Entitlement and Having Children?

This is sort of a bomb to drop here, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

What is the relationship between having children and entitlement?

I say this because I think about population growth, and how I’ve read anecdotal stories of indigenous cultures monitoring and controlling their populations through extended breast-feeding, abortificants, and infanticide. If we were living in an indigenous culture, with this many people, the first thing we would do is probably stop having babies… It seems pretty selfish to have children when there are 7 billion people on the planet, and a single American child consumes more that 200 times that of a child in India. Is having children a weird form of entitlement? Is it a “right”? Is it a command (“go forth and multiply”)? If we were an intact culture of hunter-gatherers, what would they say?

And yet… Family is central to rewilding. While I’m not currently planning on having children, I go back and forth between wanting to have them and not. Right now I’m thinking not. Partially because of the above thoughts. Right now I can’t morally justify having children. I also don’t judge other people for having children… There seems to be something going on in terms of entitlement and “rights” to have babies, otherwise, why wouldn’t our culture have put limits on population growth yet? China has… And that’s not even working. Is that because people feel entitled to have children? Or is it because food production = population growth, always? I don’t really buy that anymore. I think cultural ideology can be it’s own kind of social control. Food production certainly limits growth, so it makes sense. But cultural ideas and tradition can also be a limit to growth.

What do people think about this? Tell me your story, ask me a question. Please interpret this post generously… I’m not calling parents entitled or selfish. just thinking about the psychology that drives us to procreate, beyond just our biological impulses what about cultural impulses?


Just kidding.

For me, it boils down to what is the smallest whole sane unit of human being? And I experience the smallest whole sane unit of human being as an extended family - with grandkids, grandparents, and the folks in between.

Part of the modern plague is the illusion that everyone on the street is “known” - that we are all buddies in this wonderful civilized endeavor. But in actuality, they are all strangers - and their children are strangers too. They are separate units.

So for me to be alive, sane, and whole as a human being, I need to somehow be participating in a family - even as a “childless” aunt or uncle.

I actually think folks with no relationships with children (single swinging twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings, baby-boomers and up) are super unnerving, because the way the see the world can be profoundly narcissistic.

I also think that I see very few sane, healthy kids being raised. American parenting is epidemically bad. So being a good parent is one of the services I can provide to the world.

There are loads more reasons for me having kids - but that’s a good start.

I want to work on being more of a part of my friends’ families and my siblings’ families before I consider having one of my own. It’s great to work on building a healthier dynamic within your own immediate and extended family, but that’s still just a step towards a real community.

I actually had a great experience living this, to some extent, being raised in a tightly knit homeschooled religious community. It wasn’t by any means ideal, but there were very much families being a part of other families’ lives.

For me this isn’t really a “why have/not have” children discussion. One could have all the rewildy-family stuff by adopting orphans and not procreating their own children. This would solve my dilemma of population growth for example. (you could also go into why you would not want to adopt vs. why you would want to adopt, but that’s not what I’m getting at either)

I see it as more of a discussion about where our underlying motivations come from.

I dreamed a little about this last night and another answer came to me…

Why don’t I stop driving? Do I feel entitled to a car? To the gasoline? I mean, I could actually organize my life around cycling if I really wanted to. Why do I not turn the lights off more? Flush my toilet less? etc.? I think that I don’t do this things partly out of subconscious entitlement, but also cultural momentum (perhaps cultural momentum of entitlement). There are a million things I do because I’ve been accustomed to the idea of them. Familiarized myself with “the plan” for life, and how it “works”. If I do all these other things out of entitlement (like devour the world everyday when I get in a car and drive)… Why am I being nit-picky over having a kid?

Well, that’s just not the world I’m living in. From every resource I’ve investigated, and from the experiences of friends and family, the process of adoption is a screaming bureaucratic madhouse. This isn’t a nitpick either - if adoption was easy, it would be easy, and be a viable option. I don’t think you can hand-wave this. This is part of picking apart the underlying motivation.

I also personally don’t believe population control is an issue. I don’t believe recycling is an issue. I don’t believe whether or not I drive is an issue. My underlying motivation is to heal my little piece of the world by serving a whole unit of human beings - an extended group of friends and family - feeding them and regenerating a thriving original culture. I’m with Derrick Jensen on this; consumer decisions are the least meaningful decisions we make (“sustainably farmed vegan bamboo”).

Having said this, I follow my heart and change my daily habits when it feels right. When I’ve solely biked for years on ends and avoided driving, I’ve never done it because I thought it would solve any problems but my own - an urge to enjoy and cherish life more.

Thinking about this overnight, I realized that even more fundamentally, the smallest sane whole human organism is an extended family with a land base that they are regenerating.

So, for me, the implications of this in regards to first world privilege is that for modern people, their privilege is about them choosing not to have children (as seen around the world as birth rates radically drop in first world countries) - choosing to focus on their own desires, preferences, opinions, to create a tiny self-absorbed world whose purpose is to please them and their whims, without regard to family, village, or land.

The privilege is in being able to disconnect from the wholeness around them - not just being able to drive a car, have kids, or eat ice cream whenever they want, but being able to do so without any reference to the greater life around them. To do so in service to their own pleasure.

This hits on the hypocrisy element too - i.e., calling an indigenous activist or a rewilder a hypocrite because they use the internet. Hypocrisy in this case is the sign of vitality and sanity, of accepting the world as it is and moving to regenerate it.

So, if a person was to choose not to have a child, or not to drive a car, and if this hampered their ability to maintain the greater life around them…I wouldn’t see the point in such a decision. But if doing so expands your ability, then that makes perfect sense to me.

My inspiration for this thread is "What are the under-lying, invisible, culturally-transmitted psychological motivations behind commonplace activities? In this case, procreation. And secondly, what are rewilding ethics and how do they connect or conflict with these underlying motivations? While state and religion inspired ethics are made up to enforce civilization, the concept of “actions/decisions/choices to take/make that are in align with my world view and way of seeing the world” are important to think about— And in particular, to population growth.

The “urge to enjoy and cherish life” are part cultural, part personal/biological. What “enjoyment” means to people is part cultural, part personal/biological. Of course, we’re both on the same page with wanting family/village tending the wild. Yet, there are lots of people who have urges to enjoy life more, by consuming more. These urges are in also cultural and biological (sugar tastes good, drugs feel good, etc).

Quitting smoking was hard work. Quitting drinking was hard work. I struggle with all kinds of addictions. Civilization is just another kind of addiction. So are all of the cultural aspects we’ve been led to believe we should just do (get married, buy a house, have children, etc.).

Sometimes making changes in your lifestyle that will fit what you want is hard work (like rewilding). Does that mean you should just not do it? I see the connection here to Derrick Jensen’s rejection of “symbolic”, consumer-decision based programs like recycling and the connection to the hypocrisy argument. And I think I’m starting to call bullshit on some of it. Honestly, it feels a little lazy, like “I’ll just quit smoking when they outlaw cigarettes.” The interesting thing in here (and what I’m getting at) is that outlawing cigarettes would make people quit. It would be a state-mandated cultural ethic. Whereas, a Smoker’s Anonymous group is a micro culture in and of itself created to support people who want to quit smoking. Rewilding to me, is like this grass-roots Smoker’s Anonymous. We are a micro-culture, leveraging the micro-culture to change ourselves and our lives in the way we perceive as better than the dominant culture. Only, we’re sort of creating these ethics as we go along together. We don’t have a defined 12 step program.

You may not be concerned with population growth, but I am. I want to throw this into the mix of rewilding ethics. Indigenous cultures were and probably still are where they exist, constantly (probably consciously and through cultural elements) concerned with population/landbase capacity. They may not have thought about it in the way we do, but it was certainly deeply entrenched in their cultures.

I’m going to make a guess, that in an overly-populated community, they had methods for reducing their populations, or customs of restricting growth.

What I mean to say here is that procreating children (not to be confused with having and tending a family) is not really something that is questioned, and I think that is because of age-old taker entitlement: i.e. “Who cares if our landbase has enough resources to produce another human? We’ll just steal more resources from our neighbors.” Our culture has had the idea of “be fruitful and multiply” for so long, that we don’t really think about population dynamics or that there could even be ethics (an informed decision to protect the landbase and all the families) around population growth… So what would these ethics look like in a transitioning culture of rewilding?

Off-Topic Side Notes:

Conversely to the narcissistic single-adult… Are narcissistic parents. The ones who project themselves onto their child and think they are just the perfect kid ever and can never do anything wrong. The ones who play with their children like living dolls. The ones who have kids so they can check off a box on the things to do in life list and then have nothing to do with their kids lives. People who have kids because they believe they can do a better job of raising children than anyone else (I would/will be on this end of the spectrum if/when I have kids hahaha ).

Narcissism and privilege can play or role (or not) on both sides of the equation. There are plenty of awesome adults with children, and plenty of awesome adults without children.

I think the reason there are less births in first world countries are because people here are more educated, and that education allows them more of a choice.

I personally wouldn’t adopt. But that’s because I don’t want anyone else’s family ghosts… I’ve got enough of my own! There’s a whole other thread… or two… haha

One thing I think about in regards to a population growth ethic of “no procreation” is the highly successful Shaker movement, which forbid procreation. You’ve heard of them before right? You’ve seen them before? They’re all over the news. They are like one of the biggest movements… right? right? lol

One thing I think about too, is my mom used to tell me when I first read Ishmael, “I used to believe in zero population growth. I wasn’t going to have children.” I would ask, “Why did you have children then?” She replied, “Well, I don’t know. Things change.”

That always really bothered me as an explanation. I think she felt guilty or something because she still believed in the ethic but went against it while following other urges. This is the split in psyche that I think a lot of us feel in rewilding. What kinds of things would push us over the edge of making an informed decision? I think it’s a culture of support. I was able to quit drinking because there was no longer a need, I have a culture of friends who don’t really drink. Part of that was all of us “growing up” and taking more responsibilities, and creating a culture or life around these things. If I were single, I know it would be a lot harder for me to not drink.

There wasn’t really a culture of support around the idea of zero population for my mom, and maybe that’s because it’s just a silly idea that humans can control populations in that kind of way like celibacy or whatever. How did indigenous cultures do this? How does that apply to our current over-population/carrying capacity?

This is a funny conversation, because I suppose you could choose to have children as a narcissistic act, or you could choose to have children as a land-tending act.

I think underlying motivations are exactly the point.

I don’t think it’s about what you do, but about why you’re doing it.

I think any discussion about the act itself, taken out of context, is super pointless. Much like ZPG, or any overarching program, is an insane attempt to control what cannot be controlled. But one mother, choosing to abort her pregnancy, is probably making a deeply sane decision to control exactly what she can control (where circumstances allow).

I remember Sacred means Survival. My decision to have kids is the same as the decision as the coyote moms who, when poisoned, hunted, and persecuted, birth a population explosion. Only what was poisoned and hunted in me and my cultural group was our indigenous soul. So I’m going to be a father to as many children as possible who are as whole as possible. For now this means one biological child, one non-biological child. But if I could have dozens I totally would. This is what my connection to the land tells me; this is what the still small voice tells me.

I would only ever recognize rewilding ethics based on that which increases and enriches the greater life, as demonstrated by observation and experience.

So I'm going to be a father to as many children as possible who are as whole as possible.

The question I see then is, is there any call to “father” or reach out to the children already on this planet? To carry each other to greater “wholeness”? Obviously that’s easier said than done, and you have to operate within the boundaries of what you’re capable of… But nonetheless, I empathize with Peter’s thoughts on this matter. Maybe what would increase and enrich greater life would be if the life already on this planet was healthier. Definitely not countering any statements made here, just wanted to emphasize the sense of responsibility that many of us possess!

We need to both procreate and re-create!

What I like about this thread, and this forum, is the diverse ways of looking at rewilding, and the individual takes and decisions that people make. I really appreciate you sharing your perspectives, Willem, and being able to see the many aspects of where people are at and how they are looking at things. I like that our “ethics” are fluid and diverse and founded in anti-fundamentalism–being that we can both choose morally different actions but not judge each other, and still work toward a common goal.

…I’ve really missed this “place”.

How am I just now noticing this thread? I love everything about this entire conversation.

First things first, I want to reply to this statement from Peter: “Procreating children is not really something that is questioned…because of age-old taker entitlement.” I completely (and yes, I’m being very sarcastic here) agree. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with procreation being a pretty longstanding and fundamental part of being alive, like eating and pooping and sleeping. You know who really feels entitled? People who eat and poop. But you know what’s even worse than people who eat and poop? People who sleep. And don’t even get me started on those bastards who nap…

Peter: “I see it as more of a discussion about where our underlying motivations come from.”

I’ll speak for myself here, because if I try to speak for all parents I’ll be wrong. I don’t have much of a clue where my underlying motivations came from when I realized procreation was in the cards for me and Phil, but at the very least I can tell they came from a place beyond just myself.

I felt pretty ambivalent about “having children” all through my twenties, and I didn’t like it when my parents questioned me about whether or not I would ever do it. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the idea of being anyone’s mother, and didn’t really think seriously about it much.

Then one night when I was 29 or so I found a lump in my breast. A friend my own age had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and I imagined the same thing happening to me. After panicking a while, and making a doctor’s appointment, I went to bed with intense sadness. Right in the depth of it a voice crept in my head and said, “Wait, I can’t die. I haven’t met my children yet.”

That sounds so corny, doesn’t it? I’m sure it does. But it completely stunned me. “My children”?? What the hell?!

I don’t know where that voice came from. The experiences of pregnancy and birth and parenting have given me some clues, but I still don’t know.

Peter, you said you were bothered by your mom’s explanation of changing her mind and deciding to have children. She said, “Things change.”

Things do change. Something for sure changed in me preceding the decision (made with clarity and joy) to procreate. It was a mysterious change but not so mysterious that I can’t tell it was a really, really GOOD thing. Like something turning in my heart, shifting everything back in place.

Willem said something about finding people with no relationships to children unnerving. I totally relate. Everyone needs close ties with children. Children bring something to the table that keeps us SANE, that returns us to wholeness, reminds us what’s actually happening, what actually matters, what needs to be done, where our responsibilities lie. They’re an essential part of the picture whether they’re “your” kids or not.

So, in conclusion…

Everyone should have children, especially Peter…

Unless they don’t want to, in which case they shouldn’t.


Im the father of 3 kids , not kids anymore none of them were planned… out of all my young friends I was the only one who did not have to get married, but hat was a different time… my oldest is 53 years , the second one is 49, and the 3rd is 46. Having your own kids is not explainable but the personal joy is on going, with fits of frustration…
When my first grandkids were born it was a feeling I never experienced before, way different than having your kid…it is an extension of self, selfish perhaps but I can live with that. my twin grand daugthers are now 28 years old , one gave me a great grand son…

Im lucky in that all three are not stupid and have carved out nice lives… they all hunt and fish, two girls one son… they are balanced and very much into the wilderness.
One daughter lives in a 100% off grid place. Raises most of her own food , from meat to vegges…I like that. Watching your own kids grow is a wonderful thing… And you help guide them if you are not too goofed up yourself. Sometimes you dont know what you are doing is right or not. … hell I was still a kid myself. But years later when they come to you mentioning things you had forgot about, the end result is you did matter in their life. And enabled them to be capable, caring humans.

My oldest daughter on her face book noted, she had the best childhood ever, brought tears to my wife and I… thats only part of the reward… procreating is part of the natural beast in the order of things.

entitlement, never thought of as such.


Obviously, procreation is natural and normal just like eating and pooping. But you can eat and poop with entitlement. That’s what civilization does. It takes whatever it wants to eat from the land, without regard toward the land. You can poop in an entitled way: stealing fresh water from the wild and defecating in it. I think people within civilization do the same thing when it comes to the decision to have children or not. I’m just throwing out the idea that perhaps the decision to have children or not, or when to have children, or even how many children to have, can be a cultural practice and a deep awareness of what the land has to provide. When I read of indigenous people intentionally breast-feeding for long periods of time as a method of birth control, or of abortifacients being used as birth control, or even infanticide being seemingly normalized among certain hunter-gatherer groups, I wonder how much of these decisions are made on an individual basis or communal one, and if there are stories/myths/rituals that teach and inform people in those cultures to allow them to think differently than we do. To me the myth or commandment from God to “Go forth and multiply” is one of entitlement: the world was here for us to use as we see fit. A deeper connection to the land would be more like, “go forth and maintain the carrying capacity of the land.”

I feel like people may be relating this idea more to their own story and desire to have kids, than the theory that I’m talking about. I’m not saying, “You are acting entitled when you have children.” I’m on the fence about having children, and my decision will have nothing to do with this conversation. My question is, does having a child help our situation (population explosion, environmental destruction), or make it worse, or do nothing either way? Does it feed the community of life, more than just your own self (or culturally imposed) desires? Can the land provide for another human child? We are converting biomass into human mass. Is creating another human life worth more than the loss of biomass (biodiversity) that will be converted into that human? I honestly don’t know. It sort of rounds back to the “why don’t you just kill yourself question.” But I’m feeling something different with this one and trying to get to the bottom of that feeling.

I agree with Peter’s comment, in that you can have kid(s) with entitlement or you can have kid(s) responsibly. But it is complicated to sort out which scenarios are entitled and which scenarios are responsible.

Plus, in modern “civilized” society, you can also “not have kids” with entitlement, referring to those many folks who live out their lives in a state of extended adolescence, avoiding real responsibility and without any kind of meaningful contribution to others.

And then what about folks in areas torn apart by militant or corporate interests, without access to modern birth control (and no education about traditional birth control methods) who have kids without any sense of entitlement, but don’t have the option to be “responsible” according to OUR standards?

So I will only attempt to express my feelings about the topic in our own society. The folks with “entitlement” are having many, many kids. Their kids in turn will likely expect lives full of entitlement. The folks trying to be “responsible” are having few (or no) kids, and those few (or no) kids will hopefully grow up to continue living responsible lives. Follow the math.

Some of the kids who were born from entitlement will make a breakthrough at some point in their lives, and may then chose to live the rest of their lives responsibly–if they can figure out how. But UNLESS we have responsible people, right now, raising (a few) kids who will live responsible lives, and who will strive to pass that sense of responsibility on to their own (few) kids and so on, then we are forever trapped in a repeating loop of irresponsibility and entitlement. (I hope that isn’t to hard to follow what I am saying!)

Responsible parents can certainly also adopt, but there is a slightly higher risk I think, of their efforts to transmit responsibility being ultimately rejected. But I think that can be compensated for by raising kids within a like-minded community.

I think people bring in their own story because it is an experience they have lived… anything else is speculation , , conjecture and theory… Having really been a witness to having kids is a far cry from thinking about it and twisting ones self into knots … When WW2 was looming people had a lot of thoughts about not having kids until they saw the end of the war and who would win. After the war started many men got a vasectomy , it was pretty common. My dad was one of them he already had me and my sister and no one knew which way the war would go. So the idea of kids or no kids is nothing new to us … Through time you can list the reasons not to have a kid. Pick any period and the reasons are myriad. Contrary is the fact that in times of war the birth rate goes up. Witness the baby boomers… the small time between WW2 and the Korean war is but a short window as nobody , again, knew what was going to happen, and we had the atomic bomb to worry about and who really had it or not. Even then we knew about food shortages etc… Something is always looming in the dark.


Dude McLean, you nearly took the words out of my mouth with that first sentence. I was just about to quote Peter: “I feel like people may be relating this idea more to their own story and desire to have kids, than the theory that I’m talking about.”

Peter, I disagree with the implication that your question is a purely theoretical one. This topic is way too big, too deep, too mysterious (bewildering even) to be packaged up all neat and orderly for our wee human heads. Theories can’t even come close to trumping personal stories here.

I agree with you and Monica and others talking about how “you could choose to have children as a narcissistic act, or you could choose to have children as a land-tending act” (Willem). Fair enough.

Honestly though (and here comes the personal story) I didn’t have children as a land-tending act. My mind wasn’t in it quite that way. I groped my way around in the dark a lot as I made the transition from woman to mother. (And I still grope around in the dark! And find the little clues I knock into delightful, including the frustrating ones.)

The truth is I have been remembering things, finding my way back to the earth, primarily on account of having children. They’re the ones who brought ME here. (Oh, so many ironies involved in parenting…)

This topic is BIG. Supersized. Not a simple question, not black or white. Bigger than theories and ideas. We’re just dipping our toes in the ocean.

(Thanks for starting this thread, Peter, and thanks to Willem, Jesse, Monica, and Dude. I gain so much from your stories.)

“…I have been remembering things, finding my way back to the earth, primarily on account of having children. They’re the ones who brought ME here.”

YES. My experience exactly. Thank you for reminding me of that, Mindy!

And YES, thank you also everyone here, for this conversation

I think you can try and plan your life but then life happens, and we are not really in that much control…

groping around in the dark is a good way to put it… It come down to we are all just feeling our way around and it is mostly in the dark…

we might have high and mighty plans but the old saying what is your plan B and C, most barely have a plan A … The thought that I would end up with a career in the music biz was never in my plans… Life happened… it turned out it gave me time to be in the wild that no other career would have allowed for.


Gah! I just wrote a long reply to this and then my browser restarted! >_< I’ll try again -

A PP was getting at part of what I was going to say. Yes, we are overpopulated, but the one’s who repopulate get the vote. Raising well informed, smart individuals helps contribute to the welfare of future generations.

To get back the population balance, I see two issues that need to be solved. First, is that humans really no longer have a natural predator, besides maybe ourselves occasionally.

As for communities who self regulate, it reminds me of how hamsters will eat their young if their environment becomes too threatening. It seems only natural that animals would choose to not raise children in an environment where they need that energy simply to survive themselves. Spreading themselves too thin would mean that nobody survives, their offspring nor them.

This brings me to the second issue I see, which is that we create artificially sustainable environments for worse off communities. Say you have a group of people with not enough food. In nature, that population, if they were unable to find a way to thrive themselves, would either die out or repopulate less until the situation was sustainable. We as a civilization, however, have gotten into the habit of sending food to these communities instead. This means that they are now in a situation where there is less desperation and children can be considered an option. If these people then have more children then their own numbers, it now means the problem is worse: more hungry mouths to feed.

(I do have sympathy for those who are hungry, but I believe the only true way we can help them, if we must interfere, is to try to teach them to sustain themselves. Nature must do the rest to balance the situation.)

Of course most of us are instinctively led to reproduce whenever the option is available, considering natural selection. Those who do not have the genetic calling to reproduce are quickly removed from the gene pool as a result of that choice.

Do we feel entitled? Having children could be considered self love in some ways. It involves continuing ourselves on in a sense into future generations. So, asking someone if they feel entitled to do that, I think most would say yes, as few would consider themselves to be disposable, now, or in the future.