Saturday, July 07, 2007

Children

My last entry has generated enough anxiety that I will take the unusual step of clarifying my feelings on children. While it is generally true that you shouldn't call GayProf as your baby sitter, I am not actually advocating the deportation of children. I apologize for offending my readers. Indeed, I appreciate being challenged. My apologies also go out to children, but they really shouldn’t be reading this blog anyway.

Rest assured, I have no real interest in seeing social services cut off for children. On the contrary, I believe that we should be expanding the scope and range of social services for children. Moreover, I believe that children are some of the most vulnerable citizens in this nation and the ones whose rights are most often disregarded (usually by their own parents).

The last section of the previous entry was intended as a satiric comment on how quickly and easily some people in this nation are willing to shut off access to basic social services for people in our population. When we apply the same standards to another group of humans, in this case children, that notion seems absurd. Or at least that was the attempt, but clearly it functioned poorly given the distress it caused.

Every child, based on their humanity, deserves access to a quality education, healthcare, and a safe living environment. I think, though, that the entire discussion around parenting, children, and the responsibilities of this nation are far out of kilter. Right now we are totally unable to have productive discussions about parenting because it has been moved to a sacrosanct realm.

Notions of parenting, however, need to be interrogated in this nation. Having children is not, for instance, an altruistic gesture for humanity. Indeed, given the amount of resources that U.S. citizens consume, it is quite the opposite. The exception to this would be those people who actually are altruistic and adopt already existing children who didn’t otherwise have a safe home.

In the seventies and eighties, the nation had explicit discussions about the notion of zero population growth and suggested that people needed to carefully consider the consequences of bringing new humans into an overpopulated world (This idea has seemingly become so unpopular in recent years that the organization Zero Population Growth changed its name in 2002 to “Population Connection”).

The earth, however, is still overpopulated. Since 1980, the earth’s population has grown 30 percent. More people mean more consumption and more waste. It means already exhausted urban structures are going to be pushed to the breaking point.

The United States, which accounts for just 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes 25 percent of the word’s resources and produces 25 percent of greenhouse gases. One new human born in the United States will consume 30 times more than a brand new human born in India and 20 times more than a new human in Africa. Much like the individual who imagines it’s not their SUV or giant pickup truck that is the problem, parents in the U.S. assume no accountability that their individual decisions to have children have broader environmental consequences. Actually, in many cases, children become a justification for a gas guzzling SUV.

No, I am not begrudging people in the U.S. who have children, nor am I interested in the government or anybody else meddling in people’s reproductive decisions. As a nation, though, we need to remember that having children is a choice. Nobody is required to have children. Nobody. End of story.

As a nation, we must be able to discuss and accept that individual decisions about having children result in profound consequences for society (and the earth). Having children should be an informed choice that is taken with a serious eye to social responsibility. In the current atmosphere, however, even bringing up the idea that more people need to think about their decision to have children is to invite scorn (mostly because people don’t wish to take responsibility or admit that, indeed, there is a problem).

One of the main ways that we can combat the problem of overpopulation in the United States is to increase the availability and education about birth control. According to research conducted by Guttmacher Institute in New York, nearly half of all new pregnancies in the United States were unintended. That is a shocking number to me and inexcusable for an industrialized nation. Even worse, the rate of couples using contraception declined in the United States over the past five years. Most of this has to do with a simple lack of access. States have slashed funding to family planning programs. Insurance companies are not held accountable for providing birth control. As a result, people are getting pregnant when it is not best for them or their children.



Likewise, the current administration had explicitly aimed to undermine sex education classes. Studies have shown that three in ten women become pregnant at least once before they are 20 years old in the United States. In contrast, only 6 percent of French women in the same age group became pregnant; only 11 percent in Canada became pregnant. Both of those nations had equivalent rates of sexual activity (in other words, women in the U.S. are not simply having more sex and thus become pregnant). Clearly the U.S. is failing to provide basic information. Abstinence Only Education is much like asking people to believe in the Easter Bunny until they are 25 years old.

Given that people are still going to have children (though, I will repeat that this nation should have fewer of them for the sake of the environment), we could also spend more time considering how parenting is imagined. Unfortunately, the message that is being sent to most middle-class and upper class parents right now is that parenting is a competition. Rather than working collectively for a better position for all the nation’s (much less the world’s) children, parents are encouraged to look after only their own. The quasi-realization that resources are increasingly limited has resulted in the idea that parents must create uber-children who can claw their way to the top of the economic pile.

This, it seems to me, is the mentality that has resulted in the current education crisis in the United States. Middle-class and upper class parents ensure that their kids get an education while caring very little about the school ten miles away. Poorer parents, meanwhile, who don’t have the initial resources or knowledge of the system are simply not able to join the aggressive parenting of the middle class.

Moreover, I am disconcerted that we don’t construe parents as guardians of young individuals who have their own civil and human rights. Instead, this nation basically considers children the property of their parents. This, in my mind, leaves children without any real access to justice or basic guarantees to a quality of life. It also creates an atmosphere where child abuse is ignored or even tolerated. An estimated 906,000 children are victims of abuse and neglect every year in the United States. Over 1,500 children die each year because of abuse. To put that another way, four children die in the United States everyday because of abuse or neglect.

Research conducted on deaths resulting from child abuse suggested that neighbors or family often knew, or at least suspected, that abuse had been occurring. Yet, the abuse went unreported because they believed it was a “private” matter.

Finally, we should consider ways to streamline the adoption process so that the already existing children in the world can have homes. Moreover, we need to battle the creepy notion that one must have a biological child of their own. The nation has lots of children who need homes, but they are not being adopted (except newborn white babies).

For a nation that prides itself on being baby-centered, we are grossly failing the children who are actually living in this country. It’s time for less idolization of children and more concrete discussions about how to improve their actual world.

27 comments:

B. said...

Let's face it, people don't have children to replicate the species, they have children to replicate themselves.

This makes population control a matter of wrestling human vanity. Knowing that, is it any wonder we choose our creations (babies) over 'His' (Earth)?

We justify this by claiming every birth to be a MIRACLE. Never mind that we now have more MIRACLES than SCRUPLES.

It brings me some satisfaction to know that in order to save humanity we must give up the notion that the greatest single achievement a human being can make is to create another human being.

Roger Green said...

Well, this I DO agree with. I was not inclined to "replicate myself" for the longest time. Given the nature of the country, and the world, one does wonder whether bringing more children into the world is a sane option.

As to your previous post, I agree with the writer who suggested that there are other people, i.e., adults - from those who create unnecessary wars to those who throw cigarette butts on the ground three feet from an ashtray, that are far "messier" than babies.

And I suppose it goes without saying that if there weren't people willing to clean up your poop 33 years ago, we wouldn't be blessed with Gay Prof.

adjunct whore said...

interesting post--i would only quibble with the idea that parenting has created our unequal education system--property and racism have created our grossly unfair education system. there is a movement afoot in nyc public urban education that has made terrific strides in addressing some of these issues.

the icky way in which parenting has become competitive is difficult to ascribe any one source but i think general consumerism, standardized testing and the many ways to master them, the general sense of entitlement fostered all play a role. just an aside, the bumper sticker craze on the SUV--parent of an honor roll student--or whatever is enough to make you have a car accident.

i just taught the bicycle thief last week and was surprised and depressed to hear my students basically confused by why antonio didn't steal another bike to begin with. this mentality speaks volumes about how younger people live in the world.

thanks for delving further....

Curtis said...

Well, children are full of germs, you know.

Teresa said...

"Think of the children!!!" I can't believe you had to write this to clear up a misconception. Or maybe I can. Aren't gay people usually forced into a defensive position when it comes to children?

GayProf said...

B.: It does astound me that some people claim that having children is just about showing their love or passing on their culture. If that were true, then we wouldn't have so many children waiting for adoption. Any child can be loved and any child can be taught "culture."

ROG: According to the organization formally known as Zero Population Growth, if all Americans simply followed your example (waiting to have children until later in life and refraining from having more), it would go a long, long way to solving our problems. The only solution does not have to be that people never have children. Instead, it is about strategic planning and limiting the total number.

Adjunct Whore: Oh, I agree that the problems with schools have historic roots based on race (refer to the entry before the last one). Still, it seems to me that the current emphasis on competition is a new means that justifies the status quo. Consider that the anti-affirmative action measures right now mostly come from white parents who are suing school boards. They are doing this not to fix the system for all children, but instead to ensure that their children get the "best" education while others are excluded.

Curtis: All humans are disease bags in my book.

Teresa: My personal sexuality and gender might have influenced some (but not all) of the responses. Gay men are often accused of being "anti-family." We are also excluded from almost all discussions about parenting and childbirth because it is presumed that it's not "our" issue (which both ignores that many gay men are parents and also that the decision to have children affects all of society and, once again, the earth).

Rebekah said...

Gayprof, this post speaks more to me than any other you've written.

I see the social climbing, the competition through their children that parents do on a daily basis.

It's another status symbol for many, like the plasma tv on the wall, or the vacation in Italy, or the Hummers (seriously) they use to pick up their child after school.

Don't get me started, or I'll hijack your fabulous post.

Thank you for writing this.

MaggieMay said...

I'm sort of incredulous that you had to clarify what was clearly a satirical point.

What's so worrisome to me is that competitive parenting is not only hideous for children-- it's horrible for parents, too. My normally sane, intelligent, witty friends get CRAZY defensive about their parenting and whether or not they're doing good by their kid(s). It's heartbreaking to see how much insecurity society/culture/whatever foists on good parents.

Les said...

I dunno about the adoption thing. I mean, giving a home to a kid who needs it is obviously a great thing to do. But there's some controversy about what constitutes a "neglected" kid. People who remove kids from their families are generally middle class. The familes losing the kid usually are not. Some folks, even those in the social-service world, think that kids /should/ get picked up from school in hummers and will act against parents who won't or can't.

The way adoption has been used as cultural genocide against Native Americans points to a terrible union of racism and classism in deciding what constitutes "neglect." I've read about studies that indicated that kids left in midly abuse/neglectful households fared batter in the long term than kids who were removed form the same. I don't know if the studies adjust for classism in deciding what constitutes neglect.

I'll agree, however, that the foster care system could stand some reform. Kids need to be garunteed their safety while in the program and it would be best if they could stay with the same gaurdians for as long as possible. Parents, natural or foster or adoptive need to be able to get support also. Some kids are mentally ill or have had bad life experiences and neither the act of giving birth or signing a piece of paper prepares people to deal with those things.

As to school competition, San Antonio v Rodriguez, a lovely piece of jurisprudence, held that children do not have a right to an education. therefore, having totally unequal schools is fine under the constitution. You've got to love the SCOTUS. So, the state can send them to jail if they don't go, but if they do go, no obligation to bother teaching them anything. It's sort of like pre-jail. Which, sadly is more and more the case as some schools get more security oriented, they channel poor kids and POC to jail by overreacting to minor infractions. I think I saw Amnesty Int or somebody complaining about this, but now I can't remember who.

Anyway, it's quite clear that FETUSES are the most vulnerable members of society and everybody else who might be vulnerable can go cheney themselves.

Bill S. said...

As someone who also shouldn't be expected to baby sit, I just gotta say I agree with everything you say.

As to you ever being a child: say it ain't so! I always assumed you had sprung, fully formed, from the head of Diana Prince.

dykewife said...

heh...i guess that people who got offended at your writing about children wouldn't like jonathon swift's "a modest proposal" :)

let's not shine the beacon too brightly on canada. social programs are going down the tube. funding for status of women of canada and literacy programs have been drastically slashed. things here are far from good and with steven harper and his goose stepping conservatives in (with the complicity of the bloq quebecois) canada is going to become a whole lot less friendly to the poor, marginalized, racialized and anyone else who isn't white, male, middle class and higher.

*sigh*

Marius said...

Yep, I couldn't agree more. I'm all for a woman's right to choose, but I also think we should educate the masses. For a long time, I thought I didn't want children. However, I've reconsidered and I plan on adopting in the future. Unfortunately, gay people aren't allowed to adopt in many states, which is a shame.

chukki said...

GayProf have you read 'Freakonomics" by S.D. Levitt & S.J. Dubner? They propose a link between the lowering of the crime rate across the US with the introduction of legalised abortions 15-20 years earlier. Your point about high birth rates could have some other negative repurcussions in the future...
PS. Love your stimulating and amusing blog - long time reader, rare commenter

Antonio said...

I was unaware of the huge disparity between teenage pregnancy in America and Canada, but it's not surprising. Some better teaching on sex education might've helped people in my hometown, where it seems folks have children out of wedlock more often than not.

Signalite said...

If it's any consolation, I received your satire wholly intact. I find it interesting how satire works (and doesn't work). Satire has an ingenious place but I think clearly goes over some people's scope of thinking. I love it as an art but I don't think satire works for every audience. With that said, shame on any longtime readers that didn't pick up on it.

As to some commentators incredulousness of having to respond however, I am glad that you chose to delve further into this matter. We need perspectives like this, in addition to those who simply deal with kids everyday.

Think of the children? Yes, of course we should. Loathe them or love them, they are not going away. Of course there will be those who hold their children as trophies, higher than themselves; and so we raise objects to be had rather than active responsibilities to be cared for. The thing I am saddened the most by is the cliques that form, rather than the community that should, when groups of parents converge.

In my own case, I have to double check my thinking all the time when it comes to how they are being raised. It is more than rote procedure and policy. The instinct that comes with the relationship to ones' own kids IS powerful, biological connection or not. They are not merely replications of ourselves. It is very easy to act on a simple emotional attachment of how we want things to be, but I think how we deal with the resulting conflict is the part that makes us distinctively human parents and children.

I truly appreciate your insights into this.

(As an aside, regarding the sticky, I would totally blame that on the boyfriend, darling, not on the kids.)

pacalaga said...

One disturbing thing I noted when considering children - the expense! Not the expense of raising them, but the expense of obtaining them by whatever means. I am fortunate enough to have health insurance, which means that all told, my prenatal care and childbirth cost less than $300. Compare that to adoption, where, depending on your situation and where you adopt from, can exceed $30,000. Factors reduce that cost somewhat, like adopting an older child or one with special needs, still, babymaking is still the one arena where making your own is cheaper than buying off the shelf. (With the caveat of passable medical insurance, of course.)
The whole competition thing freaks me out deeply, too. WRT education, I have actually considered homeschooling, but the local homeschooling groups are SCARY-uber-Christian and I'm too lazy anyway.
(And I would like to take this inappropriate opportunity to clarify the notion that a pregnant woman is "creating life". That's bullshit. A pregnant woman is hosting a parasite who's creating itself. Her only job is to make sure it has all the nutrients it needs. Sheesh.)

AcadeMama said...

A much appreciated and thoughtful post GP! As to some of the issues other commenters have made about competitive parenting and the value our culture places (or fails to place) on children, reproductive choices, and child/parent services, I've posted some of my own experiences of both being a parent and previously working in a Youth and Family Service Clinic on my blog. (These ideas have actually been making quite the rounds recently in the blog world of academic mothers.) Thanks again for this post!

adjunct whore said...

i agree with maggiemay on both points: you were clearly being satirical and the competitive parenting craze is insane.

and you're right: the current struggles to roll back bvsboed are clearly motivated by selfishness and competition rather than some desire to better the system at large. point taken.

Michael said...

I echo Signalite in that I'm glad you posted further on this issue, contributing a very thoughtful piece, although share many other commentor's dismay that you had to clarify your clear satirical writing. I doubt that Swift ever explained his proposal.
I supposed it boils down to, as teresa notes, "think of the children!" Our society is preoccupied with the idea that we not sully or speak ill of the lil cherubs while still allowing parents to sexualize their infants in beauty contest and through watching horrific television and allow them to idolize trash like Britney Spears and such.

The idea of being so protective of our children is relatively new, coming about in the late 1800's, until which children were thought of as minature adults. Our new mode of thought, I suggest, is not much better. As you mention, parental competition has created a generation of people who have an incredibly high sense of entitlement. Parents (mostly aging boomers) have robbed their own children of the ability to act or think independetly - they are going on job interviews for their 20 year old college graduates, apply for law school for them, and the over 18 kids still can't make a move or decision without a call to the parents (thus a cell phone attached to every hip). The competition tied to the self-improvement/self-esteem movenment gone horribly awry has led to kids who think they have no responsibility for their actions and that they could or should never lose (or worse that they deserve a prize for meeting the barest of minimal expectations).

Certainly not all people of the current generation are like that - I've had the ability to work with many fine students - but the number that have those qualities is staggering. Parenting really should involve licensing - the ability to reproduce does not mean you should or have the ethical right to do so.

And let's not talk about the insipid double-speak about protecting children by banning gay people from adopting while societally we fail to provide good sex education, access to birth control, and quality services to children needing homes.

Steven said...

"Having children is a choice," but let's also not forget that with having children comes responsibility.

Kate said...

Funny, I had no problem with the previous post, but a few bones to pick with this one.

While your point about competitiveness in parenting is well taken, I can't help but be a little dismayed at the criticizing parents bandwagon. Parents are institutionally oppressed, though far less than are young people, and it would do us good to think a little better about how to support parents in doing their best possible jobs rather than calling them out for their failures (don't know if any of you read Anastasia, but you should). There are institutional, societal issues that make it hard for parents to do a good job parenting -- for instance, I think parents should be paid for the work they do, but instead parents -- most especially mothers -- are discriminated against when they have to leave the home in order to find work to pay the bills. Then you also have the whole academic job market problem of moms being discriminated against in getting t-t jobs and getting tenure (just read anything by Mary Anne Mason at Stanford).

Also, maybe I live in some kind of vortex but many of my friends have children, and none of them are hypercompetitive about parenting. I wonder if this is a class thing, because the friends I'm thinking of are not upper-middle class, but are single moms, divorced moms, not so rich moms and dads, and every one of them is a rock star to me.

The last point I want to make is to address GP's main point in the post, about how it's not environmentally friendly to have children. I think that's a major overstatement. Many of the choices many parents (and child-free people!) make are not environmentally friendly, but you can have a zero impact pregnancy and child if you want. It's about having the education, knowledge, and then RESOURCES (which are pretty hard to come by for most parents, because they include lots of people willing to be a part of the child's life) to do it right.

GayProf said...

Rebekah: We are just starting to feel those effects at the university level. Some colleges have even had to institute policies that remind parents that their children are adults and no longer under their authority.

MaggieMay: I have seen the exact same thing among my peers as well. A group of four couples all had babies within a year of each other. I (wrongly) imagined that they would therefore create a support network for each other. On the contrary, they basically tear each other apart when they socialize. All of their children are healthy and thriving, but to listen to them one would imagine that any one of those babies is a step from the grave.

Les: You bring up many excellent points about adoption and history. Indeed, we should be very leery about the idea of a government just snatching up children (especially from minority and/or poor homes).

Still, I am talking about the number of children who have been abandoned by their families and are actively awaiting adoption.

Bill S.: Well, you don't have any evidence that I am not the result of Diana's splitting headache.

DykeWife: Oh, trust me, I have lots of criticism for Canada, too. Even more than the U.S., Canada refuses to discuss its problems with racism (mostly because it claims that it isn't the U.S.) Still, in the single regard of unwanted pregnancies, Canada comes out ahead.

Marius: The only way that I could ever be convinced to have children would be for somebody to play upon my sense of social justice. Adopting a child who needed a home is about all that appeals to me. Even then, I am not certain the child would be better off with me. It might be best if I just wrote a check.

Chukki: Hail, Amazon Sister! Now that you have broken the ice, I hope that you comment more.

Antonio: It doesn't matter to me if people have children out of wedlock. It does matter to me, though, if they a) planned those children and b) limit the number that they have.

Signalite: One wonders if satire only works if people "get it."

Pacalaga: Yes, the expense of adoption! Not to mention that it is a huge bureaucratic nightmare to even think about adopting. As you say, it's not hard to figure out why people would find it might each easier just to make their own. This is something that we need to solve in a hurry.

AcademeMama: If more parents volunteered, things would be better as well.

Michael: The bizarre way that parents over manage their children's lives today will have consequences that I think we can't even imagine. There has to be sometype of middle ground between "tiny adults" and "exclusive property."

Steven: Many (most?) parents aren't even willing to see having children as a choice, so getting them to recognize their responsibilities is an even harder battle.

Kate: I agree that women are treated unfairly in terms of parenting. At my former Texas institution I witnessed first hand the difference in attitude towards junior men faculty who had children and junior women faculty who had children. Junior men were considered "amazing" for balancing their career and children (even though their wives were often stay-at-home mothers). Women, on the other hand, were accused of not being serious about their career.

I support efforts at nationally funded daycare centers. Plus, we need to ensure that all parents have the resources they need.

None of this, however, changes the fact that having children is still a choice. Nobody is required to have one and we don't need more right now. I do not, in any way, support paying people a salary to have children. That would be equivalent to the government hiring people to build more SUV's.

Once again, having children does not provide a social service. The world/nation does not need more humans right now.

Part of the choice about having children is recognizing whether one has the ability and time to do so. Sorry.

It's also not possible to have a "zero" impact child. One can reduce the cost to the environment, but that child will always consume more than it produces (especially in the U.S.). Remember that the environmental cost of the child is not just their infancy, but the range of their entire life (70+ years).

Moreover, most parents are not willing to reduce the immediate environmental impact of parenting. This would mean, for instance, never using disposable diapers, never purchasing manufactured baby food, never using the clothes dryer, etc. etc. Good luck convincing people to even start with those things.

As I mentioned in the comments above, the only solution does not have to be that people don't have any children. One strategy can be for people interested in having children to delay having them until later in life and then having only one.

Vila H. said...

How refreshing. My province of Quebec is currently experiencing a much ballyhooed baby boom, and, as a woman who is childless by choice, there are moments when I find the cultural climate that has accompanied it suffocating. There is a great deal to be said about the sexual, gender, and class norms that have resurfaced in its wake, as well as the rampant consumerism and almost eugenicist perfectionism that many new parents espouse, though I'll reserve that for another forum. For now I'll just say that I deeply appreciate the thoughts you have expressed here.

Good luck in Texas.

Cooper said...

Wonderful. Thank you for writing this! I love it almost as much as I love my children.

:)

goblinbox said...

No, I am not begrudging people in the U.S. who have children...

For the record, I am. To quote my sainted mother, "Stupid people shouldn't breed."

To quote my roommate, "Right-to-lifers only love you while you're in the womb. As soon as you're born, they no longer care about you."

It'd be awfully neat if the richest country in the world could feed all of its own babies.

Oso Raro said...

Well, girl, you certainly stepped in it this time. The kiddy wars! Watch out, if the vengeful misunderstood and exhausted parents don't get ya, the high-minded narcissistic Bratophobes will! Aren't you in a pickle!

IMHO, If children don't behave (consisting mainly of shutting up their inane chatter), appreciate literature, fetch cartons of cigarettes from the bodega, and make mamma another champagne cocktail just right, we should drown them all like kittens!

But that's just me...

Dagon said...

The people who disagreed with you were very civil and gave actual reasons. I'm impressed.