I used to live in a room full of mirrors
All I could see was me
Well I take my spirit and I crash my mirrors
Now the whole world is here for me to see
It would be easier for me to tell inquisitors I can’t have children instead of honestly asserting that I don’t want them. Then they would give me looks of compassion instead of looks of confusion or judgment. People rarely question those who have children because parenthood is considered a sign of maturity, an expected phase of life, and a gift to potential grandparents. However, it is the assumed virtue of having a family that merits skepticism.
There is no doubt raising moral and successful children is a consuming, life-changing challenge. Successful, involved parenting is also much better than negligent and/or abusive parenting. I also immensely respect parents who take the time to raise adopted or disabled children, especially if they are capable of having biological children.
In short, parenting dominates a dedicated parent’s thoughts, emotions, finances, and daily routine for several decades. It is a lifelong sacrifice, and there are many parents who give up their personal desires for the good of their children.
Like any relationship, however, the benefits follow a two-way street. Children make parents feel needed and significant. When a vulnerable child depends on its caregivers, it can provide a powerful ego boost for parents. They also give parents the reassurance of passing their genes and/ or traditions down the generations. Furthermore, raising children is a way to vicariously re-live the simplicity and curiosity of a child’s perspective. This is especially appealing when it’s through the adorable eyes of a reborn, pristine version of oneself.
While it takes a nearly endless amount of work to bring up children, it is an easy path to take. This is partly because society views parenting as an altruistic tradition to inevitably follow. With children, parents have to put in less effort in creating and pursuing their own goals; at least part of their life’s purpose is laid out for them.
In spite of encouraging moderation most other human endeavors, organized religion also incites people to propagate freely. Evidence also indicates that religious people reproduce far more than non-religious people. Not only is having children viewed noble, but it’s viewed as sanctioned by God for many people. This predetermined purpose gives parents a feeling of accomplishment without requiring any particularly unique talents.
Furthermore, having a somewhat simplified goal in life also provides an isolating cocoon around parents. It limits the scope of their concerns. Their priorities are supporting and protecting their own close-knit genetic clan, and few things outside of this realm are as important. In fact, being an attentive parent, however laudable that may be, is a valid excuse to avoid the rest of the world to some degree. They simply have fewer resources to achieve their own goals and aid the efforts to address the complex, long-term problems that plague our planet.
On the other hand, those who choose not to have children often face pressure and judgement from family members and peers. They don’t benefit from the same tax breaks that parents do. They can be labeled as as selfish, immature, and/or cowardly. And in spite of how legal it is, requests for sterilization can be denied by doctors based on biased, subjective standards. Some single, childfree women face workplace discrimination because their employers don’t give their time off as much credence as they do to women with children.
In spite of the cultural stigma against childfree living, there are no currently tangible negative consequences to abstaining from reproducing. There are, however, several negative and destructive consequences to creating more humans on Earth. Compared to other species, humans consume the most resources. This is especially true for Americans. For example, the mineral usage of each American alone is overwhelming:
According to a 2009 study, the carbon impact of just one child can make 20 times more greenhouse gas than a person can save by recycling, using energy-efficient household products, and driving fuel-efficient cars. Every American child will add approximately 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere.
Due to our increasing population and energy usage, Earth has been in a state of ecological overshoot since the 1970’s. This means that the demand humans place on the Earth’s resources is more than the Earth can replenish. We live in ecological debt.
Human overpopulation is a contributing factor to this state. There are currently about 7.2 billion humans on the planet. This is the highest our population has ever been, and it is predicted to continue growing. At this rate, about a million babies are born every four days, and another billion humans every 12 years. This growth in living tax deductions can’t be paid for with the real wealth they require: resources.
Our population is having a significant impact on the biodiversity of our planet. Other species are dying off at alarming rates due to habitat loss, pollution, and mass slaughter. Half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in a mere 40 years due to human activity. This grim reality also applies to invertebrate populations.
We share the planet with many other living beings besides humans, and many of them play a significant role in making this planet so conducive to life. Trees significantly reduce air pollution. Rain forests regulate our climate and prevent soil erosion. Bees pollinate flowering plants to help provide us with about one-third of our food. Plants in the ocean also produce half of the world’s oxygen.
In short, our destruction of various ecosystems is making Earth a less habitable planet. In fact, scientists have already asserted that humans are responsible for the ongoing sixth mass extinction on Earth. Ironically, we don’t hesitate to control the populations of other species or limit how many resources we take.
While having children is seen as a sacrosanct sacrifice, it is often a self-serving sacrifice that many fail to recognize. Involved parenthood can be a way to retroactively look at a fresher version oneself in the mirror. Bringing up children is one of the most common and accepted tools in the ubiquitous art of avoiding oneself and the world.
And considering the facts on the world’s state at present, excessive reproduction (having more than two children) is an irresponsible endeavor laced with narcissism. If billions of us continue the parochial pursuit of getting lost in our genetic reflections, then the Earth will find its stern way of showing us that it simply cannot make ends meet to support our collectively fatal vanity.