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Updated Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 11:01 AM

To kid, or not to kid? My answer

By Danny Westneat
Seattle Times staff columnist

Because you get remote-control helicopters to play with at Christmas.

That was my knee-jerk answer to the latest burning question: “Why have kids?”

Last week, one of our editorial columnists at The Seattle Times, Sharon Pian Chan, went viral with a bluntly-titled column “Why I Am Not Having Kids.” It was a personal account of how it can still be a little taboo, even in 2013 Seattle, to be a woman who doesn’t want to be a mother.

Many praised her for speaking out. But she was castigated by others for selfishness, which kind of proved her pariah point.

I loved that Chan wrote about this because it marked the first time I’d ever considered the question of to kid or not to kid — even though I have two of them. That’s reproductive selfishness, man-style: Focused on the process of procreation rather than the result.

But based on the gazillion times Chan’s column was pinged around the Web, she was onto something. In the past few years there’s been a spate of books about the great modern breeding divide — mostly coming down on the side of “don’t do it.”

No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children,” by a French psychotherapist, argues that kids are hazardous to your sexual, financial and mental well-being. It’s not far off. For example, Reason No. 29: “School is a prison camp with which you’ll have to make a pact.”

A philosophy professor, in “Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate,” skewers the pat reasons for reproducing. Prolonging the Westneat family line, for example, or just making some little friends for myself — these rationalizations, which I admit to having, are narcissistic and deluded, she argues.

Then there’s “Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness.” It takes a feminist angle in wondering why we saddle women with the accusatory question “why not kids?” When the more relevant question, for society, is: “Why?”

Why? Well, you do get remote-control helicopters at Christmas. You know, for the kids.

Seriously, it’s easy to see why these debates are roiling. As the ethicist above points out, women shouldn’t be made into “procreative serfs” by some sort of societal duty. If Octomom can have eight — actually 14 counting the six older kids — it ought to be fine, even laudable, to choose zero.

But will no one stick up for spawning? I probably wouldn’t have become a Dad if I’d engaged in a cost-benefit analysis beforehand. It does not pencil as a rational act. All that stuff about lost time, money and freedom is true.

So “why have kids?” Here, from the man’s point of view, are some answers I’ve discovered, only after the fact:

It grants you a foolproof escape card from any awkward social situation. “I’m sorry, I can’t make your $250-a-plate event. Kid thing that night.”

Because Little League Baseball games are way more exciting than Major League Baseball games.

Because I didn’t really feel like a man until I was asked to check the closet for monsters.

Because reaching the peak in your career is overrated. Or so I’ve heard.

Because you get to follow around, and live vicariously through, people with more vitality and promise than you. Kind of like being a reporter.

Because you can succeed by utterly failing. Like every time I try to braid my daughter’s hair.

Because it’s the only license you’ll get, other than going into politics, to be a total hypocrite: “I said you can’t have beer because it’ll make you stupid. That doesn’t mean it makes me stupid.”

And because, in the hypothetical posed by another great professor of philosophy, Jimmy Buffett: What if the hokeypokey really is what it’s all about?

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com


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