Last month, I wrote a piece about an extremely controversial, but factually sound study conducted by two renowned psychologists at the University of Waterloo. In a nutshell, it proved that most mothers and fathers exaggerate the joy derived from time spent with their children as a means of compensating for the astronomical costs associated with modern parenthood. Needless to say, a great number found this to be incredibly offensive, an assault on traditional values, dangerous to the stability of Western civilization and so on and so forth.
As someone who knew from his days in primary school that he did not want kids, I found it to be completely unsurprising. A few nights ago, while researching statistics on overpopulation, I stumbled across an article in The American Interest revolving around the question of why religious people tend to have more offspring than their secular contemporaries do. One key component left out was that, in essence, only followers of salvation, or supernaturalist, religions were considered; those participating in existential, or cultural, ones were not even mentioned. As the article was operating on a terribly flawed premise, I struggled to consider seriously its propositions and findings.
Of course, I wound up spending the rest of the night pondering its core question, with my variation brought into the equation. I would suppose that, as far as adherents to fundamentalist Abrahamic religions are concerned, each child is thought of as a divine gift and used as a means for God’s chosen ends. Therefore a fundie parent would probably not mind sacrificing his or her own personal freedom to ensure the glory of God. When one’s entire livelihood is placed in the hands of what is perceived as being otherworldly, such preposterous behavior becomes quite normative. Indeed, the pressing concerns of financial stability and social responsibility are rendered irrelevant; what God wants is what God wants, and that is that.
Those of us who are not Abrahamic fundamentalists, however, find it much easier to identify the objective realities of parenthood. Children cost over $200,000 each to raise from birth through age eighteen. They frequently result in the worst forms of psychological depression, especially for women. Since astounding advances have been made in elder care, reproduction is no longer a necessary human insurance policy. Most importantly though, technological developments in the fields of contraception and sterilization have allowed people to foster committed lifelong relationships without fear of an unplanned pregnancy. In short, we have weighed the benefits and drawbacks of parenthood against one another and found that parenthood itself, at least in our post-agrarian society, is really a raw deal.
It is amazing how political the issue of whether or not one wishes to be a parent truly is. All things considered, it comes down to the same reason that somebody pulls the lever for a certain candidate on election day; self interest. For the devout clergy of salvation religions, favor is curried with the Creator. For participants in existential ones, increased freedom means increased happiness. For every single last one of us, our own needs are met in one way or another. Some opt to define these needs through theological interpretations, while others realize them in an empirical fashion.
Either way, I believe that we all can agree on the following; it is best to respect our neighbors’ choices, specifically when they pertain to a matter as personal as this. More likely than not, their preferences are not ours, but it is the diversity of ideas, ideals, and philosophies that make any free society exactly that.