In this series I have tried to take a look at the process of having children from the standpoint of essentially energy. In that what we have is a finite amount of it, and having children requires quite a lot. I have also tried to show that having children is a decision that is related to both the individual and the community. Population control is something practiced by man since we first became a species both through planned pregnancies and the unfortunate act of infanticide in extreme cases where the individual or group was threatened by a severe lack of resources. As we make our way into the modern era we find more and more couples in western countries with strong economies to be choosing to have fewer or no children. Should we be concerned by this?
As someone who has entered the community of being a parent, I can honestly say there is a great joy to being a parent that no amount of rational thought beforehand could have prepared me for. No matter how many other parents I talked to and even if they could tell me their joy I would not know what it is like to have one of my own. Part of me wants to shout out to the world that this is an experience that is worth doing and yell at people to have some babies! But what do I know? We all know people who are extremely stressed, who are burning candles at both ends. Some are in imperfect marriages and feel unsupported by their spouse, or don’t get any joy about the combined effort of working with their spouse to raise children. Some people may have had horrible parents themselves, thus feeling ill-equipped to do the same. Some feel driven by their careers, feeling fulfilled in their everyday life, liking what they do and may actually prefer to give to the world in this way. Some, simply through deep introspection feel that they don’t have what it takes to be a parent, whether it’s a lack of energy or patience, too much anxiety or stress, depression, or other reasons. I came across this article, and I really loved it. There is lots of good stuff in it, but the important point that I got from it is, “Is it anymore selfish to have children than to not?”
If having kids is as wonderful as I’m feeling about it, and I’m doing this act that gives me an intense amount of joy, what difference is there between me and the woman who wants to focus on her career, wants to travel, wants to have smashing social gatherings with her friends? Should we force anybody to give up the things they want to do so that they can instead save money for her child’s tuition, travel less because every trip requires more money than it did before, seeing their friends less socially because babysitters are expensive, or trading a night out for dinner for a play date with a fellow parent? In todays world, having children may actual decrease happiness for many people, and is this the environment we want kids raised in? If I’m honest there is a part of me who misses my life before children, but not so much that I regret it in any way. None of it feels like a sacrifice and I had a lot of freedom for a lot of years, and then I chose, with my wife, to have children. We did, and are happy with our choice in every possible way. Why should it feel like sacrifice if it is what I wanted? And if you’re a parent and it does feel like a sacrifice you probably should have thought about it more before having children. There are some hard days, but it’s just part of being a parent and I really don’t mind.
In my last post I looked at the issue of abortion, because here is a situation in which we judge women for terminating a pregnancy and killing an unborn fetus, and yet we also find we are treating many women who choose not to have children with nearly the same level of incredulity. I am not saying the anti-abortion crowd is the same as those that are critical of women who don’t have children, but it’s sad that women really can’t win it seems unless they are popping out babies and loving every minute of it. Regardless of whether it was planned, or unplanned if you don’t want kids women are made to feel that there is something wrong with them. Like they are “going against the natural order of things”, to quote the article above. And this is not a fair judgment.
But this is why I wrote this series is because human life is not simply about reproduction. Certainly a species needs to reproduce, but remember what I said in the first post? Our evolutionary advantage is intelligence. So here we have this social species, living in a now global community, who is intelligent. We are the most intelligent species on the planet (at least in theory) and our survival is not just about a numbers game. There is a reason other species have big litters, lay a 1000 eggs, or reproduce more frequently. It is simply because if they didn’t, they would not survive. They are preyed upon, they have more accidents, they cannot cure themselves of disease, they cannot heal their injuries. Living in the wild is a hard life. In fact given that we evolved in the wild, and were limited in our rate of reproduction given our non-sedentary lifestyle, it reveals how important our intelligence was to our survival. But even if you wanted to argue that it was a numbers game for humans too, well you might have something…we’ve quite successfully made it to 7 billion people, I would say that we aren’t in any danger of dying off too quickly unless some gigantic asteroid hits the planet without warning.
As we move into the modern world, the newly acquired sedentary lifestyle which has led to a massive population has also led to a wide variety of roles that people can play in society and specialize in. Instead of everyone being a jack of all trades, we have people who are just really good at a few things and really just do one job. Whether that is a better way to live, I can’t say, but that’s sort of how society is right now, and we all work together with our different skill sets to make society function. Some people really want to be parents, some people really don’t. And we really need to be okay with that, because we are just fine. I can guarantee you that should something happen that would leave only a few thousand of us standing, everybody would pull together and start breeding like bunnies again to the best of our ability. Even homosexuals would probably kick in a few sperm here and a few eggs there to help humanity out. And if you want to be a lover of the natural order of things, I ask you to think about what is natural about dumping massive amounts of carbon and other pollutants into the air, hunting species to extinction, dumping plastic and toxic waste into the oceans, collective radioactive material and bringing it to the surface, and then expecting everybody to create even more people to do even more of all this stuff we are doing to the planet, all so they can experience the joy of having children. Now who is selfish?
But listen, I’m not knocking parents either, I’m only saying that we need to all relax and recognize that we all might feel passionate about different things and this is okay, because it is that diversity that enriches humanity. What is best is that we all fulfill our roles well, not all fulfill the same role. If civilization is to have any advantage to our hunter-gatherer days it is that we can use the extra time that farming has given the rest of us to make the world a better place, and this doesn’t need to be done by everybody having children. For many there are some pretty good reasons not to have children, and we should respect the intelligence that was shown to make that decision, and the same intelligence should be put into those who want to have children as well. Raise your children well. Raise them to decrease the suffering of others. Raise them to make the world a better place. Spend less time worrying about whether or not other people are having children, because there are many ways to make the world better. Future generations will be fine as long as, whatever we do, we use that intelligence that has helped make it this far.