Experiences this week have me thinking again about how parents are stereotyped as the caring and stable members of society, yet in reality, people without kids are also balanced and compassionate. No matter how dictatorial or regimented cultures are in terms of childbirth, childfree singles and couples exist and endure everywhere. In fact, I sometimes think nature provides for a certain percentage of the population to remain childfree, just to keep the world sane and balanced.
Some my thoughts are fueled by a trip I made to Walmart this afternoon. I generally avoid our local mega-store because it is always crowded, but I just didn't have time to stop anywhere else. I thought I'd just dive in and jump out as quickly as possible.
School had just let out and the store was packed with people including many moms and kids. In the midst of economic downturn, carts were jammed with non-essential items and toys - the big pink and yellow plastic stuff that's always massed by the curb on trash nights. There was such frenzied feeling to the shopping atmosphere I had to wonder if I'd missed a minor holiday. I then realized it might be the constant barrage of news reports of financial strife fueling unrestrained bargain shopping.
I think I was struck by the rampant consumerism more today than most days because I read two articles last night that put me in a cynical mood. The first is an article in Common Dreams by Julliett Jowit warning that humans are annihilating other species more rapidly than any other time in recent history.
She warns, "For the first time since the dinosaurs disappeared, humans are driving animals and plants to extinction faster than new species can evolve, one of the world's experts on biodiversity has warned. Conservation experts have already signaled that the world is in the grip of the 'sixth great extinction' of species, driven by the destruction of natural habitats, hunting, the spread of alien predators and disease, and climate change."
Jowit's article depresses me. I, for one, don�t want to think about living on a planet without other animals besides humans (as if humans would survive without other animals anyway.) But today I was especially bothered, thinking about the demise of so many species, by the irony of the huge fake plastic animals stuffed into Walmart carts - all constructed with non-biodegradable materials.
In spite of knowledge of the toll we humans are taking, we persist in overpopulating the planet with glee and abandon. Yet, as a childfree person who cites environmental concerns as a valid reason for choosing to not have kids, in response, I'm hit with condescending snickers ranging to anger sufficient for someone committing a blasphemy.
Last night, I also came across the blog of childfree actor Andrea Paul. I was struck by her writing because she and her husband went through a similar process in deciding not to have kids. She discusses how she was always disturbed by overpopulation and human impact on the environment but, as a couple, she and husband wanted to have one child of their own. As the years passed, and they became more immersed in their work and activism, they thought they would forego childbirth and adopt. Finally, they decided they were comfortable living without kids entirely.
Paul refutes a common justification for continuing to produce large families in the US being that our population is expanding more slowly than that of other countries: "A lot of folks say that these issues do not involve the United States, because our population is only growing 1% a year, and while we have an average of 2 kids per family, other countries, like Kenya for example, have an average of 5 kids per family. But although the US accounts for less than 5% of the world�s population, we produce 25% of all the greenhouse gas emissions, (and) use 25% of the world�s energy."
I think what bothers me most about watching Walmart shoppers load shopping carts with expendable plastic is the entitlement Americans seem to feel to burden the earth's resources for unnecessary stuff - consumer-based psychological filler - or possible panacea for lack of meaning.
When I'm in this frame of mind and meet childfree people with a sense of balance and common sense I'm especially appreciative and relieved. Obviously, many couples with children care about the planet and live in harmony with nature. Yet, in the midst of much destructive consumerism, I like to think the existence of childfree people indicate that natures' balancing mechanism is working.
After my visit to Walmart, I took the resulting load of toiletries to my father at his Catholic nursing home. Early spring fever is kicking in and the patients were unusually restless and agitated. Yet, the head nun had only to walk in and place her hand gently and firmly on the patient's shoulders to bring order back to the common room.
I had a brief flashback to grade school, but was also reminded of how self-sufficient and compassionate nuns can be. They are often forgotten in the midst of our hectic consumerist society but they are there for us when we are too old to take care of ourselves. And, they are the original alternative childfree family. They take care of others and take care of each other, even as they grow frail, better than most family members care for their elderly.
My friend's sister became a nun at an early age. This was a surprise to all of us because she was a wild child - a true party girl. She says, "I wanted to get it all out of my system when I was young, because I always knew I'd take my vows." She says she doesn�t miss having children of her own - in spite of growing up in a large Irish family of 14 - because she devotes her life to her community and her patients at nursing homes in France and Italy - her alternate family.
I'm inspired by this woman, as I am by many childfree singles and couples. She devotes herself to other people by trying to be as much as she can be as an individual. She doesn't relinquish her life to others but invests energy in herself so she can better help others, and better the world at the same time.