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Q. Dear Umbra,

I have recently become a grandmother. (Eek! Doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I made the decision to have a child.) Though I had just one child, my daughter is pregnant again. She married a guy with seven sibs, and they want to have three or four, including adopting one. How do I talk them out of it? Having more kids will defeat their work to live lightly on Earth, won’t it? Even adopting — making a kid from Asia or elsewhere [into an] American — doesn’t help much, does it?

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A. Dearest Terry,

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smartcar kidsNew rule: You can raise as many kids as you can fit in a Smart Car.Andrew Currie via flickrDo not try to talk them out of it unless your side goal is to never see your grandchildren.

How did you feel about people who told you to have more than one child? To say nothing of relations who said one child was not enough. I shudder to think of the family strife that might ensue. Best to simply love your grandchildren and help them grow into strong citizens.

It might be permissible to gently speak with your daughter about the environmental impact of Americans, on a one-time only basis. You may wish to pair this conversation with an offer to help her have a smaller eco-footprint, via some useful contribution such as … let’s see … cooking vegetarian meals for the family once a week? Or by setting aside money for the children’s college fund now, in hopes of raising an inventor of solar-powered tractors.

Having kids will not help your child’s overall lifetime carbon footprint, no. We are responsible for the environmental impacts of our child raising, and it is reasonable to consider that we are responsible for the lifetime impacts of any child we choose to birth or raise, as well as our descendants through that child. A recent study out of Oregon contemplated this idea of carbon legacy through childbirth, if you wish to read some interesting genetics and carbon math (and transfer your anxiety from your daughter back to yourself, which is where it might more properly belong).

It is a bit unfair to carry a multi-generation burden of guilt around for child raising, when most of us can buy and sell a car or a toothbrush without thinking too hard about the centuries of atmospheric carbon and landlocked garbage we have created. Think about it all we must, though. Alas.

In terms of adoption, you have a point that international adoption is not automatically an environmental act, beyond the fact that you are choosing from an existing pool of children rather than adding another to the world’s population. One could adopt a child from another country and then raise an SUV-driving, vinyl-buying American who has an outsized carbon footprint. If a child is adopted domestically, you are not adding more people to the carbon-piggy American population, but the same danger lurks. In either case, you can help your daughter raise thoughtful children who are careful about their own impacts as they get older.

These are interesting ideas to discuss on a theoretical level with your daughter, but only if your relationship allows for such discussion. Otherwise, child bearing is an intensely personal act, and outsiders are generally unwelcome at the decision table. Keep your mouth shut and your arms wide open.