A friend of mine recently posted on her Facebook status about her frustration with people who call those of us who choose to reproduce, “breeders.” It’s used in a derogatory fashion by those who choose to remain childfree. If I recall correctly, it started out as a derogatory term for straight people used by members of the gay community. Now that the gay community is fighting for the right to marry and have children, the term has fallen out of fashion.
However, it got me thinking. I’ve felt for a long time that the 1950’s ideal of the nuclear family is problematic. After I had my baby, I felt this even more strongly. So many things about motherhood would be easier if I shared the burden with a larger community. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to breastfeed! How did we survive as a species when something so basic is so difficult? Well, we didn’t do it alone. A new mother was surrounded by other mothers: sisters, cousins, aunties and so on. There were plenty of people to help out, plenty of other women who could fill in.
I sympathise with the feelings of those who think we shouldn’t have so many damn kids. Living sustainably means not overpopulating the Earth. But if we didn’t insist on maintaining the model of the nuclear family, would we feel the need to have so many kids? If we lived in larger groups, extended families, and poly-fidelitous clans, we’d spend lots of time assisting in the raising of children, who aren’t necessarily our own. People who want the experience of a large family would get it, without having to have eight or more kids on their own. There would be less need to buy so much crap because toys, clothes, etc. would get re-used many times within the group.
“Breeders” aren’t necessarily to blame. I, personally blame the nuclear family, based on the patriarchal, individualist ideal of modern, western culture. I hate the suburbs, where we all live in nice, neat little individual boxes, isolated from our neighbours and removed from the community. We’ve been programmed to think that this is the “dream” we’re supposed to achieve: to have our own little patch of land for our own tiny little family unit. The reality is that it’s not doing us any good, and it’s not doing the planet any favours either.