So I overheard a conversation over the fence a few weeks ago. My neighbor was talking about me.
One of my next door neighbors is a stay at home mom. She has three kids and often hosts throngs of children in her backyard. Well, maybe not throngs. Maybe just a few on top of her few. Whatever. There are often extra kids over there.
I'm outside a lot, often on my deck box, meditating. You wouldn't necessarily know I was out there. So my neighbor is talking to a kid who is poking his hand through the fence to interact with Mystic and the conversation goes like this:
Neighbor: Quit playing with the fence.
Boy: But I'm talking to one of her babies.
Neighbor: Those aren't babies, they're dogs.
Boy: But my mom says they're her babies.
Neighbor: To HER they're her babies. But they're still just dogs.
My neighbor is, of course, right. In a way. That's not really why I'm telling the story. I don't really have an issue with what she said. I'm telling the story for two reasons. One...how great is it that the kid's mom has an open mind like that and is teaching that to her son? These might be the kids that belong to the dogs that sometimes visit my neighbor's yard. So they get it.
But the second reason is, just because they're not actual human children, doesn't mean my choice to have them and not humans is any less worthy of an endeavor. (Not that my neighbor was saying that, but more that it made me start thinking of that.) Moreover, remaining childless is no less important to the future of humanity than having children is. There's been a snobbery in the world for tens of thousands of years that favors those who "multiply". People truly believe it's the only reason humans exist...to propagate. But there's a growing problem with this mindset. Today's big topic of discussion is climate change and how that will affect future generations. Our grandchildren's big topic of discussion will be population control.
Just for fun, here's how quickly people are propagating at this time. (http://www.worldometers.info) Check the difference between births and deaths. If that rate continues, some projections say the population will grow from 7 billion to 10.5 billion by 2050. What sounds like "just 3.5 billion" can also be stated as "half again as populous as it is now." That's 3 billion more people needing food, energy, infrastructure, medication, land. (Some may understand it better as half again as many cars on the road and people in line at the Safeway.) The more of earth's resources we use, the less resources there are for other species to use (species we call "food", for example), the more carbon dioxide that goes into the air and the faster we hasten along climate change.
Someone living in the midwest of the US might say "hey, there's plenty of room for everyone." But that's only because they live in a happy place with lots of land. For now. There's not plenty of room for everyone, especially if the temps around the equator get hotter, making that area unlivable and unproductive, and the polar ice cap melts, wiping away vast areas of land as water rises. Everything is connected. For example, the better medical care gets, the longer people live, the more populous the world becomes, the more overcrowded things get and the greater the risk for disease. For every action, there is a consequence. Or "no good deed goes unpunished," as people say. The more people there are on this earth, the more tension there will be between them as they fight for increasingly limited resources. The outlook is not pretty.
Before anyone loses their top, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with having children. Clearly the future of our species depends on continuing to have children. What I'm saying, however, is that now, more than ever, the future of our species also depends on more and more people NOT having children. We're partners in this thing—not adversaries, not "greater than" and "less than"—equal partners.
Very few people have children for the noble reason of supplying a future generation for humanity and very few people abstain from having children for the noble reason of containing the world's population. We all do what we do because it suits us....for what might be called "selfish" reasons. None of us are doing what we're doing as a favor to anyone other than ourselves. So why the superior attitude when it comes to parenthood? Why do we consider that the most noble thing a person can do with their life?
For tens of thousands of years, a human's ability to create and bear children has been an integral part of their worth and identity on this earth. A "barren" woman has, at various times, been cast aside in society. Or killed. Or pitied. Or a point of concern. This stigma has held over time to the point that childless people are paid less, worked more and given less consideration. They're also often judged as "less than" by many people who have children. They are, in every way from tax benefits to societal attitudes, second-class citizens. You may not even realize this is happening and/or that you're doing it unless you're the person without the children. It's that ingrained in our society. It's that accepted...that taken for granted.
So my neighbor is right. My "children" are not human and it's not the same thing as raising human children. But not necessarily for the reasons she might think. And her choice is no more noble or worthy than mine. Nor does it contribute to society any more than mine does. They are simply different choices, each with different, but equally important impacts on the future. So it's time for the snobbery and judgment to end.
It's also time for people to realize that people who choose dogs over human children don't necessarily do so because they can't have babies or aren't married or are settling in any way. Some of us—myself included—do it because, like people who have children, it was what we dreamed of as a child and young adult. I played with stuffed animals far more than dolls as a kid. Back when I lived in an apartment and couldn't have pets, I went to dog parks a few times a week just to be around dogs. When I bought this house, I bought one with a large yard and pre-adopted a dog so it would be ready to move in the day after I moved all my crap in. Five years later I bought a new car that I didn't need other than the fact that it was bigger so I could transport another dog. There are vacations I will never go on and things I will never do...happily, because my first thought in life is always my dogs. I never wanted human children for even a split second, but my entire life I have ached to have dogs.
My dogs ARE my children. Most people who have ever owned dogs understand that sentence and don't feel a need to say "my dogs are LIKE my children" or "my dogs are like children TO ME." I know many people who have both human children and fur children who also get that statement. For the people who have dogs and don't get that statement, I feel bad because seeing them as "just dogs" or as a security system or whatever is overlooking a lot of love and learning, imo. And just as my neighbor might think I have no idea what I'm missing, I can think the same thing of her. They're different levels of obligation and carry different levels of consequence and reward. Neither is "better" than the other when all is said and done. Neither is trivial or less than. Both are expressions of love that can sometimes overwhelm and always improve the kind of human being we, ourselves, become. If there's any more noble pursuit than that, then I don't know what it is.
That said, I really don't have an issue with anything my neighbor said. I get it. I get her perspective. She is a very good mother to her children. But her comment led me to think of the attitude in society that dog parents or single people are contributing less than anyone else...that our quest is somehow trivial when held up against human parenthood. I agree that it's harder to raise a human child. But that's all part of the cost/benefit decision people make. To then hold that up as some badge of honor after you've decided to pay the cost to receive the kind of benefit you receive is a little martyred, imo.
It's easy to focus on the positive impacts we have on society, but harder to see the negative impacts. In our lifetime, population won't be an issue. We'll die before the big issues caused by largely by population, industrial growth and the over-use of resources really hit. But, barring a disaster that wipes out huge portions of the earth, there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when it will be THE issue. And nobody will be looking to the Duggars as an example of how to proceed. Maybe then, people will finally get it. Everyone, no matter what the topic is, is here for a reason that moves the earth forward and none of us can lay claim to the higher ground.
PS. Cats are babies too. I don't know anything about cats and the cat/parent relationship, so I didn't mention them.