I got an inkling of what was beginning to swirl around in my daughter’s head several years ago when she returned home from college one summer. We were driving home from the airport and something I said made her remark, “Well, I’m not ever gonna have kids because most of the animals on this planet will be extinct in less than 50 years.”
And she proceeded to throw out some alarming statistics that she had learned that semester in her Anthropology class.
At the time I remember chuckling and thinking, “It really can’t be that bad! And just wait until she meets the right person — her feelings will change.” Soon after that, our world kind of turned upside down.
Since the chat with my daughter on that early summer day, we’ve all had to endure a prolonged global pandemic, worsening extreme weather events, a lengthy war in Europe, a divisive political environment that seems to deteriorate further with each passing year, and a rather gloomy financial outlook.
Who am I to tell my daughter she should have children?
So, who am I to disagree when my young adult daughter and her friends describe our current situation as a “complete sh*tshow” and they say they feel doubtful that they want to become parents and bring a child into this world?
I have found myself torn at times, between agreeing with them and trying to convince them that things are cyclical and will undoubtedly get better. I remind them that the world has survived wars and plagues and political struggles for centuries.
I throw out what has become my frequent and most hopeful response — “But you kids might give birth to the humans who discover a technological breakthrough for X, Y, or Z! Your child may grow up to significantly help save the planet or lead us into an era of peace and unity!”
But currently, my Susie Sunshine reminders fall onto the deaf ears of some highly discouraged Debbie Downers.
Why are so many of our young adults feeling pessimistic about the future?
It just takes one glance at the headlines on any given day this year to understand why our kids are wary about the future.
As far as physical health, they have had to deal with a novel virus (and its myriad of variants and sub-variants) for a large chunk of their years on this planet. Will this pandemic ever end so we can get on with our lives?
They now worry about Monkeypox spreading and are frequently warned about new health threats as climate change becomes more severe.
Our kids’ mental health has also suffered, with rates of anxiety and depression increasing significantly over the past several years for teens and young adults. So many of them personally know of someone who has died by suicide or of an accidental drug overdose.
And before most of them can even consider becoming parents, a great number of our young adults are faced with big hurdles like paying off tens of thousands in student loan debt and trying to find careers that will pay them enough to be able to afford a house that’s not in the middle of nowhere.
And if they do have a couple of kids, they are looking at spending 25% of their income just on child care alone, and having to work almost twice as many hours as our parents did to afford something like a family day at Disneyland.
The skepticism about starting a family is real.
So, will we be OK if we never become grandparents?
When I was a girl, I assumed I’d get married one day and have my own kids. When my kids came along, I just assumed they’d make us grandparents one day. I even have a couple of storage containers with a few special baby outfits and with plenty of books that have been saved for my potential grandchildren.
I’ve thought about and hoped for future family vacations, where we might take our kids, their partners, and our grandchildren to a beach or a lake where we sit and enjoy the laughter, watching grandbabies splash and play, as our parents so wonderfully did for us and our siblings.
But what if these dreamy days never come?
What if our kids decide they don’t want children?
What if we never get to cuddle and soothe a crying infant that looks just like our own baby son did at the same age? What if we never get to babysit and laugh at an adorable toddler who smooshes their face up at the taste of a new veggie, just like our daughter did as a toddler?
Will life seem just as fulfilling and joyful if those types of experiences are with a grand-niece or nephew, or with the grandchild of a good friend? I honestly don’t know the answer to that yet.
I hope that we would enjoy those future years just as much, even if there are no grandchildren in our life. I hope we can travel and appreciate extended family members and even pets to help us create great memories with our own children and their future partners.
There is never a shortage of kids with unmet needs in our community
What I know for sure is that there will never be a shortage of children with unmet needs in any community we ever live in, so we will plan to continue to spend money and give time to causes that help children, and in that small way, help to make the world a better place for all children to grow up in.
While a few of my friends have already experienced the fun of picking out their “grandma name,” and the joy of strolling their grandbaby along a beach, I will wait to see if those experiences are in my future.
Either way, I think I’ll be OK — but I will continue to try to inspire and encourage my own kids with hope for their generation’s future.
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