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Mar 17

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How Do You Rationalize Having a Child?

Baby sonogram

A radical dichotomy exists between my college friends and those from my hometown. While most of the friends I grew up with have children, many of them school age, some even in high school, my college friends have only recently begun having children. In my quest to formulate a rational explanation of this phenomenon, I have tested several hypotheses and have concluded that the decision to have children transcends rational explanation.

Until recently, I classified having a child as a “major life event,” similar to buying a house or even a car, and analyzed the question, “should we have a child (yet),” from the perspective of a major purchase. I employed a modified version of felicific calculus to determine whether or not I was ready for this particular undertaking.

For example, I understood that my wife and I would want to enjoy a certain level of liquidity before agreeing to such a demanding financial commitment, but to what extent? Was there a certain amount in savings we needed to have, or a certain income threshold we needed to meet prior to having a child?

Much to the amusement of my friends with kids, I developed a set of metrics for determining the optimal time for having a child, of which liquidity was merely one element.

“There is no such thing as the perfect time to have a child,” they told me.

“Nonsense,” I said, “all events are quantifiable.” I felt you simply needed to add a value to the variables and calculate to determine the optimal time of conception, but as we inch towards the arrival of Benjamin Hanner and I reflect on their message to me, I  understand that having a child may indeed be an anomaly.

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon an article on one of NPR’s blogs entitled, “Is Having a Child a Rational Decision?” It examined a paper from the philosopher L.A. Paul, who argued “that having a child is an ‘epistimically-transformative experience,’ and therefore one for which rational decision-making procedures, such as maximizing your ‘expected utility,’ simply don’t apply.”

In other words, trying to apply the calculus of felicity to a proposition such as a having a child would prove futile, since such calculations of utility presume experience. Due to our cognitive limitations as humans, we cannot know what it means to have a child, until you have the child. It is an indefinable variable.

For this reason, one can never say for sure whether having a child is the “right” decision or not, even if the baby turns out to be the perfect child and greatly enriches the life of the parent(s), the parent(s) should not take too much credit. “But if you are happy, you shouldn’t congratulate yourself on a wise decision–you should be thankful for your good luck. Choosing to have a child involves a leap of faith, not a carefully calibrated rational choice,” Paul writes.

She goes on to cite the common line of thinking that parenthood is “a deeply fulfilling event that is like nothing else you’ve ever experienced, and that you should carefully weigh what it will be like before choosing to do it.” As Paul reminds us, “in reality you can’t have it both ways.”

As an expectant father, I accept that there are many “known unknowns” associated with having a child. In addition to preparation, having a child requires a leap of faith, relying on something beyond rational thought. Some might say that fits the definition of “crazy,” but as a wise songsmith once warned us, “we’re never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy.” Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s the only rationale we need.

Permanent link to this article: http://geoausch.com/how-do-you-rationalize-having-a-child/

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