Sunday, 13 September 2015

Why Having Kids May Not Be Such A Wonderful Thing

Before getting into this topic, I want to stress that what I am about to express are purely my own, personal views on the world. These are my own opinions that I have derived from my careful observations and reflections (as seen through my own world-view-perspective). These expressions are not intended to disrespect anyone who may think differently, and this post is by no means intended to change anyone's mind or make a statement about what is 'right' or 'wrong'. My only intention here is to provoke thoughts and reflections, because I believe that each of us can learn from another person's world view. It can be like an additional piece to the puzzle, making your own world view expanded and clearer, by contrast or by similarity. The differences put together can make for a broader and more complete perspective, and the similarities can resonate, strengthen and affirm current stances (which can be especially useful when you feel like a minority).

The words that will follow may resonate with you or they may not. Either way is okay. In the end, everyone is free to choose to live their lives in the way they desire and everyone is entitled to their own opinion on the subject matter. Feel free to use the questions that are posed throughout this article to reflect on your life as you know it, and perhaps to ponder things you may not have considered pondering about before. If you already have children, this article may not be as relevant for you, as all you can do is love them, raise them as best you can and teach them to respect the earth and each of the wonderful creatures that live here. However, if you haven't made up your mind yet, then it may be particularly interesting for you to read this.

Now, if you are ready, let's continue...

Could it be that there are too many of us? 

What is "too many"? And how can we tell? To answer this question, we could look at the consequences of our existence on the earth and all its inhabitants. If we do this, then the answer depends at least in part on our lifestyle and standards of living.

Right now, with the way that most people are living their lives, it seems clear that there are too many people on earth. How do I know that? The earth's resources get depleted faster than they can recover. Pollution happens faster than natural restoration. Other species have to make way for humans and some even go extinct. Food, clean water and other (natural) resources have become scarce. And most of all, the human population still keeps growing and natural selection is still on the decline for humans.

Simultaneously, people seem to be getting more and more violent and intolerant, because they are in each other's space. Maybe the (subconscious) sense of a lack of space and other resources even makes people closed-minded and overprotective of 'their' countries, so that when people (refugees, immigrants, different-minded people, rich people, poor people, etc) make an attempt to rebuild their life elsewhere, they are met with hate and violence instead of compassion and support. Would the same response happen if there was one earth we shared, with enough room for everyone to live freely, and with free resources for everyone, provided by earth instead of by governments?
I think our species needs to downsize A LOT and restructure societies and individual lifestyles in order to make the earth habitable again, and a pleasant and safe place for all creatures.

So where did we go wrong?

The invention of money, the introduction of power structures and hierarchies and the increasing loss of connection with nature are all important causes that support our rapid rush towards self-destruction and total annihilation. But something that seems to get constantly overlooked or ignored in the worldwide environmental and sustainability debate, is overpopulation. Apparently it is a touchy subject. But one has to wonder: How did our species get so out of control? How did we get from 2 billion people in 1927 to 7.3 billion people now in 2015 (not even 100 years later)? And how is this not an alarming statistic?

Aside from the fact that humans have found a way to eliminate almost all of their natural enemies (including most diseases), there are also still huge evolutionary, cultural and societal pressures to reproduce. However, the evolutionary component should not be as strong as you may think. As access to resources is changing, it is important for a species to be flexible and adapt to a changed environment. Most species therefore naturally and instinctively reproduce less when resources are depleting, but humans seem to have lost touch with their inner compass for balance and harmony, and they seem to have lost their connection with other species.
This is probably partly due to the fact that we pay for resource distribution, making uninhabitable places more habitable, while at the same time putting more and more pressure on the earth (due to transport, continued construction and expansion, and exploiting the earth for all its worth like our lives depend on it (even though in fact our lives depend on conservation rather than consumption). Also, we like to pay others to do the damage, so that it is not visible all the time. Pollution happens mostly in concentrated, remote areas. We pay others (indirectly) to cut down our rain forests by consuming meat, products containing palm oil and buying paper. Even the animals some of us eat are killed by other people and usually kept in horrible conditions. But we are rarely confronted with that, and this is why we don't feel motivated enough to change it. Most of us don't really have direct experience with resource depletion, pollution, climate change catastrophes and loss of natural surroundings. Out of sight, out of mind.
Reading this, you might be thinking: well, if we all went vegan, wouldn't that be enough? Obviously, this would be a huge step in the right direction. But even then, would our population numbers still be sustainable? And where are we headed if we don't downsize? What is going to happen? Our population will still continue to grow beyond control if nothing changes. So yes, even though going vegan and limiting overall consumption are great things we can all do for the environment, the best (most impactful) thing we humans can do for the environment is downsize our reproduction rates.

If - like most other species - we would be more aware of what is happening on earth everyday, and more in touch with the world outside our small personal circle of relevance, then surely our instinct and intuition would move us more towards balance. If we would be confronted with the consequences of our actions directly every day, it would be much harder to continue the destruction. We would soon realize that we can't go on like this. So the first thing we can do is find ways to get more in touch with what is happening on a global scale, and connect the dots back to ourselves. The second thing is to let go of the cultural and societal pressures and expectations we find ourselves under, which may dictate our lives to a further degree than we may realize. It may even be the very reason you want kids: because it is expected by society's standards. Could it be that the desire to want kids (as well as the desire to be rich/wealthy and over-consume) is one that was subconsciously transferred to you by the society you grew up in?

The pressure to breed:

Society puts a lot of pressure on couples to reproduce. It seems 'normal' to get a job, buy a house, get married and start a family. It is sometimes even equated with growing up, even though growing up clearly has nothing to do with having children (or age, for that matter). People who don't want children also occasionally have to deal with some resistance from others, which seems odd. Here are the top 5 things people have said to me to inspire me to consider reproducing.

"People like you should have kids"
This one tops the list. It is directed at some kind of quality the person likes about me at the time, as compared to the general population. The statement assumes that this quality will be passed on, which is obviously more a matter of chance than a matter of certainty and which may even seem unlikely. It may take many attempts to reproduce a child that has that quality. Or perhaps it is all a matter of upbringing, in which case I may as well adopt a child.
It should also be said that this argument in favor of reproduction is usually of a passing nature and lasts for as long as we don't upset the person who said it. So surely it will pass at some stage. Just wait for it. When it happens, the argument will change into: 'I hope for your sake that you will never have kids', or something along those lines.

"Your child may help change the world for the better"
Sure! This may happen. But how about I don't make my child responsible for this, but instead I take action myself? Otherwise the responsibility for making a change in the world just gets passed on from one generation to the next, and nothing happens. I can do much more for the world if I am able to devote all my time to it. If I can help change lives and perhaps inspire the leaders of the future, then why would I need my kids to do it? But most parents certainly hope their kids will finish what they started and make their mark on the world, because the life they once had will be swallowed by looking after the child as soon as it comes into the world.

"You are selfish because you don't want kids"
Well, really? Let's look at some facts.
With a world population of 7.3 billion people and a current annual growth rate of 1.14 percent, it seems that my contribution to the human race is not needed, as we are far from being on the brink of extinction. Other species, on the other hand, are struggling to survive, as the resources that we share with all of the earth's inhabitants are depleting. 
Each additional person uses up natural resources and takes up space, which means that more native flora, habitat and wildlife are lost and even more air and water becomes polluted. Is it selfish if you don't want to contribute to this and if you want to prevent further suffering for all creatures on earth? And even if someone chooses to remain childless so that they can keep partying and doing whatever they please, shouldn't we be glad that they made the sensible decision to remain childless, considering their life goals and values? Shouldn't we also be glad that at least some people choose not to reproduce and put more pressure on the earth, whatever reason they may have for this? And shouldn't we be glad that there is at least one less child that grows up unloved and unwanted, and perhaps even neglected or abused (because the parents weren't ready or didn't really support their decision)?

"Who will look after you when you are old?"
First of all, there is no guarantee that your kids will look after you when you get old. They will most likely put you in a nursing home as they are busy making money and perhaps raising kids of their own. You may even end up as the babysitter for their kids, just as soon as you thought you had some time for yourself again. 
As for who may look after you: what about the people whose lives you've touched? But more importantly, you can live with the intention to stay healthy for a long time and if life has other plans, you can deal with that then. I am sure there will be a way, especially if you have practiced resourcefulness, resilience and self-sufficiency all your life, which is something you can focus on with or without kids.
And if you are really worried about old age, you can always adopt a child. But it seems a bit sad (and selfish) to just opt for kids because you need someone to look after you when you are old. It is also a very big investment, money- and time-wise, so to me it makes no sense at all.

"It is all worth it in the end"
People with kids say it is a very rewarding experience. I guess this makes sense. My darkest moments in life have also been very rewarding, because having been through darkness it is so much easier to see the silver lining when the sun comes back. Also, if you expect to get a lot of love and gratitude from your child, you may end up disappointed. So if you want to reproduce so that you can experience unconditional love, it may be a better idea to get a dog.

The denial of overpopulation

Of course we all want to believe that we are doing a good job and that the world isn't so bad after all. We want to believe in the happy ending, without being too much involved in its creation. So when discussing this topic, I often get interesting responses, such as the following:

"Sure, there are too many people, but not in this country."
This somehow makes it okay to have a lot of children in certain locations on earth, because the country still has some nature that we can destroy. And why would we consider population counts of other countries? Well, maybe because this is one world we are living in, and because we impact the earth as a species, not as a nation.

"Surely nature will come up with a solution. It always has."
Yes, this will probably happen. It could be deadly virus, an epidemic, a mass extinction through climate change... Or world war 3 could break out and cause havoc due to increased aggression and conflict over dwindling resources. Are you willing to wait for it? Are you willing to - knowingly - contribute to this by choosing to reproduce and stick to your current lifestyle? And are you sure you want to put your kids on an earth that is heading in that direction?

What no one tells you about parenthood

You may be thinking: that is all very valid stuff, but I really want to have children, because apparently it is the most amazing experience in the world. Well, I have a few close friends who had kids recently and they have revealed some somber details about their new lives. And research seems to confirm it.

Your life now revolves around the child and nothing else.
Okay, this one is obvious. Just look at people with kids. They don't have any time for themselves. Their world has become very small. It all revolves around the baby. Most parents can't even talk about anything else. It seems very exhausting.

Say goodbye to your sex life.
Hormones kick in so that the woman can now devote her entire life to the child. She will no longer be that interested in sex, because her mission was accomplished. Biology is very efficient: it leaves the man free to move on to the next woman, because he may lose interest when he no longer gets any attention. Or he may settle for second place for the rest of his life.

Life becomes a struggle.
If you think having a child is a bonding factor, think again. Sixty-seven percent of couples come close to divorce during the first three years of a new baby’s life. Parents also tend to worry more than non-parents (about everything). And it turns out that overall, people without kids are happier than people who have kids, including people whose kids have already moved out of the house.

So, you may not be missing out on much after all if you choose not to have kids. It could even be that we have all been lied to about the idea that having children is a wonderful thing. Not on purpose, but because the people who told us didn't know any better, either. Or perhaps on purpose too, because there are people who benefit from continued growth in all areas, including population growth. So before embarking on that journey, it is good to consider the opposite: Perhaps it is not so wonderful after all.
Of course it is up to every individual to decide what they want to do with their lives and what mark they want to make on the world. But nevertheless it can be good to keep a world perspective when making the decision, instead of just looking at needs and desires on a personal and individual level. Because in the end we are all connected, and world consequences impact every creature on earth, including you.

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  1. Thank you. More reminders are always welcome.

  2. Thank you. More reminders are always welcome.

  3. This is an amazing article, I wish I could make every single human on the planet read it!

  4. This is an amazing article, I wish I could make every single human on the planet read it!