As a 28-year-old who recently entered a same-sex marriage, I'm struggling with what I think about my own potential for motherhood and the ways I could have children--do I want children? Do I not? In what ways could I feel ethically and emotionally *right* about parenting, if I do decide to parent? This is one of a number of books I've picked up to help me work through my thoughts--'and one I'm very happy with, because it examines a lot of the questions and feelings I've had.
The title sounds ominous, as though the book will be vastly critical of children or of people who have children. It isn't, though. Instead, Overall looks at what it means, morally, to have a child in present-day North America in clear, easy to read, and even warm language that shows a great deal of respect for children and for parents and that comes to no damning conclusions (except against deliberately-created extremely large families).
Mostly, Overall examines philosophical arguments that have been put forward both for and against having children and takes them down from the high-flown theoretical, in which no realistic human beings seem to be involved, to reality, where women must have or not have the children philosophers debate over. She looks at what these arguments, both pro- and anti-procreation, mean for women, their status, and their control over their own bodies. Many of the models fall apart when moved into the real world, where it's shown they imagine realities that could only exist if women were used as breeding machines or people were forced to be sterilized or use lifelong birth control. She also shows that many of the models seem to assume that people have a "prelife" existence that existing humans are either obligated to save them from (by procreating) or let them remain in (by not procreating)--and how strange and flimsy this assumption is, that children preexist their own existence.
She focuses on trying to find ways to judge the ethics involved in choosing to have children that abandon trying to value the (not comparable) states of existing and not existing, but instead look at what the choice to have children means for those who do exist and will exist--i.e., for everyone already alive and for the child who will exist if parents choose to procreate. I like that. It's easy, as a human being, to get caught up in "alternative universes"--what could be, what might be, what isn't but maybe should be, etc.--and hard to look at what is, right now, and what is right to do right now (even if what is right is hard).
In the end, she comes to no sweeping conclusions. The decision to have children can be either good or bad, depending on the individual circumstances. She concludes that it is much easier to ethically justify not having children than to justify having them, and that, given modern population, North American parents have a moral (though not legal or social) responsibility to have not more than one child per person. She also concludes that the decision to go ahead and have children is essentially *non*rational, not irrational--that is, considerations go into it that cannot be explained by reason but that are still sound.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who's driving themselves up a tree wondering about the big abstract questions about having children--will I fail my personhood by not having children? Will I fail my genetic lineage? Will I be helping overpopulate the planet if I have kids? Or will I be helping contribute to an aging population with no workers if I don't? Is it okay if I have children even if my genes are less than perfect? Am I too old to parent? Etc., etc., etc. It may help ground your thoughts a little.