"In a time of Covid-19, climate change and catastrophe, having a baby is an act of radical hope." - Tom Whyman, "Why, Despite Everything, You Should Have Kids (if You Want Them)", New York Times, April 13, 2021
I work with a lovely young woman who has two young girls, one only four months old. We met yesterday to discuss changes in the onboarding process, and she confessed that though she knew the world was a mess, she couldn't look at the news. My co-worker's biggest goal is to get her baby to transition from breastfeeding to a bottle before she can come back to work full-time. Having faced this same issue with my oldest (twenty years ago), I could sympathize. What are headlines when your child won't eat?
In a rare moment of frustration she asked, "What are we even doing, having children, when the world is like this?" A profound question, not only in the time of COVID. Those of us in mid-life who were following the climate crisis twenty or thirty years ago asked the same question before we had our children, and the situation has not gotten better.
In 2000, before we conceived our oldest child, I asked my mentor in Environmental Studies if I should follow the dictates of my biological clock (loudly ticking), given what we knew then about global warming and its devastating potential effects. He pondered the question, a single man with a step-daughter whom he loved. I'll never forget what Frank told me: "It's an act of hope, it forces you to work hard for a better society, a better world. When you have children, you have skin in the game."
Parents do have skin in the game, as we fight for a more just society, a functioning democracy, an environment that will continue to support life in future generations. I only have twenty-five or thirty years left on the planet if I'm lucky, and I confess that if I didn't have children, I might be tempted to give up the fight. Certainly I would have spent a lot more time in bed during the past pandemic year.
This mindset, a personal failing, not a global truth, helps me to understand Tom Whyman's position that having a baby continues to be an act of radical hope. It's not for everyone and I applaud those who can fight for a more just world on the basis of their own moral imperatives. Personally, the three young faces at my kitchen table provide deep motivation for my work on climate change, for our personal choices in terms of solar panels and food, and for getting up out of bed each day with a positive attitude. We do not know the future, and something - someone - great may lead us into a better place that, for now, we can't yet see.