A number of commenters on my “I’m childfree and I’m proud” post, both here and on Facebook, argued that I’m just the sort of smart, eco-groovy person who should be having kids, to ensure that there’s a new generation of thoughtful and active citizens to carry on the good fight. Thanks for the compliment! But I have to respectfully disagree.
For starters, I’ll turn again to wise words from Stephanie Mills, who heard similar arguments after she announced her intention to remain childfree in 1969:
There were well-intentioned folks who told me that I was just the kind of person who should be having children. I would respond that given the presence of the then three billion people on Earth, there were already plenty of promising babies in the world, a multitude of whom could be well served by some economic and racial justice so that the privileges I had enjoyed wouldn’t be such an extraordinary qualification for motherhood.
Also, remember, as a number of commenters note: You don’t get to pick how your kids turn out. Good parents try their best to instill in their kids strong social and environmental values, but ultimately kids determine their own destinies, parents be damned.
For evidence of this, I need look no further than my own immediate family. My mother and father, despite their best efforts and commendable parenting skills, completely failed in their endeavor to raise their four children into Christian conservatives. Instead, they ended up with four apatheistic liberals.
Finally, if someone doesn’t want kids, s/he simply shouldn’t have them. Parenthood is an enormous commitment and responsibility, best not undertaken lightly by people who aren’t wholly invested in being the best parents they can be. You don’t get a test drive or a trial run — it’s all or nothing. Kids deserve parents who are ready to give it their all.
To respond to some of the other issues brought up in comments:
One reader admonished me for not talking about “the waste in diapers, in awful disposable toys, in the massive industry of junk peddling aimed at parents and kids.” But everyone reading this already knows about all the cheap and disposable junk that’s part of living as an American (and if you somehow haven’t been clued in yet, just watch Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff“). I didn’t want to take cheap digs at parents, so I decided to focus on the positive aspects of being childfree instead of the negative aspects of trying to raise a child in an über-consumeristic society.
Another reason for my positive approach was to counter the traditionally negative vibe that so many environmentalists give off when laying out all those should not‘s. In the (now rare) instances when enviros talk about bypassing child-rearing for ecological reasons — as Stephanie Mills did — it’s often couched in the language of sacrifice. I wanted to make the point that it isn’t always a sacrifice; it can, for some people, be a rewarding personal choice, as so many commenters have attested.
Yes, of course, adoption and foster parenting are wonderful options for people who want to experience parenthood without bringing a new being into the world. Those issues were simply beyond the scope of my original article.
Lots of other topics were also beyond its scope: The huge issue of overconsumption. The unwillingness of most environmental groups to touch the population issue. The touchy intersection between immigration and population. The bogus “selfishness” charge leveled against the childfree. The need for a global campaign to make family-planning services available to women around the world, as well as education, equality, and political empowerment, so all women can have the same choices that we’ve been debating here.
If I had addressed everything I wanted to in that first post, I would have produced a novel-sized opus that no one would have read to the end. But I plan to tackle many of these topics in future posts, so stick around.
I’m thrilled by the great reader comments offered up so far; (almost) everyone has been uncommonly gracious, introspective, and candid, with interesting insights on personal fulfillment and the movement to build a more just and green future. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Read more about population and the childfree option:
- The GINK manifesto: Say it loud: I’m childfree and I’m proud
- Childfree messages in Sex and the City 2 and Eat, Pray, Love
- Pundits criticize Elena Kagan for being childfree
- How green are the ‘childless by choice’?
- Women’s rights are the right way to approach the population issue
- Nearly a fifth of American women skip childbearing
- Want to join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement?
- And still more about population
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