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.
Climate change denier Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma sits on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In January he is likely to become the chair of that committee. So what does this mean? It means that when it comes to environmental protection, the most important person in the Senate is hostile toward the idea of keeping the Earth’s air clean.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina “estimates that around 2.1 million deaths are caused each year by human-caused increases in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – tiny particles suspended in the air that can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing cancer and other respiratory disease.”
As we discuss in our book Enough of Us, even as industrialized countries around the world reach agreements on curbing fossil fuel use, world population continues to soar, especially in developing, or Third World, countries. And as these countries develop, they will be demanding more energy-hungry comforts, contraptions, and conveniences.
Just this week President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached a loosely constructed agreement on curbing climate change. Much of the agreement concerns cutting back the use of coal.
Inhofe is a conspiracy theorist. He believes that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Hollywood elite, Al Gore, Michael Moore, and Democrat supporters MoveOn.org and George Soros.
Left out of most discussions of both environmental pollution and climate change is the amount of detrimental output from livestock, the production and feeding of which accounts for more pollutants than all transportation fuels—including road vehicles, boats, trains, and airplanes—combined.
Let’s say for the moment that Inhofe is right; that God would never allow humans to change his grand plan for the planet’s ecology. How about the UNC study that states that two million people a year die from just pollution? But that’s not all. The same study estimates that an additional almost-half-million deaths result from increases in ozone.
It makes sense that even if the preponderance of scientific evidence is wrong, we should still be worrying about all the non-climate-change-related poison in the air.
And let’s say, for argument’s sake, that there is a 75 percent chance that the anti-climate change ninnies are correct. If one of them heard from his mechanic that the family car had a 25 percent chance of having a disastrous mechanical breakdown on the highway, would he opt not to have a possibly life-saving repair done to the vehicle?
Humanity is approaching a precipice. As we do so we are increasing in number. It’s time to remove our blindfold and thin the herd by cutting back on our reproductive numbers. It’s not Inhofe and his ilk that will suffer the most, but their progeny will.
If we were to assert that cars are the cause of traffic accidents, we would be disingenuous. Cars are hunks of metal, plastic, and rubber that just sit there. It’s people who make them dangerous missiles. We drive them around. The same is true for air pollution. So much for metaphors.
Allow us to elucidate. Last Sunday we were watching Cosmos on the Fox Network. The host and lecturer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made an eloquent case that climate change and global warming are real, that human behavior is largely responsible for it, and the consequences are likely to be dire. Fine.
But the blame, as in most arguments we come across, goes something like this: We are burning too much coal, petroleum products, and natural gas. The argument usually goes that the burning of fossil fuels is killing our environment. In other words, just as people drive cars that cause destructive accidents, people cause the pollution that destroys our environment.
The cure? Replace our fossil fuels with wind and solar power. To that, some arguments go, add hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal and nuclear power. Fine. The problem is that no one in the mass media is saying anything about the root cause, the drivers, as it were. The root cause is too many people. Demographers estimate that human populations will grow by about 40 percent by the end of this century. It’s crazy. No matter how fast we replace fossil fuels with renewable and other alternate sources of energy, we’re still going to need to supply an additional three billion of us with electrical power.
But the communications media virtually never discuss the need to educate our ourselves about not producing more of us than the planet can handle. It seems as though we can discuss anything except the drivers of the metaphorical cars of environmental destruction who are causing the problems. Perhaps they are afraid that mentioning family planning is the third rail of environmentalism.
So, it may be up to Mother Nature to control her children by letting them destroy their home and killing them off by means of environmental disasters. Sooner or later the news media will have to talk about the dead elephant in the room.
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 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.
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
together. The upshot of this story is: You may not father a child but you can still father a democracy.
We wish the term “global warming” had never been conceived. With a third of the U.S. population having its brains beaten out by snow and near-record cold temperatures (at this writing New York City expected a low of seven degrees this morning and Chicago looked forward to a wind-chill of about 40 below), how can anyone think about global warming?
Just hold your horses—or kangaroos—as we take a look down under. The Aussies have just lived through their hottest year on record. And so far, things don’t look much cooler for 2014. While the cities on the east coast of the country have decent temps right now, it might not be a good idea to visit the outback, and we’re not talking steak houses here. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported that 34 locations in Australia set all-time high temperature records between Dec. 30 and Jan. 4. One area of south central Australia had highs above 120 degrees. These high-low ranges are why “climate change” is a better term than “global warming.”
Remember, we just experienced mega Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, preceded by “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the U.S. East Coast. Which brings us to the point. Don’t let the bitter cold that is saturating broadcast news misdirect your attention. In California, where we live, 2013 was one of the driest years on record. The northern part of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area and the snow-dependent Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada, is practically gasping for rain and snow. We are experiencing week upon week of well-above-average temperatures. So while we are all looking at snow drifts on the tube, we feel this reminder is timely: THE EARTH IS WARMING AND THE SEAS ARE RISING. In other words, on average the surface temperatures on our planet are headed upward. And that means ice everywhere is melting faster than it is replaced.
According to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, the preponderance of evidence places the blame on human activity. And no matter how energy efficient we become over the next century, adding three billion of us to the planet is going to make it all but impossible to reduce energy consumption overall.
Nancy Cole of Union of Concerned Scientists, writing in the fall 2013 issue of Catalyst, explains that “ … heat is also absorbed by oceans, causing water to warm and expand. Together, these mechanisms have caused the global average sea level to rise eight inches since 1880; some cities along the East and Gulf Coasts have seen even greater increases, from 12 inches in Miami Beach to 30 inches in Virginia Beach.” Cole refers to scientists’ projections that globally seas could rise an additional six to 16 inches by 2050. In the ensuing 50 years they could rise another two to six feet.
If there is one thing we have learned since diving into the myriad issues of the consequences of overpopulation, it is that such projections often don’t have merit when it comes to accuracy. 2013 for instance was supposed to be one hell of a year for Atlantic hurricanes. The reality, in a word: fizzle. But over the long haul, it is likely that the air will warm, ice will melt, and seas will rise. A lot.
That will mean that coastal cities will either be swamped or have to spend big bucks on stopping the seas. Beaches, and even a country or two, like the Maldives, will disappear. And future generations will wonder, “What the hell were they thinking back in the early 21st century? Or were they thinking at all? After all, didn’t they realize there were enough of us, even back then?
According to the nonprofit Population Institute, The United States gets a grade of “C-” for its efforts to promote family planning and reproductive health. According to its “Report Card on Reproductive Health and Rights,” the country does a poor job of assisting its residents in obtaining essential family planning resources.
The Report, released last year, gave nine states a grade of “F” while only 12 got a “B-” or better. Only Washington, Oregon, and California earned an “A”.
What do all these letters mean? Reproductive health, as measured by the institute, is determined by four criteria, each broken down into sub-categories:
- Effectiveness (30 percent):
- Affordability (30 percent);
- Prevention (20 percent);
- Clinic access (20 percent).
Effectiveness consists of teenage pregnancy rate and unintended pregnancies.
Affordability consists of Medicaid availability for family planning, insurance that covers contraception, and funding for family planning clinics for low-income families.
Prevention is broken down into two criteria: mandated school sex education and access to emergency contraception.
The fourth criterion, clinic access, consists of abortion restrictions and protective legislation for clinic access.
Title X (Title Ten) passed by Congress and approved by President Richard Nixon in 1970, provided low-income and uninsured individuals with access to family planning resources like birth control and preventive healthcare services. As a result, tens of millions of women who might not otherwise have had the option of limiting or spacing their pregnancies have been able to do so.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress in the last four decades,” said Population Institute President Robert Walker in the report, “but we can’t take anything for granted.” Recent events, like legislation in Texas that restricts abortion clinics by requiring untenable operating requirements, concerns Walker. These
include such restrictions as requiring the clinic to be near a hospital or to have expensive budget-busting equipment in the clinic that would exceed any reasonable need for such facilities. “The U.S. still has an unacceptably high rate of unintended pregnancies, including teenage pregnancies, and yet family planning clinics in many areas are being forced to close, and schools in many states are using unproven, abstinence-only sex education curricula.”
Fairness dictates we concede that some of the criteria employed in determining these grades are biased against those with religious beliefs that eschew abortion rights. But that still leaves a wide swath of heads-in-the-sand thinking in states that make it difficult to obtain abortions and are hostile to the availability of family planning. Among the most contemptible of these nexuses occurs when states like Texas attempt to close down Planned Parenthood locations because they provide abortions. The irony is that more than 95 percent of Planned Parenthood funding goes for services designed to help people avoid or plan pregnancies.
According to Walker, the United States has a higher rate of teen pregnancy than most other developed countries. So while Texas (with a grade of D-) and New Jersey (C) have slashed state funding for family planning clinics serving low income uninsured folks, access to food stamps and unemployment insurance benefits are being hacked on the federal level as well. In other words, some families will grow larger while their ability to feed their most vulnerable members, the kids, will diminish.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 state legislators introduced about 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions. Of those, 135 became law, tightening restrictions in 36 states.
Let’s give this all some perspective. State legislatures dominated by conservatives tend to oppose the funding of family planning facilities, especially those that offer abortion or the so-called morning after pill. They also oppose generous contraception policies for teenage girls. These same legislatures frequently oppose health care reform, Medicaid and other benefits for those in the lower economic strata. Combine that with cutbacks in food stamps, and these states are whipping up a recipe for ipecac soup.
Whether or not you believe that reduced population is a good thing, how can these anti-reproductive-health cohorts believe that their policies, or lack of them, are a good thing? Read more about these issues in our book, Enough of Us.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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?