Anna Hughes

The morals of having children

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The morals of having children

On September 4, 2017, Posted by , In Lifestyle, With 13 Comments

When speculation emerged in July that Kate Middleton might be pregnant with her third child, a letter from charity ‘Having Kids’ urging the couple of reconsider met with a considerable public backlash. The charity: for the good of the environment, we should be having fewer children, and those in the public eye have a duty to set an example for the rest of us. The public: who are you to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do?

To not have children is a decision I made long ago. At an early age I was conscious that there were too many people in the world, among them many unwanted children. Why would I contribute to that? My view was usually dismissed by others: “Oh, you’ll change your mind,” and, “Wait until your biological clock kicks in!” I would smile and say, perhaps. But as my teens turned into my twenties, I never developed that maternal instinct, neither did I feel an urge to be pregnant. Babies don’t make me weak in the knees; I don’t quite know what to do with them.

My decision to remain childless has caused tension in past relationships. One boyfriend would say, “I know you don’t want children, but why don’t you want my children?” He wouldn’t accept that this was a decision I could make alone. We argued endlessly about it until one morning he told me he needed to find a woman with whom he could have babies, and that was that. I was heartbroken, but wouldn’t change my mind just to keep him happy.

Most of my friends are now parents. All three of my sisters have children. But at the age of 34, I am still as adamant as ever that I won’t follow suit. Though my resolve is still the same, my motivation has changed. I’ve always been environmentally aware, but it wasn’t until recently that my decision struck me as being an environmental one. Our global population is on the increase, and in a world with finite resources, we cannot continue to grow exponentially. We can be diligent in terms of reducing food waste, using renewable energy, creating less pollution, protecting animals, but fundamentally, if there are too many people on this earth it doesn’t matter how much we protect our resources: there simply isn’t enough to go around. The obvious answer to our environmental woes is to have fewer children.

Yet it’s a controversial issue. When we speak of limiting a population, we think of China and a restrictive one-child policy that has resulted in forced abortions. We think of freedom of choice being taken away. In Western society, large families have been the norm for several generations, with the push after the World Wars to re-build our decimated population, or the historical need for women to have lots of children because only a handful would survive into adulthood. Most people see the choosing of family size as a fundamental human right, illustrated very clearly by the outrage sparked by the ‘Having Kids’ letter.

And so it should be, to a point. We should all be free to make those decisions. But we should also be informed to make those decisions responsibly, with regards to the impact they have on those around us. Everything we do in life affects the environment to a greater or a lesser extent. People consume resources. By bringing a child into the world, we are creating a person who will need food, water, clothes, stimulation, and all the other resources life demands. We are already consuming far more than this planet can provide, a worrying trend that will only continue to rise.

Today, the Cambridges confirmed that Kate is indeed pregnant. The news made me sad and slightly frustrated. While I am against forcibly restricting people in their fundamental freedoms, I wish we could be better educated to make better choices. I’m frustrated because Kate and William are in the public eye; it could be enormously influential if they had chosen to have no more than two children. When I tell people of my decision not to have a family, and explain the reasons why, they are interested, and admit to never having thought of it like that. It is difficult to present limited family size as a positive choice, but it’s an important argument to make, and one that would benefit society and the world for generations to come.

13 Comments so far:

  1. Daneeta Jackson says:

    Child free 52 year old here. I was an “early articulator” at age 6. Very good points. We can go a long way by not defining all women as mothers. Girls, this is something that you can do if you want to have kids, but if you don’t want to, then that is a very valid choice. Instead, we get inundated with mother images from early childhood. So, when we feel that children aren’t right for us, society tells us that there is something wrong with that thought.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Daneeta,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree – there is societal pressure for girls to become mothers. Having said that, it’s definitely changing and there are far more women choosing not to have a family than there used to be. It’s a step in the right direction!

  2. Dave Gardner says:

    Well-articulated, Anna. I quoted you on the Wall of Fame today at Growth Bias Busted:

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for the comment Dave, and thanks for mentioning me in your article. It’s an interesting read, and definitely something that needs consideration by wider society.

  3. Alexandra says:

    The truth is that these days there is really no excuse for having more than two biological children and even then one is better. The mortality rate for children is no longer an issue and we don’t live on farms needing to breed people to work the land. We simply do not need to create more people. Reproduction it’s supposed to drop significantly once a culture reaches a certain stage of civilization. This started happening even during the height of Rome. Keeping families smaller was a very important thing to them and there’s actually a contraceptive herb that is now extinct because it was so heavily used at that time. Almost the entire world reached that stage in the 1800s. Unfortunately two world wars caused a massive shift towards overbreeding. Most people really don’t like to acknowledge this but the baby boom is directly responsible for our current situation.

    We have far too many people living on this planet. Without a dramatic drop in the current population research strongly indicates that we won’t last another century. Unless we have some sort of horrible plague that wipes out at least 50% of the population we must stop procreating if we want to survive. The only options we have are losing half the human race or cutting back reproduction on a huge scale. But unless the governments of the world step in and start enforcing that it will never happen.

    Benefits for children need to stop after two. People receiving government assistance need to be prohibited from breeding until they are financially stable. Tax breaks need to be given for not having biological children. Adoption needs to be free for those who meet the requirements and pass screening. IVF must be prohibited, at least until there are no children in the adoption and foster systems. Contraception has to be supplied for free by the government and people should be given incentives for permanent sterilization. Abortion must be made easily accessible and covered fully by health insurance with funding for people who do not have it.

    Breeding is not a right anymore, it’s a privilege. You do not get to buy your own happiness at the expense of the well-being of others in the future. Those who have more than two children are only ensuring that those children and their children will endure greater suffering. The world needs to understand that. Because if things don’t change then we are going to destroy this planet and all life on it.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Alexandra. I would be careful of how you present your views – extreme opinions often fail to engage people, which I’m sure is the opposite of what you’re aiming for. You’re right, we need to have fewer children, but I would be wary of suggesting no more IVF or using the word ‘breeding’ – humans are different from animals! And that difference works to our advantage – as intelligent beings we can make informed choices that are for the good of all. Spreading the information is the important part, which we need to do in the most open-minded way possible, rather than alienate those we are trying to reach.

  4. Simon says:

    “Breeding is not a right anymore, it’s a privilege”

    Be careful you don’t fall from that high horse you’re looking down at us from!

    We are facing far more serious issues than whether a family (whatever that is nowadays) should include 1, 2 even 5 children. And I feel strongly that it is seriously misguided to think that you can guilt-trip people into controlling the number of offspring they have in the name of “saving the planet” or their responsibility to future generations.

    Lots of women actively want to have children and have what we call a “mothering instinct” from a very early age. Yet today there is a greater sense of liberation for women to choose to not have children – and to make other choices – than ever before. So, even if you feel pressured about having children, it’s not compulsory.

    Perhaps if all of you are so bothered about women being ‘programmed’ perhaps you would like to address the many ways women are bombarded with the way they should look and behave: the countless magazines on the shelves, the proliferation of celebrity gossip and other articles, adverts and websites advocating must-have hairstyles, makeup, clothes, accessories, tummy tucks and a thousand other ways to ‘be more attractive’ or whatever.

    Consider how screwed up many women are about food and their diet and a load of other things. What about the ceaseless marketing of junk food to the entire nation? The powerful supermarkets and big brands/chains continue to sell us ever cheaper processed junk food and ever more ‘clever’ consumer goods regardless of the social, animal and environmental costs…

    There are *so many* more effective ways to make a positive difference in the world than lecturing about the merits of being childless (though I fully respect and understand anyone’s choice to do so).

    • Anna says:

      I never use my website to lecture, simply express my opinions and explain the reasons for them. If you have an issue with a particular comment, please direct your words to that person (though they might appreciate something more constructive).
      This might not be the most serious issue we are facing, but it is an important one. You’re right, there are many other ways to make a positive difference in the world. I hope I address some of them in other posts.
      Unpleasant exchanges abound on the internet; I would thank you not to do that on my blog. Debate and opinions welcome. Ranting not.

      • Dena Walemy says:

        Anna..he was hardly ranting and he did end by saying he respects your right to express our views. Someone reading your post about the royal couple and their third child would be forgiven for thinking you were in fact giving quite a forceful opinion or indeed “lecturing”. You said you were disappointed that they were having a third child, as if the correct choice would have been to abort it. You assume that your views on the environmental harm done by extra children are based on scientific theory and are correct. But what if you’re wrong? You’re pushing at existential questions that I suspect you don’t have answers for. I certainly don’t. And I have the humility to accept that people have very different views. People who have a third child and come to know of your views are obviously going to be upset by them. Is that really what you want?

        • Anna says:

          Hi Dena. I didn’t say I was disappointed, as it’s not my place to be so. I said I was sad and slightly frustrated about the royal couple having a third child. My frustration comes not because of the number, but because they are in the public eye and had a golden chance to make a statement on an important issue. You assume I would prefer them to abort the child – assumptions are dangerous! It would be awful of me to suggest one individual undergo an abortion. Of course, it would be better had they decided not to get pregnant in the first place.
          I am careful not to use phrases such as ‘environmental harm’ or to imply that these problems are caused by children. It’s about global population, which is based on numbers and fact. We are currently using up the renewable resources of 1.7 Earths, and judging by current trends, by 2050 we will need three. There are lots of arguments and issues explored on this website if you’re interested in reading further:

  5. claire says:

    This is clearly an emotive topic, but I’d like to weigh in. I had the misfortune of meeting a foster lady with a newborn this week. Apparently this was the mother’s 8th child and she didn’t want it. I am not sure why she had so many. If I make assumptions, perhaps she wanted the benefits, or perhaps she has a difficult history and was looking for love. In any case she needs counseling and thankfully there are socially responsible people who are prepared to pick up the pieces to give that child a better upbringing. I hope the mother is also offered help.

    Even in less extreme cases, I think education is the answer and all children should be taught parenthood and emotional literacy in school, so they can decide if they really want to become parents, whether they are mature enough handle the job and what that means for society and the planet. With emotional literacy they would be more able to self-regulate when they are bombarded by media messages and less susceptible to ‘programming.’ People who are educated and aware of the consequences of their actions tend to make better decisions without the need for draconian measures and communist style rules.

    I think Anna serves up the facts and leaves us to make up our own minds. Although I can’t send my kids back, I have recently reduced my consumption of meat, clothing, non-eco washing powder, anything in plastic, switched back to petrol, walk and bike more and have fewer flights and more staycations to help the planet. We should all do whatever we can to contribute to a healthier society and planet and for some people, just starting the dialogue about childlessness opens up the possibility that they don’t have to follow social norms and can express their views not to have children without harsh judgements as the latter is very damaging.

  6. Chris Wood says:

    I recently came across your BBC interview regarding this very subject. I just wanted to say that it is a real breath of fresh air to come across someone with the same views. As you describe, this opinion is often viewed as controversial and it can be very difficult to discuss this matter with others who clearly don’t share the opinion.
    My own partner and I are in no rush to have kids although we are also feeling pressure from society due to our age. We have agree we would much rather adopt than have a child of our own should we decide that we wanted the family dynamic.

    On a side note, I wanted to point out that I was also in your Primary school and year. It’s great to see the lady you have become and the fantastic role model you are.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks Chris. Nice to hear from you! I totally agree with you about adoption – if I did decide to have a family, that would be the route I would go down. Bringing up children is different to having your own baby!

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