When I first started on the road towards being a religious Jew, I remember being invited to many Shabbat meals at homes of Chassids and other Hareidi Jews, and being just absolutely astounded at the amount of children these people had. Some eight, some ten, some twelve and some even more. And even crazier, I was amazed at how young some people with children were. I remember meeting people younger than me who had already had one or two children.
It made no sense. How did these people live? How could they enjoy their lives? How could they even afford to survive?
Fast forward to today. I’m twenty seven years old and married with a ten-month-old daughter. I want to have more kids. Many more. I’m brainwashed I guess.
But here’s the thing. While it was a bit of a leap of faith to have my first child, I’ll never regret my and my wife’s choice to have her. Why? Just because now I’m super-duper-crazy-brainwashed-ultra-orthodox?
Maybe. But there’s more. There’s much more. The following are my top three reasons for having children. Selfish reasons. Reasons I would do it again at this age, or younger, even if I wasn’t religious.
1. Children make you more boring
In the single world, and especially in the single secular world (although it really transcends boundaries) there’s this thing called “cool”. People strive, and do everything they can, to attain this goal. They wear silly sunglasses that they last wore in fourth grade (you know, the kinds with the neon colored plastic rims), they go to parties so they can get drunk so they can meet people that are also cool and pretend like they’re best friends, they get tattoos and get mohawks.
The moment you become a parent, being cool goes by the wayside. Even if you’re married, you can kind of pull off this “being cool” thing. I know plenty of cool married people. I know very few cool parents.
“Wait, this is a good thing?” you may be asking. The answer, you realize when you become a parent, is a resounding yes. Can you imagine living in a world where you no longer are beholden to other people’s arbitrary judgments of who you are based on what you wear and where you go on Saturday nights? Now, when people ask me why I didn’t go to that cool event, or hang out with these cool people I just say, “Well… I’m a parent.” And they all get it. It’s amazing. When you’re a parent, you’re expected to be boring. In fact, being anything but boring usually signifies that you are a bad parent.
The truth is that we keep thinking, when we’re single, that the world needs to be made more exciting, and that we’re the only people that can do it. When you become a parent, and you have a little tike running around, smiling at you, and generally lighting up your world, you begin to realize that the world is already exciting enough. It doesn’t need our help.
I’ve seen men wear their daughter’s pink Disney Princess backpack without looking self-conscious at all. Mothers fearlessly walk around with fanny packs, even in the most judgmental fashion-conscious cities. Such zen can only be accomplished by naturally being tuned out to all the ridiculous thoughts that come with wanting to be cool, and only having a child around you will truly help you reach such a level.
2. Children give you the most bang for your buck
The most common refrain you’ll hear from people, whether they be single friends, secular lookers-on, or even your own parents, when you’re planning to have children in your early to mid twenties, is, “Dude, do you want to be broke for the rest of your life?”
There’s this idea out there that having kids costs a lot of money. And it’s true, I guess, especially if you plan to send them to private school like my wife and I, and basically every religious Jewish couple, do.
But the truth is deeper than it appears.
First of all, think about all the things you spend money on. How many of them are really important? Is that flat-screen TV so necessary? How about all those movies you bought on iTunes? What about that bean bag chair that fills up half your room? Your iPad?
When you have a kid, and you start making out your budget, and realizing that you have to start making some sacrifices, you realize what’s truly important. You realize that, no, you don’t need to go on that trip to the Bahamas. There are more valuable things in life.
I’ll never forget when, during a Shabbat meal at a Chassid’s home in Mea Shearim, the most “extreme” religious area of Jerusalem, my wife asked the woman hosting the meal how she, and really all the crazy Chassidim that have anywhere from ten to twenty kids, manage. How do these people make ends meet?
The woman answered her very plainly. They only spend money on the necessities.
And she was right. In the home, there were only books on bookshelves, the table and chairs we were eating from, and toys on the floor for the children. No TV. No computer. Nothing that so many of us consider necessary.
All this, from the outside, may seem like big things to cut out. But the problem is, most people don’t realize what they’re trading all these things in for: A HUMAN LIFE! Like, a soul. A soul that came from you and the person you love most in the world. And now this soul is going to sit with you for the rest of your life, get to know you, grow up with your values, and change the world.
They say it costs about $100,000 to raise a child until they’re eighteen (according to Calvin and Hobbes). Do you realize the ridiculous amount of things we spend $100,000 on over eighteen years? I guarantee you none of them come close to a living, breathing, incredible, beautiful, piece of G-d placed smack dab in front of you for the rest of your life. What a value.
3. You’ll believe in G-d
I’m talking just as much to religious people here as atheists, agnostics, humanists and all the rest. The truth is, even if we say we believe in G-d, we really have no clue what the hell we’re talking about. We can study the texts of our respective religions and sects, connect as deeply as we possibly can hope to our idea of what G-d is, but very few of us, except for some crazy people and people that have had near-death experiences, can claim they’ve come face to face with G-d.
Except for a parent.
I remember watching this bump grow in my wife’s belly and not having any idea what was going to pop out, even though some people told me it would be a “baby”. At the time, it was hard to understand exactly what all of this meant.
I remember the hours before, the anticipation, praying like I had never prayed before. It was beginning to dawn on me that this was actually happening, that a child was actually coming. It was the first time it became real.
And then that moment when I heard that cry. The cry from the other room, when I knew this was my child, and she was real. And the moment when I walked in, and saw what I had waited nine months to witness, knowing that somehow, a few minutes ago, there were two people in my family, and now there was a third. Someone that looked at me, grabbed my finger when I held it out to her, someone that sneezed and cried and fell asleep, and did all the normal things humans do.
Until you experience this, maybe you believe in G-d. But you don’t know G-d. You haven’t met Him. And if you don’t believe in G-d, well, you just might. And even if you can’t admit it, there will always be a part of you, I guarantee you, that will be in complete awe of what you experienced.
And really, at the end of the day, that’s the same as meeting G-d. When you realize just how wondrous the world is, just how deep it is, and how no matter how much you learn in your life, that this little experience, this experience that so many people have experienced and, G-d willing, will continue to experience, is the deepest moment you’ll ever have in your life, a moment you’ll never truly understand, then you’ll really understand what G-d is.
We live in a world where this sort of wonder is snuffed out before it has a chance to be lived. A world where birth control, abortion, and more, have made us more desentizied to the beauty that is creating children.
I’m not saying these things are bad, when used correctly and for the right reasons. But it’s good to remember that not all parenthood is meant to be planned. It’s good to remember, sometimes, that there is a whole world just waiting for us to transform from cool, thrifty, intelligent people into boring, constantly in debt, irrational believers.
We should all be so lucky.