My son says it was immoral for us to have him. Here’s what I told him.
OPINION: Should I apologize to my son for having him?
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
On Saturday afternoon — out of nowhere, apropos of nothing — my son, 15, marched into the living room, where my wife and I were sitting on the couch, and said, “Having children is immoral and unethical and selfish.”
I was taken aback. It was like he had walked into the room and punched us in the face, but it was just words, so it felt worse. I do not expect my children to be grateful that we had them, and I had to think that, yes, our choice to have children was completely selfish. We thought we want to have kids because it would be fulfilling and fun and exciting. We did not think about the impact that having children would have on them. And now one of them was kinda mad at us for giving him birth. We were too stunned to speak. He ate up the silence. “Is there any non-selfish reason why you had me?” I could not think of one.
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As the question lingered in the air, I thought what is he really trying to say and what’s the deeper meaning behind what he’s expressing here? I asked him if he felt depressed, and he said no. (I know that’s not a sufficient test, but we see him every day and we don’t think he’s depressed.) I asked him if he felt like life was not worth living. He said he was not suicidal if that’s what I meant, but, he added, “The pain of existence is greater than the pleasure I would miss if I was never born.” I was not prepared for this level of conversation on a Saturday afternoon, but I pressed on.
I said, “You know…” but he interrupted me. He said, the world is doomed, and I think it was really selfish of you to bring me into a doomed world.” Uh, OK.
This kid is someone who likes to shock, so I don’t always know if he’s saying something for shock value. Does he really believe that or is he trying to create space for himself as a person who says shocking or contrarian things?
I wanted to validate his feelings and take them seriously. I did, but it was tricky to hear this child who lives in a nice home in Brooklyn and has no major life hurdles right now complain about the state of his life when his mother grew up in the middle of Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s where every day she was never certain if she would survive the journey to and from school. She watched bombs drop while she was in class until, one night, a bomb landed on the apartment building she and her mom were living in, badly injuring scores of people she knew.
After that harrowing night, the two of them snuck out of the country and made their way to America. She was about 10 when she arrived in Connecticut, and she did not know much English. These are truly traumatizing events. My son has had nothing like that happen to him. That does not mean he can’t experience spiritual pain — surely he can, but hearing him talk about his life in that way while looking at his mom who went through so much as a child was discombobulating. But I thought, let’s not bring those stories up now.
I said I understood that the climate crisis seems to have created a dire situation for his generation — this is not the first time he had expressed anger toward us about the climate crisis that was so acute it was as if he felt like we — my wife and I — had contaminated the oceans and the air ourselves. But I said when I was his age we had deep existential fears about nuclear war ending everything. For years in the ’80s, we worried that the Cold War would somehow lead to the end of existence. He did not accept that. I understood that.
I said being 15 is a time when things are stressful for many people — you can begin to see what life looks like when you’re no longer living at home, but you don’t yet know how to do it. You can see the major political problems in the world, but you don’t see how they can be solved. I said I respect how you feel. I’m not sorry that we had you, but I get it. He walked off.
I wondered if others felt the same as him — as a teenager, I had some existential dread about the future, but I was never mad at my parents for bringing me into the world so I understood my son to a certain extent, but then again, I didn’t. With his permission, I tweeted about our conversation, and that one tweet got almost 4,000 likes and lots of people saying either they felt the same or they had a child who was saying the same or who said the same years ago. When I showed him how many people responded to my tweet by saying they felt the same way as he did, he smiled. I couldn’t solve his problem. It wasn’t a one-conversation thing but letting him know that other people agreed with him made him smile. It made him feel seen.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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