Ask a Climate Psychologist: Advice Column #1

Dear Climate Psychologist, My partner and I are beginning to have conversations about having kids, but I’m quite pessimistic and extremely worried about our future. Why would I want to bring a child into this world, right now? Imagining the future they would grow up in fills me with terror.

When I have tried we’ve become stuck arguing about what might/ might not happen. We get derailed into our different perspectives on how different the future might be.

How can I communicate my anxieties about having kids honestly?

Sincerely, Frightened of the future

Dear Frightened of the Future-

I get this kind of question a lot, and I relate personally, too! Many people who understand the existential danger of the Climate Emergency feel alienated from their partners, as well as other family and friends, feeling that “no one understands.” There is a spiral of silence around the climate emergency. We avoid talking about it because we worry it will make others feel uncomfortable, or start an argument, or that we will be uncomfortable So, let me be clear, despite widespread denial of the Climate Emergency and how it will affect our society, your worries are in fact based in the reality of what the global scientific community is telling us, and you have every right to feel that way

 You are already in touch with your fear about the Climate Emergency, but it’s always important to explore, express, and process more emotions. You haven’t been able to successfully communicate about these feelings with your partner, so make sure you are articulating them to others. Consider joining a discussion hosted by Good Grief Network or Conceivable Future. Also, consider joining the Climate Emergency Movement- this will not only help protect humanity and the living world, it will also help you by finding other people who share your alarm about the future.  

After you have had some practice talking about the emotional and personal parts of the climate emergency, try to bring the Climate Emergency conversation to your partner in a new way. First, leaving kids out of it entirely. Ask them if they have seen some recent news– for example Siberia being 100 degrees– and how it makes them feel. Talk about your own emotional experience– your fear, grief, and other feelings. Invite them to read an article or book about the climate emergency and discuss it with you. I recommend The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells or my book, Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth. Invite your partner to attend a meeting of a climate emergency organization with you, either a group you already know, or one you can explore together. 

When you do talk about children, communicate whether you are questioning, or whether you feel certain. If you are certain, you do not need to seek agreement, you need to communicate your decision. You have every right not to have children, but your partner deserves to know where you are at. If you are still questioning, try to articulate what might make you feel differently, ie “If I see world governments actually acting responsibly, and racing to eliminate emissions, I might change my mind.”

Try to have self compassion and compassion for your partner during these stressful conversations. Neither of you asked to be born into this age of ecological crisis. It is an unprecedented emergency, and it is extremely difficult to intellectually and emotionally make sense of. 

Good luck!

-Margaret Klein Salamon, PhD

Do you have advice for the Frightened of the Future? Respectful conversation invited in the comments.

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