How much is too much?

I’ve got a problem. I was raised to believe that we are supposed to be responsible for our own actions, and that the responsibility also included making good choices. After all, outside of our opposable thumbs the human ability to be sentient, to think of consequences BEFORE making a choice is supposed to be one of the elements that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

So when the news breaks about the single mother who went to a fertility clinic to have just one more girl, and ended up coming out with octuplets, I cringe at how everyone thinks it’s just so wonderful.

I’ve witnessed the birth of my two boys, and it was the most amazing experience. Thankfully, however, some critics have started to surface questioning why a single mother with six children would even consider having more children, even if it was an “innocent” desire to have just one more girl…

While this circumstance is hyperbole, it’s a very real hyperbole. Up until the birth of the octuplets this single mother was surviving financially due to the efforts of her parents, and the generosity of the social services system of the State of California. Now even this woman’s mother – the grandmother – has had enough and announced that when the new mother returned from the hospital the grandmother to 14 would be gone.

While every man and woman is born with the plumbing to have children, does that necessarily mean that everyone should procreate? While children or born relatively clean slates, does that mean that the birth of every child is necessarily a blessing? OK, that last logical leap is the one that’s going to get me in trouble, but, really, it’s at the heart of the criticisms here.

Most people can handle the emotional and financial burden of a single child. Two is a greater challenge, but just as manageable. Families do three kids all of the time. Only one hundred fifty years ago families regularly had families with six or seven kids. The difference then was, however, that the kids became productive members of the family at very early ages, often with the older children as involved in the child rearing of the younger children, and in rural communities children, even young children, were involved in the the productivity of a family’s agricultural output.

In today’s developed, Western civilizations, however, the requirements of having multiple children to insure that they both survive past their youth, and can add to the family’s economic output, how many children constitutes a responsible number of children in a family? At what point does the addition of children to a family become a burden to the surrounding community? At what point does the addition of another child become detrimental to the family by reducing the amount of time a parent, or parents can dedicate to the other children, by reducing the financial resources available to care for the kids – clothing, feeding, and entertaining – by straining the very fabric of the family unit?

Are these questions callous? Absolutely. How can they not be? If someone had a biological condition that made him or her unrealistically crave sugar, and this person became overweight, would we worry about restricting his or her food intake to things that were not sweet? If someone was an obsessive spendthrift and became terribly in debt, would we worry about restricting their spending? If someone was a cutter – someone who found actual pleasure from cutting him or herself with sharp objects – would we feel bad about removing sharp objects from his or her possession?

At some point, in our society, we need to say it’s NOT OK to have as many children as you want. And this DOESN’T mean we have to throw away the sanctity bestowed upon human life that so many right to lifers herald as the reason to do irrational things.

By the time most people get around to having children we know how children happen. For the handful who don’t, that’s a different issue than what we’re talking about here, but this thread probably applies to the parents of those kids. Knowing how children come into this world, coupled with the quintessentially human ability to look ahead and foresee the repercussions of specific decisions – like how four people in a house costs a lot more to feed than two, forget about the difference between 14 and one – makes it imperative that we consider if having a child is a good idea before we go about the process of having one.

But then again, we’re witnessing the fallout of millions of people buying houses they couldn’t afford, and loading up credit cards they couldn’t pay back, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised when people make decisions without a single thought to what that decision might mean a few years down the road.

 

RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and lulu.com.