When I first toyed with the idea of writing a parenting blog, I thought a key issue (at least for me) with having children, was the tremendous impact (both positive and negative) that one or several children would have on our already burdened planet. The act of bringing a child into this world is the equivalent of a cosmic crap shoot, or a blind leap of faith, hoping that the thin reed that holds this whole project earth together will maintain long enough for our kids to grow up and undo all the horrendous and ignorant mistakes we had committed in the recent past. But ultimately, the gesture of having a child, in itself, is such an affirmative and optimistic action that it threatens to undo any pragmatic misgivings one may have about bringing a child into this world. But how about eight, or 10, or 14?
As sited in a recent New York Times article by Kate Zernike, the average size of families (as in number of children) has fallen drastically from the large, rambling brood of the mid-20th century to a more conservative one or two per couple (2.1 to be exact). This trending down has been gradual, and has cast the notion of more than three or four children to be almost excessive in the eyes of the majority of the population. What was once seen as “normal” to have a gaggle of children is now often looked upon as impractical, untenable, or downright irresponsible. This sort of judgment is no more evident than in the current furor and hullabaloo over Nadya Suleman, recent mother of octuplets in addition to her existing six children (14 total, if anyone is counting). Controversy aside, the lasting thorny issue is the outstanding impact of breeding, on both a conservative and sometimes excessive level.
Many parents with large families argue, besides the obvious benefits of constant companionship among siblings, that they have an economy of scale that consists of lots of children, yes, but children that pool and utilize the same resources over and over again (think commune). However, those that don’t subscribe to the more is less concept, scoff at the idea of multiple children and see it as a gratuitous drain on our, already beleaguered, resources.
How much is too many? Is there any value to the Chinese model, which limits procreation to one child per family, or can we learn from the Mormon ideology of abundance with children that populate the earth with good intentions? Like other forms of conservation, should we, as parents, curb our hunger for large families, at least until we sort out our deficits and shortages? Or just maybe, is it nobody’s business?
Feel free to chime in.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.