Lisa Hymas rocked the Internet this week with her GINK manifesto (green inclinations; no kids), a post where she prides herself on living child-free and how it has helped the environment. And another serve is lobbied in the endless battle between parents and childfree by choice.
I actually read Hymas's piece eagerly, because I was curious how the green angle would be broached. Unfortunately, she focused mostly on the financial realities of having children for the first page of the post and the green section of the post was about the carbon impact of an average American (though additional information was provided about how to reduce your carbon impact, the only way to reduce a future person's impact to zero is to not be born at all). But still, I liked her final statement to talk about life choices frankly instead of mumbling them under the proverbial carpet.
I read this post because I would like to understand and learn more, and I wish she could have spoken more about living green; about how "the average Bangladeshi" reduces their CO2 each year to 0.3 tons (as opposed to the 20 tons generated by the average American). Since this was a GINK manifesto, I expected a Michael Pollan-like deconstruction of how raising a child affects the environment that would help a person make a decision because yes, we can simplistically say that a person never born has no chance of producing CO2, just as we can say that a person born doesn't have the chance of becoming a dictator, but I don't know if it's a strong enough argument to stand as the solution for how to deal with the problem of murderous dictators.
Which is to say that I agree with her; I just wanted more if this was a manifesto meant to change the world and not a personal statement about why she has chosen to live childfree.
Hymas kicks off the piece by intoning the infamous Stephanie Mills 1969 quote about forgoing parenthood because it's the humane thing to do. And it's statements like that that simply don't help because the inverse -- that it is inhumane to bring children into the world -- is hurtful and judgmental and lends itself to what Mommy Lawyer so eloquently labeled "screaming bansheeism" this week, rather than open conversation.
Take out the loaded terms and Stephanie Mills actually has some sound advice to share in this short statement made four decades after her infamous and outspoken decision.
The first is, "The decision to have children should be made consciously, because they deserve no less." No one should enter into any major life-altering decision, whether its educational or career-wise or a partnership or parenthood, without making the decision consciously. Not because it's what we should do, but because it's what we want to do or need to do.
Her other advice, "Search your conscience and follow your heart," is also excellent advice to use for life-altering decisions. Nowhere in that statement is she hinting the path you should take; she is merely reminding you that the decision should come from the individual and not be a product of societal pressure.
David Roberts responded to Hymas's post with one of his own that contains a nugget of a concept. He states his point of view as a parent reading the GINK manifesto,
My first reaction to Lisa's essay was not defensiveness. It's not like we're taking a quiz and there's only one right answer. Surely it's good news when anyone discovers their own best life and lives it! In general, it's good for there to be lots of different kinds of people doing lots of different kinds of things. In particular, the kind of life Lisa's chosen is complementary to the kind of life I've chosen.
And that's the good part, the idea he sums up a few sentences later: "Human communities are ecosystems, and in all ecosystems diversity is the key to health and resilience."
I can't agree with Roberts that the childfree are complementary because they make good babysitters so parents can go out, but I think he's onto something with the idea of looking at all communities--online or off -- as an ecosystem, one where diversity is what enables it to thrive.
The decision whether or not to have children should never be defended and this battle, frankly, should be put to rest, because if we are following Mills's sound advice, we are searching inwardly for the right answer for ourselves. We can't get them from one another, and judging and berating another person's choices is only going to shut down an important part of our ecosystem -- the exchanging of ideas.
I am glad that I am not surrounded solely by Jewish, parenting, vegetarian socialists, because if I were, I would never be challenged to be empathetic and try to walk a mile in another person's shoes. I am grateful that I live in a world where people blog about their life and let me have a window into another set of life choices. It makes me re-examine my own choices -- sometimes affirming them and sometimes changing my mind. I like it best when someone writes a blog post that teaches me rather than yells at me or mocks me. But that's just me. There might be people in the ecosystem who enjoy those types of posts.
The fastest way to cause an inferno is to take a stance and set it out there with loaded words that state judgment when taken on the inverse. The best way to keep the ecosystem humming, with each organism aiding the next organism to be the best organism they can be, is to close our mouths and listen. Observe a life other than your own and appreciate the fact that we can all make personal decisions and have these decisions be about us rather than about anyone else. Because returning to Mills's argument, I can only make decisions for myself, and the ones I make for myself may not fit another person quite as well.
And if we can get the ecosystem back on track, no one will need to write a manifesto or "defend" their decision.
So rather than judge or make statements about other areas of the ecosystem, give us some insights into your parenting, not-parenting-yet, or childfree by choice world.
More from parenting