In the past year or two, several of our friends have had kids and it’s got us thinking about starting a family of our own. Calm down! Not right now! But maybe in the next 2 or 3 or 10 years maybe.
In this regard there are two options: we do what you were thinking earlier… or we adopt. We have been considering the relative pros and cons, but we have discovered that this is not an easy conversation to have with many people. Especially when it comes to the ethical implications.
As with veganism*, people feel judged if we take a stance that is contrary to their lifestyle choices. So, I’m going to try and outline the issues as I see them, and do my best not to cause offence in the process.
Traditionally, people tend to think of having kids (by procreation) as simply the next step after marriage. Some people think of it as their gift to the world and others simply want to make sure that they are looked after in their old age. I think that for most people, it’s an experience that they are after. Bringing up kids, teaching them, playing with them, loving them. A strange mix of selfish (fulfilling a personal desire) and selfless (giving up sleep, time, freedom, finances etc.). Parenthood is certainly something held in high regard by most people in our society. How may people would respond negatively to hearing a friend’s happy announcement? And the positive impact I’ve seen it have on my parenting friends seems to support this notion. So what, then, are the reasons one might choose to forego procreation, in favour of adoption?
Overpopulation is an issue that amplifies most of the Big Global Challenges and yet it is a direct result of personal decisions. “But,” you might say, “if I have no more than 2.2 children I don’t actually grow the population in the long term”. That’s fair enough, but the accumulated environmental impacts of each extra person are quite staggering when you think about it. The fuel, the CO2, the land use, the waste. And if you factor in their children and the resulting future generations, things spiral rapidly.
On the flip side, we all imagine our kids bringing world peace, or at the very least having a positive impact on their communities.
So how do we weigh up these pros and cons? The most compelling argument for adoption that I have come across points out that almost all the pros for having kids apply equally to adopting. Surely, your adopted kid is no less likely to change the world than your biological one. And on top of that, you are providing a home for a kid who might otherwise grow up without parents.
From a more philosophical perspective, Prof David Benatar, in his anti-natalist book ‘Better Never To Have Been’, points out that you do no harm to a baby that does not exist by choosing not to create it. It doesn’t exist to be harmed or helped. On the contrary, you do do harm by bringing a child into the world that will, at least to some degree, suffer because of it. On the other hand, adopting a child that already exists, does a great deal of good. Now I’m not sure that I’m on board with anti-natalism in general (although perhaps I should reread that book) but maybe in the world as it is today, this is not such an extreme position.
So what are the remaining arguments for procreation, over adoption? The most common one that I come across, is that prospective parents are worried about not bonding with a child that does not share their genes. In my (admittedly limited) experience, I have not come across adoptive parents for whom this has a been a problem. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a real concern for people. The other common reason is the experience of pregnancy and birth. Not that these are necessarily as dreamy as we can imagine, but they are certainly life-changing experiences for many people. But are they enough to justify bringing a whole new person into existence? We’re weighing a few intense months and some really intense hours against a whole lifetime, which one would still have with an adopted child. And add to that the avoided harm of a parentless lifetime that that child might have had.
Perhaps one thing worth acknowledging in this debate is that we all make selfish decisions on a daily basis. So why single out procreation? This is a fair point. My perspective on it is that this is one of the most profound and impactful decisions that you will make in your life, so perhaps it’s worth some extra attention.
If you follow the arguments presented here to conclusion, you might think I’m suggesting that any procreation at all is wrong. On the contrary, in a perfect world I’d imagine that everyone should be able to choose to procreate or not. But in an overpopulated, resource-constrained world, with a huge excess of parentless children, I wonder whether we shouldn’t start by providing loving homes for those, before we create more cute little mouths to feed.
According to this report, roughly 40% of kids brought into the world are unintended. That’s a scary statistic, given that contraceptives (and, whether you like it or not, abortions*) have given most of us the tools to separate sex and childbirth. Surely this is the cause of overpopulation? We’re talking close to 140,000 of the 350,000 or so new babies born each day (take a moment to think about that number) that were not deliberately intended. Well yes, this is a big factor, but that doesn’t relieve each of us from the moral implications of our conscious choice to add to an overburdened planet.
The last line of defence most people offer at this point is : “Ok, so adoption is great, but you can do both!”. The reality is that kids are not cheap. There is a very real financial limit on the number of kids we could support. So each child we create means one less child adopted. One more child that grows up in an orphanage, or in a home where it is not wanted.
So do you have biological kids already? Does this make you a bad person? Am I saying you should regret having them? No, I’m not judging you or saying the world would be better off if you hadn’t had them. I’m just trying to get my head around this issue and concluding (so far) that I’m not sure that I can justify procreating. If you found anything I have written here offensive please let me know so that I can learn how to talk about this more sensitively.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Whether you agree with me or not, please keep in mind that this is an emotionally charged topic for many people, so be gentle in expressing your opinion online. (In person, hit me with your views, I’m hard to offend.)
*blog post to come