Drew Cordes

The Case Against Children

Filed By Drew Cordes | April 03, 2012 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: child care, parenthood, parents, planet overpopulation

67107m335yce3ow.jpgLet me say, at the outset, that I recognize this essay likely will be aggressively unpopular. Few people take the anti-children platform, and for good reason. People like children. I may as well be writing an essay on the secret evil of puppies and kittens, or a horrifically graphic expose on the destructive power of orgasms. Anyway ...

I believe queerness lends itself to a different perspective on procreation and child-rearing. After all, the vast majority of those in LGBT relationships can't spawn the old-fashioned way. Therefore, having a child always is predicated on definitive decisions and planning. There is thought at every step of the process [1].

Being queer forced this thought process on me. Why do people want children? Why might I want children?

I'm not saying straight people disregard such thought. For some, there is just as much planning involved. However, for others, assuming responsibility for raising and molding a completely helpless life comes after a black-out-drunk hookup, a broken condom, or missed pill, and an "I guess I'll keep it" after the morning heaves and a CVS pregnancy test confirm the dread. Simply put: Queers cannot become parents by accident. Straight people can. And do. Way, way too often [2].

Perhaps it's not children I have a problem with after all [3]. Maybe my problem is with my peers - everyone who isn't mindful of the motivations for parenting, and presumes or defaults to procreation and child-rearing as the answer to life's big, yet maddeningly vague questions: What does my life mean? What's my purpose? Is this what I should be doing? Is this the best choice for me?

Having a child conveniently supplies a blanket answer for all these internal doubts and queries. The child becomes the answer to everything. If you're a real parent, the welfare of the child always comes first. E.g.:

Q: Where should I live?
A: I should live in the best place to raise my child.

Q: Am I fulfilled by my career?
A: Maybe not, but my professional fulfillment is secondary to making a living and providing for my child.

Q: Should I cultivate the relationships I have with my friends?
A: If my child doesn't need me tonight, and I can find someone else to watch him/her, then I can decide if I want to see my friends.

Q: Why am I here?
A: To raise my child the best I can.

Q: What's the greater purpose to my life?
A: The love and bonds of my child and family.

I don't mean to come across as mocking here. One person's answers to life's giant, sobering questions have just as much worth as the next person's. The thing is: children are the easy answer. They're the answer many default to when they're tired or scared of looking for the not-so-easy answers.

Too often, procreation is a process of psychic bequeathal of all the questions, self-doubt and existential insecurity from one generation to the next. Upon the ceremonious snipping of the cord, Dad may as well slap on a benediction: "Well, my life has purpose now. Good luck finding yours, kiddo." The parents unburden themselves of having to find or create their own answers. Their purpose is now the child. It's the selfish discounting of self.

This may seem like a paradox: How can it be selfish to put another's needs before your own? For an answer, let's examine this principle in the context of volunteering and charity, another common way people put others first. We've all heard volunteers and charity workers proclaim something similar to: "It feels so good to give back," "Giving is greater than receiving," or other variations. It's no mistake that Christians equate these endeavors and feelings with holiness, dubbing them "the Lord's work."

Aiding and caring for others undoubtedly is a positive thing, but that blissed-out feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is part of the reason people volunteer. People give (in part) to feel better about themselves, to feel like a good person. If we weren't able to self-congratulate would as many of us give? If helping others was an enormous pain in the ass and created feelings of intense nausea, would as many people volunteer? Really the only volunteerism that can be revered as truly worthy of the term "selfless," is that which helps people while making the volunteer miserable for its duration and has no benefit for the doer [4].

Now, I'm not equating a life of closed-circle selfishness to a life of charitable service just because both contain aspects of selfishness. Charitable service does good. The suffering of others is alleviated [5]. It is better to be charitably selfish than island-unto-oneself selfish.

It's important to distinguish, though, that child-rearing does not even qualify as charitable selfishness. Charitable volunteers alleviate the pain of those who are already here, living in suffering. Parents choose to create a new life so they can experience that feeling [6]. Does this do anything good or positive? Sure, the child would die if the parents neglected to care for it, but the capacity for death and suffering would never have existed if not for the parents in the first place. The parents create a new person for the sole purpose of having something to care for, a vessel through which they can give of themselves and have those same feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction as the charitable volunteer.

Make no mistake, even with zombie-like putrid 4 a.m. diaper changes, panic-triggering runs away from home, terrifying broken limbs, and the misery of the resentful teenage years, the decision to be a parent is a selfish one. Again, we're all selfish to some degree, even the charitable, but what distinguishes procreation as a selfish act is that another person's life plays the pawn to one's emotional fulfillment [7].

In the context of romantic relationships, it's conventional wisdom that in order to be happy with someone else, you must first be happy with yourself. Does this principle not also apply to those who say their lives are incomplete without children? Not just using someone else but creating someone else to fill the holes of one's psyche is a bit twisted.

If this armchair philosophy is too cold-hearted to be convincing, let's talk numbers. Consider the relative smallness of our planet and our soaring population figures. Few deny that many of the problems we're currently facing are related to overpopulation, and we all know these problems are only going to get worse with each year. There's not enough water. There's not enough food. There's not enough oil. Let's talk pollution, too - a single person is responsible for a lot of waste, garbage, pollution, etc., during a lifetime [8]. If you choose to procreate, you're not only responsible for your own waste, but that of all your descendants. They, and all their output, would not have existed if not for the initial spreading of your seed. We know this. Yet, none of us stops procreating [9].

When discussing the decision to have children with family and friends, the reasons for and against always are personal, never global, sociological, big-picture. It's cognitive dissonance at its finest. We all acknowledge there are too many people on our planet, but when it comes to having children, we're always the exception. It's the same principle behind smoking cigarettes, not wearing seat belts, eating endangered animals, breaking laws ... "People shouldn't do this, but it's okay for me." It's the manifestation of us clinging to a small, remaining shred of that most basic falsehood we're supposed to have abandoned by adulthood, but none of us does completely, no matter how stupid we know it is and how much it disgusts our conscious mind: I'm different. I'm special. I deserve it.

There are few things we can do to prevent the serious overpopulation issues in our future. Government-mandated sterilization won't play in Peoria. I wouldn't be surprised if the U.N. recommended one-child policies for all nations within 100 years. Selfishness is unavoidable, but we can at least be mindful and considerate.

Before procreating, potential parents should consider what they have to offer a child, and not what having a child would fulfill for them. They should think about whether they might rather adopt an unwanted, uncared-for child who's already here on this overcrowded planet, than add another life to the total. They should ask themselves if what they're really longing for is purpose and deeper meaning in life, and whether having a child is the only means of finding purpose and meaning. They should ponder whether they're frightened of searching for meaning on their own and chose parenthood because it's the obvious, easy, or popular answer.

I think if everyone did those things, there would be far fewer children on our planet. And far fewer children would make this planet a better place.

[1] As well as many different processes to think about - insemination, egg donors, adoption, etc.

[2] Granted, queers can make poor decisions themselves, but at least thought is involved.

[3] Though, I do tend to see them as loud, messy, carriers of disease, rude, etc. ... just generally annoying and unpleasant to be around.

[4] Mother Theresa comes to mind as one who did "the Lord's work," despite feeling nothing for her service. In the years after her death, her private letters detailed profound spiritual emptiness. "I am told God lives in me - and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul." "Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love - the word - it brings nothing." "In my soul, I can't tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible - I feel like refusing God." (Quotes from CNN. Time Magazine's in-depth story.)

[5] Usually just temporarily, but still.

[6] And that's the best-case scenario. There also are the cases of negligence, indifference and irresponsibility that lead to accidental parenthood, as discussed earlier.

[7] Or rather to one's default easy-answer emotional fulfillment.

[8] For some eyebrow-raising statistics: www.cleanair.org/Waste/wasteFacts.html.

[9] And in more backward logic, the government still provides incentives to have children. Health insurance companies pay for fertility treatments. Our societal institutions still do everything they can to help people have more children.

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