Like many other Americans, I grew up in a deeply religious family and culture. An essential tenet of these influences is the sacredness of “the family” (especially the antiseptic, TV sitcom variety popularized by The Cleavers or My Three Sons). Boy meets girl, followed by marriage, children, shopping malls, and general suburban bliss. Like most Americans, a social scientist could predict that I would unthinkingly accept such behavior as the norm. It is a life-style I would strive for because it was what was expected of me. Only deviants and assorted weirdos did otherwise.
But something happened on my way to adulthood. Certain societal norms began to seem unacceptable to me. Perhaps it was my exposure to environmental issues, or the hypocrisy of a society which preached one thing but did another. Whatever it was, I came to realize that I was “different” from most others. I had become a heretic.
Overpopulation is one of our most serious environmental concerns. Many will say, however, that overpopulation is a problem not for the U.S. but for Third World countries with growth rates faster than our own. Yet if we accept the standard estimate that the U.S. consumes one-third of all world resources (despite having only 6 percent of the world population), having one American child causes as much harm to the environment as having eight children in any other country of the world. (Did Ward and June Cleaver know this?)
I gave some thought over the past several years to the environmental consequences of having a Ward and June Cleaver family. I also thought about my own personal pros and cons for having (or “fathering” or “breeding”) children.
Dom’s best-ever reasons for not breeding children:
- Compromise on Values. Having a child would force many of us to compromise on several important beliefs and values we cherish. For example, by having a child, most all would: (a) need to substantially increase use of a car; (b) need to retain a job for financial security reasons, even if the job becomes undesirable; (c) need to stay with a mate, even if the mate becomes undesirable; (d) devote less than sufficient time, energy, and resources to a job and political causes because of the demands of child-raising; and (e) need to buy large amounts of undesirable products (candy, disposable diapers, gas, the latest fashions, etc.) for a child needing or wanting such things.
- Selfishness and Irresponsibility. Curiously, I often hear people say that those who do not breed children are selfish and even immature. However, I feel that the opposite is much more accurate. For a person in a high-consumption society such as America, having a child in a severely overpopulated world is exceptionally selfish and irresponsible, as that American child will live an extremely consumptive lifestyle by being brought up and living in America. Ruinously and unfairly, the US heavily subsidizes breeding by, for example, offering a large tax deduction for each child birthed. As an environmentalist and sustainability advocate, I am appalled by this state of affairs.
- Extreme Difficulty in Inculcating Values. It would be extremely difficult to instill beliefs and values in a child in the face of a culture which would daily bombard the child with beliefs and values at variance with those of the parent. It would be painful for a parent to raise a child whose values and beliefs varied significantly from those of the parent. If such beliefs did NOT vary significantly, the child would often suffer the torment of holding beliefs significantly at variance with those of the culture (since the beliefs of many parents are often unique).
- Likelihood of Abusive Punishment. Even though many of us have intellectually rejected physical punishment as a valid tool for child discipline, it is quite likely that a parent would resort to such discipline due to the conditioning the parent received from their parents and culture (and a lack of patience that many adults have, despite their intellectual beliefs).
- Stress and Anxiety. Children tend to add significantly to the stress and anxiety level of parents. Many of us already have too much stress and anxiety. Additional stress or anxiety may be “taken out” on the child. Many parents end up being sleep-deprived as a result.
- Undesirable Traits of Children. Children tend to be excessively demanding, selfish, uncaring, loud, sloppy, destructive, and intellectually boring – particularly when they are raised in the current American culture.
- Enormous Time Consumption. Children tend to consume large amounts of parental time (one study found that on average, a parent spends 7.5 hours a day on their children). Many of us already suffer from a severe lack of free time. Because of this lack of time, and due to other difficulties stated elsewhere on this list, it is possible many parents would too often neglect the child (or allow the child to be raised by inappropriate surrogates such as TV or child care). Those parents who are able to allocate the large amount of time necessary to properly raise a child often find their lives are rather unbalanced. Too much of their life is allocated to childcare and child issues, and too little time is allocated to self-improvement (such as adult sports and exercise) or adult pursuits.
- Lack of Restorative Time. Many parents find that there is such a large amount of time necessary for child-raising, and a strong obligation to not put off various forms of child care, it is quite rare to be able to slow down and relax when a cold has been contracted. The on-going stress and strain of child care rarely offers opportunities for such needed rest as a way to fight a cold, disease or injury.
- Grim Future. A child born today faces a bleak future featuring an accelerating decline in environmental quality; a violent, law-and-order, puritan and religious, materialistic and greedy culture; declining national and global economic prospects due in large part to the approaching end of cheap fossil fuel; and increasingly restrictive government controls on individual behavior.
- Severe Lifestyle Restrictions. It would be aggravating to need to revise a life-style many of us enjoy (such as peaceful and adventurous vacations — which tend not to be conducive to children, privacy, reading books, freedom from TV, enjoying late nights on the town, a special diet, spontaneity, sexual freedom, expressing thoughts that may be inappropriate for a child to hear, etc.) in order to raise a child.
- Dangerous World for Children. It would be extremely difficult to shield a child from the current dangers of society (such as crime, environmental pollution, religious mysticism, junk food, junk TV, cars, etc.). In addition, such shielding would often lead to the “babe in the woods” (or “helicopter”) syndrome, where the child is unable to fend for her- or himself later in life.
- Extremely High Cost of Children. The high cost of life in American culture (particularly college education, health costs, and cars) would severely strain the parental bank account. One study has found that for a household with a total income of $70,000, the average cost to raise a child from birth to age 17 is $261,000. That does not include spending upwards of $150,000 for child college costs. It also does not include the fact that many households see one spouse quit a job to better raise the child, take or continue a lower-level job because of parental limitations, or a spouse taking months off of a job to raise the child (each of these can result in a significant loss of household income). Without being able to save money, the financial security of the parents (particularly for retirement, but also for lifestyle needs such as a home, vacations, food, etc.). The financial security of the child would also be jeopardized. My own situation is instructive. Even though my job was not high in pay, I have been able to regularly take exotic and exciting vacations throughout the world each year, build a sizeable investment and retirement portfolio, and was able to retire at age 47. I currently live comfortably in a community with a very high cost of living and an exceptionally high quality of life.
- Likely Burden on Society. If a parent should end up neglecting the child (quite common in America given many of the above-mentioned issues), an excessive burden would be placed on society (delinquency, etc.).
- Damage to the Relationship with the Significant Other. Having one or more children is commonly damaging to one’s relationship with a spouse/mate/significant other. Spontaneity, as noted above, significantly declines (in areas such as sex, socializing, vacations, romance, and conversation). Discretionary income, also previously noted or implied, is significantly reduced since an enormous amount of income must be allocated to children. A significant portion of socializing and conversation must be focused on children rather than adult-oriented socializing/conversation. Children often become the most important person for the parent (rather than the spouse/significant other). Parents have less “alone time” with each other (since so much time must be allocated to the children). Finally, the headaches and stress and exhaustion of child-rearing can be quite harmful to the relationship.
- Loss of Important Friendships. Having a child often means losing close friendships with people unable to tolerate the noise, chaos, mess, and rudeness of the child, or people who grow bored of parents who are continuously focused on their children in conversation and interests. Parents are often excluded from socializing with friends due to the large number of social events that are not child-friendly, the lack of a baby-sitter, or both. Commonly, having a child means growing apart from friends who do not have children.
The idyllic life of the Cleavers are mostly a lie. Life can be extremely rewarding without having children. Furthermore, overpopulation has become too much of a threat to the existence of Homo Sapiens. We can no longer afford the luxury of having children just because we’re expected to. We can no longer afford to make people feel guilty, selfish, weird, or silly for choosing a life without kids. Our culture must begin giving clear messages that those choosing not to have children can be as noble as those who do.
I urge you to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment if you have a suggested addition or subtraction from this list. Or if you have any other thoughts about this list.
Each list in this blog contains my own personal opinions based on my personal experiences. I acknowledge that there may be a need to add or subtract from these lists (or to create a new subject list), and I welcome such suggestions. The lists are not ordered from higher to lower quality. Each list is a work in progress.
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