Children of Men, a recently-released movie based on a novel of the same name by P.D. James, envisions a world without children. The story takes place in the future, about 20 years after the birth of the last child to be born in the entire world. The premise is that a virus or toxin has eliminated human fertility-although animals seem to be reproducing as usual. However illogical and unconvincing the plot-line, its impact is a reminder of the importance of children in the daily life of every individual on the planet.
This world without children is desolate, sad, unhopeful, desperate, and uninspired. It isn't simply that families have no hope of progeny to carry on a name or a lineage, or that there is no future generation to consider in making public policy. It is, most poignantly, the absence of the sound of children laughing-or even crying. It's the empty school yard, and the void left by the complexity that children bring to families and to society. The drive for productivity in planning for the future is absent, but just as profound is the absence of joy in the moment. When, unexpectedly and unannounced, a baby is born into this world to a young, poor, illegal immigrant woman, the baby's crying awakens the eyes of everyone who hears it. The baby represents not only hope for the future of the world, but hope that the world may again be happy and provocative, and that children will again provide diversion from the more mundane business of getting on.
As pediatricians and as parents, we concern ourselves with preparing children for their future. We work to provide them with health care, education, physical development, and social skills that will allow them to be healthy and successful adults. That's all as it should be. And since we anticipate many, many generations to come, it is critical to the success of civilization that we continue these efforts. However, from time to time, it's also important to pause for a moment to appreciate and enjoy the impact of the sounds, exuberance, energy, and innocence of children as they are today, this very minute, on our world.