Previously published April 22, 2010 on the Yahoo Contributor Network.
If anybody had asked me, before I had my oldest daughter, why I wanted children, I might have said it was because I wanted somebody to love me. But I hadn't really thought through the question.
If you ask somebody, "Why do you want children?" or "Why do you want to get married?" or "Why do you want a pet?" many people respond with, "I don't know," or "I just do."
After giving the question some serious consideration, I have come up with my own opinion about why people want children, spouses, or pets.
Let's begin with animals. When you consider the relationship between people and their pets, you discover that pet owners take care of their animals and assume responsibility for them. They take them to the vet, clean out their litter boxes, take them for walks, hold them, pet them, and generally do everything possible to maintain their pet's comfort.
But what do pets do for their owners?
Pets lick their human's faces and sometimes act excited when the pet owner comes home after having been gone all day. Sometimes they amaze their owners by playing games, performing tricks, and following directions.
Still, what is it pet owners GET from their pets? Undying affection? Attention?
Now look at it from a parent's perspective. Mom or Dad brings home an infant. They feed the infant, bathe the infant, clothe the infant, and take the infant to the doctor's office.
What does the infant DO for the parents?
After a while, the infant smiles. Eventually the baby laughs and later shows excitement when Mommy or Daddy arrives home, but other than giving parents that sense of pride because they belong to Mommy and Daddy, what's the payoff?
When you find somebody with whom you want to share your life, are you thinking of what your future spouse can do for you or are you considering how you can best express your love for him or her? The way you answer that last question identifies you as being either selfish or selfless.
And it is that selfless type of love that provides the answer to my question and the most benefits for a loving relationship.
Does HAVING children and pets and BEING married GIVE something more than a sense of belonging?
After some deep thought about this subject, here's what I found: Wanting spouses, children, or pets has more to do with what people GIVE to their spouses, children, or pets than what they GET from their spouses, children, or pets. Having babies, falling in love, or wanting pets in our lives is not a matter of GETTING LOVE; it's a matter of GIVING LOVE - and also a matter of NURTURING another human being or an animal.
That desire to give and to nurture may be intrinsic in our DNA. When finding a spouse, are we really looking for somebody to love us, or are we looking for somebody we can love? Are we really looking for affection FROM somebody or are we looking for affection we can show TO somebody?
Maybe our desire to get married or to have children or pets is not because we want those people or animals to love us but because we want to express the love we were born to share.
Does any purer example exist to prove that giving in itself is its own reward?