Doctors have called time on big families. A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal
talks of discouraging patients from having too many children on environmental grounds. The more people, the bigger the drain on global resources. The editorial advises doctors not to put pressure on patients, but "by providing information on the population and the environment, and appropriate contraception for everyone...doctors should help to bring family size into the arena of environmental ethics, analogous to avoiding patio heaters and high-carbon cars."
Watching her full complement of two tots kicking their organic pig's bladder around on the hand-weeded lawn, their mom is presumably expected to tell their dad: "I'd love to have another baby, sweetie, but think of its carbon footprint." Hmm, shall we have a patio heater, high carbon car, or another baby? Maybe we could have another baby and offset it by composting or low energy bulbs? The nanny state rocks on. Or not. After all, no baby ? no nanny. Instead, a candystriper hands you a prescription with the words: "Please consider the environment before having sex with your spouse."
Too late for me, Doctor; I have three children, and any parent with more than two children will tell you the same ? screw the planet. Forget the damage to the environment, focus instead on the damage the cherubs are doing to your sanity. I love them all but I cannot pretend my life isn't chaos. And look what happens when you keep to one child per family ? you save on the 400m children who might otherwise have been born, your economy takes on the world, and your sportsmen clean up at the Olympics. (Although the fact you need a talented child who sings like an angel and another who looks like one may give the Chinese authorities pause for thought in future.)
Perhaps the doctors are right to try and intervene. Perhaps parents should think more deeply about the consequences of having children. Instead, the greedy parent thinks: "I want a baby that looks like you. I want a baby that looks like me. Well, we could fit a little one in that looks like your father. And now, I want one that looks like Beyonce." This approach can mean you wake up 18 children later with a ton of mac and cheese a must on your weekly shopping list and the word "feckless f***ers" painted on your front door by irate neighbors. Even worse, in future, those neighbors are likely to be urged on by eco-activist doctors from the local HMO.
But perhaps greedy parents already think about the consequences ? just not environmental ones. I think: "If I have a large number of children, one of them might still love me when he grows up." If you are very lucky as a mother, you may get a man-child like 26-year-old Brit diver Blake Aldridge who wants you to ring him in the middle of his Olympic synchonized diving event, or I don't know, a son who sets up a webcam on his honeymoon night to share the moment with you.
The idea of a large family so they can be an emotional crutch in your dotage is distasteful, though. Almost as distasteful as considering them an alternative pension plan. Then again, they owe you, if you look at the figures compiled by one insurance and investment group. On average a child costs you $346,877 from birth to his or her 21st birthday (that is to say, $16,518 a year). Raising three children, then, costs you more than a million dollars. That explains the bank debt and this, in a time of austerity, when the middle classes are shopping in Costco and making their own clothes. And a solution to their financial problems is available in one easy, rubber-sheathed thrust ? no more children.
But the disadvantages of large families are more than financial; more importantly, they include a skull-crushing sense of imminent crisis. Seven-week long school vacations in the UK only exacerbate this. In Britain we do not "do" summer camps in the same way as in the US. Suddenly summer arrives and parents have to juggle complicated schedules of office rotas, paid childcare, Grandma and Grandpa time, and the odd "activity week" involving circus skills ? there is always the chance they will thank you for being able to juggle. One child can be palmed off ? maybe two ? if you have a particularly understanding support system and you do it early enough in the summer vacations. Hand over three feral children mid-August onwards, and Grandma is likely to write you and her only son out of the will and mail back the children's body parts in clearly-labeled Ziploc bags.
Even when you take responsibility for your own children and go on a road trip, a large family such as mine has difficulties. Three children and upwards, you become not so much paying guests as a Hydra-headed problem "to be dealt with." Recent vacation highlights include a sniffy hotel restaurant manager informing us the children's menu finished at seven sharp and warning us not to allow our children to "run round the dining room" if we came down at 7.01pm. They also include a smug receptionist, shrugging off the confirmed booking of interconnecting rooms, and forbidding us to put the seven-year-old, five-year-old, and two-year-old in a bedroom of their own across the corridor, which obviously in these post-Madeleine McCann Amber Alert days, is just what we were planning.
Parents like me can only shake their heads in sympathy at the story of the couple with four children and 18 pieces of luggage who managed to leave a four-year-old behind in airport shops while they boarded the flight from Tel Aviv to Paris (tell me what Freud would have said about that one.) While everyone else seems keen to condemn you, parents with more than two children are among the least judgemental people in the world they are so busy destroying; they know tomorrow that screaming or forgotten child might be theirs.