My wife and I have three small children. Chinese friends often ask why three children, not one or none: Doesn’t raising three children limit my career in business and in my wife’s case, teaching?
The acronym DINK -- double income, no kids -- originated in the US in the 1960s. Fearing that children might constrain their freedom, married working women began to avoid pregnancy; the result was many busy, prosperous young DINK couples. This choice was not irrational. After all, nowadays retired people can live on their pensions and savings, so they are no longer compelled to depend on their offspring in old age. And a child is undeniably an expensive proposition: so much time and money are required. Why bother having one? It is hard to condemn those who opt out of parenthood. And in China their decisions are perfectly in keeping with the drive to limit population growth.
Yet few couples with children would agree that they were stupid to become parents. Most are very happy that they have had the experience of witnessing a child grow to maturity. A baby enters the world with a mind like blank paper, and gradually he or she acquires the ability to think, to talk and finally to communicate easily. Isn’t there something magical about it? When you see the process happening before your very eyes, you feel a happiness like no other.
A Chinese DINK said to me recently, "If you didn’t have three children, you could go to a bar or the cinema with your wife on weekends -- how unrestrained and romantic that would be!" But I would say that no matter how wonderful Hollywood films or Broadway performances are, watching them is far less interesting than seeing my extrovert of a daughter sing and dance. If it’s true that there are rewards to be gotten from having children, then surely the happiness of seeing them grow up is the greatest. Another Chinese friend of mine complained: " I provided the funds for my child to go to college and then off to America for a master’s degree, but so far I haven’t gotten any rewards out of playing parent." To him I would say that the rewards were there all along -- for any parent open to the wonder of seeing a child begin to speak, or surprise us with a new word used for the first time.
But this is a happiness that can be felt only after you become a parent; there’s no appreciating it otherwise. However, who begets a child out of curiosity to see him or her grow up? None of my friends had this in mind when they or their wife got pregnant. For some the pregnancy was unexpected. Others had parents eager to have grandchildren. A few said they had children because a person’s life would be incomplete without one. Some said that there were millions and millions of children in the world and they just wanted to see what theirs would be like. And some said that having a child can bring stability to a troubled marriage -- but is that really true? I myself didn’t give it much thought. I just assumed it was the natural thing to do, and since my wife enjoyed big, cheerful, lively families, we went ahead and had three kids. No regrets.
I know my words won’t change any minds. What DINKs say is obviously true: children really do require lots of parental energy and money. Just watch a mother bring a sick child to a hospital; you can see the tension, the worry, and all the self-control it takes to seem calm and reassuring. No, raising a child is not easy. The happiness of seeing a child grow, in contrast, is largely in the mind of the parents, and other people cannot so readily perceive it. Indeed, if I were not writing on this subject for the BeijingYouthDaily, I would be very unlikely to go around telling all and sundry how happy I am to be the father of my trio. Little wonder, then, that so many people without children believe parenthood is all work and no fun.
I repeat: each individual has his or her own reasons for wanting or not wanting children, and his or her own happiness to build. The saddest people are those who have children but come to regret it, for whatever reason. Regretful parents are usually closed to family happiness. And without the happiness, all that remain are the burdens. This kind of family is frequently rocked by conflict, and divorce often ends the story. So any couple who want a child should first be confident that their marriage is sound. Children deserve better than to be the victims of marital crisis.