Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Controversial Post

I realized, when I was working on my last post, that I don't have any controversial posts here at Telecommuter Talk that stick out in my mind. Courtney has recently made the decision to be a little more brave at The Public, The Private, and Everything In Between, and I've decided to copy support her by doing the same. Be prepared. When I decide to be controversial, I, apparently, decide to go all the way. By the same token, when I decide to be controversial, it isn't because I necessarily think I'm right or that I have all the answers. What I really want to do is to open up a dialogue, to get others' thoughts, to find out where I might have errors in my thinking, and I certainly don't want to take my cue from television these days, whose sole goal seems to be to divide people and to get them to spew vitriol at each other. I'm in this world to learn and to grow and to (I hope) become a better person, and that means I need to listen to those who might think differently than I do and to be willing to change my mind, if necessary, or just to agree to disagree if their arguments don't convince me.

So, here is my controversial argument at its most basic: Americans are having too many children. It's the taboo environmental issue that no one wants to address, because, let's face it: who wants to tell people they shouldn't have (anymore) children? And yet, overpopulation is one of the most devastating environmental hazards. This planet may seem huge, but it definitely has its limits, one of which is that it can only hold so many creatures, and it can especially only hold so many of those creatures responsible for doing the most damage to it (i.e. human beings). The most obvious solution to this problem (and the one I'd most like to embrace)? Nobody should have more than one or two children. Those who want to have more than two should adopt.

I have to admit that I've not always felt this way. First of all, I'm the third of four children. Someone could easily say to me, "If your parents had stopped at two, you wouldn't have been born." Of course, I'm not someone who is busy changing the world, so if I had never been born, I'm sure it wouldn't have been a real tragedy, and I'd have no idea, having never existed, so I can't say I'd regret never having been born. Still, I'm pretty glad I've gotten to experience this life I've had, which I wouldn't have done if my parents had only had two children.

Back when I was in my mid-twenties, I had a roommate who only had one sister. She told me that her parents had firmly believed in the "replace ourselves" theory of having children: one child for each parent (very forward-thinking of them. She's my age. We were born before the first Earth Day, back when this subject was even more taboo than it is today). My roommate told me she would follow suit, and at the time, I remember thinking, "Only two kids?" In fact, when I first met Bob, I had pretty much the same reaction to his telling me that he has one brother, and that's it. "Only one sibling? Wasn't that lonely growing up? How did you play games like 'Clue' that require three or more players?"

I've learned a lot since those days, though. I've become much more concerned about environmental issues. I've attended environmental summits. I'm aware of how, as with almost everything else in the world, those who are poor are actually affected more severely by environmental hazards than those who aren't, and so I'm even more concerned than ever about the environment. I've read that some scientists believe we wouldn't have any environmental problems if it weren't for overpopulation, like one notes in a brief article here.

I never talk about one of the reasons that Bob and I decided not to have children, which is overpopulation. No, neither one of us was particularly dying to have children of our own, so that was one reason, but the more we read about overpopulation, the more we realized that those of us who weren't dying to have children shouldn't. If there were more of us choosing to be childless, then there'd be more room for those who want to have 3 (or even 4) children. Maybe if childless couples were celebrated for giving others this opportunity instead of being seen as defective, somehow, or being pitied, more people would choose to be childless. Maybe if we stopped trying to convince those who say they don't want kids with arguments like, "Oh, but it's so different when they're your own," and instead said, "Good for you for not bringing unwanted children into this word," we could start reducing the population.

Still, I'm not comfortable telling people that one reason Bob and I don't have kids is that I'm worried about overpopulation. Why? Well, how does that make us look, especially to friends who have 4 kids? It's like saying, "We care about the Earth, and you don't."

I'd like to solve this problem, but I'm not comfortable with the most obvious solution to it. I mean, I am all about the right to choose. That means the right to choose to have children (as many children as you'd like) as well as the right to choose not to have them. Also, I may be pro-choice, but I am (at heart) anti-abortion. Unwanted pregnancies, in my book, should be avoided at all costs, and abortions should be reserved for truly unwanted children, those who would enter this world on uneven ground from the get-go. I would hate to tell a woman who is beaming with the announcement that she's expecting her third child that she ought to have an abortion. I, of all people, having grown up in one, understand the desire to have a large, happy family -- station wagons (yes, station wagons. They're coming back, you know) packed with kids singing silly songs on long road trips, a backyard full of kids running around playing kick ball or catching fireflies, a tent in the backyard full of kids "camping out." The more the merrier.

I also understand that sometimes people make a mistake. They marry the wrong person at a young age. They have 2 kids and wind up divorced. Soon, they meet someone who is the true love of their lives. They want to have children with this person, and why shouldn't they? And who am I (or anyone) to say, "Sorry, you already had your two. You can't have anymore?"

I will say, though, that there is a point at which I have to admit I find myself thinking, "How selfish and irresponsible can you be?" I'm not talking about those who have three or four or even five kids. I'm talking about those who belong to the quiverfull movement, who turn to Biblical passages to justify having huge families, Biblical passages written back in the days when it made sense to have as many children as possible, because people were far less likely to make it to adulthood, and when they did, they lived much shorter lives. The human population could easily have died out in ancient times if everyone had decided only to have 2 children. There is absolutely no need, whatsoever, in 21st-century America to have upwards of 6 children. None. And I'm afraid I'm no good at all when it comes to that other little Biblical passage about "judging not" when I hear about people choosing to do so (when I was first told about the quiverfull movement, a couple of years ago, I'm quite sure I bruised my jaw, it hit the floor so hard).

I also wonder about the woman I know who had two lovely, lovely pre-teen daughters and decided she must have another child. She had another little girl, who, of course, was way too young to play with her sisters, both of whom were growing out of imaginary play and becoming interested in soccer, softball, and horseback riding. The woman decided to have a fourth child, so her third child "would have somebody," which means that, just when her two older daughters hit their teen years, a time when daughters really need their mothers, she was way too busy with a toddler and an infant to pay much attention to them. Is it any wonder that the older daughters, who'd shown such promise when they were younger, got in with the "wrong crowd," that one ended up being arrested for shoplifting, and that both (despite being extremely bright) decided college wasn't for them? I know I'm being horribly judgmental, but I can't help wondering why she felt that need to have those two other children when she already had two fantastic, healthy, and smart children? How might their lives have been different if she hadn't had those younger two kids? Or, if the need to have a larger family was so strong, how might their lives have been different if she and her husband had adopted some other children who were closer in age to her oldest daughters?

I don't understand why more people don't choose to adopt. If you've had a child and want more kids, why do those "more" necessarily have to be brought into this world by you? There are so many children all around the world who could benefit greatly by being adopted into a large, loving family. Parents who adopt kids are doing two goods: 1) giving a family to a child who has none and 2) helping to keep the population from growing.

No, I'm not comfortable telling people not to have more than two children. I would hate to see anyone try to enforce laws in this country, like the one-child policy in China, pertaining to such a personal choice. I do, however, think that people should be better educated about the devastating effects of overpopulation; that when it comes to family planning, environmental concerns ought to be taken into account; and that we need to put a new, much more positive spin on adoption as a choice, instead of continuing to enforce old, negative stereotypes. It also wouldn't hurt to applaud those who decide only to have one child, instead of running around asking them when they're going to have another (I think parents of only-children often have it even worse than those of us who are childless when it comes to insensitive questioning).

That's what I think. What do you think?


Stefanie said...

One of the reasons James and I decided to not have children was because of overpopulation as well! It wasn't the main reason but it was one of them. In talking to people who have children our nice way of saying it as one of our reasons is to tell them that we decided there were already enough children in the world without parents and that should we ever change our minds (like that was going to happen!) that we would adopt. I would never want to institute a population policy like in China, but I really do wish that the expectation of having children was not the default.

Susan said...

when you decide to go controversial, you don't hold back, do you, Emily? lol I read this as someone who has three children, with an age gap of 14 years between one and the other two, as someone who has an adopted brother, and whose parents split up young and both parents remarried and so I have half-siblings. So everything about your post meant something to me. How do I feel about having had three children? Happy. It never occurred to me to adopt - I don't know why, since my father is too, and I know it's a good thing to do! I think because my second husband was an only child, trying to have one first seemed to make more sense.

I have to be honest here though, and say that I don't think I've added to the overpopulation of the world. Or my friends who have two or three children, or the ones who don't. I think the issue is bigger than that, and smaller. China had to impose the one child rule because it couldn't feed the people it had. I don't know if we are heading that way, we might be. I think for me though, i've thought the bigger issue is environmental, and political. at the moment the Earth is producing enough food to feed everyone, but because of politics, not everyone is getting fed. That to me is much more the issue, because it appears that when there is enough food and no scarcity, the population balances out (ie the Western World has almost 0 percent pop growth for some time now).

I also think there is room for people to have some children (more than six is ridiculous in this time and age, though), and room for couples like you and Stefanie to choose not to add to the population.

What I do think you need to think more carefully about is associating the eldest children in the example you gave of the split families, of how the eldest daughters got into trouble. Why do you think it was having another baby that made them test the rules like that? Becaause the outcome (child pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable) also happened in my household, I'm curious how you see the lack of attention paid to the eldest ones led to their acting out. I wonder if there is a correlation, in my mind they were young adults and didn't have to take that choice at all.

Interesting thoughts, Emily!

Emily Barton said...

Stefanie, glad to know I'm in such good company. I like the answer you and James give as to why you don't have kids. I'll have to start using it, if you don't mind being plagiarized.

Susan, nope, lol, I don't hold back. Although, I haven't gotten very many responses, so maybe it isn't as controversial as I thought. I agree with you that it's terrible that we have enough food in the world to feed everyone in it, and that the only reason people starve is political. I hadn't heard that having enough food balances populations, so I'll have to do some research into that.

I made the correlation with the oldest children getting into trouble, because in my work with kids and teenagers, I've noted a pattern that I don't think a lot of parents realize: children need their parents 24/7 when they are infants and pre-schoolers. Then, they go through this marvelous phase from about age 7-12, in which they don't really need all that much from their parents -- yes, general feeding and clothing and reminders to brush their teeth, etc., but psychologically, they're quite all right. Then, they hit adolescents (call it raging hormones, or all hell breaking loose, or whatever you want to call it), and even though they act as if they hate their parents, they really need them more than ever: need them to set boundaries, need them to talk to, need them to help them make wise decisions, and to tell them it's okay -- they're okay -- when they mess up. Teens aren't good at making decisions and don't have control over their impulses. There are all kinds of brain studies that back that up. I just felt the mother of those kids, once she had the younger ones, kind of felt, "Well, they're grown up now. They can take care of themselves," instead of realizing how much they needed her.

Courtney said...

I completely agree with you here - it shocked me - SHOCKED me - when everyone celebrated the 3 billionth person born. Our planet can sustain 3 billion people over the long term (channel my dad here who said this : think about it, Courtney - that's 3 billion people pooping) - and my parents fervently preached the 0 population rule - replace yourself, and that's it - which is fully what Sam and I intend to do. Adn I also agree that teenagers need their parents and it is NOT a time to loosen the reigns...I've seen a lot of damage done to families with older children who have unexpected siblings suddenly show up!

litlove said...

I have to say I agree. Having a child makes the biggest impact of anything on your carbon footprint, and it has to be worth thinking about this sort of issue now, before we completely exhaust the world's resources. I do also agree that older children look like they are grown and independent but are busy doing very important separation work from their parents. My son is 17 and I am quite aware that he couldn't separate from us so strongly if we weren't right there and available to be separated from. He needs to push us away, not have us disappear from under him. (Whether we are doing the right things with him is an entirely different matter and one that keeps me awake at night!).

Watson Woodworth said...

I've noticed that the poor (who can least afford it) and the rich (who can indulge anything they like in the United States of Money) have the most children while those in the middle (who can nary afford to make a mistake) have the least.
This makes sense because a broadly unequal society abhors a middle ground.
Poor but careful, I think my one-child family exists in that precarious middle.

Emily Barton said...

Courtney, yes, celebrating the 3 billionth human shocked me, too, and glad I'm not the only one who thinks that the reins need to be tightened (gently and with plenty of understanding about bucking and rebellion) not loosened in the teen years.

Litlove, push away but not disappear forever. Exactly! And don't lie awake at night, I can't imagine you're not doing a wonderful job with him.

Nigel, yes, the middle: able to afford birth control but not able to afford multiple Mcmansions to house huge families and the nannies needed to care for them (think how much more love your one child is getting).