How Can Anyone be Happy Without Having Kids? Easy!

Note: This will be the last column for quite a while on this blog. We are going on hiatus to evaluate our directions in life (if such a thing is realistic). Writing Enough of Us  and this blog has been a many-years-long project for us. We hope it will promote a dialogue on an issue that has too long been predominantly confined to intimate conversations and unspoken judgments. We thank everyone who has followed and supported www.enoughof.us.

 A study reported in London’s Daily Mail bears this not-so-surprising-to-us headline: “Childless couples ‘have the happiest marriages.’” A research study entitled “Enduring Love?” conducted by Britain’s Open University determined that—in the U.K. at least—people without children are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner. They are also more likely to be happily married.

          The study involved questioning more than 5,000 people across a range of ages, statuses, and sexual orientations. “For both men and women, those who did not have children ranked the quality of their relationship more highly than those who did.”

          The “childless” include the childfree (those who choose not to have kids) and those without kids who may want them. Overall, childless couples worked more than parents at maintaining the quality of their partnerships. Such efforts include “going out” together and talking to each other.

          We try to be as fair as we can on this blog, so we won’t hide the fact that, “Mothers were happier overall than any other group, while childless women were the least happy. By contrast, men with children emerged slightly less happy than those without.”

          Being parents also influenced levels of intimacy. Fathers were twice as likely to cite a lack of sexual intimacy as the biggest downfall of their relationships, while mothers reported that they often want to have sex less than their partners do. We’re not sure if these contrasting emotions were felt by members of the same couple, in which case “too much” for one would be “not enough” for the other. If that is the case … well … heaven help them.

          Evidence indicates that many couples with kids persist in their marriages primarily for the sake of their kids. Childless and childfree couples as a group have a significantly higher divorce rate than those with kids, which on its face appears to be contradictory. But when you consider that many parent couples stay together because of the potentially devastating consequences for their kids, it makes sense that parents “stick it out” longer.

           As reported in the Huffington Post, of those interviewed, mothers reported being happier with life than any other group, and childless women reported being the least happy.

           The study indicates that “couples need to keep investing in their relationships. It’s reassuring to know, especially in these tough economic times, that it’s the small gestures of appreciation and affection, rather than the big romantic displays that really make the difference,” said Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the relationship support organization Relate, which contributed to the study.

          For our book Enough of Us, we interviewed comedian Jay Leno, a longtime acquaintance and colleague of Ellis’s. Jay and his wife Mavis decided that having children was not compatible with his show business lifestyle, among other determinants. Instead, they have maintained a happy and steady marriage for 33 years, sans offspring. The Lenos are typical of many people who have a clear vision about what their marital partnership should consist of, including whether to change their life path for keeps.  

The Great Kate

Katherine Hepburn in her prime. Wikimedia Commons

        The great actor and notorious eccentric (in the best possible way) Katherine Hepburn, put her choice thus: “I had such a wonderful upbringing that I had a very high standard of how a mother and father should behave. I couldn’t be that way and carry on a movie career.”

          Lori Buckley is a sex therapist in Pasadena, Calif. As reported in WebMD, she observes that the couples she sees have no regrets about living a childfree life. “They might have curiosity, wondering ‘what if.’ But once you’ve made a conscious decision and you have clarity about your choices, then chances of regret go way down.”

          Over the years, one of the soundest pieces of advice we have repeatedly come across is that couples need to deal with the “will we or won’t we” question of parenting before committing to a “permanent” relationship. Doing so is no guarantee of success, but it does improve the odds.

 ***   

President James Madison

James Madison by John Vanderlyn (1775–1852) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

       And here is a bit of political history. James Madison was the fourth president of the United States. He is regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution. He was married to Dolley Payne Madison, who had two sons by a previous marriage, the youngest of whom died at three months of age on the same day as Dolley’s husband.

         James and Dolley never produced a child

Fourth First Lady, Dolley Madison

Hello Dolley!
Dolley-Madison-c.-1804-by-Gilbert-Stuart

together. The upshot of this story is: You may not father a child but you can still father a democracy.

When Parents Age, Who Supports Whom?

Last Sunday evening we had dinner with another childfree couple. The four of us got into a discussion about various parents who are acquaintances of ours who, over the years, have challenged our choice to not procreate. From time to time the question, “Who will care for you in your old age?” had come up.

          All four of us had more or less the same response. It goes something like this: “How do you know that you won’t need your elderly parents’ financial help? And how do you know that you will survive until old age, or that you will outlive your parents? How can any parent know that their adult children won’t be living far away and thereby be unable to care for them?”

          In fact, we (the authors) know adults who want nothing to do with their parents.

          We deal with many of these issues in Chapter 9, “Caring for an Aging Population,” of our book Enough of Us.

          In a study by Merrill Lynch in conjunction with Age Wave, which describes itself as a  “thought leader on population aging and its profound business, social, financial, healthcare, workforce, and cultural implications,” came up with some illuminating, if not startling, revelations about roles older parents may play in their adult children’s lives.

          For example, “Sixty-two percent of people age 50 and older have provided financial assistance to family members during the last five years. However, the vast majority have never budgeted or prepared for providing such support.” We wish the study had stats for retired parents.

          More than 55 percent of people in the study believe that a member of their family is the “Family Bank” because that person is the one most likely to be tapped for financial assistance. The upshot is, the more financially responsible people are, the more money they have, the more approachable their personalities, the more likely they are to be viewed as the Family Bank.

Grandparents

Grandparent. Photo – Wikimedia Commons by Steve Evans

         Heaven help the prudent, good-hearted soul who has relatives with few qualms about extending their palms. And get a load of this: Half of folks over age 50 who have not yet retired say they would make sacrifices that could negatively affect their retirement in order to help family members, including retiring later and returning to work after retirement. We wonder if that could mean money lost to adult children might have otherwise enabled older folks to pay for long-term care insurance, assisted living, or retirement village expenses.

          As one focus group member who participated in the study put it, “I thought I would be supplementing my grandchildren’s college funds. It turns out I was the college fund.” But more than a third of those who parted with their hard-earned savings in order to help family did not even know what the money would be used for.

          So while many older pre-retirees and retirees were being supportive of family members, they were undermining their own capacity for remaining independent and self-reliant.

          For younger generations, the anxieties about a long life center on exhausting financial resources. But for older Americans, just as important is the fear of becoming a burden to their families. It seems that the irony occurs at the nexus of being the Family Bank and of becoming a burden when that burden is due to a paucity of financial resources.

          The greatest “burden” fears are:

  • Having family members physically take care of me;
  • Taking my family away from their own lives to care for me;
  • Needing money from family to help pay bills;
  • Being responsible for stress and worry among family members;
  • Having to move in with family members.

          Two-thirds of study participants say they have done nothing to preclude the necessity of moving in with family, if unable to live on their own. The concept that offspring will be available to assist their elderly parents is at best a hit-and-miss proposition. In fact, the reality can frequently be nothing less than a tragic irony. When older parents bail out their progeny, they may be jeopardizing their sustained independence.

          Add that to the aforementioned possibilities of children pre-deceasing their parents, parents dying before attaining old age, children and parents living far apart, plus the possibility of estrangement, broke offspring, and parents not having enough resources because they had been generous to their adult kids, and the answer to the question addressed to the childfree and childless of “Who will take care of you in your old age?” can be turned around and asked of parents as well.

True or False: Population Growth is Necessary for a Healthy Economy

Let’s answer the title question this way: If population growth is necessary for a prosperous economy, we will one day prosper ourselves into oblivion. If we must grow in order to prosper, we will either have keep populating until we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder, or decide to regress back to a less-wealthy state.

          As to whether we need population growth, let’s consider the broader picture. Automation is eliminating the need for workers. Technology improves worker productivity. We live in a society in which production is becoming more efficient. Costco, Amazon, Lowe’s, and the like are turning warehouses into stores. So while corporate profits and stock markets hit new highs, engineers are forced to drive school buses and work at Wal-Mart at the same time the Federal Reserve Bank buttresses a lagging economy. It sounds like an economy run by the Mad Hatter.

          All of these apparently contradictory indicators lead us to believe that we don’t have enough jobs to keep a growing population employed. Sooner or later, it seems, those corporate profits will sink away as we have an ever-growing segment of people struggling to pay their bills.

          But, hey, we’re not economists. In lieu of that status let’s look at a study from Population Connection (PC) that aims to refute the allegations of those it describes as “questionable characters” who are trying to “guilt American women into having more children.”

Population Connection logo          The organization asserts that while Americans will have to make some adjustments as baby boomers age, we can definitely have a healthy economy without increasing our population.  “Economic growth does not depend on population growth.”

          According to Population Connection President John Seager, researchers he describes as independent interviewed scores of economists and academics in related fields. The researchers concluded that economic growth is not dependent upon population growth. Considering the world’s limited resources it is a bad idea to rely on a growing workforce to compensate for an aging population. “Increasing productivity, boosting female participation in the labor force, and providing incentives for older workers to stay on the job longer if they want to, can offset the effects of an older population.

          “U.S. productivity can increase with a smaller workforce, but not unless we invest in education and address age discrimination.”

          Among the insights provided by the academics are:

  • Gross Domestic Product measures monetary value. It does not include leisure, volunteering, family time, and other productive activities.
  • Natural resources are limited. Humans are consuming renewable natural resources faster than the earth can replace them,
  • There is a culture in society of “education-work-retire,” which needs to be re-imagined. We need to adopt the concept of continuously educating ourselves, making us more adaptable.
  • Older workers should be open to—and should be accepted as—being able to do work that typically had not been thought of as suitable after “typical” retirement age.

          Seager makes the case that, “Unfortunately, in today’s media environment, panicking over ‘birth dearths’ and other ‘baby busts’ always seems to get more airtime. The message ‘We’re gonna (sic) be just fine,’ isn’t sexy so it doesn’t sell.”

          With so many environmental, quality-of-life, civil strife, and threatened species problems to be concerned with, all of which are exacerbated by mushrooming human population, “It’s nice to have at least one thing—too few babies—that we don’t have to worry about,” explains Seager.

          You can read the entire report upon which Seager bases his case right here.

          Our book makes the case that there are enough of us. The truth be told, there are more than Enough of Us.  And with fewer of us, our economy and planet can thrive. Hence, the answer to our question is a resounding, “False.”

 

 

Stepfatherhood is Good Enough for Me

[Guest blogger James Prescott is the author of a science fiction novel, Between Earth and Arcturus which can be listened to as an audio drama on www.workingthegalaxy.com. He is a member of the South Bay Writers group,to which Cheryl and Ellis Levinson belong.]

 

          I am 54 years old and never had children of my own; that is to say, no biological offspring. I do have a stepdaughter whom I first met when she was already in college, and now she has a beautiful baby boy of her own. My wife divorced her first husband when their daughter was quite small, and he has since passed away.

          Though we don’t share any genetic material, I love my stepdaughter as much as I would one of my own. At least, I think I do. Not having any way to compare, I will never really know, but does it matter?

          And her baby is a joy to me, which I never expected.

          Do I now regret not having kids of my own? Hell no!  I’ve got the best of both worlds. When I read the August postings on this site, they resonated with me and inspired me to respond with something of my own experience.

Author James Prescott

James Prescott

          Just read the August 15th (2013) posting (Who Are the Men Who Choose to be Childfree?) and you will get a good idea of why I wasn’t desperate to spread my genes around. Until reaching my 30s, my career and financial security were at the mercy of a fickle industry which was getting more heartless with each passing day. Then the economy crashed…several times…just when I thought I was getting my life in order. I never felt that I could provide the security and stability that a child deserves. 

         Besides, I was pretty content without children. In fact, until my mid-thirties, I was content being unmarried. I’d seen bad marriages, and I’d seen really bad divorces. Now, I am married, and when people ask me if it’s my first marriage, I tell them it is both my first and last. I’m mature now. This is not an experiment.

          My daughter and grandchild please me immensely, just at the time in my life when I am able to be a good father and grandfather.  What could be better? My wife and I shop for things for our grandchild, and we babysit often. When Cheryl and Ellis first told the group of their project, which later became the book, Enough of Us, I was skeptical. However, I do have an open mind (some say my mind is open at both ends to let the wind blow through), so I gave it a chance and began helping to critique their book as it progressed. During that time, I learned that the message they bring to us is not in any way mean-spirited.

          I often recommend this website as a source of well-researched and current information, and I recommend the book for anyone concerned with issues related to bringing a new life into the world.

 

Why Must Some Women Have a Child From Their Own Body? — Part I

            The so-called biological urge to have a child is most probably a myth. Danielle Friedman, senior editor of the Daily Beast, reports that “few scientists have actually studied women’s so-called biological drive to reproduce, so no universal explanation has emerged in the literature.”  In her article, “Childless and Loving It,” Friedman points to evolutionary biologist David Barash’s belief that having children is more socially acceptable than not having children. He, like many scientists, believes that the drive to procreate isn’t triggered by biology but by culture.  In his book, The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, Barash points to evolution, which has given women the desire for sex and the physical means to bear children, but the rest is free will. 

            Laura Carroll, author of The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking about Parenthood and Reproduction Will Create A Better World,  gives us something to ponder in her Huffington Post article, “The ‘Biological Urge’: What’s the Truth?”  “Realizing that a yearning for parenthood is not a biological imperative allows us to look harder at why we think we want children and ferret out how much of it comes from external conditioning.”

The cuyltural expectations for parenthood lead to overpopulation

. . . LEADS TO THIS.

 

The desire for mother hood is cultural, not bioligical

alivewithchrist.com
THIS . . .

            To add a one-two punch to the probability that cultural influences shape the decision  to bear children, Carroll quotes researcher and psychoanalyst Frederick Wyatt: “When a woman says with feeling she craved her baby from within, she is putting biological language to what is psychological.”

            Why then, do so many women want a child from their own body? Carroll asks the question another way. “What is at the essence of this feeling of longing? Is it truly to raise a child, or is it another yearning I think a child will fill for me in my life?”

            Is it possible that having a child from our body has little to do with what is considered the greater good of sharing genes or the romantic notion of making a deep connection with a being that comes from our bloodline and is therefore “thicker than water?” It’s not beyond possibility that having a biological child—as opposed to an adopted one—is an ingrained habit of our culture and has so penetrated a women’s (and sometime men’s) psyches that millions continue to believe in its magic.

            Modern cultures deserve a degree of shame for foisting outdated traditions on society and for not realizing that there are Enough of Us. As our book points out, millions of children are alone and in need of a nurturing environment. So why create more babies? Tune in to Part II of this column, where we discuss women who haven’t let questionable conventions influence their decisions about whether or not to give birth. 

            And if you are interested in more of this topic, Enough of Us is available in paperback, hard cover and as an ebook right here.

A Baby Shortage? Here we go again with that fertility argument – Part II

In our prior column we began our response to Jonathan Last’s essay, “America’s Baby Bust,” in the Wall Street Journal Review section. He laments the current and soon-to-be-“worsening” baby shortage that will leave our economy in bad shape. After all, without a growing population, who will pay the bills for the ever-increasing number of senior citizens?

     Briefly, here is our response:

     Those seniors without kids, or with fewer of them, will be better able to afford to support themselves (see last week’s column);

  • If increasing the population of little ones is a good thing, why are we so stressed about being able to care for the current spate of baby boomers?
  • Increasing the size of our consumerist society means more pollution, trash, demand for energy, climate change and its ramifications, demand for renewable resources, water shortages, etc.
  • Increased population means expanding roads, public transportation, water supply and disposal systems, and myriad other public works needs. As things stand right now we cannot even afford to maintain America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Fertile land can become desert

As a result of climate change, loss of rainfall leads to desertification in some areas

      Thanks to immigration, US population has been growing at a fairly healthy clip. But immigration can be a double-edged sword. It provides a resource to pay for the needs of aging Americans by bringing a new generation of taxpayers into the country, but it also means that shrinking fertility is merely being replaced by another form of population growth. The United States could simply become an overflow receptacle for developing countries’ excessive populations, which would perpetuate the same drawbacks as having our numbers increase from within.

     Jonathan Last’s take on this is, “it’s unlikely to last. Historically, countries with fertility rates below replacement level start to face their own labor shortages, and they send fewer people abroad. In Latin America, the rates of fertility decline are even more extreme than in the U.S.” What does that tell us? In his essay, he lays out various plans, including tax incentives, to get folks to keep contraception out of the bedroom. This, he contends, will help motivate Americans to have the children they already desire.

     For their first 18 years and beyond, children tend to be burdens on society. In the current economic crisis large numbers of recent college grads can’t find work and must remain living with their parents. Folks with advanced degrees are working as unskilled labor in an effort to pay their bills. Many jobs are being shipped overseas or transferred to robots. And we don’t know what the odds are that many of those lost jobs will be replaced by employment openings that require domestic labor.

     It seems that society pays little attention to the burdens young people can place on their predecessors. These burdens are especially true for adults of any age who do not have their own children but must nevertheless share the expense involved in bringing up a new gneration..

     There are no simple answers to the issues raised by increased populations, or smaller ones, both domestically and worldwide. But thinking only in current economic terms without consideration of environmental and sustainability concerns is not a healthy approach. And prognosticating is a tricky business. But sooner or later we will have to decide that there are more than Enough of Us. And if we wait until much later, the generations that Jonathan Last wants so desperately to increase may have hell to pay for their parents’ profligacy.

 

 

“If you don’t intend to have kids, don’t get married.” What?

We just returned from a two-and-a-half-week sojourn to New Zealand, where we were able to put non-South Pacific news out of our minds. Those Kiwis are the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Nevertheless, we had plenty to think about when we learned how this beautiful country–the last to be discovered by humans–managed to get its fauna screwed up, starting with the arrival of humans on its shores. For the animals on the land of the Kiwis it became a sad tale. That story, however, is for another day.

But no sooner had we arrived home and flicked on the TV than we were immersed in the controversy over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage (evidently the so-called budget sequestration issue had been resolved in our absence, as evidenced by the fact that in the five days since we returned, we have not seen or read a single story about it). Stand where you may on the gay rights issue, but one argument enrages us and should likewise raise the hackles (wherever they may be on humans) of anyone who does not or cannot have children.

There are those who argue that the purpose of marriage is procreation. In Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as in Tuesday’s hearing on California’s Proposition 8, the procreation argument came up.

If procreation is the sole purpose of marriage, it raises the following questions:

Should women over age 50 be permitted to marry?

Should infertile couples be allowed to marry?

Should couples who intend to use donated eggs or sperm be allowed to marry, since the donated gamete will not belong one of the prospective parents?

And the greatest stick-in-the-craw question of all: Should ordinary heterosexual couples who have absolutely no intention whatsoever of having kids—like the two of us—be authorized to tie the knot?

And here’s one for “dessert.” If two women want to marry with the intent of having one of them having in vitro fertilization, does that put them above a heterosexual couple who merely want to adopt? … and the beat goes on.

While half of American women who give birth under age 30 do so without being married, the marriage/procreation connection becomes even more tenuous. As for those who argue that marriage for the sake of procreation is the only way to go, we hope that fewer of those folks marry, ideally because it dawns on them that there are already Enough of Us.

Population and the Mormon Church

                In keeping with our continuing series about religion’s influence on procreation, we look at the family, birth control, and abortion beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormonism. 

            There are about 12.2 million Mormons worldwide, which makes it a small religion but one that carries a big-population punch.

            In 1995, the church’s First President and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued a “Proclamation to the World” that marriage (between a man and a woman), as well as family, is central to God’s plan. The Mormon Church has issued only five proclamationssince the church was established in 1830. This one spoke to the import of God’s commandment given to Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish the earth.”

Mormonism's governing body

Mormon Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, including the First Presidency

            For Mormons, the importance of family has its origins in the Church’s belief in premortal life, i.e., the unborn are God’s spirit children.  Each husband and wife brings these spirits to earth, where they become offspring.  They manifest in human form and “gain earthly experience” in order to fulfill their divine destiny. Mothers are the ones who rear and nurture their children; fathers provide for, protect, and generally preside over the family, from which the relationships of the members extend “beyond the grave,” and fulfill the “divine plan of happiness.”

            Although Latter-day Saints (LDS) celebrate and encourage large families, “Church policy supports all methods of contraception except surgical sterilization,” says Joanna Brooks’ post on the Religion Dispatches.org Web site. “Birth control is widely used and accepted among LDS Church members.” Ms. Brooks points to a prominent LDS blogger and editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Kristine Haglund, who asked the question why insurance plans at LDS institutions do not provide coverage for birth control. The answer, it seems, relates to the present controversy over President Obama’s birth control regulation and “religious freedom.” Even so, Brooks notes that premarital health classes, birth control options and contraception itself is dispensed at Mormon owned Brigham Young University.

            The Church’s position on abortion is clear: it’s only acceptable when pregnancy is a result of a rape that causes severe emotional trauma in the mother (when would it not?) and/or when the life and health of the mother is in jeopardy.  The decision to undergo an abortion must always involve a competent doctor and confirmation through prayer of the local priesthood authority.

            Because Latter-day Saints believe that having a family is central to their purpose in life, there is little chance that most Mormons would choose to be childfree.  Yet, there are Mormon women who are childfree by choice. For them, receiving understanding within the LDS community is tough, and in some cases, nonexistent.  “I am made to feel worthless in the eyes of the church,” blogged one woman, who is married but clearly does not want children.

            Mormons may well be turning a blind eye to the plight of our planet by making children a spiritual priority. According to George B. Handley, Associate Professor of Humanities at Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church does not have an official position related to contemporary environmentalism.  He goes on to write that although the LDS scriptures “clearly announce the centrality of human beings as God’s offspring and declare that all of creation was provided for human enjoyment and use,” this does not mean that abuse of nature is justified.

            As long as Mormonism encourages large families nature will suffer. The only light at the end of the tunnel where the LDS Church is concerned is adoption. If a couple cannot conceive, they can (and many times do) adopt, which is a saving grace for our overpopulated world.  It seems, generally speaking, that Mormons do not accept that making more children creates problems that far outweigh their beliefs about the sacredness of populating earth.

           

Men Can Parent Older than Women. Ain’t that Grand? Maybe Not!

Photo: CommunitiesForAutism.org

There is no news in the knowledge that men remain fertile almost indefinitely. And in this blog, as well as our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss the jeopardies for babies of older mothers.

Now, research is indicating that being an older dad has its substantial risks as well. It turns out that because men generate new gametes (cells that unite with other cells to produce the fertilized egg—oh, what the hell—sperm) for each fertilization, the chances of the sperm having gene mutations increase as the years pass.

You may know that in the United States one of every 88 newborns is inflicted with one of the disabilities on the autism spectrum. That number has been rising dramatically over the past few decades. While it’s true that some of that increase is due to improved diagnostic capabilities —Cheryl’s own brother being an example of that—there are other contingencies that need to be considered.

Researchers in Iceland analyzed the genetic makeup of 78 families in which offspring had been diagnosed with schizophrenia or autism. It was random mutations in the DNA of the fathers’ sperm that were the primary source.

Women develop their eggs very early in life, so there is not a significant ongoing opportunity for mutations. But since men are constantly producing new sperm, the opportunities for mutation present at each occurrence of genetic copying that is part of the sperm production process.

The study found that a 20-year-old father typically produces 25 mutations in his child’s genetic makeup. By the age of 40, that average rises to 65. The Icelandic geneticist who conducted the study tells the Los Angeles Times that the trend toward later fatherhood is “very likely to have made meaningful contributions to increased diagnoses of autism in our society.” The University of Iceland researcher, Kari Stefansson, attributes between 15 and 30 percent of all incidents of autism to genetic mutations from older dads.

Even so, the risk of a man in his 40s producing a child with genetic disorders remains a relatively low one in 50. That liability grows with the father’s increasing age.

The questions remain, is gambling on the wellbeing of a newborn—or the adult it is to become—ethically responsible? At what odds is the gamble worthwhile? And isn’t it an increasingly problematic ethical question if the father takes that gamble to ever-higher levels by inducing pregnancy as he ages?

The Unfortunate State of Many American Children

Let’s stir things up from the get-go. Just as the best way to protect soldiers is to keep them out of unnecessary (read: most) wars,  the best way to protect children from lives of misery is to prevent them from entering such lives. We never anticipated that we would again see a time when America would be in such dire straits. And it’s usually the children who experience the worst of it.

President of Children's Defense Fund

Marian Wright Edelman – photo: Children’s Defense Fund

In a recent essay on the Reader Supported News Web site, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) President Marian Wright Edelman lays out a frightening case for how bad things can get in still-rich America for so many unfortunate kids. The CDF has just released The State of America’s Children 2012 Handbook. It’s not a pretty picture.

Let’s start with the most dramatic. Guns killed kids in the United States in 2008-09 in greater numbers than all of U.S. military personnel who died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . combined . . . since both wars began.

There are more than 16 million poor children in the United States, almost half of whom live in extreme poverty. How sad is it that homeless shelters, child hunger, and child suffering have become everyday facts of life since the financial collapse of 2008?

There are now 10 states plus the District of Columbia that have poverty levels above 25 percent. Twice a minute another child is born into poverty.

On this site and in our ebook Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we make the case that we Americans need to cut down on our baby making, or at least give it a lot more thought before creating new lives. And we would hazard a guess that if you are astute enough to be reading our blog, you probably think that you are not among those whose children are likely to fall into the dark hole of poverty.

Keep in mind that there were 1.4 million bankruptcy filings in 2009, more than 1.5 million in 2010, and another 1.4 million in 2011. Add to that mortgage foreclosures of about 3.8 million in each of 2009 and 2010 and another 2.7 million in 2011.

Add to that job layoffs and you can see how bearing children can be a risky business, even for many who think they can offer prospective offspring a secure and happy life. As we make the case in our book, even those who are born into comfortable middle-class families are far from being guaranteed happy, healthy lives.

As Edelman writes: “I hope this report will be a piercing siren call that wakes up our sleeping, impervious and self-consumed nation to the lurking dangers of epidemic child neglect, illiteracy, poverty and violence. It’s way past time for those of us who call ourselves child advocates to speak and stand up and do whatever is required to close the gaping gulf between word and deed and between what we know children need and what we do for them . . . . please educate yourself and others about the urgent challenges facing our children . . .”

While she makes the case that America must give its children the help and hope they need, we make an additional argument, and one that comes equally from a position of caring for the happiness of kids. Why don’t we discourage the idealized images of happy, laughing, life-enriching children in favor of presenting realistic portrayals of the downs, as well as the ups, of creating new lives?

Miss Edelman urges that every person make a difference “if our voiceless, voteless children are to be prepared to lead America forward.” We would add that we need to educate would-be parents of the pitfalls and responsibilities of parenthood. And we should start while they are themselves still in school.