Andy note: "Best of Eddie" - while Eddie is on vacation we're throwing up some of his classic posts from the past. This one from June 2010 is part of the very popular "Sell Your Options" 5-part series. More to come later this week & next. If there's an old post from Eddie you'd like to see up again shoot me a message.
After reading my thoughts on marriage, you might think you know what I'm going to say about having kids. You may be surprised to learn that I actually enjoy having kids most of the time, but it's not something you leave to chance. Kids are not for everyone, and you should approach this particular milestone with sober and thoughtful reflection.
Once you have kids, there's no going back. Assuming you're not a total shitbag who is going to turn his back on his kids, they are with you for life. If you're at a place where you are really enjoying your life, doing what you want whenever you want, buying nice things and taking nice trips, you need to think long and hard before bringing a kid into the picture.
The birth of your first child is a momentous occasion for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is both the first day of your child's life and the last day of yours. That might sound like hyperbole, but I assure you it's true. From that day forward, every decision you make has to be made with your children in mind.
I caught a lot of crap yesterday for my use (some would argue misuse) of divorce statistics. Alas, once more into the breach. The birth rate among Western industrialized nations has been collapsing for the better part of 30 years now. Part of that decline is simply a reflection of the unsustainability of the explosive birth rate of the Baby Boomer generation.
The majority of the decline, however, can be attributed to the wide availability of contraception and abortion in wealthy nations, euphemistically known as "family planning". Now take a step back and ask yourself: Why have birth rates remained steady or increased among poor developing nations, but have dropped off to the point of imminent extinction in wealthy industrial countries? Even in the U.S. the distribution of the birth rate is weighted along class lines, illustrated brilliantly by Mike Judge in this clip:
Again it comes down to lifestyle design. When you have a lot of money and you're having a good time in life, you're naturally reluctant to allow anything to change that. Maybe you have long term goals that would have to be put on hold or abandoned altogether if a kid came along. Maybe you want to wait until you're older and more established. There are many reasons to postpone having kids, or forgo it altogether.
There is really only one reason to have kids. Because you want them. Because you are absolutely committed to having a family and raising children, and you hope by doing it well that you might make the world a little better place. Because you'll always feel like something is missing in your life if you don't.
Anything less than total commitment to having a kid can be disastrous, so if you're on the fence about it do yourself (and your potential children) a favor and take a pass. I'm not even sure I'd recommend waiting until later in life, though I suppose it's possible for the urge to get stronger as the years pass.
I waited a long time. I was 38 when I became a dad for the first time (that I know of - haha). So I had a lot of time to think about it. And if I'm being honest, it's something I always knew I would do. Not only was it something I wanted to do, it was something I felt I had to do. So the commitment was there.
My dad was two years old when his parents dumped him in an orphanage. From what I've been told (it wasn't something he'd ever talk about), it wasn't for economic reasons. They just flat didn't want him. He grew up in the system, in and out of foster homes, and joined the Navy to escape it all at 17.
He sprang me from the London orphanage where I was born while he was stationed there after a couple tours in Vietnam. After his nightmarish childhood, you wouldn't expect a guy like that to be a great dad, but you'd be wrong. He was a natural (I'm not, unfortunately). He paid it forward big time, so I did too.
My wife and I adopted two brothers from a Siberian orphanage a couple years ago. They were 3 and 4 at the time, now 5 and 6. Imagine the balls it takes to get on a plane with complete strangers and leave the only home you've ever known at that age. It was less than six months before they got sick of hearing my pitiful Russian and switched to English full time (a language they'd never even heard before we adopted them).
They're tough kids, and I take comfort in the fact that no matter how badly I screw them up, they'll still be better off than they would have been growing up in an orphanage in the frozen shithole mining camp that sprung up around the concentration camp where Stalin exiled their great-grandparents.
When I look at these two fork-in-the-light-socket nitwits sometimes I think about the life we gave up to make them ours. My wife and I traveled the world at our leisure, pretty much came and went as we pleased, slept in when we wanted to, and called the kennel for the dogs when we wanted to split for a while. Now someone could offer me a week in Antigua and I'd have to decline. In fact, I'm taking my first week off in two years starting next Wednesday. That's a bitter pill for some people to swallow.
I'm of two minds when it comes to the timing of having children. If you're truly committed to parenthood, you might be better off getting started earlier than later. Don't get me wrong, I got to enjoy my youth and was definitely in a better place financially at 38 than I was at, say, 22. But it's a double edged sword.
If you have kids early in life, you probably won't know what you're missing. In that case, ignorance is bliss. If you've never jetted off to the Caribbean at a moment's notice, you won't miss being able to. Your kids will be mostly grown by the time you're my age, and then you'll have the time (and presumably more money) to enjoy life.
By the same logic, though, getting started early might have a negative impact on your career. We all know about the woman suing Goldman for being put on the "mommy track". As silly as that particular case may be, there is definitely an argument in favor of remaining fleet of foot in the early stages of your career.
In the end, it all comes down to a personal decision. Letting your family life dictate your career path makes far more sense than letting your career path dictate your family life. You don't have to look very far in our business to find someone whose family can't stand him because he's never there. You don't want to be that guy.
So I guess my advice would be: Have kids if you really want them. If you think you might want them, don't do it until you're absolutely certain. If you never get to that point, that's okay too. I can't imagine anything worse for a kid than to wonder if they're really wanted (except maybe knowing that they aren't).
Kids have the same impact on your life that Fat Man and Little Boy had on Japan. You'd better be ready for it before you do it.
But there's nothing better than hearing your kid laugh and seeing the joy in their eyes.
Either way, good luck.