Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Inverted Family Tree

I want to tell you all about what I've been doing these past few weeks, both on the housekeeping and homeschooling fronts. Getting to the computer upstairs is harder than it might seem. We purchased a small laptop for downstairs to ease the congestion on the main computer and to allow me to access the Interwebz without leaving the main scene of action in the house. Behold!

I will tell you all about these things we have learned and discovered soon enough. For example, it is bad idea to eek out a few more days of school right before Christmas when nobody on the street is doing it and all the kids are playing outside all day long. Note to self. But sometimes a post unrelated to anything going on grabs your attention and demands to be written. This is one of those times.


My maternal grandmother* had four children. In order for those four children to be replaced, she would need to have eight grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren.

This people math is the basics behind zero population growth theories. The idea is that you shouldn't have more children than are necessary to replace the people who already exist. Of course, proponents would probably be happy if you never reached that number. Even though I reject the philosophy behind ZPG, I was essentially raised with these ideas. My parents, for whatever reason, were very conscious about not exceeding their "limit." My brother exists, in some small part, because there were open slots available from cousins who did not exist. I am repulsed by the idea that my brother might not exist if the quota had already been filled.

My maternal grandmother had nine grandchildren, which replaces her children plus one--the open slots enabling my brother were on my father's side of the family--and it just so happens I fall exactly in the middle. There are four grandchildren older than I am and four grandchildren younger than I am. Assessing the state of our extended family as I enter the final likely years of my fertility, I am distressed. She should have sixteen great-grandchildren, but as of now, she has eleven.

My oldest four cousins produced one child between them. I have four children. My sister has three children. My brother has zero children. My youngest two cousins have three children between them. It does not seem likely that any of my cousins will have any more children. It isn't that they all suffer from infertility. There is a lot of sterilization going on here. I know because they tell me.

So here we are at eleven. We have five missing people, at a minimum, on my mother's side of the family. Our family tree is inverting.

On my father's side of the family, the situation is much the same. My paternal grandmother had 7 children which would require 14 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren to hit replacement numbers. She had 13 grandchildren--close--and thus far eleven great-grandchildren, seven of whom belong to me and my sister. Since I am one of older cousins in this group instead of in the middle, it is harder to make long term pronouncements on how many children there will eventually be. I can say that as of right now, my four oldest cousins have four children between them. Twenty-eight does not seem likely at all.

Since the concept of replacing yourself was near growing up, I have thought a lot about replacement numbers and how many children are required to achieve it. I have also wondered if I personally have an obligation--in the best sense--to have more children since no one else seems willing to do it.

I know I cannot carry the weight of my entire family. Even if I had a goal of making sure the numbers were at replacement minimums, it would be impossible. I don't have that much fertility (or energy). If I felt like we were DONE, done, I doubt I would be worried too much about it. You can only do so much.

But here I am at age 38. I will be 40 in 18 months. It feels like a deadline. As I sit here discerning my unenthusiasm for pregnancy along with all the other factors of life, I wonder if the abysmal number of children in my extended family should play any role in our decisions.

Since I am willing to love and raise a baby, despite my hatred of pregnancy, do I have any obligation to do it again in light of the fact that my cousins, as a rule, won't? Does anyone else think about these things? Am I the only one?

*My grandmother died in 1999, but I wasn't sure how to treat the verb tenses so just bear with me here.


Anonymous said...

My grandparents had 10 children, 35 grandchildren. Thus far, I am the only grandchild who has had more than 2 children. Other than sadness at Christmas gatherings when my children are the only children there, I had never really thought about family trees inverting. Nor had I ever really heard about population growth growing up. It seems like a scary idea to implant in a child's mind!


Jenny said...

My mother ate up all the crazy theories about people and the environment. It wasn't really presented scarily. It was wrapped in the words of planning and responsibility. You had to be responsible which was defined as planning your children and only having two unless the situation merited a third. The worst thing in the world in my child's mind was if a friend wasn't planned by their parents. Their parents were obviously irresponsible. And we knew their status because they told us because they all must have been insane. But counting heads is something I've always done. I don't think, however, other people do this. :)

Melanie Bettinelli said...

It's never even occurred to me to think in those terms.

My paternal grandfather was one of 7 or 8, I think. My dad was one of seven. My grandmother had 20 grandkids. Most of his siblings had two kids. One of his brothers had four. Another of them had three, but one of those three was a step-child. I'm the only one of the grandchildren on that side to have more than two kids. I do think about that. My cousins must all think I'm crazy over here with my five kids. I'm the only one of my siblings to have kids so far.

Dom is one of five, with three half sisters. But one of Dom's brothers has six, his sister had 8. We're the smallest family except for his oldest brother who has one daughter and two step-sons. (His first wife died of cancer when their daughter was 2, so the small family was not planned.) So his family is actually growing, though not if you look at his cousins, I think.

The Sojourner said...

My paternal grandmother has six children and 13 grandchildren (though 2 adopted so I am not sure how that works with keeping the population going). The family sizes from the 6 children were 2, 2, 3, 4, 0, and 2. (I'm one of the 4 and 2 of my siblings are the ones who were adopted.)

She has, if memory serves, 13 great-grandchildren with another on the way in a few months. (Family sizes among the cousins: 3, 3, 0, 0, 3, 2, 2, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0. But the last 6 of those cousins are all still under 30.)

My maternal grandmother had/has 4 children. (My grandmother has been dead since 2005 and my aunt since 1983, so tenses are weird.) She has a total of 9 grandchildren, of which 4 were adopted. (Family sizes: 2, 3, 0, 4.) So far my son is the only great-grandchild at all. However, 6 of the 9 cousins are under 30.

The Sojourner said...

At one point about a year and a half ago we had a meal at which EVERY living descendant of my maternal grandparents was present. It was kind of pitiful, actually. :p We barely even needed a big table at the restaurant.

The Sojourner said...

More interestingness: My FIL is one of 16 children. (I don't know how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren there are, but fewer than you would expect.) One of his sisters hosts a massive gift exchange for all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Around Thanksgiving we got an email saying that if we wanted to enter J in the drawing we would have to also commit to buying a gift for some other child in the extended family. We declined to enter.

A couple of weeks ago, we got a Fb message saying that Aunt S had drawn J's name and what did he want for Christmas? Because you see, there were so many adults who wanted to give gifts and so few children around to receive them that they started drawing kids whose parents HADN'T entered their names. :p

I am not sure if that says more about the generosity of my in-laws or about the scarcity of a proportionate number of young people on that side of the family.

Jenny said...

Oh your number of children per family is an excellent way to demonstrate what I am talking about.

On my mother's side, there are nine grandchildren. The number of great-grandchildren is distributed thus: 1, 0, 0, 0, 4 (me), 3 (my sister), 0, 1, 2.

On my father's side, there are thirteen grandchildren. The number of great-grandchildren are: 1, 2, 1 , 4 (me), 3 (my sister), 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0. Now to be totally fair the last six are under 30 and only one of those is married.

But we aren't abounding in children by any stretch of the imagination.