Being Childfree Is Not (Only) About Being Selfish

As someone who has made the choice to opt out of parenthood, I don’t make any blanket judgements on the millions of people who made the opposite decision. I have the utmost respect for dedicated, hardworking, nurturing parents, but I also recognise that not everyone has the skills to be effective and successful at raising children. I certainly don’t think everyone should make the same choice as I have, nor do I make presumptions about the reasons people choose to have children. Conversely, as soon as someone mentions being childfree, the response from parents (and sometimes from people who are childless by circumstance, who would otherwise have had children), is widely negative, derogatory and often stereotypes childfree people as selfish.

For every single video, blog post, article or discussion about the subject, you can guarantee that the responding comments will inevitably (and usually, very quickly) include the word ‘selfish’, as if the desire to enjoy your own time and money is literally the only reason anyone would make this choice. Even Pope Francis has weighed in on this subject in the past, condemning the growing number of childless couples in the western world for their materialism and selfishness. Childfree people are generally quite upfront and honest about the fact that this is one of the factors which they considered (or at least is an undeniable benefit of the choice), but to dismiss the decision as always being solely for selfish reasons is incredibly short sighted. In a previous article about childfree living not just being a phase, I touched on some of the many factors people tend to consider before reaching the right conclusion for them, but this assumed selfishness is such a persistent criticism (and one based on a misconception, in many cases) that it deserves to be addressed separately.

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A story which caught the attention of some mainstream news outlets and raised the ire of readers and social media commenters was that of Nathalie Guzman and Andrés Flu. The couple, from Medellin, Colombia, posted a ‘good news’ announcement on Facebook (mimicking the posts made by newly pregnant couples to announce their impending parenthood) where they posed with their appointment card for a vasectomy. Despite giving several reasonable arguments as to why they had come to this decision, they were bombarded by negativity for the post. The main reasons that the couple came to this decision were environmental and social, stating that “the most important is to contribute with the conservation of the planet that is so overpopulated and damaged. We will not bring one more human in to contaminate it.”

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Nathalie Guzman and Andrés Flu pose with their vasectomy appointment card

The environmental concerns and overpopulation argument regarding having children is obviously a complicated issue which is impossible to explore fully in the confines of a facebook post, but that did not stop detractors from calling this a weak argument. Perhaps for some people it is, but there are people who genuinely care about the environment and to them, this is a huge issue which should be more carefully considered. This appears to be the case with this couple, who also clarified their sociological concerns when Guzman added to the original post that “children are beautiful to me. If I wasn’t affected by what I see every day, because sometimes it hurts me to breathe, to see so many children suffering in the street, so many drugs, violence and cruelty. Believe me, I would consider having one.”

Regardless of the reasons given, many people saw this as an excuse and still accused the couple of being selfish. Granted, they probably didn’t help their case in this regard, mainly due to the playful nature and tone of the original post, which opened by saying “We want to share with you the great joy. WE WILL NEVER BE PARENTS. We accept a life in which we will forever buy the toys for us, we can travel without limitations, walk naked around the house and more.” This was clearly meant to be jovial, but inadvertently fired up all of the stereotypes and resentments that many people have about childfree people.

Given the amount of backlash they received, they were probably glad that they didn’t go even further, as some couples have, by throwing a vasectomy party or ‘new car shower’.

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The decision to not have children is often reached for a combination of different reasons. One of the most common is that the person or couple making the choice simply have no maternal or paternal instincts. While critics argue that these people would develop parental feelings after having a child, there is certainly sufficient evidence to refute this assumption. The vast majority of us have encountered some poor examples of parents at some point in our lives, whether it be people who we know personally, neighbours or even just strangers in public who are clearly not paying enough attention to their children and neglect them in various ways. If everyone was preprogrammed and genetically predisposed to developing parental instincts then this would never happen. Surely it would also mean that the shocking numbers of children in the adoption and fostering systems would be significantly lower?

There are clearly people who do not develop paternal feelings and instincts, so if someone does not have these naturally, then trying to force them by having a child is playing Russian Roulette with that child’s future. Knowingly bringing a child into a neglectful situation is immoral and to do so just because you feel that you should conform to societal expectations and play a role is completely selfish. If you have a strong suspicion that you would regret having children, then you should absolutely not do it.

If anyone doubts that parents ever regret their choice (or at least publicly admit it), they need look no further than the examples cited in a video on ‘The Young Turks’ Youtube Channel from 2008, when Nebraska decriminalised child abandonment and a loophole meant that parents were trying to give up children of all ages.

Another common reason for not having children is that the individual or couple recognise and admit that they would not be able to provide a good home to a child, even if they like children and would otherwise have them. This could be because they know that they lack some of the necessary skills it takes to raise a child, or because they have other circumstances (such as physical or mental health problems, addictions, personality disorders, insurmountable debt etc) which would invariably have a negative effect on a child’s development. If anything, these are factors which should always be considered extremely carefully by absolutely anyone considering becoming a parent. These circumstances should not necessarily preclude anyone who wants to have a family from having children, but the individual(s) involved should consider the risks for themselves, determine whether or not these issues are manageable for them and consider the potential effects on their ability to provide a stable, nurturing environment. The truly selfish people are those who do not consider the possible consequences of bringing children into an unsupportive or potentially dangerous environment before having them.

In many cases, even if someone’s feelings did change, it still wouldn’t make the person a good parent, just a more willing one. You can be a willing participant in many things and not be any good at them, but generally these activities will not negatively affect other people’s lives. In most cases where lives would be affected, we tend to discourage participation from those who do not have the necessary skills. Someone could willingly become a nurse, but if they lacked the necessary skills to do the job, no one would encourage them to do so because the people in their care would be put at risk. (Hopefully anyone in this situation would be weeded out by the exams etc associated with the course anyway, but unfortunately no such structure exists for parents.)

If you have a child and you are either not inclined or otherwise unsuitable to raise children, then the child will suffer. Conversely, if you follow your instincts and don’t have them, then the worst that can happen is that you regret the decision later, which only affects you. I would rather run the risk of having some regrets than having ruined someone else’s life. Thinking about it in these terms, it is hard to understand why it is always assumed to be the selfish choice.

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So why is it that people who are already parents cannot see beyond the selfish aspects of remaining childfree? One possibility is that any parents who regret their choice on some level don’t see beyond the freedom to travel or the expendable income because these are the ways they feel they have missed out on their own dreams, hopes or desires. Their subconscious (or in some rare cases, blatant) jealousy of people having more money and more freedom in their leisure time is all they can see when they look at childfree people. They view it as being the most important factor or biggest benefit because it is the area of their own lives which has suffered the most from having children.

This is probably exacerbated in the era of social media, because we all share the details of our lives so freely with our family and friends, especially the positive or exciting times. This means that parents see their childfree friends sharing photos from multiple holidays each year, or checking into clubs or restaurants etc and talking about the hobbies that they indulge in. Obviously they tend to do more things which are fun, interesting or exciting, because they have the financial freedom and the leisure time to do those things. We all try to fill whatever time we have with enjoyment, whether we have children or not. It can be as simple as watching TV on the couch or as extravagant as travelling the world, depending on the money and time at our disposal. Obviously childfree couples have more time and expendable income, so they naturally fill their time with more extravagances like trips and excursions, which they post about on social media.

Meanwhile parents are often fulfilling obligations, celebrating arbitrary milestones as if they were extraordinary accomplishments and having to sacrifice aspects of their own enjoyment for that of their children. When you think about it in those terms, it’s really no wonder that some will automatically assume that being Childfree is purely about being selfish, because indulging in the things we enjoy is naturally how we spend a lot of our time, while parents who wish they had more free time, more money or freedom to travel etc are constrained by the responsibilities of their choice. Those who regret having children may feel like they are stuck in a prison of their own construction and are jealous of anyone who hasn’t done likewise. Even those who are happy about their decision to have children will naturally wish they had more free time or more expendable income – as does everyone – so seeing others who have those things will naturally make them envious. This envy will inevitably be accompanied by a sense of guilt because it is a selfish desire, which the individual might then transpose onto whoever it is they feel that envy for; hence they assume that the other person’s reasons for having those things must also be selfish.

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Then there are those who believe that being childfree is selfish for another reason, which seem to be conspiracy theorists and their ilk, who think that the rise in childfree couples is a genuine threat to keeping the world populated. Just to clarify, childfree people are not trying to convert everyone else, so the idea they would assume that we want everyone to stop having children is absurd. It’s just that we have chosen not to have them ourselves. Even if the numbers of childfree people continue to increase for the time being, the world will still be overpopulated, so this really isn’t a genuine cause for concern.

The only other interpretation I can infer from being branded as selfish and hearing that everyone should have at least one child, is that having children is the only substantial contribution a person can make to the rest of society. It could certainly be argued that it is a significant way to contribute, but there are many other positive ways a person can contribute. Whether it be charitable donations, volunteer work, pursuing careers which serve the community, or even creating arts or entertainment, there are many ways to help others and contribute to society to which childfree people can devote more of their time and money. Not all of them do, of course, but that is not to say that they don’t contribute in other ways. The point is that there are many ways to contribute other than procreation, so therefore being Childfree cannot be labelled as simply selfish by default.

We should also consider the counter argument, that in actuality, it is the people who choose to have children who are the selfish ones. After all, the child is not a consenting or conscious party in the decision, even though they are the ones most affected by it. The parents make this decision based on their own circumstances, desires and expectations without regard for whether the child would actually want to be born. This may seem like an obvious but also insane point to make (because obviously the child cannot be part of the decision before existing and can only have the luxury of deciding whether or not they want to live based on the experience they have of being alive), however there is actually someone trying to sue his parents for creating him without his consent. This does raise some interesting hypothetical questions, but of course no-one expects him to win his court case, nor is this to ever be considered an argument against people having children. It does however illustrate that people cannot choose to have a child for that child’s sake – the decision is completely based on the parents and the fact that they want a child. Therefore it is (at least somewhat) a selfish choice.

The selfish reasoning behind having children is also illustrated in many of the questions which are regularly asked of childfree couples. For example, many people will ask ‘who will look after you in your old age?’ Firstly, I seriously doubt that I will live to see anything close to ‘old age’ because I am not a health-conscious person and I don’t expect that to change. Secondly, even if I do reach old age, I would not expect any members of my family to take on the responsibility of my care. Care for elderly, disabled and infirm people should be carried out by professionals and people who are equipped, skilled and trained as necessary, so even if I had children, I would not be expecting them to care for me. Having children just so that you have carers for when you are old is not only incredibly selfish, but unrealistic.

So is it always selfish to remain childfree? No, of course not. In some cases, it can be selfish to have a child, rather than make the opposite choice. There are, of course, people who remain childfree for selfish reasons – and most of these will openly admit that those are the reasons for their choice. There are also people who have made the choice for a number of other reasons and now benefit in materialistic or so-called ‘selfish’ ways, but this is a side-effect rather than the cause. In the past, I often left the assumption unchallenged, so when I was asked if I was childfree just because I am ‘too selfish’ to have children, I would just say yes. The main reason I did that was to avoid having a lengthy conversation about it, because I was afraid that a more detailed answer would either lead onto other difficult topics such as mental health, or maybe even cause offense to people who had children if they objected to my reasons. The truth is that people make the decision to have children or not for any number of reasons, so for someone to automatically view all childfree people as selfish is perhaps more of an indictment of their own subconscious than it is of childfree people.

Thank you very much for reading. If you enjoyed this piece, please like, share, follow the page and also read my other articles on this subject – Being Childfree Is Not ‘Just A Phase’ and Being Childfree: FAQs (Childfree TAG)