Children

My wife and I seem to be somewhat unusual for our age, in that we got married relatively young and we had kids relatively young.  By this, I mean that we have many friends (and family) who are similar in age to us and have pretty young kids right now, while we have one 17 year old and one 14 year old.  Spending time with these friends and family make me think a few things:

1. Having kids is hard.  Like, every age brings new challenges.  From the physical endurance test of a 2-3 year old kid to the incredible chess game that is a teenager.  Life just changes, and the challenges change with it.  Sometimes it gets easier, and sometimes it gets harder.  But, I think that you can count on it having hard parts throughout.

2. Having kids later is very different than having kids earlier.  When you have kids earlier in your career/life, you have never taken the time to just be yourself or enjoy time with your partner.  You have not done spontaneous vacations or moved to another state/country on a whim.  You end up having to plan a lot more and own a minivan at a young age.  On the other hand, if you have kids younger, you may have more physical endurance than your toddler. Well, maybe not.  But it may be a closer match.  A bonus of having kids earlier is that we will have both kids moved out of the house (maybe?) by the time we are 50 (one of us well before 50).  Which means that we can start traveling a lot more at a younger age. I am not sure that one is better than the other.  It is just different.

3. I very much like little kids, but I am not sure that I would want another one.  Now that we have had two kids and have raised them through toddlerhood (and into teenager-hood), we are probably pretty good at it (well, maybe – and we are only talking about toddlerhood to preteen here – the court is still out on teenager-hood), and could probably deal with most of the toddler-ness.  But, I am not sure that either of us could take the constant entertainment needs of a toddler.  It is a lot of fun for a couple of hours.  Then, wow, I can understand why we don’t have any more kids.  They are a lot of work.

NPR just did a show on kids, and one of the speakers talked about how kids today are being raised in a very different way than kids have ever really been raised.  For example, when I was a kid, we lived between a lake and a forest.  My parents used to just basically throw us outside and say, go play.  We would got to the lake and play or go to the woods and play.  I am not sure how often this was, since I was 8, but I definitely have memories of biking down to the lake and playing with friends, and walking through the forest with my sister.  When we moved to Ypsilanti and lived in a neighborhood, we would ride our bikes everywhere.  I had a paper route when I was maybe 10-12 years old that was about a mile away from the house.  I delivered papers everyday by myself.  I would collect money by myself (which, I admit was a bit freaky.)

Today, it seems like that is not done.  We let our kids run through the woods by themselves (or used to, when they were interested in that type of ~lame~ activity), but it is a struggle for us to let our 14 year old ride his bike to his friend’s house, which is about 1.5 miles away.  We say that the cars go too fast on the dirt roads.  Which is true.  But, at the same time, he is a responsible kid, who knows what to do.  So, we have started letting him venture on his own. But we worry.

When we lived in Ypsilanti a few years ago (I lived there as a kid and as an adult), we would never have let our kids just wonder around on their own.  There was a park half a block from our house, but we still would walk with them down there and play with them while they were there.  Probably because we know what ~could~ have happened.  We are a much better informed society than back in the mid-70s. With that knowledge, comes an understanding of the things that are possible.  And that is scary. Many people, including me, are trapped by this knowledge and possibly hold on a little too tightly.

The question is, will it actually affect our kids in a negative way?  Will they take less risks as grownups, and live their lives always wanting to be comfortable?  Or will they break out of their parent’s safety net and go out and start new companies and do risky things?  I guess we, as a society, will find out.

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About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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