Asking For A Friend: I Want A Kid Even Though The World Might Be Ending

Dear Olive,

I want a child. I want to see my partner become a father. I want to experience the wonder (and horror) of pregnancy. Our immediate families are tremendously supportive, particularly because so far, none of the “kids” in either of our families have had children of their own (we’re all in our 30s). I have a good career with a solid paycheck and good insurance, and my partner works for himself with flexible hours. We have family close by who could help with childcare. We have the support, financial abilities, and desire to have a kiddo of our very own.

Except: I’m terrified about climate change. Having a child in America is basically as environmentally damaging as you can get. Plus, what world will my child grow up in, with food and water scarcity, and insane environmental disasters? Except we’re both white, and the world sure doesn’t need more well-meaning white folks. Except our democracy seems teetering on the brink of all-out totalitarianism, and I have no faith in the morality of the voting public. Except there are already so many children in the world who need care, homes, and love.

I recognize that I am living in a time of great change, and that the world is probably better now than it’s ever been. I know that having biological children has always been a crapshoot, that the world has always been scary. How do I justify bringing another human into the world when it feels like everything is devolving?

-Wary But Wanting

 

Dear Wanting,

Here’s what I know about you: you’re financially stable, supported, coupled, white. Statistically, I think you know that your kid will be fine. I suspect that belief is why you wrote at all; if you didn’t think your child’s chances were better than most, this might be a far simpler decision.

But you’re scared; that makes sense. Even if you know that the harshest realities wrought by climate change — from visions of drowning cities to the social services cut from state budgets stretched to breaking by natural disaster responses — are likely to be more theoretical than three-dimensional for your kid, they’re impossible to ignore altogether once you meet the minimum responsibility of being a privileged person with access to the news, and pay attention. It sounds like you do.

Fear is one product of that attention. Unlike panic (frantic and largely useless) or paranoia (imagination run riot), fear is the result of your antennae sensing danger. Fear informs. It intuits. It’s fueled by the pieces your conscious mind can’t quite align as quickly as your body can understand them.

It seems to me normal — good, even — that you have fear about this very big life choice. It seems to me impossible not to feel that fear, and nearly impossible to feel it and rationalize making the choice anyway. There’s no sensible rearranging of the equation where x comes out less messy. But something still drives people to procreate, in spite of all the reasons not to. Logic and fear only go so far; something wild and inexplicable carries us the rest of the way.

Whatever choice you make, I’d wager that feeling, not logic, will decide it. I think you might know that too; your litany of reasons one shouldn’t want children is sandwiched between plaintive evidence of how much you do, in spite of them.

So: if not a new arithmetic to add up what you already know, what are you really asking for? Reassurance that the future may be friendlier than we’ve anticipated? Solidarity with a string of generations who’ve also thought the world was ending, and procreated anyway? Or just permission to want the things you think you shouldn’t?

On that count, I’ll comply: want away. I get it; I eat burgers and drive a Corolla and will get on an airplane tomorrow and another a week later. I bought a phone charger from Amazon last Tuesday, and before that, a phone. I’ve given up my time and my advertising profile to any number of companies who make their profits on the backs of exploited laborers halfway across the world and then stash them in tax havens, who advertise themselves as social forces for good and manipulate millions into believing that message. My life and yours are already full of contradictions that trade conscience for convenience and barely make us wince anymore.

Children seem different, perhaps. But the decision behind making them follows the same rationalizing pathways as the phones and the airplanes — pathways that, for most people, lead to the same generally self-interested end.

No, that’s not ideal. But I’d be naïve to advise refraining from the children you want so badly when even free two-day shipping is so difficult to resist.

Despite your misgivings, you want the kid. The threats of climate change and dictatorship and raising a well-meaning white person can hardly be sturdier deterrents than the threats of nuclear winter or trench warfare or being eaten by nearby lions, and desire has dwarfed all those at some point.

Instead of suppressing the fear you feel — or even less usefully, alchemizing it into guilt and then suppressing it — think about what fear might fuel in you. Kid or no kid, what kind of world do you want to live in? What kind of work are you willing to do to build it?

As your family grows, will you narrow the borders of your community to just those in your bloodline, or will you expand your interdependence to your neighbors, your friends, the people taking the bus with you, the ones you’ll never even lay eyes on? When the news sounds dystopian, will you repost the trending hashtags and fume at the dinner table, or will you put your body on the line? Will you condemn voters’ morality or funnel your privileges toward ensuring their rights?

Will your child shrink your world, or expand it?

Neither your kid nor the burger I ate last week will be the tipping point to the end of the world. Yes, our meatless Mondays and compost bins and IUDs add up, and no, being one of seven billion doesn’t give you or me leave to lose sight of that. But to focus on the disasters you might avert or invite by getting pregnant or opting out is to dismiss the power you have already while indulging an inflated sense of scale.

Recalibrate that vision. You are not nearly as small as you think, nor as big. Use your empathy, your access, your caution, your heart — not just to gamble on the world, but to invest in it.

Love,

Olive

 

For a little unprofessional advice in these uncertain times, send your questions to yourfriendolive@gmail.com or to our anonymous portal. We want it all: the embarrassing, the baffling, the epistemological. Check back in two weeks from now for another dose of aggressively earnest advice, next time on Asking For a Friend.

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