Many parents abiding by Western cultural standards will never admit to their children that they want grandchildren, but certainly, it’s many parents’ desire to experience another phase of parenthood later in life. But should parents expect children from their own children?
A demand for grandchildren could be seen as a compliment. After all, if your parents saw raising you as a defining joy of their lives, it would be easy to assume they want some more of their genes running around. It’s the natural state of a decent parent to wish happiness for their children. The issue arises, however, when they start to assume that their happiness and their child’s will come from the same place.
There’s a Western cultural norm that youth, and especially women, plan their future with the dream of “having it all” in mind. We’ve departed from the days of a standard of stay-at-home parenthood only to find ourselves in a time when we must strive to be “successful” in both familial and professional life. Dreams of meaningful careers, personal achievements and crushing a bucket list are all tempered with the logistics of fitting a family into the mix.
Many consider their children their “lifetime achievement,” and those who choose to forgo producing offspring are met with pity. This shouldn’t be the case. Let everyone choose what their own happiness will be, especially if it lies outside of the nuclear family.
Our parents should let us nurture our nine-to-fives, watch our eyes light up when we tell them about how our projects are finally learning to walk on their own, and be thankful when their Facebook feeds are clogged with pictures of our overseas volunteer organizations and not baby faces. To wish happiness for us, their children, is to stop checking the biological stopwatch and to accept that the definition is different for everyone.
Parents that browbeat their offspring to fire babies out of their uterus (or their spouse’s uterus) like cannonballs aren’t thinking too clearly.
First, the parent in question ought to take off their rose-colored glasses and realize that raising us had to have been a goddamned nightmare filled with endless stress and sleepless nights. It’s already established that all this labour comes with meagre financial compensation, so it’s unreasonable to expect that a parent’s children will reap the same emotional rewards as the parent did since not every family happens to be a perfectly functional one.
Second, what are some of the reasons anyone can be expected to bear children? Are responsible citizens expected to help breed a new labour force for this country out of a sense of patriotism? Are people expected to make sure the family name doesn’t die off? I’m sorry, but I’ve got too many other things to worry about. Besides, it’s more reasonable for me to make sure I don’t tarnish the family name, presuming I cared in the first place.
Also, if I wanted to express my own narcissism though an endless supply of redundant baby pictures on social media, I have plenty of other ways of doing it, like getting my name into this issue of The Gateway and then posting it on Facebook like a classic egoist.
In order to determine whether parents can be justified in expecting grandchildren, I think it is important to clarify what kind of justification we are dealing with.
What it means for an expectation to be justified is that there are good reasons to expect something, and the nature of these reasons may vary quite a bit. For instance, I am justified in expecting something to fall when I drop it because, well, physics. I am also justified in expecting that when I go out in public tomorrow, everyone will be wearing clothes, because it is a social norm. I might even be justified in expecting that no one will steal my lunch this week because stealing is immoral.
The three kinds of justification at work here are all very different from one another (the first is scientific, the second is social, and the third is moral), and it is important to realize that the kind of justification we use will have something to say about the legitimacy of the expectation. When I justify my expectation that a rock will fall when I drop it by saying the rock falls because of its ethical principles, or that it falls because “it is a social phenomenon of rocks that they fall,” people will rightly think that those are poor justifications because rocks do not have social lives or moral codes, and that I should consequently not expect rocks to fall, at least for those reasons.
Similarly, there are different kinds of justification we can use to justify the expectation that parents will beget grandchildren. Parents might reasonably expect their children to provide them with grandchildren on the basis of evolution: if most people did not at some point want kids of their own, humanity would have died out ages ago. But it is one thing to justify this expectation with the balance of probability, and another entirely to say that the fact of having kids entitles you to grandchildren. The problem with this kind of entitlement is that it creates a false moral obligation that severely infringes on the freedom of individuals in the same way that anti-choice infringes on women’s rights to their own bodies. Almost quite literally. As such, the expectation justified in this way loses a lot of legitimacy. So in sum we might say that yes, parents are justified in their expectation of having grandchildren, but I do not think that such an expectation extends to a moral or social obligation on the part of the child to provide them.