It is a widely accepted fact that having children is no easy feat. Yet, so many people feel obliged to have them even if they know they won’t be good parents. There are environmental, economic, psychological, and emotional reasons to either support or oppose having kids and this Wednesday, February 8, 2023 at 7.30pm, eight members of the Hist and Trinity Women in Law (TWIL) explored all of these reasons. During 90 minutes of intense debate (and comedy), two groups of four went head-to-head on the motion of “This House Would Choose to Have Children”. Here’s how things played out.
The first proposition speaker of the night was Niall Dineen. Before beginning his speech, Dineen proudly presented a large “Father of the Year Award”, a product of theft from the GMB’s trophy cabinet. Following his declaration of fatherly accomplishment, Dineen proceeded to down an entire glass of red wine, and then began his speech by asserting that not having children would lead to the collapse of humanity: “Humanity might just not happen anymore.” He explained that life isn’t that bad, it’s worth living and that raising children, making the choice to have children gives purpose to life and that having kids is probably a good thing to do, an act of joy. Dineen also expressed his support for adopting kids and said that no one needs to actually have kids of their own if they don’t want to.
After laying the groundwork, Dineen dove into his own experience of being a ‘father’. While his “seven children”, all named after the seven deadly sins had gone missing for one reason or another, he explained that a great satisfaction comes from being able to control children as it enables you to live out your life desires through them. He added that it is a good thing that we are able to bring up more of ourselves and that more good people are needed in this world. Instead of being told not to have children, Dineen argued that people should be able to choose.
With this very philosophical take on things, it seems that Francis was arguing that humans are just inherently damaging to the planet and therefore should not be actively pursuing procreation.
After Dineen’s very blunt, laugh-provoking speech, the first opposition speaker Tom Francis took to the podium. He opened by quoting the infamous atheist Douglas Adams from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” From there, Francis admitted that he would, as a philosophy major, be taking a more philosophical approach to the argument. But before delving into this side of things, he comedically added that whenever he talks to his parents, he can sense their disappointment. Francis implied that this in and of itself is enough reason to not have children. He then spent the majority of his speech explaining that life is bad and that as people, we do not have moral obligations to do good things to people but we do have obligations to not do harmful things. He added that most people, by being humans, are going to negatively impact the world; we consume more than any other animal but we also consume animals; being human means you are going to inflict suffering on others. With this very philosophical take on things, it seems that Francis was arguing that humans are just inherently damaging to the planet and therefore should not be actively pursuing procreation. Francis finished his speech off by analysing the motives for having children and concluded that people ultimately decide to have kids for selfish reasons–ie., they think they will be good parents. In this sense, he contended that even if the child’s life is good, the motive for having them is selfish; this is not right because kids are not hobbies.
Francis’s speech was followed by second proposition speaker Arabella Ware and then second opposition speaker Charlie Byrne. Both Ware and Byrne approached the topic from a more serious angle and instead of taking the debate as an opportunity for comedic flair, decided to provide solid statistics and sound lines of reasoning. Ware started by posing the question: “If it is a net negative future that you’re so concerned about, doesn’t the same argument apply across the board? Why get an education? Why maintain friendships? The answer is simple: we want meaning, some sort of fulfilment.” She then spent the majority of her speech explaining human temptation, the desires we have to “procreate.” Ware asked why humans should deprive themselves of those desires if this is evolutionarily what we are wired to do? She then cited three different scientific theorems: Life-History Theory, Terror-Management Theory, and Transmission-Competition Hypothesis, all of which explained the biological reasons that humans want to make babies. Ware ended her speech by adding that one perk of having children that may make it all worthwhile is that it provides people with their own “well-regulated militia.” You raise your children, you fill their minds with everything that you believe, and then you send them out into the world. This cycle allows people to fulfil the obligation we all supposedly have to stand up for notions that we believe in.
An enthusiastic applause followed Ware’s speech and Byrne then took to the podium. She started by asking the audience: “What is the worst thing, as individuals, that we can do for our planet?” After a brief moment of pause she answered: “To have children.” Byrne then cited a number of statistics pertaining to climate change, explaining that the amount of CO2 emitted by a human over its lifetime is 16 tons; the only way to stop that is to not bring more humans in the world (she made sure to add that she was not suggesting a mass genocide of the human race but merely a slight cut to the rate at which we reproduce). Once Byrne had covered the environmental damage of children, she dove into the economic burden and then finished off by explaining that our evolutionary desires to “have kids” do not mean that we have to actually have kids. While sexual desire lives within all of us and baby fever is very real she expounded that 163 million children are currently up for adoption at the moment. If we have a biological urge to reproduce, why not adopt? Why create another mouth to feed when there are already so many left unfed? Byrne concluded with a call to action: “Give the planet a chance to breathe, give homeless children the chance at a better life and do not have kids.”
Byrne’s very logical argument was happily received by the audience and followed by third proposition speaker Donncha Murphy who chose a more lighthearted tone. With highlights such as: “Don’t view your child as a child, view them as a Sim where you get to make all of the decisions about their lives” and instil in your child a better belief structure with books like “The Very Hungry Capitalist, The Lorax, and Harry Proletariat,” Murphy had the entire GMB crying with laughter.
On that same comedic note, the third opposition speaker was Anya Wilson, taking on the persona of “a 29 year-old, head of the European Commission; divorced twice, now just dating around who has five streams of income–including an online productivity course—and keeps up with crypto.” According to Wilson, kids simply would not work for her schedule as she would likely have to get rid of one of her streams of income to make time. Furthermore, she asked why she should have to spend her hard-earned money in M&S on Pampers, Johnson’s baby powder, etc. when her own money should only be spent on herself. Wilson added that she has not hustled this hard to be nothing more than a vessel for the human race; she really values the freedom to work as hard as she can without maternal responsibility and who needs the emotional stimulation of a toddler when you have the crypto markets? Who needs a family when you have colleagues?
After Wilson had returned to her seat, the fourth proposition speaker and Hist Treasurer Aine Kennedy started her speech by declaring that one of her favourite things about herself is that she doesn’t have kids. And her IUD, she loves her IUD. But instead of talking about why people shouldn’t have kids, Kennedy took a feminist approach to why people should. She explained that motherhood is often associated with the end of a woman’s career because mothers are not equated with businesswomen and positions of power. But, this would change if more people have kids and continue to work, instead of either refraining from having kids for fear of professional stagnation or having kids and then leaving the workforce. If more people do both, then patriarchal stereotypes and societal norms will fade away. Plus, if more people are affected by sub-par laws that pertain to employment and children, then laws such as mandatory paternity leave and compulsory pumping stations are more likely to pass since there is great power in numbers.
While concise, Harrington’s speech was the perfect summary of all the arguments that had been made throughout the night and provided the perfect ending to a stimulating 90 minutes of debate.
The last speaker of the night was fourth opposition speaker, Katy Harrington. Harrington’s argument was simple: kids give her the “ick”, having children in this economy is not good, sleep deprivation as a result of children is real and avoidable, pregnancy is just not fun, epidurals are far too big, children also cause climate change, and the mental strength required to have children is beyond anything that any of the debate’s attendees could even dream of having. While concise, Harrington’s speech was the perfect summary of all the arguments that had been made throughout the night and provided the perfect ending to a stimulating 90 minutes of debate.
The night ended with some parting words from Guest Chair, Aileen Hickle who admitted even as a mother of five herself, she understands why having children isn’t for everyone. She looked back at her own experiences and said that when she had her first child 23 years ago, she had the realisation that she would never be free again. With that said, she agreed with Kennedy that children are not the career blockers you think they will be; she explained that she has been a barrister, journalist, and the CEO of Parentline and argued that nothing has to impede your career. Hickle ended by noting that having children can be fulfilling, miserable, or in the middle; it is what you make of it and your experience is individual, complicated, subjective. You can be happy with or without children and if you do have children, you can always ring the parent line.
After Hickle’s closing remarks, audience members and debaters flooded into the front room of the GMB for wine, snacks, and a continuation of the conversation that the eight debaters had engaged in on the chamber floor.