Where did the kids go?

There’s a book lying around the house that came home from the library. It’s called The New American Dream: Living Well in Small Houses. It shows how architects have creatively designed homes that are under 2,000 square feet. But there aren’t many pictures of people in these houses and nothing, typically, that tells how many people live in them.

Judging by the tastes and income levels shown by these houses, I’m guessing the couples who live in these homes have either one child or none at all.

Here’s another interesting book: It’s the memoir, Call the Midwife, from which came the popular British TV series about the women who delivered babies on London’s East End in the 1950s.

In the introduction, the author wrote about the coming of “the pill” in the early sixties, saying that her troop of midwives had 80 to 100 deliveries a month in the late ‘50s and only about four-a-month in 1963.

My vacation to the UK last month showed the same thing. Children are highly guarded, small in number and seldom seen. It’s a lot like it is here.

I have wondered, along with others my age, why parents these days are so protective of their kids compared to the days of my childhood, when you wandered the streets and biked many blocks to visit your friends. All your parents cared about was that you come home for dinner on time.

It hadn’t occurred to me that it comes back to falling birthrates.

When children went out the front door of their houses after school 50 years ago, they joined a gang of kids already on the street. They probably took a brother or a sister with them, and there is safety in numbers. Compare that to today, when the streetscape is empty except for some guy walking his dog whom you may or may not know. Do you want your kid hanging around a place like that?

Parents prize their children so much today because there are so few of them. Low birthrates brought us the helicopter parent. It brought us gay marriage, which is the logical conclusion to having so many childless couples. I guess having kids is no longer reason we tie the knot.

There are still a lot of people populating the planet, so we’re in no immediate danger of the human race dying out. But there’s a simple arithmetic to only having one child per couple. You’re halving the population, and not just once but generation after generation. Maybe the human race won’t die out. But what about the German race or the Italian race? This could be the end of white people!

I remember my dad a long time ago talking about having two kids, my brother and me. He said he and my mom were “replacing” themselves. This made people, having families in the 60’s, seem very logical. It was zero population growth. No more. No less. And maybe it’s possible that people in the coming decades will be logical too.

“OK. We’ve not been having a lot of kids lately and we’ve brought down a dangerously high birth rate (remember those broods you saw in Call the Midwife). But now it’s time to start reproducing again, so let’s go!”

Even if that’s possible, I wonder what it would look like. I suppose we could fashion a whole new culture where having manageable families is our reason for being. Maybe big families will become cool again, and that will encourage at least some people to have them. Maybe women (and men) will stop seeing a career as the thing that fulfills them.

I’m a modern kind of guy. I work full time but so does my wife. Yet we have two kids, and I’m not sure how it happened. There was no plan to have children. My wife was between jobs and could take some time off to get pregnant, nurse and watch babies. My parents lived in town so babysitting was cheap and plentiful.

But even if all of those things fall into place for other couples, the question remains. Why have kids at all in the age of the pill? Do you do it so there are young family members to take care of you when you’re old and frail? Do you do it with the high-minded goal of replacing yourself? Do you do it to continue the family name and family history?

My children are wonderful gifts and they’re also a lot of work. We can hope people of the future will look at that tradeoff and come to a conclusion that our civilization should carry on with a new generation.










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