A. Babies come from stories. From beliefs. Some of those stories are beautiful: I want to love and care for someone; I have a lot to share with a growing human.
But as Laura Carroll explains in this episode, a whole lot of baby-making beliefs aren’t true for everyone, and many aren’t true, period. Here are a few of the harmful and expired: I won’t feel fulfilled without a child; It’s nobody’s business if I want to make a lot of kids; I’m not a real woman/man if I don’t become a mother/father; People who don’t have kids are selfish.
With a population at 7.6 billion, and with a planet in serious overshoot, we need to look at these beliefs.
Author Laura Carroll has done just that. She’s researched where these beliefs come from and talked with thousands of people about their lives with and without kids. She’s looked at the devastating impacts—on individual families, cultures, and on the wider world— of assuming everyone should reproduce. She’s spoken on these issues on major radio and television outlets and has authored several books about the outmoded pressures to have children and about the option of living child-free. (See links below).
In this conversation, Laura and I talk primarily about the ideas from her book, The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood and Reproduction Will Create a Better World. Laura also edited the second edition of deep ecologist Dave Forman’s Man Swarm: How Overpopulation is Killing the Wild World. I recommend both of them.
This conversation isn’t anti-kid. Laura and I are typical of people who have warm relationships with kids who aren’t our own. But whether someone really desires parenthood or not, we need to bring the breeding thing down some major notches if anyone’s kids are going to have a chance. Laura and I talk about:
- What “pronatalism” is; examples of how we’re soaking in it
- Studies that show how having fewer children is essential for stopping extreme climate change*
- How religions and businesses promote childbearing and why
- The 7 assumptions that promote childbearing, why they’re not true, and the healthier ones that could replace them
We also mention Bill McKibben’s Maybe One: The Case for Smaller Families, which lays waste to the one-child stigma. Bill wrote it in 1998 and it’s even more urgent now. (BTW, unlike some environmentalists with a blind spot for the kid thing, Bill and his wife, writer Sue Halpern, actually have one kid. Who’s now a lovely adult.)
NOTE: I swear in this. It’s hard not to when you’re talking about powerful stories that aren’t true. Hey— I’m even worse in person. And I don’t care anymore. And Laura’s much nicer than I am.
Laura Carrol’s other books are Families of Two: Interviews With Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice (international update on the way!), and Finding Fulfillment From the Inside Out.
* Please note that the US is different from many Western countries in that it has the largest carbon footprint and is growing rapidly. You can learn more in the previous Big Chew episode with Joe Bish from the Population Media Center, or in the following episode with philosophy professor and environmental ethicist Philip Cafaro about issues particular to Amurr’ca. Among other things, in the prior Chew Joe Bish and I talk about countries whose population is declining and who consider that a positive thing.
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