“Should I Have a Baby?”

Worries and counterpoints.

Posted Sep 30, 2020

 Priscilla Nissen, Pixy, public domain
Source: Priscilla Nissen, Pixy, public domain

This composite letter describes concerns that my clients have raised, plus my response to each.

Dear Dr. Nemko,

I’m 37, single, and want to stay that way but want a child. I’m one of those women who feels almost biologically compelled to have children—well, at this stage, perhaps just one. But there are all those issues:

Will my child be shortchanged because I’m a single parent?

Is it right to bring a child into a world of never-ending big problems: from racial roiling to climate change, structural lack of good jobs to the daunting cost of the degrees that merely put you in the running?

I have a good job but struggle financially because I lose more than half in federal, state, and local income tax, Social Security, Medicaid, Disability, and Unemployment Insurance. And if I have a child, I fear I’ll have to shortchange him or her: cheap clothes, no private school, no summer camp.

Then there’s the environmental issue. Some environmentalists believe that overpopulation, especially in developed nations, which use lots of resources, is a major environmental threat.

And finally, part of me says, “What a sacrifice!” Even if I’m able to get pregnant at this age, the chances are greater that my baby will have a physical or mental defect. And even if it’s healthy, I’ll be parenting until I’m 60ish. That’s a major loss of freedom: I can’t go anywhere, let alone on a vacation, without worrying about what to do with my child.

Help!

Dear Prospective Parent,

Notwithstanding the issues you raise, you wrote that you do want to have a baby. So perhaps I can be of most value by offering a counterpoint to each concern:

Will being a single parent make my child worse? Men’s advocate Warren Farrell argues for the importance of a dad in the family. But a longitudinal study of 27,000 UK households finds no difference. A follow-up study parses the results and finds that single parenthood, on average, works less well for Blacks, Hispanics, and low-income people. But averages matter less than your situation. Make your best guess based on your emotional and financial resources, net, whether your child would be okay with just you as a parent. You’ve not raised questions about your potential to be a good mom, so I'm guessing you probably will be.

The tough world your child would inherit. Society has always been challenged but I think it’s reasonable to bet on humankind. As it always has, it will address the problems and, in addition, generate unimaginable positives. For example, think of the benefits we derive from our iPhone, inconceivable just a couple decades ago. Even regarding pregnancy, today, it’s much more possible for a woman who is having difficulty getting pregnant to have a baby.

The cost.  It’s hard to imagine that even children of poor people would wish they weren’t born because of poverty’s limitations. A child can live well on modest clothes, public school, and no summer camp. I’d rather see a poor kid with a loving parent than a rich kid with an indifferent, let alone cruel one.

The environmental concern. Sure, every unrecycled scrap of paper takes some toll on the environment. And if you were to have a half-dozen kids, it might justify a serious environmentalist’s askance eye, but the net impact of having one child, especially if you teach the child to be environmentally responsible, would seem small enough as to not justify weight in your decision to have a child.

The sacrifice. Yes, for some people, that sacrifice is prohibitive but other people find parenthood their life’s most rewarding activity. You are aware of the sacrifices yet still want a child, so I’m guessing that for you, the likely rewards will outweigh the liabilities.

Hope this helps.

I read this aloud on YouTube.