain it, in a similar way as they would want to maintain a relationship with a dear friend.
I don’t share Mr. Samuel’s sentiments about his life, but I certainly follow the logic of his argument and don’t wholly disagree with it. He is right that the planet would like be better off with fewer/no people being born, and it is indisputable that people become parents for their own selfish reasons, whatever those reasons may be.
I have long thought that it is incumbent on parents to help their children, rather than vice versa. I just never articulated as well as you. :-)
I’ve generally assumed people are in two groups — either they are eager to stay alive,or suicidal. But these days, I think there’s a 3rd category of people who aren’t suicidal, but feel fairly neutral about living.
Though I think it does get complicated because there are biological urges to stay alive. For example, someone can feel suicidal, but simultaneously scared of a noise in the night that they think might be an intruder. If they want to die, why are they scared of an intruder (or anything else)? Adrenaline just takes over.
Such an interesting and timely post. I was just thinking the same thing this week … I would be ok if this was done. I wondered too if it had something to do with depression but I don’t think it is…. To be honest, I think it is just pure exhaustion…..
Exhaustion would make sense.
I was talking to my kids about this idea and they wondered if people who take death-defying risks — like free-solo rock climbers — are in a category of people who don’t weight the value of life as heavily as others do.
“Like okay, I’ve given this life thing a good solid try. I’ve experienced lots of things. I’ve embraced those experiences fully. And now I’m done. Time to get off the ride. And then, when I realize I’m still here, it’s like what? Wait a minute. You’re telling me I’ve got another 50 years of this ahead of me? But why? I’m all good. I’m totally fine to be done now.”
I’m literally crying at my computer. I completely understand what you are saying, and really thought no one else felt this way.
It’s such a weird thing to try and talk about. People do tend to assume you feel this way because you are depressed. And I may be. I definitely have some anxiety. But I don’t really feel depressed, I’m just sort of done.
I’ve been fortunate to have many incredible experiences- amazing friends, travel, concerts, completing really hard projects, interesting jobs. I can manufacture experiences that create similar situations, but really, there isn’t much that’s surprising or really new, that sparks that feeling of really being alive. Life is just more of the same, and I could take or leave it.
If I died tomorrow, I would be fine with it. If I found out I had a terminal disease, I would eat pie with abandon, and otherwise go on as usual. I don’t have a “bucket list” with things I want to do. I just keep going through the days, looking for ways to mark time, because I keep waking up.
I wonder if feeling “done” is a sign of burnout or emotional exhaustion. It definitely feels more like that, than depression to me.
You and I were writing at the same time I think and came to the same conclusion.. that it feels more like exhaustion than depression!
“I just keep going through the days, looking for ways to mark time, because I keep waking up.”
Totally. And it seems like a lot of years ahead of feeling that way.
This reply kind of saddens me to be honest. My sister committed suicide so perhaps that’s why. But I feel like you may think your life has no meaning but there may be people around you who find you invaluable. I agree with a person’s right to end their lives on their own terms. But my sister was young and I think she had so much to offer the world. So many days could have been brighter because of her laugh and her beautiful smile. But maybe it’s selfish of me to have wanted to keep her around when she clearly didn’t want to be here.
I agree 100%. I am amazed at how many of us there are.
Wow. I have never thought about it and that way before. I am grateful to have my children but did think that they owed me something, you totally change my mind
Thanks for your comment, Liz.
the older you get, the more real actual death becomes and you will also realize how little time you actually have. You will wish to have more time, more time with a body and mind that works the way it did when you were 40, 50, 60 even 70. And, suddenly, you have no more time. I watched my mother go through this in the last year in her late 80s and as I approach 60, I understand it more and more.
I’m definitely curious if this is a universal thing that you describe, or if there really are people who feel fairly neutral about being alive at any age.
I remember watching Ben Blair’s father, at 85, and understanding he was very, very interested in being and staying alive. But I don’t see that in everyone.
YES, I agree with this – once I hit 40, I panicked at how much (little?) time I have left. My 20s and youth – so far away. Settle in, settle down – the 40s are great. But my body isn’t as strong as it was, my hair is gray in areas, fine wrinkles – it’s a new phase, and this phase also has a time limit and a different set of experiences. And then the next phase will arrive – and be certain I hope to be here for it.
Also, perhaps it’s easier to feel this brazen about your existence on earth while you are young, and death’s door (most likely) is still down the hall.
And what about those around you, specifically those who love you and your children? No, you should not live your life solely for your children, but let’s not forget – you most likely did choose to have those children, and for that you owe them your presence.
Perhaps this is what a middle-life crisis is all about? Half-way thru life looking both ways…
I don’t hold with parents guilting their children into doing something because their children “owe” them for existence; it’s right up there with saying “you should be grateful that I married you” to your spouse. But surely, SURELY there must be a happy medium between “I gave birth to you so you have to do everything I say” and “I didn’t ask to be born so I don’t owe my parents a d*nm thing.”
I wonder if what we owe our parents is the same as what we owe anyone who we’ve developed a close relationship with. Our obligations to a dear friend, or our mother, might look very similar. That would also mean that if we have not formed a close relationship with our parents, then we don’t owe them much of anything.
I think there’s a middle ground of “My parents /chose/ to have me and raise me, they /chose/ to make sacrifices, and I didn’t make those decisions. I’m grateful they made those choices, and so I will respect them and also make the choice to care for them when they need it.” But that assumes you’ve had a good run with your parents, which I know not everyone does.
I remember my mom always telling me that she had chosen the job of motherhood for herself, so her job was to take care of me and make sure I had everything I needed, and that my job was to learn as much as I could (generally at school, but in life too), and I think that’s a sentiment I would like to communicate to my children someday as well.
“I’m grateful they made those choices, and so I will respect them and also make the choice to care for them when they need it.”
I would guess most people would agree with that sentiment. Would you say that idea assumes the person/child in question enjoys being alive? At least, it’s hard for me to imagine someone feeling grateful for the choices their parent(s) made, if that person doesn’t enjoy being alive.
And I don’t think everybody does enjoy being alive.
Probably, yes; I hadn’t thought about that. But I could imagine a very objective person, even if they do not enjoy living, being able to appreciate that their parents did work very hard to provide them with a good life (if that were true).
Yes. I agree with that. I think someone could be objective and be able to see that their parents had tried; had done their best.
I don’t disagree with Mr Samuel, but you neglect to mention that plenty of women did NOT get to choose to have kids. For centuries women were expected to pretty much just pop out babies. Only in the last 60 years in developed countries have some women had the privilege of choosing not to become parents via birth control. But even today in America, plenty of women become pregnant via non consensual sex and/or live under circumstances that prevent them from ending a pregnancy they don’t want.
Very true. The idea of choosing to have kids — and having some amount of control over that choice — is very, very recent in the history of humankind. Which would mean in many cases, having a child is not a selfish decision on the mother’s part — it’s not a decision at all. If she didn’t choose to have a baby, and had the decision forced on her, does she have obligations to her child?
I’m glad you brought this up because the story changes quite a bit if you had an unplanned pregnancy, especially a non-consensual one. I had a friend in middle school whose mother was very open with her about the fact that she contemplated abortion when she discovered she was pregnant but chose to give birth instead. This was said in the context of our anti-abortion Catholic community. Even as a middle schooler that seemed like a cruel and manipulative thing to tell a child. “You owe me because you were unexpected and I could have aborted you”. Yikes! I think that this line of “you owe me” thinking between parents and children really changes a lot of the conversations around abortion.
Wow – how do you fit this take in with being a religious person in any sense? I assume that by the same argument, you must think God owes us everything and we owe him nothing, because we didn’t ask to be created, and because suffering will inevitably result?
The best argument against this line of thinking, I think, is that it inevitably leads to despair and misery. Being is good! It’s better to be than not to be. And when it doesn’t feel that way, it’s better to tell yourself that it’s better to be. Go read some Thomas Aquinas. Or if it suits you better, some Madeleine L’Engle – she gets the same point across beautifully through fiction.
I don’t necessarily believe God created us. One religious teaching I resonate with is that we existed before we were born (in some form — in Mormonism we say we existed as “intelligences” without bodies) and that God found us and organized us.
But yeah. If God created us (as what? entertainment? an experiment?) and we didn’t have any choice in the matter, then yes, God owes us big time.
I find this very interesting! While I do agree that children don’t owe their parents anything, and that the human experience is full of its own challenges, I also believe that our souls make the choice to have an experience on the earth. We choose to be born. We choose to have this human experience.
Of course, this only applies if you believe in things like reincarnation and that we keep having human experiences because we are meant to learn different lessons through each life.
I was at a Mormon-Feminist retreat a couple weekends ago, and a Mormon/Shaman spoke. She talked about her past lives, and how not everyone chooses to have multiple lives. I found it super interesting.
Can you please tell us more about this Mormon-Feminist experience? This sounds really, really interesting indeed…
Is neutral to life a good description? I’m curious about this mindset. Personally, I’ve always seem to swing high and low but have a hard time staying in the middle area. How would this compare to contentment? I wonder if any other behaviors or emotions could correspond? It it comparable to detachment? Thank you for stimulating real conversations.
Oh such good questions. I think for me it skews more toward detachment than it does to contentment, but I’ll have to think on that.
I’ve been contemplating this post all day. My son woke up grumpy, I took him to school, read your post, and decided to pick him up early from preschool with the mindset of, “I dragged him to this party so I’m going to make sure he’s happy.” It’s a new perspective for me (which is embarrassing to see in black and white), but I have to say, this afternoon with him was as amazing as it’s been in a while. I want to keep it up, but I also want to teach gratefulness, which I suspect, like most things, starts at home.
Anyway, thanks for this post — I really appreciate your strong language on this subject, and I’m definitely game for future posts on parenting. It’s tough.
Thank you for your comment, Michelle. Here’s to many future happy afternoons.
I totally agree about parenthood actually being a choice that one makes for themselves, and should not be an excuse to make a child feel indebted or “lucky to be alive.” I almost didn’t have kids (by choice) and when once talking to my cousin about my choice not to, she responded “well don’t you think that’s kind of selfish?” I was cut to the bone. I don’t remember what I said but later decided, no. HAVING kids is selfish- we do it because WE want to, not for the benefit of the child. I did go on to have kids but still get incensed when I hear people imply that those who are childless by choice are selfish. More than likely they’re just very self-aware.
Yes!! I couldn’t agree with you more on the “selfish” comment. It has always flummoxed me when people retort with that comment. We all know that being a parent can be an incredibly hard job. Having a child when one doesn’t want to be (or knows one can’t be) a good parent is absolutely THE most selfish act because then the child is often brought up feeling unwanted or a burden. That leads to a whole host of psychological problems for the child and often perpetuates the cycle of dysfunctional parenting. I give props to those who know for certain they don’t want children. They’re making a concerted, well thought out decision both for themselves and their unborn child. (who won’t sue them in the future, haha)
I fully agree. Choosing not to have kids does not make one selfish, just self-aware.
There is an aspect in which having children helps our society— these kids will further advances in science, be future leaders, take care of the elderly, and in many countries, their taxes will pay for social security/benefits for the elderly. Countries where birth rates have dropped steeply encounter difficulties. So having children can be seen as a civic good (of course this implies raising them to be contributors to the society and being self-aware enough to try our best to acknowledge and mitigate our own limits in being able to raise them well) and therefore unselfish.
The whole question seems a lot more nuanced to me than that one way is selfish the other is self-aware.
I also believe that we who are born chose in some way to have this experience (though I don’t think we could have comprehended what it would be like, and it does not mean that the poverty, violence and other trauma people experience is somehow fair or acceptable), and that life is a time for growth and learning, so in that way sacrificing comfort and convenience (and certainly a lot of funds that I could’ve spent on myself) to have children was unselfish. There are possibly selfish motives wrapped up in there too, and I agree that a parent having a “you owe me” mentality toward their children is wrong, but I just think it’s a whole lot more complicated than one simple answer (and therefore that suing your parents for giving you life, seems cruel unless it’s an instance of extreme neglect or abuse).
This is fascinating stuff that I’ve never seen or heard articulated before. It’s funny, because I used to experience quite similar sentiments all the way up until my late twenties….when I met my now husband. I had never been in a serious relationship before that, and really loved and savored living single. Those thoughts of feeling done or at peace with leaving the world would come from time to time (sometimes due to depression, but often not). So, after my husband and I began our long distance relationship, I specifically remember driving in the car after one of his visits and thinking “I don’t want to die” in this urgent, grasping-at-life way that I’d never felt before. I enjoy life with him too much, and I’ve never felt that way again, even though we have children now and have experienced many adventures together. It’s quite strange to me, since I’m not a huge romantic.
Gabrielle, I highly recommend the movie Capernaum, which won multiple awards and is written and directed by the Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. It is about a little boy who sues his parents for being born. The acting is incredible.
Thank you for the movie recommendation!
I have to go back and read the above and the article deeper, but it seems somewhat related to something I’ve been thinking about lately….I wanted children. I have 2 beautiful and amazing children that I cherish with my whole being. But with the world so different from my naive childhood, and taking into consideration the political climate, and earth’s climate, and society’s drive for more, more, more I have been often thinking lately, why did I bring children into this? Why did I force their future on them? I know I don’t have all the answers to the world’s problems, but will they? Should I have not had children so I don’t carry the burden of worrying about how they will cope with their future?
Oh my goodness yes. I’m so glad you wrote this. I’ve felt the same way. The world I thought I was bringing kids into when I started in 1997, and the trajectory of progress that I thought we were on, has seemingly changed in drastic ways. Like what if I’ve delivered my kids into a world where they’re drafted to fight an ego war for Trump against North Korea? (I’m retching just thinking about it.)
If I was starting a family today, knowing what I know now, would I be more hesitant?
I was just talking about this with my very good friend last night. I have 2 children and she doesn’t have children. I love my children and they were wanted but if I could go backward in time I would tell myself, “don’t do this.” We discussed how are own mothers just assumed they would have children, and they saw their role as accepting what life dealt them, as opposed to our own views that having children is a deliberate choice and there is a whole different view of what our obligations to our children are/would be because we consciously chose parenthood.
Sometimes I can only see my existence as this substrate for their support – its moved on from literally using my body to grow/feed/comfort them to mainly being a financial support, means of transportation and guardian of their safety. And yes, love. But as another poster wrote, I very much feel I dragged them to this party, and I feel guilty about it.
My brother-in-law and his partner chose not to have children for these exact reasons (an unpredictable, possibly doomed future + the human impact on the environment). Whenever my husband and I discuss whether or not to have another child, their vote is always no. We don’t necessarily see the world through the same lens, but I appreciate their take and reasons.
Wow, love this post. Thank you for being so candid. I am a former-Mormon, and I can say that it was a relief to release the idea of existing for eternity in the traditional Mormon sense. I find the idea terrifying because there is no “getting off the ride.” I know there are multiple ways to think about this within Mormonism, but the concept of a Heavenly Father that we owe everything to and who has the power to make our eternal existence wonderful or miserable depending on whether or not we agree with him (or the leaders of his church) and obey him seems bizarre and scary to me. Anyway, it’a difficult to articulate my feelings about it, and I don’t want to offend anyone, but I do wonder how your feelings relate to the idea of eternity for you? Maybe you believe you will have choice about your existence in the next life? I recently read “A Short Stay in Hell” (by a BYU professor) and it really sent me for a loop. It’a all about not having the choice to “get off the ride.” Gah, now I’m stressed out again.
Well, this isn’t within the orthodoxy, but I’ve always felt that we’d end up where we would be most happy. I’m not sure what that means for someone who doesn’t want to be on the eternity continuum, but perhaps you’d get the option to simply become unorganized intelligences again.
I always feel like picturing the afterlife is way fuzzier than many of my fellow Mormons seem to think it is. But I will say the thing I like best about the Mormon concept of afterlife is that the “reward” is simply the opportunity to keep learning and progressing ( the chance for “further light and knowledge”). I find that idea much more appealing than eons of relaxing in a mansion.
I read an article about this when it first came out. I’m rather curious about what his parents have to say (more candidly than what was included in the articles) and what else is going on in his life.
I think because I have a total of six years of infertility and one beautiful three year old son, my perspective on parenting has always been one of immense gratitude (not to say yours has not been!) Because of a tender and special experience I had two years before I became pregnant with my son, I absolutely believe my son was always meant to come to me, just as I believe I have a daughter who will join our family one day. Again, because of the infertility, I keep my focus on how grateful I am that he is here and that he is. Each night when I sing him to sleep, I thank him for being here and being my son. He owes me nothing, just as no child owes their parents for being born. I would hope that through the love and service I will give him in his childhood that when he’s an adult he decides he would like to spend time with me and his father, not out of obligation, but out of love and respect.
I will also say, when my son was born, I immediately felt sorry for my mother. Why? Because I realized, just then, how much she really loved me (and she’s one hell of a terrific mom), and that I would never, ever love her with the same intensity as I love my son. It’s not even in the same universe.
Aah. So good! Gratitude. I have a small chalkboard in the kitchen i write inspiring things on … ive had Wonderful Counselor scribbled since Christmas. Can’t erase since it’s been so true … better than any earthly counselor … to deal with life’s suffering. I believe in the trinity , especially the spirit , which is a healer, teacher, everything good and necessary to cope.
I read Oswald Chambers when I need answers
I appreciate your comment, Whitney! Two parts stand out to me:
“Each night when I sing him to sleep, I thank him for being here and being my son. He owes me nothing, just as no child owes their parents for being born. I would hope that through the love and service I will give him in his childhood that when he’s an adult he decides he would like to spend time with me and his father, not out of obligation, but out of love and respect.”
“Because I realized, just then, how much she really loved me (and she’s one hell of a terrific mom), and that I would never, ever love her with the same intensity as I love my son. It’s not even in the same universe.”
I agree with all of this.
Wow. This is such a breath of fresh air. I’m so grateful that you gave voice to a sentiment that I feel more and more as time goes on. Growing up in a single parent family with no siblings, I always struggled to have a sense of self and purpose. Yet, there was this thirst for life like “I just need to get there”. I realized “there” meant adulthood – the ability to take care of myself and call the shots in my life. After 20+ years of adulthood, I’m just weary. I look at my life and feel proud of what I’ve built with the cards I was dealt, but I’m kind of suspicious about the future, as if it’s just not that interesting or with investing in. So odd to see that in print.
Thank you for posting this.
“kind of suspicious about the future”
Oh my goodness yes.
“I’m just weary. I look at my life and feel proud of what I’ve built with the cards I was dealt, but I’m kind of suspicious about the future, as if it’s just not that interesting or with investing in.”
Yes. This. Suspicious about the future. Between the economy, and climate change and the political institutions of the last 70 years being torn down, there is so much uncertainty, and its so likely that things will be worse in the future.
Many of the things that would bring me (temporary) joy just exacerbate the macro issues- travel, air travel in particular, is bad for climate change. Buying a house seems risky from both a financial/economic perspective- do I want my money tied to a fixed asset that can be damaged by extreme storms, and a climate perspective- where to live that will have clean water and reasonable temperatures in 30 years.
It definitely seems downhill from here.
I’ve been thinking on this all day. I’ll admit, it is very sad to hear the responses and i was surprised so many agree with you.
It really is 2 separate things to me. I agree that having children is a selfish choice that requires selflessness IF YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT. And many parents don’t or can’t.
But to be spiteful that your parents brought you to this earth life is such a sad thing to me. Not mad because they were lousy or you don’t like them or you’re in terrible circumstance, but simply because you exist. I am so fascinated to know how common this is and if it’s new to our time. I wouldn’t have believed you when you said it wasn’t connected to suicidal depression, except for all the other people who agreed!
The world and future do sometimes seem daunting to me and especially for what my children might see. But when I think of dying I feel so sad to think of what I would miss and how hard it would be for my kids.
“I am so fascinated to know how common this is and if it’s new to our time.”
I would be fascinated to know this info too. In the pre-modern world, life expectancy was 30 years old. In 2018, it was 80. Maybe we just didn’t evolve to live that long and nature is reminding some of us that we’re done (or that we should be done).
It is an interesting concept! We will never be able to know if this idea is new to our time. Historically our social interactions was limited by societal appropriateness. The invention of the internet has given a private place for people to express their true feelings that may be unacceptable to state face to face. There are some downsides to the internet but by and large I do love how it introduces new things and people have the ability to find kindred spirits which might have been impossible in the past.
I am finding this subject perplexing. Perhaps it is because I am older than most of you probably are. I’m in my 60’s. I have already cared for my parents and sat holding their hands while their lives slipped away. I have felt gratitude for the love they surrounded me with during their lifetimes and now that they are gone I realize the value of their love in my life
All of my children are grown with their own families. They were all wanted, but some were conceived as a side effect of my husband and my love for each other. In other words, some were not “planned”. Those were our happy surprises.
What is confusing to me is the idea of owing. Parents owing their children something or children owing their parents. I have never seen family life that way.
To me life is an experience that allows us to love each other. I love my children and have enjoyed having them in my life. I loved my parents and enjoyed the time we had. I love my grandchildren and enjoy knowing them. To me there is no debt and no owing. There is just love.
And I’m not ambivalent about being alive at all. I’m to the age where I worry about having enough time left to do all I want to do. Life is precious and enjoyable to me.
I totally agree with everything you said (and am roughly your age). I’ve been surprised at how many people agree that they would not be bothered to be told life was ending for them. I just had two biopsies taken which thankfully were fine, but I was so upset at the thought that I might be dying. I love life and have lists of places i want to visit and things I want to do.
I agree completely. Suffering in life does not make it not worth living. I too am bothered by the attitude of who owes who what. Love each other as best we can, find joy, experience pain and loss, take the good and the bad together. I don’t say this lightly or without having experienced my own deep sorrow. I believe life is a precious gift from God and we are to learn from and experience both sorrow and joy. And all things are better (for me) with God as my partner.
Colleen, I think I’m confused that you are confused by by the concept of parents who feel like their children owe them. Hah! I mean, there are whole cultures built around filial piety. Maybe it’s a semantics thing? Like we’re talking about the same thing but using different words?
As far as you enjoying life: “Life is precious and enjoyable to me.” I think that’s totally valid and that you can take comfort in the fact that most people have a similar outlook. But that doesn’t mean not enjoying life is a “wrong” experience, or “wrong” way to think.
I’m feeling such a huge sense of relief reading the original post and all these comments. Seeing it articulated and knowing I’m not alone is a breath of fresh air.
Growing up, I always said I wanted to check out at 26. When I hit 26, I felt like I wasn’t quite done (I think because my daughter was only 7), but I’m 30 now, and I do feel quite done. Life, take it or leave it.
However, half of my family is Chinese/Hawaiian, with a huge focus on filial piety and family in general. When I think about this topic for more than about two minutes, it feels like a huge dark cloud slides over the sun that blocks out all my own thoughts and only leaves a sense of what I owe to my parents. Gaaaahhh.
I’m so glad you brought up filial piety. I’ve been curious about how Gen X and Millennials feel about loyalty and duty to their parents — especially in cultures where filial piety is strong.
Such an interesting post and so many thought provoking replies. I would like to recommend BEING MORTAL, Medicine & What Matters in the End by Dr. Atul GAWANDE.
I also thought Capernaum was fascinating (and heartbreaking). You also might like the movie BIRDS OF PASSAGE. It is about the Wayuu indigenous people in Colombia.
I second the recommendation about BEING MORTAL it really opened my eyes to my mortality and in a good way. I realized that I don’t want to live forever and I don’t want to use resources that could better be used elsewhere.
I really appreciate the recommendations. Several people on my Instagram post also mentioned Capernaum. I can’t wait to watch it.
I agree with you that parents shouldn’t guilt their children into owing them, and should never hold things over their head such as you pointed out: “You should be so grateful I was willing to give birth to you! Or: What about all those nights I stayed up feeding you? You owe me big on Mother’s Day.”
However, the article actually really saddens me. When Raphael says that “There’s no point to humanity…human existence is totally pointless,” that just breaks my heart! I guess that just from my own experience in the sweetness that can come from human relationships—even amidst pain and suffering—I really believe that our existence isn’t pointless.
I would say you can take comfort knowing that most people don’t believe human existence is totally pointless, and don’t experience it that way. At the same time, it seems like a valid view point for those who want to take it — and Mr. Samuel is certainly not the first to feel that way or express it.
Wow such a great topic and interesting comments! I absolutely do not think that children owe their parents! However…I believe that I have an obligation to take care of my parents (my mother is the only person in our family of that generation alive) – go figure on that convoluted thinking. I also believe that I need to be super cognizant of the resources that I am using on this earth-including time and money. And taking time from my children’s lives is not okay with me even though my life has been taking care of our parents (my husband’s and mine) for the last five years. My children (two daughters) are in graduate school and my husband and I sacrificed a tremendous amount to make sure that they had the skills to get themselves there. I will not use our resources to keep myself alive just to be alive as some of our (my husband’s and mine) parents did-I want to make sure that our daughters have a solid financial base to continue to have the freedom to make the choices that they want to make. This is a conversation my husband and I revisit frequently and check in with each other to make sure what we are doing is relevant. If we aren’t relevant that we believe we are done! Again thank you for bringing up another important topic that begs to be discussed and pondered!
“If we aren’t relevant that we believe we are done!”
I’m super interested in your approach. I find that appealing.
This is a really difficult topic to talk about in real life and so I don’t usually! I understand how you feel and I think a lot of it is sparked by depression/anxiety/exhaustion. I feel the same. I also feel incredibly guilty for bringing my children into the world and I hope they don’t hold it against me. (When I planned and had them I was a lot more optimistic than I am now).
“I also feel incredibly guilty for bringing my children into the world and I hope they don’t hold it against me. (When I planned and had them I was a lot more optimistic than I am now).”
You are certainly not alone in this feeling.
As an adoptive parent, I often hear comments about how lucky she is that we adopted her, or that we’re such good people for doing so, etc. I never want her to feel indebted to us for our decision to adopt her. I didn’t create her, and I have no idea how our little girl will feel about her place in this world. But I always correct people to tell them that WE are the lucky ones, that her presence in our lives brings us indescribable joy and that WE owe HER. All I can do is give her the best life I can.
I totally agree.
Thanks for the interesting post and comments! I don’t Respect my parents decision to have a full house of kids into a bear love-less marriage because “it a commandment” and an expectation from their culture. I know they sacrificed their lives for the children but still I give them limited credit and gratitude. They did it for their own glory their own reasons.
I was a difficult teen and I knew it, I also remember thinking “well, you chose to have me, deal with it.” I have a different relationship with both my parents.. one feels entitled to be venerated by his growing posterity, and the other is the heart and glue of the family..making real relationship-promoting efforts that inspsire reciprocal action. No doubt you can guess who I’m closer to.
Thanks again, lots to think about today!
The idea of being “done” with life doesn’t resonate with me at all – I love being alive, and love my husband and children so very, very much. The idea that I would want to cut short our time together here on Earth is kind of incomprehensible to me. And to your other point – I feel that I do owe my kiddos something – I owe them my presence, my guidance, my support, my love, a soft place to land. If my life was cut short for some reason, I would absolutely feel like I had failed them. On the other end – I am SO GRATEFUL for all my parents have done for me and given me (not the least of which is an exquisite model to base my own parenting on), and I will be glad to care for them in whatever way makes sense as they age. I don’t know if I “owe” them, but I will be glad to give back to them a little of what they’ve given to me.
This has given me so much to think about and has sparked so many good conversations with my husband! His parents often told him half jokingly that he had to take care of them when they were old because they gave him life but I grew up with the exact opposite message from my parents so we have very different perspectives.
Here are some thoughts swirling through my head:
1) If we are not grateful for being born and being given life, how does that impact the conversation around abortion? I’ve always cringed when I’ve seen the protest signs that say “Choose Life, Your Mother Did”.
2) I think that believing in the afterlife/God/souls really changes how you feel about this topic. I’m a “reverent agnostic” and I am terrified of death because I just can’t believe that there is anything after this life on Earth and the thought of being nothing is just horrible. Sometimes I think that if I was given the choice to live forever, I would take it.
3) My husband and I have just begun the process of trying to get pregnant and I’m feeling positive and excited about the whole thing but I still struggle with the idea of why I am even doing this. It does feel very selfish because there is no “good” reason to have kids these days (with politics, population and consumption issues, etc). I like the idea that it’s a civic duty but what if my kid grows up to be a total jerk despite my best efforts to make them kind?! The best answer that I can give is that I know I would regret it if I didn’t…but that’s pretty selfish!
Thanks again for an amazing conversation starter!
best picture of your children though! so lovely!
I feel a lot of this post comes down to what meaning do you find in life? I’m sure you know Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning. A survivor of the concentration camps, he deduced that the people who survived the camps were often (not always) those who found meaning in being alive. It’s a profound book. I understand that people are becoming ambivalent. And increasingly, not just ambivalent, but anxious and worried and sad. Perhaps this human reckoning of whether we actually want this existence is part of evolution? After all evolution is fueled by the primary urge to survive. What happens when we lose that urge? Is this how the human species ‘evolves’ to no longer being? Or another level of being? That’s what I lean towards. A better way of being human. Hmm lots to ponder. Thank you! x
Such a fascinating topic! I’ve very much enjoyed your post, and the many wonderful comments. I’m still processing my own thoughts on the subject, but do find it interesting that – as you mentioned – we are now living much longer than before, and perhaps this feeling is an exclusively modern concern. Another (more-than-likely) exclusively modern debate in society: Is Universal Basic Income the way forward? Are these ideas connected?
‘So as we didn’t ask to be born, we should be paid for the rest of our lives to live, he argues.’
What an interesting post and I’m surprised that it resonated with so many people (myself as well). I have two kids and was very ambivalent about having them and have struggled with guilt about bringing them into a world with so much suffering. Not even the major Suffering, just the small stuff we all have to deal with at some point like people dying, feelings hurt, etc. Sometimes I get shaken by a sense of futility of it all. But, I also have just as many moments of feeling really moved and connected and fulfilled. I guess it all balances out for me. I don’t have a great desire to stay or go. Though I will say, a major motivator for staying is to be here for my kids. I would imagine this is all impacted heavily by a mix of biology (brain chemistry) as well as culture/environment. I’ve been heavily immersed in a small part of my cultural background the last few years and it’s amazing to me how it gives my life such a different flavour (more of that connected, meaningful, moved stuff).
Oh, forgot to comment on the actual article. I do think it’s a bit ridiculous to sue your parents over this considering (especially in India) they’re likely the first generation to have a choice in the matter of having kids. This is a major, major existential question and the guys parents are human as well and shouldn’t be penalized for doing a human thing and not knowing how to navigate this colossal newfound power to have kids or not.
I can’t wait to read all these comments, but I just wanted to shout out another, “I thought it was just me!!!” Thank you so, so much for sharing this. I’ve felt this way since my early 20’s when I was starting out: figuring out a major and then trying to get a job/career started. All I could think was, “I didn’t ask for this!”
I’m now 37 and purposefully do not have kids. Life is definitely sometimes wonderful, but the day to day can be a real whoop. Think I’ll stick to dogs. ;)
Your comment first angered me. I was envisioning parents bending over backward to accommodate the whims and fancies of their children because the parents felt they needed to somehow make it up to the children for bringing them to this godforsaken planet. But after letting my thoughts simmer a bit and reading the comments I actually feel the same way. I think in my own mind I agree with the fact that we “owe” our children the most we can in emotional, physical and intellectual experience. But I don’t want them to expect that the world in general owes them anything. And there’s a difference between indulging children and being responsible to them. I just needed to work that all out. So thank you!
okay, i came on this blog because i accidentally clicked a pinterest link about ceramics, and i saw the title of this article and thought “huh. i would totally sue my parents for having me”. i had NO Idea i would be agreeing so much with what you are saying. i frequently think to myself the inherently selfish nature of the choice people make to have kids. everything you are saying is something that i have said to myself, it’s crazy! it’s like he said- life is like a very nice room, but i never asked to be in it.
(sorry i couldn’t edit my last comment) but i wouldn’t ACTUALLY sue my parents, it’s just something that i don’t find absurd. also, i don’t mean to say that people who have kids are evil.
Thank you for writing this post.
I definitely feel done with life. It reminds me of Ecclesiastes, “All things are wearisome, more than one can describe.” I know I’m not the first or the last person to feel done, weary of life. I wonder if it is something many people feel, more so or less so, at various times throughout life.
I grew up in a house where I was repeatedly informed how much I owed (owe?) my mother. While she was happily married, she still contemplated aborting me and told me this on a regular basis. As well as graphic descriptions of labor, which does sound uncommonly terrible in her case.
I feel very conflicted about duty to parents. While I want my parents to be taken care of, I do not feel emotionally capable of providing that care myself. Some parents are very unkind. What do children “owe” then? And if you make a bare minimum effort, how do you live with yourself, as the adult child? Parents being unkind doesn’t make society, or the individual, automatically feel ok with not living up to norms. By norms I mean, spending holidays with family, talking frequently to parents, visiting them. Sometimes that is too traumatic to do these things. Doesn’t mean you don’t feel shame about not doing them.
I like this. I was saying to a friend the other day that having a child was the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. I worry sometimes about the world my wife and I brought our son into, and what we’ll leave for him and his generation in the way of a natural environment. They will have their work cut out for them righting our wrongs.
How do you know your children didn’t ask to be born? I think they shouted for joy at the prospect! As did we all.
Maybe. But the opposite can also be true.
I have read through all of these comments and I guess I am in the minority here; not understanding where any of you are coming from. I guess I am not intellectual enough. As I read through all I felt was sadness and confusion. I guess this bog is not for me.
If your going to publish articles like this, please stop announcing that you’re a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints. You make this claim often, yet seem to have very little understanding or commitment to said church’s teachings and basic principles, so I’m not sure what you feel you gain by claiming to be a member. Does “The Plan of Salvation” ring a bell? It’s beginner, lesson 101 stuff that you might want to go over again. I mean, that is, if you actually believe it? Authentic members of that Church do.
It’s dishonest of you, and damaging to yourself and followers who might actually want to know the truth to declare to be a part of a church and community you so obviously (and strongly) disagree with.
By all means, you do you. Think what you want, say what you want. But don’t do it as a member of the Church unless your willing to educate yourself and get behind it’s actual teachings and doctrine.
I think you might enjoy this article, which provides more context on Mr Raphael Samuel and the anti-natalist movement in general.
It’s funny/not funny that you posted this. My husband and I are currently estranged from my oldest son, not only due to this exact issue, but he also doesn’t feel understood, he absolutely feels more intelligent than anyone else, feels we were “stupid” parents, although “kind enough” and “did our best”. I should say he is on the autism spectrum but doesn’t believe in that nor does he think any of the meds he was on as he was growing up did him any good and actually damaged him. (Possibly true?) It hurts every part of my being that he has shunned us and wants nothing to do with us due to his “normal” upbringing. You did pose a question I really didn’t think about. I guess I assumed all children would want to be born. He wishes he wasn’t and has considered ending his life. I am very sad about this article and all the feelings it produces.
That is my biggest fear.
My 11yo son shows signs of the autism spectrum in some parts of his behavour while being on the oposite in other parts of his character (he is very smart, open and can be empathic but struggles with surprises and deviation of his normal schedule).
He constantly says that he did not want to have been born. I fear that our relationship is very damaged and will descend even more in the future.
However, I am a sentient human being and i do my best to raise him so at least he ows me some basic human respect.
Other than that he ows me nothing.
I am so surprised and feel such community that so many people feel the way I have about being “done”. I’m 57 and have felt this way for years. I have a lovely life with friends and family. I am not depressed and not suicidal. But I feel I have achieved what I will and want to and that I’m … done. This sometimes makes me feel guilty – there are many people who desperately cling to their lives but are not able to stay (sickness, accident, etc). If I could change places with them I would.