Why choosing not to have children isn’t selfish OR admirable

A childless-by-choice friend recently shared an article, Why not having kids is admirable, not selfish, on Facebook. The article was an interesting read that laid out why we need a new way of looking at the choice to remain childless, so that it can be affirmed by society because there are numerous benefits for all concerned – including the never-to-be-conceived children.

There were lots of great points in the article, but what stayed with me was the opinion conveyed in the headline. Is there really a faction of breeders who believe that those who choose not to have children are being selfish? For real?

Having children is selfish

I have two lovely children, because that’s what I wanted. For me, having children was a selfish act. It was a thing that I desperately wanted, and nothing was going to stand my way. I didn’t do it as an exercise in selflessness, I did it to scratch the maternal itch that had been niggling at me for years.

I even did it in a selfish way – partying and travelling my way through my twenties, so that when I had my children, I didn’t have any regrets, and did it entirely on my terms. They came into my life when it suited me.

Not having children isn’t admirable

By the same token, I imagine that people who don’t have kids by choice are doing exactly what they want too. I don’t call this selfish, but I don’t think it’s admirable either. I imagine very few of them are consumed with the desire to snuggle up to their own warm, floppy babies, but are refraining from breeding because of concerns about global resources and overpopulation.

Breeders gone mad

What this debate all boils down to is the belief that having children is one of life’s great lessons in selflessness. To a certain extent, I agree with that. You certainly don’t have much time to think about yourself. For four years. And four months. And counting. You are almost entirely consumed with the needs and functions of another human being.

In fact, the maelstrom of giving and looking after and nurturing that parents find themselves whirled around in can become a special kind of madness. We may find ourselves living with the delusion that this beautiful, arduous, life-changing journey is vital for every human being to become complete, that this choice we’ve made must be terribly important, because if it isn’t, then we’ve been had.

Utter bilge! Sure, those who remain childless may never experience that heady cocktail of hormones and instinct and love and, for some, spirituality that we’ve experienced in delivering our own offspring into this world, but so what? We’re under no obligation to go through that, just like I’ve never been on a roller-coaster, or some women have never had orgasms, careers or MDMA highs.

While obviously, none of these – save perhaps the career choice – is a lifelong, life-changing commitment, they illustrate my point that no single experience defines humanity, and no one should be marginalised or judged for their choices or opportunities.

There are no lessons to be learnt

So, to me, it seems like a rather inane argument to suggest that people must have children to learn to be selfless. In my experience, people with personality flaws who have children either treat their children very badly, or expand the perimeters of their flaw so that the children stand beside them, magnifying it outwards.

Just about the only good argument that I can think of for people who don’t want children to have them anyway is that they might regret it later. But even that falls apart on interrogation. Is it really a good idea to have children that you don’t want now, as a kind of insurance policy against the possibility that you might have wanted them in a few years’ time?

So, while having children is a decision that everyone should consider carefully, and with a full examination of themselves, their relationship with their partners or other supporting individuals and their future aspirations, giving birth certainly isn’t a ticket to personality perfection, and raising kids isn’t a membership card for the human race.

You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

Image – Gallo

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