It is easy to become antinatalist if you are concerned about overpopulation. I think this is shortsighted.
Let’s face it—the best reason to care about our growing population is concern for future generations. People a generation or two from now will experience increasing effects of crowding and resource depletion. We should be concerned for our children and grandchildren, who will know a world very different from ours.
Most of us will be part of the problem by having our own children. We need to raise our kids to be conscious of population and environmental issues. The most important step we can take is to minimize our impact by having small families, or by not reproducing at all.
You might think that there is not much difference between a family of two children and one with three. There is a large disparity, however, after a few generations. If each of your three children has three kids, and so on, you will have 27 great grandchildren. In five generations there will be 243 progeny. If there had only been two per couple, there would only be 8 great grandchildren, and 32 great, great, great grandchildren. So at the end of five generations we compare 243 with 32; the difference is over seven fold!
People used to believe that a single child would be spoiled and would not prosper, but recent studies have shown that this is not true. In fact, an only child is likely to be a high achiever and to be well adjusted. Some recent information about only kids can be found in Bill McKibben’s book Maybe One.
If you are concerned that an only child would suffer from the lack of siblings, there are ways to ensure the advantages of socializing with other kids. If you parent a single child, try not to focus all of your attention on her. Have her spend time with cousins. Choose a neighborhood that has children of compatible ages. Find activities for your child to do with other children; a good preschool is an excellent way to get children together. You might trade cooperative “sitting”, or be a day-care provider.
For those of us who choose not to bear children, congratulations! There is a support group for you: Childfree By Choice. You can find them on the web at www.childfreebychoice.com. If you are unsure about having kids, they have material for people who are still trying to make up their minds about being parents, and even a bunch of jokes about childlessness. More and more people are choosing the option to forego children. Now about one in five women will not bear any child, while a few years ago it was only one in six.
Happily, there are alternatives to giving birth. For those who want to participate in child rearing but not bear their own, and for those who enjoy a big family but don’t want to contribute to overpopulation, there are several possibilities.
Adoption is one way to go. Those who are able to make a long-term commitment deserve congratulations. So many kids need love and stability, and many demand special care. They have physical or mental problems, and require mature or experienced parents with many resources.
Not ready to make the commitment for adoption? Consider being a foster parent. There are kids of all ages who need a short-term home. Some are newborns who need a cradle for a few days while awaiting permanent adoption. Others are teenagers who are in trouble, and are farmed out to people who can provide nurture and discipline. Foster parenting can be especially challenging.
There are other, less extensive ways of being involved. For instance, Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a nationwide agency that involves adults in the short-term care of kids. If you volunteer, you only need to spend a few hours a week with your child. Coaching, helping in a classroom, working with Scouts or a church group all allow you to help kids grow.
Here is a paradox. The reason we have children is for the sake of the future. But if we have too many progeny, the future will be ruined. The solution is for people to have the right number of children—fewer than in the past. It also means that some people will forgo passing on their genes. Instead, they have the opportunity to pass on their wisdom and culture to future generations.
© Richard Grossman MD, 2006