Dozens of stories have emerged in the past year or so about parents breaking an age-old taboo by publicly admitting they regret having children. From heart-wrenching personal stories of overwhelming remorse to tales from a wide socioeconomic spectrum of families to exploding Facebook pages and reactionary criticism from conservatives, parents are starting to speak out.
What does parental regret have to do with family planning models? Today, the universal (and virtually unquestioned) model for family planning focuses exclusively on the parents’ subjective preferences. It offers little or no guidance as to what the best decision would actually be, and it isolates parents as they do their best to care for the children they do have. Is it then a surprise that parents come to regret having kids? Perhaps because they had them so early on in life, or without enough savings, or because they had more kids than they could adequately parent? It shouldn’t be surprising.
We have to do better than treating the biggest decision most people will ever make—for themselves, for others, and for the planet—as something guided merely by parents’ intuition and whim, as if parents were shopping in a store for a simple household product.
The Fair Start modelbreaks this isolating and outdated paradigm by using universally shared values to guide would-be parents. The model urges them to wait to have children until they can provide the things all children deserve, to demand help from the community in obtaining those things, and to not have more children than they—as well as their community and the planet—can nurture, sustain, and help thrive.
It’s great that parents are speaking out about regret. Let’s rethink family planning so that, in the future, they might not have to.