Care and Feeding

Does Climate Change Mean I Shouldn’t Have Kids?

A young person wants to be a parent. Does humanity’s grim future change that?

Parent thinking about a hurricane
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash and NASA.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 21-year-old college student who desperately wants to be a parent within the next five to eight years of my life. I am reasonably certain I can achieve this—I have a good job lined up after graduation, I’ve been dating the same person since we were 17, and I have an incredible family support system within an hour of the city I’ll be living in. While I could change my mind, right now the picture of this domestic future makes me happier than I can say.

However, I can’t stop thinking about climate change. I’m terrified that I’m going to do all this, have a kid in the next five or six years, and then things will start to get really bad when the kid is still young. This is obviously terrifying; no young kid could have the psychological or tangible skills to cope with that, and I’m not sure I would either. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for weeks. I’m sure you get emails like this all the time (though probably from actual parents), and I know there’s no real answer, but how does one make this choice? Is it ever the right one?

—Rising Doubts

Dear Rising,

Yeah. I hear you. The recent U.N. report on just how fucked we are has been an emotional and philosophical game-changer for many people, it seems. It was the No. 1 topic of conversation for my kids this weekend, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think, Wow bros. My bad for bringing you here just in time for this.

I’m not going to try to sell you on having kids. The doubts you have and the reasons you cite for not wanting to are legitimate. So instead I’m going to advise you to wait. You are 21 years old. It is wonderful that you want to care for someone other than yourself. It is great that you are in a relationship that you care for and value. Yet you may feel yourself in an entirely different place by the time you are 25 or 27. (Of course, you may not, but that’s the point of waiting to see what happens.) Also, by then you will know a lot more about what is happening with our planet, our country, and our future, I would bet.

I would also point out that while bringing kids into this madness does seem like a legitimately questionable act, adopting kids who have already been brought into it is not. If you haven’t already, I would start sitting with that idea and seeing how it changes your outlook over time. When society has been reduced to a burning wasteland populated by roaming tribes who dart in and out of caves made from overturned 18-wheelers, wouldn’t it be nice to know that you can care for one of those kids who doesn’t have a tribe to belong to? Doesn’t the thought of it just globally warm … your heart?

Sorry.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My stepdaughter is 15, her boyfriend is 16, and they’ve been dating for about three months. They’re both good kids, but they’re also as naïve and impulsive as you’d expect at their age. Add to the mix that my stepdaughter struggles with depression and anxiety. She attempted suicide a year and a half ago, and though we have her on medication and in counseling now, it’s still something she struggles with. We’ve had lots of talks with her about the emotional side of sex (especially as a teen) and the importance of protection if they “do it” anyway. She seems to listen and hasn’t indicated it’s going to happen anytime soon. But also, hormones!!

So how much privacy should we be giving them? They’ve been allowed to do a few solo activities, but her dad wants them to be chaperoned most of the time. On the one hand, I don’t think that’s always fair, because she needs to know we trust her, and most of the time they’re just watching movies in the living room, but on the other hand, there’s lots of cuddling and SHE’S MY BABY, YOU BOTH KEEP YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!

I know logically that if they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna find a way, but I don’t want to make it too easy for them, especially because she is really not emotionally ready for sex right now. What are the right boundaries to set?

—Overly Prudish Mom?

Dear OPM,

Nah, you’re not overly prudish. It’s entirely natural to be concerned about the safety and well-being of our kids. Those of us who’ve been at it a while know just how much of our life’s emotional bloodshed stems from something that went down in a bedroom, and of course we’d want to do everything we can to save our kids from the horrors we’ve experienced. But you’re probably not going to be surprised to hear me say that we can’t. We can’t protect our kids from heartache, from crushed senses of self-worth, from the pain, resentment, anger, and confusion that come from love gone wrong. We can’t protect them, but we can prepare them. We can be there for them, and we can try to limit the impacts as much as possible.

I understand that your daughter has already struggled with depression and mental health issues. And I cannot imagine how terrifying it must have felt to have come so close to losing her. But I can imagine that she’s found a way to go on with her life and does not wish to be defined by the events of last year. And I can imagine that she’d benefit from having you take the same stance. I think your daughter wants to date like a normal teen, and I think you should let her.

I also think you should always keep an eye on her, find excuses to spend time with her when her boyfriend is not around, get her talking about her relationships, and tell her about yours. Watch TV with her; process the dramas you both see playing out in her favorite shows.

As far as rules go, I think you can keep it pretty simple. No being in the house alone without parents. No closed doors. Home by 10. They will find a way to do it, if indeed that’s what they want. And you will find a way to support her. She is lucky to have you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is currently 3 months old and in need of an orthotic helmet for her head shape. She was breech in utero and born with scaphocephaly—a long, narrow head—due to her head’s position up against my ribs. As you might expect, I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at brochures and reading online, and I’ve become a bit of a head-shape expert.

The other day, I was at a baby play group at our local library and found myself in a discussion with another mom about my daughter’s head-shape journey. We talked for quite a while on the topic, and she didn’t say anything to indicate that she too has had to deal with head-shape issues. And then, suddenly, when she got up to go, I noticed that her baby had a flat spot on the back of his head! I decided not to say anything … but was that the right call? Flatheadedness can be very subtle when it first presents, and perhaps it was a disservice not to say anything.

I suppose this is an etiquette question more than anything. What am I to do with my new flat-spot-spotting superpower? On the one hand, no one likes unsolicited advice, but on the other hand, if a dermatologist at the beach noticed I had funky moles, I’d want them to say something.

—The Hesitant Flathead Crusader

Dear Crusader,

If you see something, say something. There are a lot of times where that advice is dead wrong, but I don’t think this is one of them. Of course, it depends on what you say. “Whoa what’s wrong with your kid’s head?!” is probably not a good opener. But I think that in this case, since you’ve talked about the topic already, a simple “Has your doctor checked for scaphocephaly or positional plagiocephaly?” should suffice.

Your funky mole analogy only holds up as long as the parent can actually do something about the condition, but it is my understanding that after a certain point, the chances for intervention lessen. It is also true that the worst-case scenario for a child with flatheadness is much less dire than for an adult with skin cancer, so I don’t know if you need to treat every intervention as a life-or-death matter. I think you’re allowed to gently follow up and encourage a parent to talk to a physician if they have questions. If a person is so offended by that that you lose your relationship with them, then you probably dodged a bullet anyway.

—Carvell