Are Children the Enemy of Productivity?

Cyril Connolly once said that “there is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway.”  Connelly is here suggesting that the distractions implicit in rearing a child will undercut an artist’s attempt to create, so children are to be avoided insofar as possible.

I have long believed that Connelly is wrong in opposing children to art.  So I was pleasantly surprised, recently, to see my view validated by Frank Cottrell Boyce, a successful British screenwriter, novelist and actor.  Boyce’s article, entitled “The Parent Trap: Art After Children” and appearing in Britain’s Guardian, makes the case that children, far from inhibiting or destroying an artist’s creativity, are actually a creative boon.  He has this to say about fatherhood and art:

What is “me”, if not the sum of all my relationships and obligations? A customer, that’s what. The more you give, the more you are. Think of Chekhov, with his patients and his crowds of dependent relatives, whose living room became such a public space that he had to put up no smoking signs. His advice to young writers was “travel third class”. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s was to “buy carrots and turnips” …

There’s a belief that to do great work you need tranquility and control, that the pram is cluttering up the hallway; life needs to be neat and tidy. This isn’t the case. Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined. The great creative moments in our history are almost all stories of distraction and daydreaming — Archimedes in the bath, Einstein dreaming of riding a sunbeam — of alert minds open to the grace of chaos.

I totally agree with this wonderfully articulated sentiment.  Children are distractions from creative work, as Boyce recognizes, but they are emphatically the right type of distractions.  Children see things that we cannot see, they remind us of truths and insights that we long ago forgot.  And they remind us that the greatest insights in the world were discovered not while ponderously meditating, but while delighting in the simple pleasures and pains of life.

In fact, I would go even farther than Boyce.  Being a father of two young boys myself, I believe that children actually increase one’s productivity in all sense of the word.  I have a powerful memory of the moment my older son was born.  He came into this world, tiny and rosy-pink, by caesarian section.  As I held him, swaddled tightly to about the size of a nerf football, I remember staring into his screwed-shut eyes and thinking: “It’s official.  It’s time for me to grow up.”

I was seized by a heady combination of feelings.  There was an overwhelming sense of wonder conjoined with a steely determination to care for this little bundle of life as best as I could.  I knew that if I failed to man up, there would be no one to blame but myself.  And I also knew that, if I didn’t start accomplishing my life goals now, I never would.

I am certain that every new father worth his salt has had a similar experience.

Children are a great blessing to grown-ups not simply because of the joy, the wonder, and the incredible privilege of caring for a young soul that they provide.  Children are also a blessing because they are a kind of living alarm clock, telling us that it is time to wake up and seize the day.  The chain of generations has added another link, the cycle of life has come round again, and it is time to get busy.  They remind us, just by being there, that time is irrevocably passing by—time that we can never get back again.

By reminding us that we are mortal, children concentrate the mind, and galvanize us to accomplish the tasks that are set before us.  Because if we don’t have all the time in the world, how are we going to spend the time we do have?

This is why children are not merely a boon to creativity, they are, in many ways, a boon to life itself.  The dystopia portrayed in the film Children of Men is correct in this, that a world without children is a world without a reason to live.  Children are not just the next generation, they are, in many ways, the life-blood of this generation.  The fact that a child is born and grows so quickly in maturity and needs, demands a refocusing of ourselves and our energies.  It demands that we make decisions about what is really important to us.   The responsibility of raising children translates easily into more discipline, more focus, and more of a determination to succeed in what we do.

In other words, children don’t just help us be creative or productive.  In many cases, they are the very reason we succeed at all.

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