How does having kids affect the quality of one’s happiness?

          The question has often been raised: How does having children affect how much happiness there is in a person’s life?

          Now a new twist on kids vs. joy has entered the arena. If kids reduce the quantity of happiness, how do they affect the quality of whatever happiness remains?

          In an opinion piece on CNN.com, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, writes about that very question.

Amitai Etzioni, photo CNN.com

          He acknowledges that many fathers feel, “that it interferes with romance and tends to make them feel neglected by their wives.” He even cites a 2004 study among parents that found that among 16 various activities, taking care of kids ranked above only housework, their jobs and commuting in its “enjoyableness.” (Who knew there is such a word?)

          So far, so good. But here is where Etzioni embarks on the road less taken. “The question is not how much happiness children bring or take,” he asserts, “but how good is the happiness?”

          This brings to mind a scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, in which Diane Keaton asks Woody’s character if he’s ever had the wrong kind of orgasm. His response: “My worst one was right on the money.”

          How, we wonder, do the criteria for happiness compare?  Is quantity more important than quality or do we settle for happiness that is merely “right on the money” but greater in quantity than waiting for the “right kind” of happiness? Is occasional, intense happiness “better” than frequent, pretty good happiness?

          Here is what we believe is the crux of Etzioni’s assertion: “We need to return to a precept that social philosophers and religious texts have long extolled: that a good life is not one centered around squeezing as much pleasure out of life as possible. Pleasure of the kind celebrated by those who would rather go out for dinner than stay home with their infants, watch TV than change diapers and gamble than attend a PTA meeting — is Sisyphean. No sooner does one gain this kind of pleasure than one is lacking it again. No wonder it has been called the hedonic treadmill.” What self-congratulatory babble this is.

          Does he really believe that we who are childfree are rushing out to dinner, heading for the nearest casino, or just vegetating in front of the tube? What about those who volunteer to help forlorn animals or the less fortunate, write books and blogs, or get involved in local political, environmental, or ethical causes?

          In fact, we often find that those who have kids are much less aware of the greater community around them.  They seem to be the ones with gas-guzzling SUVs and minivans, whose garbage bins are filled to the brim, and who are clueless about societal issues that don’t relate directly to their kids’ schools.

          He claims that children provide a unique “other” in their parents’ lives.

          The good professor also assumes that kids in and of themselves are a positive. In the years of research we have conducted in preparation for our book, Enough of Us, we have learned what a high-stakes gamble raising children can be. There are considerable risks that the joy parents expect from their kids may be displaced by sadness, disappointment, grief and even despair.

          Its sounds like Mr. Etzioni is merely defending his own fatherhood of five in the face of all the evidence that parents tend to be less happy than the childfree. To his credit he says that while he lost a son (he does not go into details) and has suffered a fair amount of other grief in relation to childrearing, his kids have blessed him with much joy.

          But here’s the kicker. He says he now has “a whole slew of grandchildren.”

          “What fun—and no diapers to be changed.” Evidently Etzioni’s child-based joy doesn’t give a crap (pun intended) about their environmental impact.

            Amitai Etzioni, enjoy your life but please don’t judge the quality, or lack, of happiness in mine.

Why Women Still Can’t Have it All – Part 2

            Last week we looked at the conundrum women face, according to politics professor and former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, in choosing between a high-powered career, a spouse with a professional vocation, and being an available and competent parent. Her article appears in the current The Atlantic. “I mean that women should be able to have the same choices as men,” Slaughter explained on the PBS News Hour.

          Our only objection is that we know few, if any, men who get to exercise those choices. Slaughter paints a picture of the professional world for women as being akin to that of the 1960s as depicted on TV’s Mad Men.

          We would venture to say that most professional men would like to have a spouse with a career of her own and, if they have kids, be able to give the kids all the daddy-time they could handle. But who says that in modern America the primary parenting role is synonymous with motherhood?

          Ms. Slaughter appreciated the fact that when she was a Princeton professor she could work hard but set her own hours. Her husband, too, is a professor. But then Hillary Clinton called upon Anne-Marie to join her in the State Department. “And the minute I got myself into the kind of job that the vast, vast, majority of working women have, where I was on somebody else’s schedule and really had a boss I adore . . . I realized I couldn’t make it work with my family.

          “And that’s when I really decided that it’s time to have another round of conversation and make another round of changes that will allow both working mothers and fully engaged fathers to have better choices.”

          Really? Parents need to work out these contingencies before they become parents. They need to set their priorities and their goals before they set out to add their progeny to the gene pool, unless they’re the Gateses or Trumps or Spielbergs and can afford an army of full-time help. And even then, nannies cannot substitute for daddies and mommies. In the chapter “Impact on Parents” in our book, Enough of Us, we discuss these issues at some length.

         Slaughter seems to be a very compassionate person and concerned mother. On more than one occasion she had to leave Washington for  home in order to deal with one of her troubled teenage sons, despite the fact that her husband had become the primary at-home parent. And she had to commute between home and D.C. every weekend.

          Naomi Decter, a public relations firm vice-president and mother of three, appearing on the same News Hour show, countered Slaughter’s assertions. “I think it’s time to stop the whining and accept the world for what it is. . . .  No one can have it all. Men can’t have it all either. And I think the changes Anne-Marie is talking about are lovely ideas.

          “I’m fortunate enough myself to be able to work from my home, although all my children are all grown. And I was fortunate enough to be able to do that when they were young as well.  But the sad fact is, that is not going to work for most of the world. And no one is ever going to run the U.S. State Department in their P.J.s from the kitchen table.”

          Slaughter says that with technology, society can allow parents to, say, work from home one day a week. We wonder, what then for non-parents? Do they get the same benefits or does that mean that those who show up at work every day bear an extra burden compensating for their absentee colleagues?

          So what’s the solution? Easy, don’t have kids, or keep one parent at home, or don’t have the misfortune to have a prestigious, glamorous, high-powered profession in another town.

           “I think it’s a pointless and circular conversation. I think, you know, we’re saying, if women ruled the world, then women would be able to rule the world,” says Naomi Decter. “But until women rule the world, they won’t be able to rule the world.”

           “We all have choices that we have to make in life . . . And those choices may be different between men and women because of their nature and because women actually have the children and give birth to them.

          “But men have to make choices, too. Sometimes, we will make choices that we regret . . . And I think we need to stop thinking that we’re going to engineer some kind of a world where all of our problems are taken care of for us.”

          Amen, sister. Amen.

Is Breeding Kids to Save Others Ethical?

          Thirteen- year-old Jordan Flynn needed a bone marrow transplant.in order to survive. She has a rare disease called Fanconi anemia that destroys bone marrow and raises the risk for cancer.

The 3 girls with Fanconi anemia and their mother
Jordan, Jorga and Julia Flynn with their mom, Doreen – Photo Rock Center.msnbc.msn.com

         Jordan’s mother Doreen was desperate for a solution. She and her husband were unable to find a match for Jordan.  Jordan has two brothers – siblings being the best chance for a match – but neither proved to be a successful candidate to save Jordan. Doreen believes that federal law, which prohibits the buying and selling of body parts stands in the way of the thousands of people who need a variety of transplants. So she is heading a campaign to overturn the law through the court system.

          We have no argument with that either way. The ethical and legal issues are too complex for us to go into here. It’s the rest of Jordan’s and Doreen’s story, however, that generates tremendous ethical issues for us. You may have read about this story in USA Today or seen it on Rock Center on NBC.

          Eight years ago Doreen and her then-husband decided to try in vitro fertilization to create a new sibling- you might say a custom made match – for Jordan. There was a match all right, in the worst possible way. Jordan’s mom gave birth to twin girls, both with Fanconi anemia. After the Flynns divorced, Doreen found herself a single mom with five kids, three of whom had a life-threatening disease.  

         “I was so upset. I blamed myself,” Doreen declared on Rock Center. Amazingly, NBC’s in-house medical journalist Dr. Nancy Snyderman, whom we both respect for her reporting, asked, “Why?”

          “Because it was my fault.”

          “Why?”

          “Because of the way their father and I had them. We chose to bring them into the world. And instead, all I did was bring in two more sick kids.” It seems Doreen Flynn understands the ethical issues better than Snyderman does.

          All three of the Flynn girls have been gravely ill. While the symptoms are not yet severe, the prognoses for survival past the age of 18 are grim.

          The good news is that Jordan received a transplant in May. While only time will determine the outcome, her chances are good. But what about her younger sisters? We can only wish the twins great success in finding donors.

          In our book, Enough of Us, we make the case that every pregnancy is a roll of the dice. There are no unselfish reasons for having kids. (If you can think of an unselfish reason, please let us know). If a kid’s life is a success, the gamble paid off. But if a child suffers, it’s not usually those who conceived him who suffer the most. It’s gambling with someone else’s life.

          This brings us back to the Flynns. Doreen and her husband gambled three times. The first gamble led to Jordan’s predicament. Then, in order to right a difficult situation, they rolled the dice again. Sorry – and the entire Flynn family has our sincerest sympathies – but conceiving children is the most selfish thing that otherwise moral people commonly do.

          What’s your opinion?

Risks of Becoming Older Parents Affect the Famous as Well as the Rest of Us

      You may have heard about recent presidential aspirant Rick Santorum’s daughter, Bella, and her battle with a rare birth defect. That defect goes by the name of trisomy 18 (pronounced TRY-so-mee 18), also known as Edwards syndrome. It is similar in its genesis to defects like Down syndrome in that it means the person who has it has three of a particular chromosome instead of the usual pair.

          As you may know, Rick Santorum has spoken out against the widespread use of contraceptives. And he delights in all that Bella has given the family. Nevertheless, the poor girl has been in and out of hospitals for various ailments that accompany her condition. In fact, it is rare for Edwards babies to survive to their first birthday. Their symptoms include:

  • Severe developmental delays including mental retardation
  • Heart defects
  • Kidney problems
  • The esophagus doesn’t connect to the stomach (esophageal artesia)
  • Clenched hands
  • Pocket of fluid on the brain (choroid plexus cysts)
  • Rocker bottom feet
  • Delayed growth
  • Small jaw (mycrognathia)
  • Small head (microcephaly)
  • Low-set ears
  • Strawberry-shaped head

          Bella just got out of the hospital on Monday after being treated for double pneumonia, which she battled in January as well. The long-term outlook for anyone with trisomy 18 is poor. In any case, she will never be self-sufficient.

Let’s move on to Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. They have been famous for churning out almost one child per year since they married.

They even have a reality TV show about their profligacy. The Today show does irregular updates on how fantastic they are. But none of the media outlets seem to give a rat’s ass about the example they are setting by saying, in effect, “ecology be damned.”

          But Michelle’s last two pregnancies have been disastrous. Michelle was 42 when her 19th child was born 15 weeks premature via an emergency C-section that almost killed Michelle and the baby, who weighed less than two pounds. Michelle’s 20th pregnancy, at age 45, ended in a miscarriage. While the Duggars believe that God has wanted all these pregnancies, we wonder whether they believe that God wanted them to take the risks associated with older mothers? But they’d better get back to the horizontal mambo if they want to match the gamblin’ Santorums.        

Sarah and Trig Palin

 

That brings  us to Sarah and Todd Palin and their brood. And if you think we’re ganging up on Republicans, hold onto your hat. Wait until we get to our final subject our final subject. Sarah Palin gave birth to their son Trig when she was 44. Trig was born with Down syndrome. The statistical odds of a Down pregnancy in a 44-year-old woman are greater than three percent.

 

          The point here is that people are willing to assume the risks involved in bringing kids into the world for purely selfish reasons. In fact, there are no unselfish reasons for having kids. It’s certainly not done as a favor to someone who has not yet been born. And even when aware folks like the Santorums, Duggars and Palins know that advanced age raises the stakes substantially, they jumped right in without regard to what may happen as a result. It’s like gambling using someone else’s well-being as collateral.

          So while Rick Santorum talks about all that Bella has given his family emotionally, we don’t wonder why he doesn’t speak of what he and Karen have given Bella.

          You may not be familiar with Robert Kennedy, Jr. He is the son of the late attorney general, U.S. senator and presidential hopeful

Robert Kennedy. However, Kennedy, a devoted environmentalist and former candidate for the Democratic nomination for New York governor, has six kids. It escapes us how anyone who has devoted his life to protecting the environment can justify having that many children, both on the grounds of overpopulation and the gamble involved in creating children.

          The Kennedy family history is rife with tragedy, from violent calamities, to scandal, to severe emotional issues, to mental disabilities. Robert, Jr. himself is a one-time felon who was a heroin addict.

          We question the ethical and moral decisions of these families who don’t seem to consider the emotional and environmental hazards involved in their indulgences. Evidently, when planning more Santorums, Duggars, Palins and Kennedys, they are just not very conservative –  various interpretations of that word – about deciding there are enough of us. And they certainly haven’t thought twice about it.

 

 

 

 

Is Being Childfree Really Acceptable?

     The other morning, as Cheryl was about to enter our neighborhood Trader Joe’s, a woman with a clipboard asked if she would sign a petition to put an initiative on the November ballot that would, if passed, raise California sales taxes. The revenue would go to elementary schools and to colleges.    

Typical California ballot measure petition. Photo – KCET

Cheryl explains: I told her that I was unfamiliar with the particulars of this petition, so I didn’t want to sign at this time. She persisted in giving me more information than I could ever want, so I told her that I had chosen a childfree lifestyle, and I didn’t want to pay extra taxes to educate other people’s kids, especially when those parents could take on that responsibility by paying their fair share of taxes.  She smiled beatifically, told me she had six children, and thanked me sarcastically “for all you are doing for the world.” I started to explain that many people who choose not to have offspring do so for socially conscious reasons, not because they hate children.

     Forget about it. She turned to me and with that same beatific smile informed me that Jesus Christ was God and that he loves me no matter what I do. I made several stabs at asking her to allow me to finish, and she simply wouldn’t. She said it was a shame that no one had ever told me about Jesus, and wondered why I didn’t want to be saved.

     At that point Cheryl walked away, mentally throwing up her hands.

     This incident, plus a couple of others, has made us aware again of the difficulty facing those of us who choose not to have children: it isn’t really fully acceptable in our culture (and many others) to openly disclose our non-traditional decision.

     Case in point: some of our dearest friends have refused to visit this web site because the subjects we tackle “do not interest” them, or so they say.  How would they know how compelling our website is – or isn’t – without having visited? Most of these friends do have children, or at least have tried. We’ve known most of these children since their births, enjoyed time with them, and in some cases befriended them over the years. Their parents, for the most part, have done successful jobs of raising them. Yet it seems that our web site poses problems for our friends. They often act like our positions – that there are enough of us on this planet and that having kids is a crapshoot – insults them. But wait a minute, shouldn’t we be the ones who are insulted? Why can’t we be open about our decision to be childfree and our reasons to be respectfully heard, which could lead to meaningful discussions without anyone having to have the “right” argument?  For the sake of accuracy, we have occasionally participated in open dialogue on the subject, but it’s all too rare.

     Is the tradition of having children so embedded in our culture that choosing not to have children simply isn’t acceptable? Is the negative judgment about those who choose to be childfree a rumbling undercurrent in our country, much like racism is?

     In an online medical resource for international patients that explains American values, the nuclear family is described as consisting of parents and children. Its purpose is to “bring about the happiness of each family member.” There isn’t anything in this assertion that addresses households without children. It’s as if America has no such families.  (www.americanhospitals.com/questions/american/amervalues.htm)

     In an article about the definition of culture, the term “cultural universals” popped out at me. “These are learned behavior patterns that are shared by all of humanity collectively. No matter where people live in the world, they share these universal traits.”  Raising children in some sort of family setting was number 4 on the list. (http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_1.htm)

     Many American organizations have shared a childfree perspective. To name a few: The National Organization for Non-Parents; No Kidding; The Childfree Network and The National Alliance for Optional Parenthood. Outside the United States, an Australian childfree party tried for political cohesion under the name Australian Childfree Party, as did a British organization, Kidding Aside. In spite of the work these organizations have put into their causes, “the childfree movement has not had significant political impact.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childfree)

     Clearly, having children is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture, so much so that one’s credibility as a good person is threatened if one dares to voluntarily travel the path away from parenthood. Even so, we will continue to tell our truth, and to support would-be parents who have the moxie to think twice before making children.

BP + Shrimp = Drowned Endangered Turtles

Ever-increasing numbers of Homo sapiens are indirectly inflicting dire impacts on the most innocent of creatures, often threatening the respective species’ very survival. We think it is safe to say most of us are oblivious to the pending catastrophes.
The BP oil spill (“spill,” to us, is what you do accidentally with a cup of coffee, not a drilling rig) of April 2010 had more ramifications than we can go into here. But one innocent and helpless creature has become a profound bellwether of what humanity is inadvertently doing to the planet’s ecosystems.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles began washing up on Gulf shores last year. According to Defenders of Wildlife (www.defenders.org), there were so many that an investigation by the National Marine  Fisheries Service (NMFS – www. nmfs.noaa.gov) determined that both the BP oil disaster and shrimp trawling were likely to blame. By last May, things had gotten so bad that Defenders and other conservation groups threatened to sue the NMFS unless it took action.
Scientists studying the impacts of the oil disaster have found shrimp inside the stomachs of many of the turtles. Shrimp are not normally part of a sea turtle’s diet. This anomaly indicates that these turtles died while caught up in shrimp gear and held underwater beyond their ability to survive without oxygen.
“To allow critically endangered sea turtles – which survived the biggest environmental disaster this country has ever faced – to now drown at unprecedented rates in fishing gear is tragic and unacceptable,” says Sierra Weaver, an attorney for Defenders, quoted in the fall 2011 Defenders magazine.
 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles breed and nest exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists rescued them from extinction after the nesting population dropped to fewer than 400 females in the early 1980s. During the first seven months of last year, 1,130 sea turtles were “stranded” – more than half of which were Kemp’s ridleys.

Flotsam on turtle nesting beach – Costa Rica

Exactly two years ago we visited Costa Rica. Our tour took us for a two-day visit to a remote area of the country called Tortuguero (loosely, “Turtle”) National Park. It is so named because loggerhead, green, leatherback and hawksbill females nest on its beaches. As the accompanying photographs show, the beaches are strewn with trash washed up with the tides from the gulf. Of course all this detritus of human activity makes it difficult for the nesting females to enter motherhood. So while we humans have too many mothers, these five species of turtles – which are all protected under the Endangered Species Act – have to fight human carelessness in order to minimally maintain their own species.
While visiting the Tortuguero beaches we were amazed to see how much crap makes it to the western shores of the gulf. It got us wondering how much of this junk is still floating around out there.

Debris on Costa Rica gulf coast
More of the same

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Sea Food Watch” program (www.seafoodwatch.org) provides a semi-annual pocket-size Sustainable Seafood Guide that categorizes fish as “best choices,” “good alternatives” and “avoid.” Gulf shrimp fall into the good alternatives category. Using five criteria, Seafood Watch staff evaluates each type of consumable fish. They are very aware of the sea turtle dilemma and are concerned about whether to reclassify gulf shrimp into the “avoid” category. According to Seafood Watch spokesperson Alison Barrett, one of the criteria, “is looking at the actual bycatch – are you catching endangered or threatened species and what’s the impact on the population?”
The aquarium must evaluate every species and determine which human impacts are impacting which species within their relative ecological webs.
Comparing stats in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the month of April between 1997 and 2011, the number of strandings has gone up about six-fold. As you would expect, the spike occurred in 2010 and 2011.
Here is what is most alarming: According to Defenders, scientists have determined that turtles that wash ashore represent only five percent of those that die. Because of this, spikes in the numbers killed usually indicate a dire situation.
Turtle excluder devices, commonly referred to as TEDs, effectively help turtles escape from fishing nets. Defenders of Wildlife is urging NMFS to expand the requirement for TEDs in the shrimp fishery. Defenders also wants to ban trawling altogether from turtle hotspots.
TED requirements are often not enforced, however. Louisiana, for example, prohibits its officials from enforcing the federal requirements, presumably because it wants to protect its important shrimping industry. Our guess is that Louisiana would do an about face if demand for turtle soup were to skyrocket, in which case the “Sportsmen’s Paradise” would be growing turtles like weeds and protecting them like fine art.
NMFS “Has known it’s had a problem for quite some time now,” says Defenders attorney Sierra Weaver. “Its answer has been to avoid action by continuing to study the problem. We now know that turtles need help. There simply is no justification for further delay.”
Demand for oil and subsequent “spills,” reckless and unrestrained fishing, and trash, are all contributing to the demise of endangered species. Yet we continue to over-reproduce. And as we work hard to move the less-fortunate among us out of poverty, we create ever greater demand for pricier foods, like shrimp, that consequently wreak havoc on sea life. Sea turtles are emblematic of what we are doing – and will continue to do – to our natural legacy, unless we think twice and decide there are enough of us.

The Number of U.S. Kidnappings is Telling Us Something

About 800,000 children are reported missing each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). “Missing” can mean several things. In a 2007 Slate Magazine post by Christopher Beam , he informs us that child who runs away from home is counted in the same manner as is a victim of kidnapping. There are several different categories of missing children:  family abduction, non-family abduction, abandoned children, and lost kids. According to 1999 statistics – the latest clearly defined stats, probably because it’s so difficult to discern the nature of many abductions – only about 115 children were victims of stereotypical kidnappings in which children are captured, detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles from home, and held for ransom. The abductor’s intent is either to keep or kill the child. This type of child-snatching is what parents fear most, and it generally makes headlines.
For the purposes of this blog, the relevant detail is that family abductions are by far the most common. According to NCMEC, a mind-blowing 78 percent of all missing children, about 204,000, are abducted by family members, usually a parent. 
The website StopFamilyAbductionsNow.org, lists some interesting facts about family abductions:
• The motive is usually revenge against the other parent, and rarely has anything to do with trying to keep their child safe from that parent who has custody or legal guardianship of the child.
• More than half of abducting parents have a history of violence, drug abuse or a criminal record.
• Children who are abducted by their parent or other relative suffer severe lifelong psychological issues.
Surveys conducted by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) indicate that more than a quarter of abductions by family members were reported to authorities in order to obtain assistance in recovering the child. Almost half were under age six when abducted. The surveys indicated that threats, weapons or physical force against the child were uncommon in family abductions. Nevertheless, these kidnappings still involve the trauma of intent to prevent the children from contacting their custodial parents.

Members of Take Root hold their own missing child posters at a Take Root event in 2011 Photo: Take Root

According to Take Root, a national non-profit organization founded by former abducted children, when a child is taken by a fugitive parent, and hidden from loved ones as well as from the justice system,  there are devastating impacts to their development. The following stories, taken from postings on Take Root, provide a sense of the trauma brought about by family abductions, and the fallout for the unfortunate victims.
Nicky, now in his thirties, was abducted from his home in Buenos Aires at age 6. At that time, he suffered from an illness that had to be monitored by doctors in the United States. Nicky’s mother, an American, accompanied him to the U.S. for his care. One day she told her son that his father and grandparents had been killed in a car accident in Buenos Aires, She was firm in her decision that she and her son would not return to Argentina. Nicky’s father, Mr. Gardino, who was very much alive, tried to find his son, without success. But a friend  promised to find Nicky if Gardino would pay for several trips to America. It turned out that this “friend” was enjoying his time in the United States quite a bit, as he was having an affair with Gardino’s wife.  Eventually, Nicky’s mother told her son that his father and grandparents were still alive, but that they were mean and unaccepting people. At this point, Nicky reported “dozens” of moves, along with name and identity changes. Just before entering college, Nicky took the risk of reconnecting with his father. He was welcomed back into the family, embraced by his stepmother and his half-sister whom he never knew existed. Nicky’s mother was never apprehended for kidnapping her son.
Elle had a controlling father who packed up his three children and took them to Mexico. He changed their names and forged documents. They moved constantly, and Elle remembers countless times when they slept in their car. Her father told them that their mother was trying to kill them, so they couldn’t go back to the United States. Elle’s father was an abuser who befriended criminals. Elle grew up in this culture. At age eight, she became suicidal. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, she had little acquaintance with social skills. She and her two brothers fought bitterly with each other. Eventually, Elle’s father brought them back to the States, where their mother found them in one of the many shabby homes in which they resided.  Elle says that if it weren’t for her mother and some wonderful people she met along the way, she would have killed herself. Her father was never apprehended for his crime against his children.
In another scenario, an emotionally ill woman and her husband produced five children. The woman, who suffered from a bipolar disorder and was a substance abuser, eventually abducted the youngest child. It makes a reasonable person wonder: Why do so many people conspire to produce kids – especially addtional children – when they know  their partner is incapable of parenting in a way that keeps children safe? 
Considering the number of abductions each year in America, shouldn’t everyone think twice before making children?

 

Omigosh! A place where kids are not allowed? Heavens forefend!

Would you take a toddler to an evening at the ballet? A cocktail lounge? The library  (excluding the children’s section)? If your answer is “yes,” perhaps you should  think twice about it. And if one of those venues were to say, “Sorry, no small  children allowed,” would you understand?

Outdoors at McDain's

McDain's Restaurant

If your answer is “yes,” or even “maybe,” then why shouldn’t a restaurant have the  right to do the same thing? That’s exactly what McDain’s Diner in Monroeville,  Pennsylvania did starting a few weeks ago. While some folks think it’s unfair,  we believe that when you decide to become a parent, you have to accept the  drawbacks along with the advantages.

When we go to a local salad bar restaurant, we expect that we’ll be waiting in line while parents negotiate  what stuff goes on the kids’ plates, dodging kids all over the place at the  dessert bar, and listening to loud – if not screaming – kids at the next table.  It goes with the territory.

But when we go out for a pleasant – even a romantic – evening, we feel we’re entitled to not be harassed, harangued or hectored by a rampaging romper room refugee. Mike Vuick, McDain’s proprietor, said that he had to draw the line at age six for diners, because his
staff would often get dirty looks when asking patrons to control their offspring. “I decided that someone had to dig their heels in on behalf of all
these frustrated customers on this issue, so I did.” The result? McDain’s is drawing new customers.

As one patron put it, “We decided to go out to dinner to a place where we can enjoy ourselves without being assaulted by the screams of
kids.” According to a Today show report by NBC’s Janet Shamlian, several movie theatres are banning kids, PG-13 and R ratings be damned. And no more infants in first class on Malaysia Airlines.

Parenting expert Michelle Borba explains the change in attitude this way: “Way back when, it was, ‘Kids should be seen but not heard,’ and we stressed obedience. Right now it’s more connection with our kids. That’s the good news. But we’re also a little less likely to say, “No.”

But why are businesses becoming less tolerant of boisterous babes? “27 million couples have decided not to have kids,” says pop culture expert Lola Ogunnaike, on Today. “They call them DINKS – “Dual Income, No Kids.” Well, guess what. They also have a lot of disposable income. And marketers are waking up and realizing, ‘Hey, this is a segment of society that’s not being addressed.’”

In the survey we conducted for our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we asked parents this question:

“What would you think of the idea of designated childfree zones for people who would rather be in environments where there are only adults (examples: restaurant sections, movie theatres, park areas)?” (We wish we had left out the word “sections” when referring to restaurants.) The result was that 62.5 percent of the parents were fine with the idea and only 22 percent felt “no way.” The rest were not sure. So acceptance of this type of policy seems to be fairly reasonable to parents of toddlers.

We feel that if you are going to have children, you must assume responsibility for the inconveniences that entails, including the inconvenience to others. We should all, at the very least make an effort  to get along and accommodate each other. But just as it goes without saying that people without children need to accommodate those with kids on a regular basis, having kids means that parents need to consider potential inconvenience to others before schlepping their offspring just about anywhere on a whim.

The United States Isn’t all That Big, so What’s the big Whoop?

            While Ellis was rummaging through a file, he came across an article from the June 2010 edition of The Reporter, Population Connection’s monthly magazine. It contained a series of factoids about the American way of life – and its impacts – that we found fascinating. We found these data to be worthy illustrations of why there are Enough of Us, and why it really does make sense for us to think twice before conceiving little new Americans. We updated any information for which we could find more recent data. Here goes:

            The size of a new American home is approximately 2,400 square feet, depending on whose statistics you believe. In 1950, it was 983 square feet. In 1980 it was about 1,700. Since family size now is smaller than it was back then, it seems the larger the middle classes grow, the larger their houses. And that means more power usage for heating, cooling, lighting and the like, especially when you calculate that very few people had air conditioning back in the day.

Imagine, new houses are now two-and-a-half times the size they were 60 years ago. The only bright note is that the average new house last year was about 50 square feet smaller than they were a year or two previously.

Computers and other toxic e-waste - photo courtesy Greenpeace

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2008, we generated 3.16 million tons of ewaste in the U.S. Of this amount, only 430,000 tons or 13.6 percent was recycled. The rest was trashed – in landfills or incinerators. The total generated increased from 3.01 million tons of e‐waste generated in 2007, but the recovery rate stayed at 13.6 percent. Selected consumer electronics include products such as TVs, VCRs, DVD players, video cameras, stereo systems, telephones, and computer equipment.

Globally, each year we generate 20-50 million tons of electronic waste.

It would take more than five Earths to be able to sustain world population if everyone consumed resources at the same rate as does the United States. At the consumption rate of France or the United Kingdom, it would take 3.1 Earths. In case you’re interested, for
Spain, Germany or Japan it would take 3.0, 2.5 or 2.4 Earths, respectively.

To put it another way, we – especially Americans – are generating a lot of toxic crap and we’re too damn lazy to even recycle it.

 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transit Statistics, for 2006 there were almost 251 million registered passenger vehicles. Of these, 135 million were classified as automobiles, while 99 million were classified as “Other 2 axle, 4 tire vehicles,” presumably SUVs and pick-up trucks. Add to that almost seven million motorcycles. As of 2007, there were 1.2 vehicles per licensed driver in the United States, according to the Department of Energy.

 

The world’s richest half-billion people – that’s about seven percent of the global population – are responsible for half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. The poorest 50 percent are responsible for just seven percent of emissions. This is known as environmental injustice.

 

According to the Worldwatch Institute, global meat consumption I s expected to grow at an annual rate of two percent until 2015. The growth in meat consumption is likely to be most dramatic in developing countries where meat eating is a sign of prosperity.

China now consumes half the world’s pork. Meat production is one of the environment’s greatest polluters. Brazil follows the U.S. as the number two consumer of beef.

 

We wonder how many would-be parents think twice about these issues before procreating.

 

 

 

Tata may Mean “So long” in Britain, but it Means “Hello Wheels,” in India

Tata Nano

The May 23, 2011 edition of the Christian Science Monitor features an entire 14-page section on the world’s rising middle-class population. This is a good thing in terms of short-term improvements in quality of life for those who benefit from the largesse. But think of the consequences.

India’s middle class is larger than the entire population of the U.S.A. But, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which promotes policies intended to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, by 2050 about 30 percent of the global middle class will live in India. More than 20 percent will be in China. In other words more than half of the world’s middle class will be located in just those two countries. So what?

Here’s what. The United States, right now, uses about a quarter of the Earth’s fossil fuels. But we make up less than one in 20 of all the planet’s Earthlings. And we are desperate for more atmosphere-choking, species-threatening, and water-polluting fossil fuels. Yet, automobile manufacturers are practically tripping over themselves to get their share of the Indian rupee, Chinese yuan, and Brazilian real.

China is already the world’s biggest auto market. Within 10 years it is likely to have a car market twice the size of the American market. Yow!

India’s Tata Motors is producing the Tata Nano (as in really small) that sells for about $3,000. Okay, so it’s had a few problems like cars bursting into flames and reliability issues, but Tata is no nano company; it’s big and it’s not likely to go the way of the Yugo. It already owns Jaguar and Land Rover. China’s Geely owns Saab.

So let’s say that the electric Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are the cars of the future, along with hybrids. While we are conserving fuel used by each vehicle, the demand for cars, trucks and everything in between is liable to skyrocket. Likely result: demand for contaminating, environmentally destructive fuels continues to rise.

Some Americans kid themselves into thinking that because they have bought a hybrid Toyota Highlander or Chevy Tahoe SUV, or a Lexus LS 600h, they are doing the  Earth and their pocketbooks (does anyone actually use “pocketbook” anymore?) a large favor. So many hybrids are not worth the gas they’re guzzling, either in terms of purchase price or environmental impact.

If we are to truly save this planet, both in terms of fuel consumption, environmental impact, demands on governments (think of the needs for roads, railroads, and airports), and mental health (think of the time spent sitting in rush hour traffic), we must stop ourselves from reproducing at current rates. We cannot afford to wait until human population levels off – as demographers project – at the end of this century.

Things are bad enough already at seven billion humans. Leveling off at 10 billion should make us think twice before making more children. While the Earth is heating up it would be very cool for America to lead the way, both by example and by influencing other nations.

All the political talk is seems to be about what kind of national debt we will be saddling future generations with. That’s small potatoes compared with the environmental and lifestyle deficits we are rushing into headlong. It’s more than any debt we could fix with economic reforms.