5 Ways Thoughtful Family Planning Can Protect Children, Wildlife, Our Democracy - and the Future


Editor's note: This is third in a series of AlterNet articles on population growth. The first explored the trend toward smaller families. The second examined a new family planning model that can capitalize on that trend. The following piece explores ways to implement that change.

After the death and mayhem of this summer’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Barack Obama quoted Nelson Mandela, tweeting, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.” The tweet was accompanied by a photo of a group of toddlers of different races, all peering at the president beneath their window sill. It became the most liked tweet in the history of Twitter.

The message may resonate because it’s simple and true. But so what? Why is the open-mindedness and innocence of young children relevant without an accompanying plan to protect and nurture these fragile faculties, as well other ones vital for social cooperation, like empathy? Isn't it the case that we are simply stuck with the long-term results of other people's poor family planning and parenting decisions, whether it’s population induced climate change and mass extinction, an increasing gap between rich and poorfailing democracies and sustainable development programs or families raising children to forget about fairness, and even hate and murder those of another race, or religion?

Maybe not. Obama’s potent reminder hints at the need to consider what we all want the future to look like when we think about the conditions, and especially the early conditions in which children are born and develop.

It's an approach people seem to be considering. Not long after Obama's tweet, a different story bubbled up on social media that may signal the beginning of change in the way people are planning their families. The Bhotiwihoks, an ordinary family living in Los Angles, had made a decision. Aware that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had opted to have a third child amid a public discussion about the need for smaller and more equitable families, Mickey and Tricia Bhotiwihok chose to publicize their decision not to have a third child, and instead, to help fund an early childhood nutrition program with a portion of the substantial money they had saved by choosing a more sustainable family.  

Their move was remarkable, demonstrating a sea change in thinking from more traditional shortsighted views about the privacy of families to a more public and long-term view about how our collective family planning decisions will define the future in which all of our children live—something we should all care about. 

Here are five ways to begin changing the way we think about planning our families in order to make them more sustainable, equitable and focused on maximizing the wellbeing of all children.

1. Role modeling

What if more and more families like the Bhotiwihoks began to publicize their rationales for choosing more sustainable families, like better outcomes for children, especially where they chose to use the resources that would have gone into creating a larger family to instead invest in children in need? There is reason to believe that role modeling can be especially influential when it comes to family planning.

2. Corporate reform

Many companies offer family benefits that incentivize large families, without regard to the different levels of income and vastly inequitable starts in life, of their employees. What if companies reformed certain benefits to encourage smaller and more cooperative families?

3. Local climate policy

Most major cities have climate action plans, but almost none address family planning, despite its overwhelmingly important role in mitigating climate change and building a smaller, more resilient and more cooperative populace to thrive in tomorrow’s world. There are easy ways to lobby locally for real change; in essence, helping to choose your community in the future at the most fundamental level.

4. Tax and budget modernization

Right now we have a backwards tax and budget system that blocks access to family planning and plays politics with insurance for nine million needy children, while paying parents a nominal amount of money to encourage them to have more kids. The system attempts to reverse a progressive fertility rate decline that is the most effective part of the worldwide sustainable development and environmental protection efforts over the past half-century. Many groups fear these declining birth rates, and the advantages it will give employees over employers and investors, which were brought on by women’s gaining control over their lives. Increasing payments for each child born is seen as an antidote.

What if, instead of child tax credits, we incentivized parents and communities to work together to plan a fair start in life for every child?

5. Human rights reform

The family planning modeling that exists in current human rights systems was developed decades ago, and ignores the impact of large families on the environment, the rights of future children to a fair start in life and nature, and the impact of growth and family inequity on democracy. Many archaic human rights systems have been modernized through the advocacy of the LGBT community, for example. Is it time to do the same for our family planning models, and maybe by parents who care enough to take action to better the future?

Barack Obama's tweet reminds of the opportunity every child presents, to each and every one of us, to make a better future. It also reminds us of our historic failure to take advantage of that opportunity, and use it to rid the world of the racism, inequity, nationalism, and speciesism that plagues us all. Doing so means leaving the isolationism we usually decry but have universally imposed on our family planning systems, the isolationism that makes family planning a private matter when in fact it most defines the future, for all of us and for our kids. We can change the future by collectively planning for investing more in the people coming into this world. Let's start today.

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