One of the most common remarks on the childfree lifestyle is that it’s selfish. How is it selfish to not have a child one doesn’t want or can’t afford? Search me. Though we’ve tackled that question in the past, today I’m asking: Is it selfish to have kids?
It’s certainly true that some parents have children for incredibly selfish reasons. While I don’t have any large-scale statistics, I can say that when I ask a parent why they had children, nearly every single one replies with one of two answers:
- “I just wanted to have kids.”
- “I wanted to be a mom.”
But does that mean that it’s necessarily selfish to have kids?
When Having Kids is Definitely Selfish
First let me say that I know that people find themselves pregnant in less-than-ideal circumstances, and that the decision to have an unplanned child is deeply personal. Additionally, the decision to continue a pregnancy one didn’t anticipate isn’t quite the same as choosing to become pregnant in the first place.
Having said that, willfully deciding to have a baby when there is currently no baby or developing baby in the picture, and when one cannot provide (emotionally, financially, or physically) is going to be a selfish decision in most cases.
What are the factors the unselfish person considers when planning to conceive?
There are a lot of strong feelings on this topic, and for good reason. Like it or not, we live in an economically unfair society, and it’s deeply unjust for anyone to say, “poor people need to not have babies they can’t afford” when one’s entire childbearing years might be spent in the low-income brackets. It may well take we Millennials a couple of decades (into our forties) to make it to the point when we can financially afford children. And why should we have to put off having children to the time where it’s no longer a biologically viable option?
That line of thinking gets uncomfortably close to the eugenics-based belief of breeding economically disadvantaged people or groups out of the gene pool. And no one, least of all me, wants that. But here’s the thing: recklessly having babies does absolutely nothing to fix this unfair system. And, not to beat a dead horse, but having children will not improve your finances.
At the end of the day, despite how very nuanced this topic is, having children you can’t afford is selfish. It’s putting your desires before the well-being of another.
This one doesn’t seem to discriminate based on one’s bank account or social class. If you have a child as the ‘default’ option in your life, rather than something you’ve weighed seriously and put conscious thought into, you’re not making the effort needed to be emotionally available to your child.
Kids take a lot of emotional strength, stability, and endurance. Enforcing boundaries and maintaining consistency requires a committed and compassionate mindset. If you have a child without doing anything to prepare yourself for that kind of emotional marathon, that’s selfish too. It’s saying that your emotional needs (feeling loved and needed by a baby) are more important that your child’s emotional needs.
Good parenting requires time and self-discipline in time management. Do you have the time to devote to implementing a routine? Do you have time to actually interact with and get to know your kids? Children learn, grow, and change at a much more rapid rate than most adults. This requires taking time to understand who your child is and what their point of view is. If you don’t have that, you won’t have a clue why they’re acting the way they do. And that just leads to frustration, anger, and disappointment.
Once again, if you know you won’t have the ability (or are not willing to make the sacrifices needed) to give your child the time they need, it’s selfish to have one anyway. Again, it’s putting your desires before the needs of another.
When Having Kids Might Be Selfish
Okay. So what if you can afford to give a child a decent life, see yourself as being emotionally available to them, and have actually put the effort into learning about being a good parent? What if you’re the type of would-be parent who has carefully considered the details of how you’ll raise your child and made a plan ahead of time with your partner? Is it selfish to have children then?
The short answer is, well, maybe.
The longer answer is that while you may not be putting your own wants above the needs of your future child, you may still be putting your own wants above the needs of others. And those are people who already exist, not a person who hasn’t yet been created.
There are two main factors to consider.
There’s simply no denying the fact that we live on an overpopulated planet. Is it selfish to create a new person when millions are starving, and hundreds of millions 1 2 of children are unwanted? Well, that leads directly into the next factor…
Biological Arrogance and Exclusivity
And finally, there’s the issue of biological conceit. This conceit says, “my genes (or my partner’s genes) are so much more valuable to me than any others on the planet that I’m going to create a new person at the expense of all the parentless children throughout the globe.” It’s closely related to the belief that one’s genes are genuinely better than those of children with “issues” in foster care. And let me state this plainly: if you believe that adopting a child with “problems” is more than you’re up for, you probably aren’t up for the challenge of raising a bio kid either (see above).
Is your desire to see your partner’s features in your child really more important the the needs of an existing child? If so, it’s possible that you’re acting out of selfishness.
So Is It Ever NOT Selfish to Have Kids?
I don’t want to end this article with the idea that becoming a parent is innately selfish, because I truly don’t believe it is. And I don’t think that most people who have children for selfish reason do so consciously. In my experience talking to parents, the main reason that people have children for selfish reasons (and are often disappointed as a result) is that they never paused to think critically about having children before they did it.
The point of this post isn’t to bash parents or say that parents are horrible, selfish creatures. It’s to encourage everyone reading to give the decision to have children the serious consideration it deserves. If you were considering spending the next 20 years of your life in a convent, devoted entirely to serving God, and paying some $230,000 to do so, wouldn’t you give it a few weeks of serious thought first? Why, then, don’t we give the decision to have kids that same level of self-reflection?
What Does the Unselfish Parent Look Like?
Before I close, I do want to include a very thoughtful answer to the “why do you want kids” question given to me by a friend.
My family has dwindled. I want to add more members to my family; more people to share things with in my circle. I’d also like the opportunity to “pass the baton” to someone. Like, I want to see the world become a better place, and I feel like I’d be leaving “unfinished business” if I just died and didn’t have someone that I passed the “make-the-world-a-better-place-ness” on to. Keep in mind I do not require this/these added family member/s to be grown in my body, though I’m not against that.
So is it selfish to have kids? No, not necessarily. Can it be? Yes, definitely. As is the case with most acts, it’s one’s intentions, forethought, and preparation that determine whether something is greedy or giving in nature. So decide what’s best for you, but please, consider these things before making that life-changing, and (in the case of bio babies) life-creating decision.