If you listen to conversations the people around you are having about choosing to have children, you might notice strangely conflicting advice. You’ll constantly hear that having kids is the most important decision a person can make in life, with lots of people lining up to give advice about how to decide. But at the same time—and from the same people—you’ll also hear that the decision is personal, and that each person alone will know the right time to have kids, the number of kids to have, and the reasons for having those kids.
How can both be true? How would anyone know that the decision to have children is an important one, for someone else, if the decision were truly personal or private to each person? The truth is that the decision to have kids is more interpersonal than personal, and that it involves factors we can all collectively see and consider: the time and other resources required from us, the impact the world around us will have on our children, the impact those children will have on the world, and more. In other words, when a couple chooses to save money before they have a child so they can pay for his or her basic needs, they are making that decision not because it is right for them, but because it is right, plain and simple.
Yet we continue to hear incomprehensible statements like this: “It’s the single biggest life decision a person will make.” . . . “But ultimately, it’s a leap of faith.”
So why do we talk about the decision to have kids as subjective and personal? The little-known fact is that there is a narrative around parenting as personal and subjective (something we at Fair Start Movement call the “isolation model”), which has become almost universal. The isolation model was intentionally created and propagated between the middle and end of the twentieth century by many governments around the world who, working through the United Nations, were trying to improve family planning. However, the process involved several critical mistakes. These mistakes resulted in the peculiar claim—still promoted by the United Nations and almost all of the major foundations and nonprofits engaged in providing family planning services—that family planning and parenting decisions are only subjective and personal.
There are several costs of this narrative and of the isolation model. Here are a few:
- Demands for family planning services (like access to contraception and abortions) become easily dismissed because they are based on personal or private reasons, rather than the weighty and widely held (or objective) values like being able to adequately take care of a child or concern about further degrading our polluted environment.
- Couples around the world are told it’s their personal choice to have children, but in patriarchal parts of the world where husbands make household decisions, women are frequently turned into into involuntary mothers for most of their lives.
- Parents are dissuaded from working together to ensure that the resources children need are actually there for them, as the subjective isolation model separates families into spheres of personal decision-making and helps them ignore objective values.
- Democracies, which were premised on citizens entering their political systems as free and equal people, fail as some children enter the world with massive resources while others enter with virtually nothing. They are neither free nor equal in a meaningful sense of the words.
- Families in communities are seen as isolated, and there are no incentives to help one another and support children throughout the community.
Many of the problems in the world today—from inequality to poverty to the degradation of the world environment—could have been mitigated had governments not created and left prospective parents adrift in the fog of confusion that is the isolation model. But it’s not too late to change models. One simple alternative to the isolation model is to broaden our perspective to include the needs—needs we can all see and understand—of parents, future children, and the community.
Trying to decide whether to have a child? Consider what you would have wanted to have coming into the world. Consider whether you would want a fair start in life relative to other children in your generation. Consider what your community might look like in 25 years if the parents in that community worked together to plan and provide or the children they would have. Consider the natural environment your child and other children and the animals they will come to love will need in 100 years to thrive, and the impact the decision to have those children will have on that environment and those animals.
The decision to have kids is truly an important one, and worth working together on. Welcome to the Fair Start Movement model. Welcome to a better future.