Is having lots of children selfish? It’s a question I’d never even thought of asking myself before.
I was sat with a family member whose opinion on most things I massively respect when she began telling me about a time she was sat in a restaurant with her husband. I would say I was about 55% listening, 45% thinking about my forthcoming lunch, when, with just one sentence, she took me from ‘vaguely interested’ to ‘all-out-engrossed-in-the-conversation-in-a-state-of-open-jawed-bewilderment’:
“I saw a couple walk in with four children. I just couldn’t believe they weren’t embarrassed, having so many children…it’s just selfish.”
I was dumbfounded. I poked and prodded (not literally of course) until I got to the root of this seemingly barmy moral position, a position I soon discovered was also held by her husband. It seems their shared opinion is that our planet is already over-populated. We, as a species, are too many. The planet is struggling to cope with our demand for resources – for oil, food, for the very air we breathe that is steadily being diluted by the exhaust fumes from every new car that rolls off of the production line. By having more than two children, families are exasperating this seemingly terminal situation. They are contributing to the problem.
I don’t disagree with the majority of this, fundamentally – we as a species are too many, and often don’t care enough about our environment, and are too lax with the decisions we make in our everyday life, whether it be choosing to drive two minutes down the road instead of walk, or deciding that 5p is a small enough price to pay to carry that piece of shopping we really don’t need a bag for. And I suppose the more people there are, the more quickly our beautiful planet will deteriorate.
But is having lots of children inherently ‘selfish’? No. I don’t think it is. And here’s why:
When my wife and I decided to embark upon having our first child, we weighed up many factors, including: Do we actually want a child (pretty important)? Can we afford one? Is our lifestyle conducive to the addition of a small, screaming ball of baby? The question of the impact upon the environment that our new, as yet un-conceived child would have didn’t even enter our heads. We had so much love to give, we knew we would give her or him a life filled with warmth, comfort and happiness. Looking back though, I realise why it wasn’t a factor. Subconsciously, I think we knew that we would raise our child with an awareness and respect for their planet, and this would offset their unintentional negative impact upon Mother Nature.
And so it has been. Today North Tyneside Council are running a community clean-up operation in our neighbourhood, inspired by our daughter Matilda who had become so upset at the amount of litter strewn upon the streets of North Shields that she began cleaning it up herself. Who knows, perhaps she will go on to have a more substantially positive impact on the world. Maybe so will any one of the four children my relative spotted and whose existence she scorned in that restaurant a few months back. My view is, if you are going to bring up your offspring to treat the world and other living things with respect and care, have as many as you ruddy well like.
**The North Shields litter-pick starts at 10am at McColls on Tynemouth Road on Saturday 7th May.**
Jake Rusby | Rusby Media