Some subjects elicit bad behavior more reliably than others:
SUZANNE writes:My husband and I are happy to be expecting our fourth child in seven years of marriage. Unfortunately, I rather dread telling most of my family members. We are Protestant, and the idea of "openness to life" has not been embraced for at least three generations, as far as I call tell. I wonder if you or any of your readers have clever answers to the questions I am sure to receive such as, "Oh no! What are you going to do?," "You're not having anymore after this, are you?!" and the ever popular, "You DO know how that happens, right?"
I would appreciate the suggestions.
Please don't respond to rudeness with a clever line.
Anyone who suggests, even jokingly, to a pregnant woman that her having another child is weird or excessive is not just rude and stupid, but cruel. Such comments are often motivated by envy, but you don't need to feel sympathy toward someone who is envious.
I suggest you say, "A simple congratulations is all that is needed."
Indeed. But I must differ slightly: I disagree that the usual motive is envy. We are so deeply sunk in a morass of present-moment / self-uber-alles / instant-gratification attitudes that to have children at all is frequently the target of derision and feigned incomprehension.
I recall, from some months ago, a story about a young woman who, supposedly because she regards the desire for children as "selfish" in the face of "the damage Humanity does to the planet," had herself permanently sterilized before conceiving even once. Let's stipulate, entirely for the sake of argument, that that woman was perfectly sincere about her motives. How would her behavior have been different, were she one of the "proudly childfree" dedicated to a life of self-absorbed self-indulgence?
Time was, there was an organization that styled itself the National Organization for Non-Parents. Its mission, if memory serves, was to combat "pronatalism," to uphold the rights of the "childfree," and to counter the derision the "childfree" supposedly receive from more fertile couples. I knew a couple of members thereof. They were quite defensive about their "childfree" state. I forbore to ask what had set them on that course, or why they might think anyone would begrudge it to them.
Let us grant the "childfree" their perfect right to eschew parenthood. It's a tiring state; no one who has had the experience would ever dispute that. No one should quarrel with the decision to avert it, and anyone who does is as much a boor as the sorts Suzanne mentioned in the quote above. So why, then, should we tolerate the derision the "childfree," and similar anti-natal forces, heap upon those who regard children as a delight and a blessing?
The question answers itself, doesn't it?
Anti-natal attitudes and forces converge from several overt postures:
- Radical environmentalism;
- Unrefined Malthusianism;
- Extreme urbanism;
- Bizarre notions about "social responsibility;"
- Sheer self-absorption.
Objectively, the result is what matters most: lots and lots of couples having few or no kids, while they look askance at those who enjoy children and seek to have as many as they can properly care for. But of the five postures mentioned above, the first four cloak themselves in moral garb, and thus provide cover of a sort for the fifth one, which I suspect is more applicable than all the others taken together.
It's been said by many a commentator that we most despise in others what we know to be unworthy about ourselves. He who wishes to give vent to his censorious impulses, however, must take care to avoid the "motes and beams" trap; otherwise, his castigations will be seen as an expression of envy or worse, and will fail to support his presumption of moral superiority.
Back when families of sizes greater than the contemporary average were commonplace, the castigation ran all too frequently in the opposite direction. It was wrong then, and it's wrong now -- and not because the castigators were often moved by envy of the "childfree."
If there's a subject more properly reserved to private decision-making than whether to bear (additional) children, I can't think of it at the moment. If we may assume that the parents accept full responsibility for their children's well-being and conduct, how on Earth could it become anyone else's business? Even the closest of family members have no place in such a matter...yet instances of intrusive meddling, well beyond simple post hoc commentary, by relatives in one another's natal decisions are legion.
No subject comes to mind that better illustrates how completely we have abandoned our traditional respect for privacy.
Yes, there are political dimensions to this subject. It's long been a popular slogan on the Left that "the personal is the political," hasn't it? But sad to say, it's not just leftists who permit themselves to thrust their noses into the genitive decisions of others; quite a number of more sensible persons allow themselves the same privilege, and with no better justification.
Ironically, as Julian Simon, Mark Steyn, and others would observe, those who fail to procreate are "part of the problem" of the American welfare state. The steady decline of our fertility is at the core of what makes our largest social entitlements unsustainable. The "solution," if you'll allow me to cast it as such, is to have scads and scads of kids, whose labors twenty years hence will pay for our Social Security and Medicare. But this is a remedy our most ardent supporters of welfarism are determined to avoid. Your conjectures as to their private reasons are, of course, your own affair.