My young adult child has shared her feelings that she probably won't want to have kids because of climate change and how "messed up" the world is going to be in another twenty years. This makes me sad, not just on a personal level, but because she says many of her friends feel the same way. What would you suggest I could say to make her feel more hopeful about the future of our planet?
When I was pregnant, someone gave me a book of quotes about parenthood. I remember just one: “Having a baby is the ultimate act of optimism.” Your daughter, and so many in her generation, is struggling to find optimism in a world that is, indeed, deeply messed up.
But optimism doesn’t only come from what we see when we look around and assess whether the world is going in a good direction. Optimism comes from when we look into ourselves and see that we create our world, we create our future, and the good things inside us have the power to make things good outside of us.
The good in us may produce a baby or a spectacular piece of art, or a delicious batch of lemon bars, or a technique for teaching dogs how to sniff out cancer cells. It is the possibility of doing good and making our contribution — in whatever form that takes — that is the basis for optimism. It’s about what’s possible.
Your daughter is having trouble seeing what’s possible because these have been some dark years. It’s almost like we are living the longest most frigid March night ever. In nighttime, we can’t see very far in front of us; we can’t see the beauty of color that inspires us; during darkness, the world is a limited place and we tend to close ranks and get safe.
The pandemic has made this last year particularly dark, and we also add the collective grief and anxiety around our years-long night of climate crisis, racial reckoning and political upheaval. Dark times indeed.
So here’s my advice about darkness: We have a rule in our house that no important decisions can be made after 9 p.m. In fact we usually steer clear of serious discussion after dark because everything is scarier in the dark and we are more depleted as the day draws to a close. What our bright-eyed morning selves will carefully and thoughtfully untangle, our nighttime selves will see as dire and desperate.
All of this is to say that now is not the time to be making big declarations like “I’m not going to have children.” Let’s wait until the daylight of a vaccinated world can show us what is possible. And furthermore, let’s invite our children to be part of a world that continues to make positive contributions towards racial truth and reconciliation, social and economic justice, and gender equality. Just saying.
Whether or not your daughter births a child from her own body, adopts one borne by another’s, or decides to live her life without a child as part of it, she will make her contribution in whatever meaningful way she determines.