Procreating in a World With an Uncertain Future

A few days ago, Aaron Bady asked on Twitter:

Do people think about climate change when they think about whether or not to have kids? I m genuinely curious.

As might have been expected, this sparked an interesting set of responses. I thought of tweeting a reply, but then decided that I’d rather think about it and write a more considered response.

The short answer to Bady’s question is: Yes. I did think about it. The longer answer is, well, longer.

Our decision to have a child was a complicated one, as many such decisions are. The factors that went into our decision calculus were varied, as most people’s are: the economics of child rearing, the impact on our professional careers, the paucity of childcare options–especially as neither of us have family living in New York City that could serve as babysitters–and so on. These are almost identical to the issues that press most heavily on would-be parents in our socioeconomic class and circumstances. We are, of course, also a very privileged couple in many ways: for instance, we both have jobs that afford us some flexibility in working hours and offered us reasonably good deals for parental leave. (We both work in unionized workplaces, you see. Don’t hate us; just unionize your own.)

The factors I have mentioned above were supplemented by, in my case, a host of genuine worries that made me quite reluctant to have a child. It seemed to me that I would be bringing a child into a world that besides facing an uncertain future–precisely because of the climate change that Bady asked about–would be one infected by sexism, violence, rampant economic inequality, diminishing financial opportunity, religious fundamentalism, a crass consumer culture, and most prominently, a growing political-corporate nexus worldwide that aims to aggregate its power and entrench itself firmly in a position to control the world’s intellectual, cultural and material resources to the detriment of the ‘rest.’ This world didn’t seem like a great one to grow up in; it didn’t seem like a great world to function as a parent.

I don’t intend–in this highly public space–to ruminate about the excruciating, highly personal details of the discussions that finally prompted my wife and I to press on regardless and have a child. Suffice to say our decision  was just a little irrational, precisely because it felt compelling even in the face of so many perfectly rational arguments made against it. Parents who will read this line of mine might nod their heads in agreement; others’ mileage will vary.

Still, the natural, if man-made, disasters of climate change were, in the Great Procreation Decision balance sheet of ‘For’ and ‘Against’, less significant than the disasters–listed above–that are visible everyday. Perhaps that’s because the effects of climate change, manifested quite regularly and uncomfortably, are acute reminders that it is a man-made catastrophe, one requiring for its redressal, a kind of political change that would also address the weekday worries we entertained.

Now that I am the father of a girl, I worry far more about this world’s vicious sexism, its continued violent oppression of women, its day-in, day-out, active subjugation of women, the limited opportunities it offers them.

To sum up: we did think about climate change, even as other political, economic, and cultural factors seemed more pressing; we did go ahead and have a child anyway. I hope she finds our decision agreeable.

8 comments on “Procreating in a World With an Uncertain Future

  1. Noor Alam says:

    Ayana, if you read this fifteen years from now during your angsty phase, I hope you realize how much we love you. Sorry if the world is shit.

  2. Doug K says:

    like you we thought about climate change among many other things, before having children, a decade and more ago. ‘a litte irrational’ is understating the case for me – it’s a wholly irrational decision to have children, now more than before, but it hasn’t been rational since we left the farms. Looking back I can scarcely believe I had the presumption to father a child.. what were we thinking ? we weren’t thinking.. the triumph of hope over rationality, perhaps it will work out.

    • Samir Chopra says:

      Doug,

      I hear you – ‘the triumph of hope over rationality’ indeed. I really hope it works out for anyone that decides to have a kid these days. Especially since our economic situation is only getting worse as well.

  3. Alex Braae says:

    My partner and I have discussed this a bit as well, we eventually settled on the decision that it would be better to adopt rather than procreate. Having said that, babies don’t always follow the plan.

  4. […] are times, and they recur quite often, when I wonder about the wisdom of having brought a child into this world. This is one […]

  5. […] Recently, all too often, I catch myself saying something like the following, “I took decision X, and I have my fair share of regrets and self-congratulation about it but I would not recommend X to anyone” or “In all honesty, I couldn’t recommend that you take decision X as I did.” Or something like that: I took this path, and I’ve reconciled myself to it, but I cannot recommend that you do the same. Even with the express caveat to be prepared for mixed blessings, which would seem to provide all the ‘cover’ needed.  (The kinds of decisions I have mind included some of the most momentous of my life: immigrating, choosing a graduate education and then an academic career, entering a monogamous relationship, and having a child.) […]

  6. […] most precious ‘possession’–from the world she is preparing to enter. I agonized over the decision to have a child in the first place, an unsurprising reaction to the prospect of bringing up innocents in a world apparently going to […]

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