“If I have kids,” my fifteen-year-old declared to me the other day, “I’ll just adopt. There are lots of kids who need a good home anyway.”
When I was fifteen, I would have said the same thing. I would have said it ten years later too.
My wife and I weren’t sure we wanted kids. She would eventually, I knew, but I didn’t know if I ever would. I babysat a couple boys after school when I was in high school and it was mostly a disaster. They never listened to a thing I said and I didn’t know how to make them. In college, I coached soccer for first graders. They never listened to me either. I was easy to manipulate (yes, I was frequently outsmarted by six-year-olds). I didn’t know how to be authoritative. I had no idea how to control them.
While my wife was much more confident about my parenting abilities, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a father until my daughter began sucking on my finger within the first hour of her life.
I now am the father of four children and have been their primary caregiver their entire lives. How did that happen?!
The ‘how’, however, is not nearly as important as the ‘why.’ And this is what I needed to explain to my fifteen-year-old.
It is certainly true that we love kids that do not have our DNA. Many of our kids’ friends are equally loved by us. A couple even have our garage code and permission to come in our house whenever they want, eat our food and watch our Amazon Prime like every other member of our family. Our capacity to love does not require our DNA.
There is something special, though, about passing on your genes. We see our facial features, mannerisms, interests and character, as well as those of our parents and grandparents, in each of our kids. We knew them before they were born, before they were conceived in fact, because they are us. Our individual lives are very short in the grand scheme of things, but children, children of our flesh and blood, will live beyond our years. Their children will too and their children’s children into, hopefully, eternity. Our children make us immortal.
My fifteen-year-old was not terribly impressed with this explanation. I probably wouldn’t have been at that age either. Achieving immortality seems egotistical or narcissistic or selfish. We chose not to help any of the children already born who have no parents able to care for them and just added our own to the world.
There absolutely is some narcissism involved. Seeing me as them makes me feel like I am growing up again but with the experience of forty-plus years. Also, a sense that I will never completely die as my DNA and, hopefully some of my wisdom, passes from generation to generation, is intoxicating. By having my own kids, I will live beyond my death.
However, there is another important reason for having my own children. Like I mentioned earlier, I knew my kids before they were born. I have a unique understanding of them that only my wife and I do. This allows us to raise our children with an innate ability to mold them. We have some idea how to talk to them, motivate them, and discipline them because they are us. With our own children, we have the building blocks there at the beginning. They already have the character we want them to have because it is hardwired from us. We can then build from that solid foundation with instinct as to how to help them become successful and compassionate adults. If we succeed, our kids will be the ones out there changing the world and making it a better place.
My dad always tells me “I hope you make fewer mistakes than I did.” That is kind of the goal of humanity. We want life to move forward, better than before. By having our own kids, we get to be a part of that grander plan.
Obviously, I’m biased. My kids are great kids and growing (faster than I’d like) into incredible human beings. They will change the world. I get to be a part of that.
And I get to be immortal.
After publishing this, several of my followers on twitter pointed out that I seem to suggest here that having your own children is superior to adopting. I see how it can be interpreted that way. My piece intended to explain how I felt about having my own biological kids. In no way did I mean to suggest adopted children are less desirable. It's not what I believe at all. Every adopted child is a special gift to their adopted family and I admire parents who adopt these children. I apologize for suggesting adoption is not a desirable option. That was not my intent.