As our pickup truck stumbled down a ragged road after a day of canoeing in Canada, my wife and four children and I spotted a brown bear and her two cubs drinking from a roadside lake. We stopped to allow Mother Bear and one of her cubs to scurry across the road. The other cub, perhaps too frightened, did not join them. But before we started up again, Mother Bear stuck her head back out of the bushes and engaged me in unforgettable eye communication. She made it absolutely clear that if I did not move on and leave her baby alone, she’d come straight through the windshield.
Flash forward several decades. We are gathered at the table with our three grandchildren. One of them makes a comment and then glances at me for approval. I nod and smile, and she smiles back. That’s it for her. My approval is noted and will become a tiny droplet in the reservoir of self-confidence she is seeking to build. But for me the exchange is not over. As my heart swells with love for her, I think: “Child, I would die for you.”
And I would. In that absurd (or maybe not so absurd) imagined nightmare of a madman spraying bullets, I know without a flicker of doubt that I, like Mother Bear, would hurl myself between my family and any attacker. I share with Mother Bear an instinctive feeling, unlike any other, and the experience of that millisecond of smiling non-verbal exchange with my granddaughter is without parallel.
Which brings me to the recent Time magazine article about couples who decide not to have children. Depicted sprawled on a beach, they are poster adults for being “child free.” Believe me, this is not an insistence that all couples must procreate. On the contrary, the last thing the world needs is more unwanted children. Rather, it is an invitation to consider carefully the rationale for remaining childless. The article suggests that some couples worry that children would “interfere” with the enjoyable experiences modern couples want as they seek the best in life.
A comment is tossed across the dinner table. The briefest of looks is exchanged. And yet, this exchange has my heart saying, “I would die for this child.” Even though this child will bring pain. Even though this child will make transitions to adulthood and independence that will require stages of resentment, anger and assumed superiority as she tries to figure out who she is and who she will become. Even so, I would die for her. And for her brother and sister. And for her mother and father, her grandmother, her aunts and uncles. In an instant. Without a blink.
If some childless couples are certain they will resent their children or find them to be an unacceptable interference with their life goals, then they are making the right decision to remain “child free.” But for those who are vacillating; who might be saying, “We don’t know if having a family is right for us,” I would simply offer an entirely personal insight for their consideration. If you want to know the intensity shared by Mother Bear and a parent, if you want unmatchable experiences, if you want to find something that will make your heart just about explode with joy, laughter, celebration, and yes, worry, disappointment and “complications,” I can’t think of any sun-drenched beach, any ski weekend, any wine pairing, any luxurious cruise or even any career rewards that can compare with the relationship between a parent and a child.