Eyes Wide Shut When it Comes to Procreation

            We hate to start the new year on a negative note … but you know we’re going to do it anyway. How many would-be parents think about the personal suffering of those with physical or mental illness, ongoing wars, racial injustices, and human unkindness, not to mention our brutal treatment of animals?

            Mark O’Connell, in his article in the August 3, 2014 New York Times Magazine, has mulled over it all.  “What A Raw Deal for the Poor Little Guy,” delves into what children face simply by being born, and his own parental angst about a world that is doing badly.

            O’Connell takes the reader on a journey from the time he was about 10 years old when his father took him to a nursing home to visit a female friend.  In the bed next to the friend another “impossibly ancient and decrepit” woman, agitated with the indignity of old age, said, “look at what’s happened to me.” Her voice was pleading and the young O’Connell was shaken, enough so to upset the applecart of his innocence.

Samuel Beckett

Writer Samuel Beckett. Photo – Wikimedia Commons

           O’Connell first read Samuel Beckett in college, “with his sense that to be born at all was a form of damnation.” In Waiting For Godot, the Pozzo character reminds the reader that “the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”

            O’Connell went on to read the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who stated without apology that “The world is just a hell and in it human beings are the tortured souls on the one hand, and the devils on the other.”  Schopenhauer also posed a bold question: If procreation was not accompanied by pleasure, but rationally deliberate, wouldn’t people feel so sorry for the upcoming generation and that they would spare children the “burden of existence”?

Aarthur Schopenhauer

18th Century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Photo – Wikimedia Commons

            In spite of his philosophical acumen, O’Connell’s wife had a son in March of 2013. While he sat in the hospital with her and the baby, he read the Irish Times. He was horrified by the news: “massacres, rapes, recurrent outbursts of savage recreational violence, a world built on a seemingly unshakable foundation of economic cruelty and injustice, the continuing project of environmental destruction … What a world. What a species. What a raw deal for the poor little guy.” No kidding.

            Kudos to Mark O’Connell. He went into fatherhood with eyes wide open, while he continues to struggle with his simultaneous love for his progeny and his own pessimism about “the world we chose to bring him into.” He thought twice about the pitfalls of life, and the state of the world before making a child.  Given his wisdom, we choose to believe that he is likely to have just one.

Sobering Statistics on Chronic Depression

About one of every nine Americans age 12 and older takes antidepressants. That makes them the third most commonly used prescription drug and the most used by people 18 to 44, according to a study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study involved almost 13,000 people between 2005 and 2008. A 2010 update indicates similar results.

What is particularly shocking about the results is that about four times as many people are on antidepressants as there were in 1988. While it is true that the statistic does not mean that four times as many people were depressed, it does indicate that four times as many people were taking antidepressants.

In the first chapter of our book Enough of us: Why We Should Think Twice Before Making Children, we consider the possibility that the children we hope to create as individuals are not always the happy people we dream of raising.

The results of the study are sobering reminders of just one aspect of the perils facing anyone brought into the world.

A deeper analysis brings even worse news. According to the study, only “about one-third of persons with severe depressive symptoms take antidepressant medication.” And of those Americans who take anti-depressants, more than 60 percent have taken it for at least two years, and about one in seven have taken the medication for 10 years or more.

Another reason for concern is that, “Less than one-third of Americans taking one antidepressant medication and less than one-half of those taking multiple antidepressants have seen a mental health professional in the past year.” This could mean that those who are continuing with their meds may not be getting timely advice from a mental health professional, especially for those who are combining drugs.

It deserves pointing out that the study indicates the frequency of antidepressant drug use at any one time. It stands to reason that over the course of a lifetime, a lot more than one in nine adolescent and adult Americans will be candidates to take these drugs for depression and/or anxiety.

We wonder how many would-be parents take the odds of producing contented kids into account before deciding to procreate.

 

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.

Should we Prevent Devastating Pregnancies? What’s Your Opinion?

            Adopting foster children can be an unending series of trials and tribulations. Maggie Jones’s “The Meaningful Life of a Supersize Family,” in the November 17, 2013 New York Times Magazine, makes the case in spades. The article profiles two families that have sacrificed the niceties of life in order to provide hearth and home for kids who most need it.  

            Misty and Jon already had four biological children. Even so, they discussed the adoption option and realized the $20,000 it would take to complete the process would overstretch their budget. But an ad on a Christian radio station about a new organization that was helping Christians to adopt foster kids helped change their minds. It opened the door for the Misty-Jon family (they didn’t want their last names used) to take in Denver County foster children, with the intention of adopting them. They were able to receive financial help including Medicaid and payment of therapy expenses.

            Their first foster children were brothers, Shon and Cory. They were told that the boys’ mother had dropped them off with a man who couldn’t care for them, and she never returned.

            Of the two, Shon had the worst time adjusting to his new family. He would lie in bed at night, head in hands, staring straight ahead until Misty left the room. He’d wake up in the same position in the morning “as if he were on guard all night.”

            Eight months later, as the adoption process was inching along, a caseworker informed Misty and Jon that Corey and Shon’s mother had just given birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They were dangerously premature at 24 weeks old. Each infant weighed one pound, and the county was asking for foster parents to

Premature ababy and mother.

10-week premature baby being held by her mother (this is not drug-related). Photo courtesy Polihale, Wikimedia Commons

cuddle the babies in the hospital. The boy died days before Misty and Jon’s first “holding” hospital visit, but his sister Olivia survived. Having severe heart problems, she was hooked up to a ventilator. After six months of driving 45 minutes every other night to the hospital to hold Olivia, Misty brought the little girl home, with a tracheostomy tube to help her breathe, a feeding tube, and full-time nursing care paid for by Medicaid.

            Another girl, Raena, was supposed to be a short-term placement. Her mother was on track to regain custody of the four-month-old, who weighed only 11 pounds. A relative’s boyfriend had shaken the child and thrown her into a bassinet, which resulted in two permanent brain injuries. When Raena’s mother lost her parental rights due to drug problems, Misty and Jon, who were caring for this special-needs child, “eagerly” began the adoption process.

            Maureen and her husband Christian heard the same religious radio ad as had Misty and Jon. They also had four birth children, and believed they had a calling to adopt foster children. The result was they adopted two boys. David and Ernesto’s birthmother was 16 when she had David. Thirteen months later, she gave birth to Ernesto, even though she tested positive for methamphetamine. Ernesto struggled with sensory issues: In one instance, he wrapped his torso in duct tape and in another, covered his head in Vaseline. He had screaming fits, hit his adoptive mother, and “grabbed her hair with both hands so that she couldn’t move.” Maureen rightly suspected that he had been exposed to drugs in utero.

             These stories lead us to ask the big question: Is it time to consider laws that prohibit unfit parents (drug addicts and child abusers) from repeating their traumatic, inhumane, and costly mistakes?  Progeny from parents who have no capacity to “think twice before making children,” frequently suffer sad and dysfunctional lives. The families who take in and take care of these children suffer too, both financially and emotionally. Society suffers by paying for services to dysfunctional parents and the children they sire. Citizens witness the cruelty to these offspring with horror, unable to stop the injustice. Why do our laws allow it? Can lawmakers and voters set boundaries that will actually save the yet unborn from a terrible fate?

          What do you think? We’d love to start some dialogue in this topic.

Parents can be Hurt by Their Offspring in More Ways Than One

              Thirty-year-old Margo Steines wrote an achingly personal essay in the October 27, 2013 Sunday Review section of The New York Times. “Recalling Painful Lessons in Forgiveness” begins with Margo ministering to her mother’s wounds after Margo’s Rottweiler attacked her. Apparently, Mom had reached her hand into the car and the dog bit it, but good. The result was a bloody mess. This incident is a lead-in to the daughter’s guilt over the pain she caused her mother through the years, triggered in the present by her failure to warn her parent “not to reach her hand into the car.”

            By her own admission, Margo was a problem child.  She recollects a “scrap of loose-leaf paper” on which her mother wrote “You were our dream,” during a family day at one of her rehabs.  Far from being a dream, the list of Margo’s nightmare behaviors is daunting:

  • Stealing from her mother before the age of 10
  • Running away from home at age 17, leaving no trace
  • Hanging out at New York’s  S-and-M clubs with “hookers,” “johns,” and “addicts”
  • Becoming a drug addict and alcoholic
  • Attempting several drug overdose suicides

            It’s clear in the essay that this Marlboro-smoking daughter is conscious of her own wish to have a “beautiful child who will love me and grow strong, proud and capable. . .  .” Isn’t that every would-be parent’s vision?  Things do not, and will not, always work out that way, however. That is a message we promulgate in our book, Enough of Us.

            Having a drug-addicted, acting-out child is a “smasher” as Steines describes it. She remembers her mother searching for her in downtown S-and-M clubs; at home on her hands and knees “scrubbing up my messes, wondering if I’d ever be O.K.”; dealing with the frustrations of the insurance system related to “the fancy Connecticut rehab center she sent me to”; and her mother arriving at the hospital “while I was getting an overdose pumped from my stomach … knowing I had tried to throw away the life she had given me.”

            This story is not uncommon. Considering the most recent statistics, more youngsters seem to be turning to drugs and therefore to some seriously dysfunctional behaviors.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported this development in the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of 2012 in the article, “Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends.” The report states: “Marijuana use by adolescents declined from the late 1990s until the mid-to-late 2000s, but has been on the increase since then.  

Kid smoking pot

Photo: Marijuana-addict.com

           “6.5 percent of 12th graders now use marijuana every day, compared to 5.1 percent in 2007.” Furthermore, 22.9 percent of twelfth graders used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, compared to 14.2 percent in 2007.

            Nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter medication is also on the rise among teens and contributes significantly to their drug problems. The most commonly used prescription drugs by young people are Adderall (stimulant) and Vicodin (pain reliever).

            And while fewer teenagers smoke cigarettes, other forms of tobacco used in hookah water pipes and small cigars continue to raise concerns about high-schoolers. More than 18 percent had smoked a hookah in 2011 and almost 20 percent had smoked a small cigar, both of which exceed the percentages of those who smoked cigarettes.

            What does all this mean? The underlying message is that bearing and raising children can cause great strife, especially in an age where drug use is common; and especially during a time when medical marijuana, although helpful for the sick, is not great for young people whose brains are still developing. Would-be parents who believe that bearing children will make their dreams come true should think twice, and then think again. While their kids are likely to bring more pleasure than pain, the odds are not overwhelmingly in their favor. They need to ask themselves: Am I really up to the task?

 

Is This how the U.S. Loves its Children?

            As we point out in our book, Enough of Us, Americans extoll the making of children as a great creative act.  Commercials show mothers hugging the cutest kids with the rosiest complexions. Pregnancy is presented in articles and movies as a path to true happiness. As in much that is American, the light and cheery external look of things belies what happens inside countless family homes for so many children: the darkness of child abuse goes on in shocking numbers.

Leg fracture resulting from child abuse

Fractured tibia in infant. Photo: National Institutes of Health.

            Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Ph.D., wrote an opinion piece based on his doctoral research at Harvard, in the July 14th issue of The New York Times in which he begs to differ with reports that child abuse and neglect decreased during the our recent Great Recession. In “How Googling Unmasks Child Abuse,” Stephens-Davidowitz explains that by looking at “an analysis of anonymous, aggregate Google searches,” from 2006 to 2009, he learned that mistreatment of children did not in fact drop during the recession. The categories he examined were:

  •           Child fatality rates – Increased during the financial downturn in states hardest hit by the recession
  • “My dad hit me”  key words – Most likely from recent abuse victims old enough to use Google
  • Common classes of Google queries like “child neglect” and “child abuse” – Relevant searches from those who saw something that worried them, so they asked Google about “signs” or “effects” of child abuse.

          Stephens-Davidowitz claims that the number of these Google queries is so large that the “overall rates are telling,” in that they are enormously “larger than in any survey or poll.”

          “I used a novel technique for studying such child maltreatment: an analysis of anonymous, aggregate Google searches … Online, often unobserved, we tend to be very honest.” He examined searches that he analyzed as being likely to have been made by recent victims of abuse.

          So, why were fewer cases of child abuse and neglect reported during the Great Recession? One answer Stephens-Davidowitz gives is that social program budgets were severely slashed in many states.  That had a domino effect that led to overworked mandated reporters such as doctors, nurses and teachers being less likely to adhere to the reporting process. Likewise, staffs at child protective services agencies were stretched thin and worked shorter hours, which affected their abilities and inclinations to report cases.

          In tough budgetary times, it seems the programs that protect children are some of the first to be set back financially, which leads to staff cutbacks.  This is a major way the United States fails its children, especially when they most need government protections. Many factors contribute to this lack of love. To name a few:

  • According to the article, even in so-called normal times, primary care doctors “admit in surveys that they do not report 27 percent of suspicious incidents.”
  • According to the Department of Health and Human Services, most victims are maltreated by their mothers.
  • Children in low socioeconomic families and children in households where both parents are unemployed are at high risk for abuse or neglect.  
  • Neglectful families tend to have more children and/or a chaotic lifestyle where, say, a mother and her children live on and off with others.

          America needs the help of social services agencies that are well funded and staffed to the max.  In 2011, approximately 681,000 children were abused. True societal love for children requires that would-be single parents and parents who are chronically unemployed be educated about the option to avoid, or stop, making kids, in spite of the fact that many get tax credits for each child they produce. If we fail to fund these kinds of programs, let’s admit to our societal, cultural, and political lack of love for children. There are too many young people living in terrible circumstances.  And there are Enough of Us in general.

 

Have Child, Will Abandon Pets

            People love their pets, especially when their dog or cat is put into the role of a child. “Bella (the cat) is my baby,” a pet owner coos to friends and family.  That said, in way too many cases pet guardians’ love loses its luster when they have children of their own.  On babble.com, a blogger mom says it all:

            “This used to be a love story. . . two cats and a puppy found their way into my home and my heart. . . I had rescued them from an uncertain future in the shelter. . .I had groomed them. . . kept them alive for most of my adult life. . .We had been warned that pets would get the shaft once the baby became the focal point of our existence. . .What I was not prepared for was the depth of my hatred for beings I once claimed to love, and how quickly the switch happened.”

            According to 2010 ASPCA statistics, about 5 to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters in the United States each year. As many pets are turned in by their owners (some animal rights groups prefer the term “guardians”) as are picked up by animal control. 

Photo - CToutandabout.com

Photo – CToutandabout.com

            We feel for pets that have been “replaced” by children and, in essence, disposed of.  The best of guardians see to it that their dogs and cats are sent off to relatives or friends. Those are the lucky ones. But millions are sent to shelters. A big question, of course, is do companion animals suffer about the loss of what was once their “forever” home?

            Although science is inconclusive in this area, some researchers point to the strong bond between humans and dogs, which goes back some 15,000 years when the two species wandered the Earth together. If you have ever pet sat for a few weeks while the human family is away, you can probably draw your own conclusions. Although, we have to admit, we so spoil the dogs we pet sit for that they don’t seem all that thrilled when their “parents” come to collect them. But that’s not the same as being dumped into a shelter.

Indeed, both dogs and cats may mourn as deeply as humans do. Something for parents to think about is that for an animal, banishment from their human family may cause emotional pain similar to what a child feels when separated from mom and dad. 

            We think those who adopt and fall in love with animals before they have children should think long and hard about their motives. Is the animal a substitute for a yet unborn child? Are those who decide to become parents willing to make a lifelong commitment to their animal and realize that this creature is indeed a member of the family? Do the expectant mom and dad have the “heart” to prepare their pet for a new human addition to the family? (There are plenty of tips on the Web about this and veterinarians are good sources of info as well.)

            We also believe it’s imperative that prospective parents think twice about having a dog or cat in their midst. The most compassionate decision may be not offering a home to an animal that will one day be evicted because a child demands too much time and energy. 

 

 

           

           

             

           

           

             

           

 

Poor Parents May Encourage Failure in Their Children

                Should low income families have children? Many would say it’s unfair, even un-American, to preclude would-be parents from having kids before they climb a socio-economic ladder to the middle class. Should those who yearn for children be penalized because they might never earn a decent wage? There is no easy answer. But we, as a society, need to consider several issues.

            In a column entitled “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” in the December 9, 2012 New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about anti-poverty programs in the Appalachian hill country of Kentucky that, ironically, work against children. If a child who qualifies for a monthly $698 Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) because of an intellectual disability, attends literacy classes and learns to read, the youngster’s family will no longer collect that check. As a result, some poverty-level parents obviously don’t “go for broke.” Instead, they pull their kids away from their only hope for a successful future – the reading program. 

            Because of illiteracy, many kids from poor families remain unproductive as they reach adulthood. Instead of joining the military, which offers an opportunity for some young adults to escape the poverty of rural America, they stick around in “them thar’ hills” and depend on food stamps and disability payments. 

Appalachian cabin. Photo – SUNY Geneseo

           Kristof points out that about forty years ago, SSI was designed to aid children with mental retardation and/or severe physical difficulties. As time went by, the diagnosis that qualified young people for SSI became “fuzzier,” and less related to specific disorders. The resulting problem is that 8 percent of all low-income children in America now receive SSI payments. This amounts to $9 billion-plus and creates quite a burden on taxpayers.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof

The real shocker is that low-income families with questionable scruples have a stake in their children failing at school. Consequently, many of these kids become failures in life. They transition from the SSI dole they receive until age eighteen to collecting adult SSI benefits, and they become  stuck in a cycle of poverty. Due to their parents desperation to keep the SSI cash cow “milk” flowing, 1.2 million children across this country have essentially “learned” to fail.

            Adding insult to injury, because SSI is means tested – meaning benefits depend on family income – some parents avoid marriage in order to qualify for higher benefits. Yet, single-parent families produce five-fold as many kids growing up in poverty as do two-parent families.

            A mother of two who lives in the hill country told Kristof, that “her $500 car had just broken down and she had to walk two miles each way to her job at a pizza restaurant.” He says,“That’s going to get harder because she’s pregnant with twins, due in April.” Is it fair that she’s voluntarily bringing two more children into the world when their chance for failure might well trump their meager chance for success? Everyone must decide for themselves in this free country of ours. But there is much our society can do to stem this behavior to the benefit of all.

            We believe that government programs should be more proactive in discouraging poverty-stricken  young adults from making kids in the first place. Consider this:

  • Children from low-income families tend to do more poorly on tests, have lower graduation rates, and are less likely to attend or graduate from college than their middle-class counterparts. 
  • Poverty affects a child’s brain. When comparing the brains of children ages 9 -10, from both low- and high-income families, the prefrontal cortexes showed that the “poorer” brain was akin to that of a person who had suffered a stroke. Poverty also affects a child’s IQ and behavior.
  • Children who live in a low-income family usually suffer from malnutrition. In this case malnutrition means not eating enough healthy foods, or eating too many unhealthy foods. Parents stretch their precious dollars by buying cheaper, processed groceries. The results are obesity, vitamin defiency, and myriad health problems for the kids.

Let’s boil this down to a simple mathematical formula: poverty + illiteracy + single parenthood = stupidity. We agree with Nick Kristof – some of SSI funding should be diverted to programs like Save the Children, which work in areas where kids aren’t going to school and where parents are unable to read to their children. But we also believe that schools should be teaching our formula to kids before they’re old enough to get pregnant.

Disabled Children, Dedicated Parents, and the Uncertainties of Temperament

We are about to expound upon issues raised in the new book, Far From the Tree—Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. Unfortunately, we have not read the book (because we have been closeted away trying to make the final, or shall we say the final, final, final edits of our own book, Enough of Us.) We understand that this is the epitome of chutzpah, but let us explain.

Author Julie Myerson reviewed Solomon’s tome in the November 25, 2012 New York Times Book Review. We feel it suffices to rely upon Myerson’s review because it is so supportive of Solomon’s work – it ends with the phrase “this wise and beautiful book.”  As reported in Myerson’s review, Solomon’s work provides object lessons for potential parents who might be in denial about the possible exigencies of reproducing.

Solomon argues that “there is no such thing as reproduction.” There is only production, meaning parents produce new individuals who may bear traits quite different from those of their progenitors. Often, as we have pointed out many times in our current ebook and on this site, those differences entail very difficult lives for both offspring and their parents. Myerson begins her review, “How does it feel to be the mother of a teenage dwarf who’s desperate to start dating? What if you love the daughter you conceived when you were raped but can’t bear to be touched by her? And, as the father of a happy, yet profoundly deaf son who’s forgotten how it feels to hear, how do you deal with your memories of the times you played music together?”

Solomon, a psychiatry lecturer at Cornell University, spent 10 years researching his book, and interviewing 300 families with disabled children. He likewise delves into his own depression earlier in life, stemming at least in part from coping with his homosexuality.

Myerson writes in referring to Solomon’s work, “…despite the fact that we never know quite what — or whom — we’ll produce, it’s one of the least bitter truths of human existence that, regardless of what pain and anguish they put us through, we never ever regret our children. ‘It is not suffering that is precious,’ he notes when recalling the depths of his depression, ‘but the concentric pearlescence with which we contain it.’”

In researching our own book we have found quite contradictory instances. An extreme example is Lionel Dahmer, father of madman and serial torturer-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. Lionel’s book, A Father’s Story, expresses profound regret.And the younger Dahmer showed no childhood signs of his potential for hyperpsychotic behavior, so his parents had no idea how “far from the tree” their son had actually fallen.

Solomon enumerates just one disability that elicits no rewards – schizophrenia. “’The suffering of schizophrenics and their families,’ he writes, ‘seemed unending and singularly fruitless.’”

As Julie Myerson describes Solomon’s work, he makes the argument that in spite of the amount of sorrow, grief, anxiety, and the like, “most of the families Solomon describes are grateful for experiences they would have sacrificed everything to avoid.”

This reminds us of the classic horror movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which large pods from space land on Earth. The pods foam open and issue forth replicated versions of nearby humans.  Then, when the people fall asleep, the replicated bodies absorb their respective consciences, leaving the humans emotionless, uncaring, and unsympathetic to any situation

Kevin McCarthy about to torch a pod in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – Allied Artists, 1956

that would normally have elicited emotions that make us human. Those in fear of the pods would go to any extent to prevent their emotionality from being stolen. But for those whose sympathetic emotions the pods drained away, their new personalities are so ideal to them that they now proselytize the conversion of their souls and join their fellow emotionless acolytes in victimizing their neighbors.

In other words, Solomon’s conclusions about never regretting one’s children may beg the question. Not many people would desire a child with severe disabilities. We guess that most folks, if they knew that pregnancy would deliver them a child with a pronounced debility, would opt not to get pregnant, or to have an abortion, if the latter was not objectionable to their values. But, like the victims of the pods, once the child is born, they would, perhaps instinctually, embrace and love the child. After all, he or she would be their child.

The case we are making is this. Producing a disabled child is not some far-fetched unlikely occurrence. Mental and physical illnesses and disabilities occur all the time. Think of how many such instances you know of. Add to that the children who grow up to be drug addicts, criminals, ne’er-do-wells and losers in general. That should give anyone pause who isn’t ready to cope with the potential dramatic difficulties of raising a child, Solomon’s research and “pearlessence” notwithstanding.

 

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.