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Too Many Children?

Too Many Children?

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.

Read more: Home, Babies, Children, Parenting at the Crossroads, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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1:10PM PDT on May 20, 2014

It's possibly the most complicated issue our species has ever to control our numbers so we don't kill ourselves with waste, pollution, etc....not to mention all the millions of innocent animals we've exterminated and continue to eliminate with our ongoing GLUT on the planet.

Can we rely on people who are intelligent enough to limit themselves to one child?

Can we rely on people who understand the problems of over-population and voluntarily decide to limit themselves?

Must we imitate the Chinese and implement a ''one-child only'' policy?

What about the various people who insist on producing LITTERS of children in response to their religious ''commandments'' about fruitful multiplication? These ideas were designed to spread doctrines and belief systems, without ANY consideration for over-population, starvation, etc.

11:16AM PDT on May 20, 2014

A lot of you people scare me a lot more than over-population, with your call for government control of every breath we take. By the way, I'm childless by choice. Keyword: Choice. Choice = Freedom

8:10AM PDT on May 20, 2014

@Pronatalist P.: Hooray! So let's conquer the earth, until there is no breath possible any longer, until all wildlife has gone under the overpressure of our greedy and misled species which is on it's way to cover our good earth like a mold fungus or a carcinoma that strangles all other life under it. This is just murderous - and in the long run suicidal, too. This is probably the way you wish to reach your "kingdom of heaven", ha!

7:22AM PDT on May 20, 2014

More and more people would be glad to live. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, the good book says. Contraceptives are awkward and have nasty side effects.

Encourage large families worldwide, so that more people can experience life.

9:14PM PDT on Sep 6, 2013

Thank you.

9:13PM PDT on Sep 6, 2013

Thank you.

10:41PM PDT on Sep 4, 2013

i like the idea of a big family because i grew up in one would much rather adopt children in need than add to the population

2:11PM PST on Dec 31, 2012


6:32AM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

"How much is too many? Or just maybe, is it nobody’s business?"

It is the Earth's business. We are overpopulating the planet because of selfish desires. Instead of breeding like rabbits, adopt a needy child.

4:57PM PST on Feb 29, 2012

And meanwhile, the Catholics are imposing their "BREED, BABY, BREED" idea of "morality" on us all!

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