I think of myself as someone who likes children, mostly because there are a lot of children I like. OK, occasionally I meet a kid I truly dislike, same as with adults: a couple of my friends had five children, four of whom I found mildly repellent: they were not only badly behaved, but just plain weird--one in particular I rather expect to end up in the penal system. But generally, I'm well disposed to like kids. If I see a cute baby in a stroller, I usually smile and try to make eye contact. If I hear a child crying, I usually think, with a pang of genuine sympathy, "Oh, that poor thing."
I especially like kids old enough to walk and say at least a few words and feed themselves a high-chair-tray full of diced broccoli, but still small enough that you can pick them up and tickle them and play peekaboo with them: there's something profoundly wonderful about making those wee ones squeal and clap their hands in delight. I also like little kids whose parents buy them really cool electric train sets (that would be my brother and his wife). As I've watched my nieces and nephews grow up, I've noticed that sometimes they get hard to talk to around nine or ten (and they can stay that way for about a decade), but if a kid likes to read, I can usually manage a reasonably interesting conversation. And I'm gratified by the fact that the kids I like seem to like me OK, too.
There's a famous scene where WC Fields (I have no idea what movie it's from--I tried to find out) says to some child, "Go away, kid, you bother me," a particular expression of his general antipathy for children. I was always baffled by that in my youth, and offended as well: how could anybody who'd been a child dislike children on principle? I still sort of feel that way.... Because I really do like kids at least as often as I like adults. Change that: I like children more often than I like adults. It's certain parents, I've realized lately, that I really have problems with.
I've also realized as I've considered this matter that most of my attitudes about childrearing are influenced by my upbringing as the second of five children in a Mormon family. Not only did I have four other siblings, but I both watched and helped my mother raise the younger ones--especially my baby brother, who was born when I was almost nine. I also did a hell of a lot of babysitting for other Mormon families. And the entire situation left me, I honestly think, with some fairly sound ideas on the matter.
For better or worse, having children--plenty of them--is normalized in Mormon culture, and the culture accommodates the existence of children in many sensible ways the rest of society could benefit by imitating. Churches generally come equipped with playrooms for kids under three, and at least two or three people are given the specific assignment of taking care of all such children while everyone else goes to Sunday school. (I spent a couple of years in high school serving in the nursery.) Breastfeeding has always been encouraged in Mormondom, and many churches have a room where mothers can go to nurse or simply to tend a fussy child. Moreover, these rooms are often wired to the microphone in the chapel so the women can hear what's going on during Sacrament meeting. (In some wards, they even send an intrepid deacon--a boy 12 or 13 years of age--to bring these women the sacrament.) And because everyone has kids, people frequently trade babysitting during the day. Furthermore, teenagers know how to act around small kids, so you can trust many of them to care for your children for a couple of hours on a Friday night.
I realize not everyone lives like that. I realize that decent, reasonably priced child care is not necessarily a reason to join or remain active in the Mormon church if you don't believe its doctrines. I realize not everyone wants four to six (or eight) kids. Which is a damn good thing--as I mention in the comments to this post about my response to An Inconvenient Truth, reproducing has more impact on the environment than anything else we do. And while I don't advocate anything like China's "single child" policy and would never tell anyone how many children they could have, I don't think it's at all unselfish to have a huge family, which is what we were told at church: instead, I feel it's extremely selfish at this point in time to have a very large family, and that it's wise and a mark of consideration for everyone else you share the planet with to be content with fewer offspring. And indeed, even in Mormondom, families are getting smaller: couples frequently have three or four kids whereas 30 years they might have had seven or eight.
But I do think most--if not all--public buildings should have rooms where women can breastfeed or pump milk or whatever they need to do, and I also think that breastfeeding in public should be not only accepted but encouraged. I think new parents need a decent period of maternity/ paternity leave. I think K-12 education needs better funding at the local, state and federal level. I think anyone who doesn't like kids but still goes to Disneyland is an idiotic masochist.
In other words, like Jack Black in School of Rock, I believe that children are the future, and I want to see them well cared for. But there are plenty of ways in which I am not at all anxious to make someone else's child the center of my universe. And I've dealt with a lot of them lately.
This has become very long, so I'll continue it tomorrow. And maybe the day after that, too.