Yesterday was my youngest child’s 4th birthday. She followed me around all day, asking for details on her cake, ice cream, and presents. To each response, she would squeeze my leg and say, “You are the best mom EVER!” Her siblings came home from school and bounded in the door excitedly, yelling “Happy birthday!” She gave them each a hug, in turn, and said, “You are the best sister (or brother)…ever!” We had a wonderful evening at home celebrating our enthusiastic, loving, and intelligent little girl. She is our fifth child, and despite my children’s pleas for more siblings, my five c-sections and general weariness demands she be the last.
Babies as a scourge.
As I saw this image on my Facebook and read the caption, “The most loving gift you can give your first child is to not have another”, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet little 4-year-old. What would life be like if, like a scene from The Avengers, we snapped our fingers, and she and three of her siblings vanished – leaving us with only our oldest? Life, for us, would be instantly transformed.
We are told that our earth is dying, and each new baby is hastening it’s destruction. There is no doubt that greed and materialism produce waste and pollution that harm our environment. However, would the world be better off if my family of 7 became a family of 3? I don’t think so. Our family would have much more money – more resources to buy new cars, a bigger house, and more trips. It seems likely that our now smaller family – with our excess – may end up being a bigger strain on the environment. Our demands always seem to exceed our supply. All the resources my four additional children consume – mostly in the form of peanut butter sandwiches and second hand clothes – are unlikely to equal the burden to fulfill the desires of a bored and wealthier family of three. Children help us be content with less stuff – we made the trade for more life.
The other thing that struck me from this billboard was the image of that sweet black baby. It took me back to my days working with cute babies in Eastern and South Africa. While doing my research and service work, I encountered many pregnant women or new mothers, often in the most destitute circumstances. I would sometimes question the wisdom of these women’s choice to have a child in such conditions. “Isn’t it irresponsible to get pregnant when you couldn’t even afford a floor for your shack?” However, despite my reservations, these African women took a different view. They would always refer to their babies as a blessing. The birth of a new baby is always met with celebration in African villages. In contrast, we, in the West, produce billboards featuring black children with a caption encouraging fewer children. I only pray those of African ancestry stick with the culture of abundance, rather the culture of scarcity we find in the affluent West. (Talk about Neocolonialism and exporting bad ideas…)
The reality of life with our fifth child seems a direct contradiction to the popular idea of today – “humans are a parasite on the earth”. The earth, they say, is at risk of collapse. This makes children messengers of destruction. But often, environmental concerns hide our real motivations for having fewer children. We live under a flawed philosophy – “there is not enough”: not enough time, love, attention, wealth, compassion. The scarcity-doctrine” has convinced many to either have no children or very few.
China went so far as to limit each couple to one child. They came close to creating a sibling-less, cousin-less, aunt and uncle-less society. Is this the path to stability? It hasn’t proved to be for China. When children are devalued, we seek other, often destructive, remedies to fill our new lack. A world that sees new life as a curse is spiritually and emotionally dead.
“With each new baby, the whole universe is again put on trial”G.K. Chesterton
In America, we recently saw Amy Coney Barrett, a woman with seven children nominated to the Supreme Court. Rather than feminists celebrating in the streets at this momentous sign of societal progression, we see questions about her choice to have a large family. Some call her irresponsible for having so many children; others question her motives in adopting children from Haiti. The concepts of “love” “goodness” and “self-sacrifice”are starkly absent in such perspectives.
Does each human soul detract from the world or enhance it? Michelangelo, one of five children, did consume materials from the earth to build the dome of St. Peter’s, but is the world worse off for it?
“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.”Vietnamese Proverb
I am the youngest of seven. My eldest brother still recalls my dad lining up all the kids after my birth and introducing them to their new little sister. He told the children, “This baby is perfect, let’s try not to corrupt her.” They did – and I reveled in the corruption. We had a great childhood. Now, we seven live all over the world, but we have a cherished bond that still stabilizes me.
“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply.”Jane Austen
Is the world collapsing?
We certainly need to carefully consider if and when we should have a child. But, according to Prince Harry, he, a happily married prince, would be irresponsible to have more than two children…“for the sake of the planet”. But is all this panic and guilt-tripping about population growth actually based in fact? No. The truth is that our world is headed into a demographic winter. The population is decreasing at a rate that is not sustainable. The choice of how many children a couple should have is very personal and should not be dictated or judged by outsiders. However, from society’s point of view, responsible and loving parents should be having more children, not less.
The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population ; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.GK Chesterton
It is, of course, true that more people will eat up more resources. This is something we should be aware of and adapt to. My university degree is in Environmental Studies. Sustainable development and conservation are topics I am passionate about. The environment should be protected, and parents need to be the primary educators of their children in how and why we care for the earth. Landfills are crowded with parenting excesses – toys, clothes, and baby gadgets – we need to simply our lives and stop filling it with “stuff.”
As a mother, I teach my children to care and protect the earth and be the solution to environmental problems. We should make this a focus of our teaching, and be an example of someone who values our environment and makes sacrifices of our own comfort and pleasure to protect the environment (paper plates and plastic baggies are certainly convenient for us mothers but they pile up quick in the trash). We can help our children see how they can contributors to the abundance of this planet.
However, the idea that we are headed towards population disaster is only true if you mean we will have too few people to support the existing ones. We don’t need any encouragement to have fewer babies. We are already choosing not to at alarming rates.* Ultimately, the difference between those advocating for a sibling-less society and those, like my African friends, that see each child as a blessing, is perspective. One says “Humans are the scourge of the earth”, the other “Humans are the caretakers of the earth.”
The reality of love.
There are two roads that diverge in our modern yellow wood – and the road less traveled is the one that prioritizes children. The modern road strives for status, pleasure, and material excess and avoids or limits family, they are seen as boulders on the path of attainment. But there is another road, it’s likely to be weeded-over, like my own yard, there isn’t a lot of time for maintenance. Those that take this road devote their time to relationships – with spouse, children, community members – these relationships may limit material gains and status, but the joy of a happy family will make all the difference in our lives.
In order to live in the truth, we can not allow ourselves to become detached from the spiritual and emotional realities of life. We have to reject a purely material interpretation of life and people, this interpretation will lead us to the well-worn path of self-interest. In a purely material world, reality becomes warped. Statements like “humans are a parasite” don’t sound horrific anymore. Love and goodness are mythical because a material world only runs on power and envy. Such a materialistic life will only lead to misery and to more excess, more waste, more environmentally destruction. We need connection, we need solid and enduring relationship, we need a worthy mission to dedicate our lives to. As we fill our loves with this spiritual excess we can let go of physical excess.
Our lives are only full when we have love and a purpose to which we can dedicate our lives. Children fill our lives with love. They are the reason for our striving. They do not take our time; they are the reason we were given time. Every day with my youngest child is a day I get to experience more of life. Her laughter, cries, and the unfolding of her personality are priceless. Her siblings are more emphatic, considerate, wise, humble, and entertained because she exists.
Each person has to decide what they really want out of life. If they decide they want to build a life of “less stuff” and more relationships, go ahead have a kid, and then another, and as many as you want. Together you can save our world.
In answer to this ad, I say – less joy, less excitement, less life, is not the gift you want to bestow on your child. Give them a sibling and see the Earth flourish as a result.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
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Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, “The most merciful thing a large family does for one of its infant members is to kill it”.
More People, More Ideas, More Innovations, More Value Created. https://www.humanprogress.org/julian-simon-was-right-we-create-faster-than-we-consume/?utm_content=bufferfe8d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fbclid=IwAR3Z9Y8Oyvsj9PxTOgcWW4477o7vBcPFPvOxNyMml6E3N1R043qNOGgqIJw
Demographic Winter. https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/demographic-winter-here/
GK Chesterton, “In Defense of Baby Worship” https://www.chesterton.org/babies/