follow up of sorts to this article if you're interested (It pertains to the selfishness of romantic relationships).
Not having kids has been traditionally labelled a selfish decision by people who either have or want children. And while this accusation has been levied less and less as the numbers of childfree couples continues to rise around the world, it is not yet uncommon for someone who expresses their lack of a desire to have children to be chastised for even considering living such a selfish life.
When considering this one could easily think of some reasons one could possibly give for not wanting children that could actually be qualified as selfless rather than selfish. Not contributing to the ongoing overpopulation problem comes to mind. However, my my contention here is that one can take this a step further and actually claim that the desire to have kids is a selfish one, and quite possibly more so than desiring not to have them.
Think this to be a ridiculous notion? Well, read on and let's see.
Let's consider the reasons most commonly given for wanting to have children and then see if this desire is indeed more selfless than it is selfish as most people would implicitly claim in their shock at the assertion made by me in this piece that the act of having children is a selfish one.
-Having children is rewarding
-I will be able to pass on my genes/continue the family name
-Someone to pass my values on to
-There will be someone to look after me when I am unable to look after myself
Hmmm....notice a pattern there? It's all about feeling good, living on after death and being taken care of. Me me me me me me. Not once in there is anything said about giving something to someone else or doing something for other people.
Having children is rewarding
Meaning what, exactly? They are fun, the love you feel for them is incredibly intense, you can look on and be proud when they accomplish things, etc. So basically, it is pleasurable. Doing something because it is pleasurable is to do something because it benefits you; ie it is a selfish act.
I will be able to pass on my genes/continue the family name
And this matters why, exactly? Who benefits from this? The world? Your child? Or you?
Someone to pass my values on to
This implies that your values are inherently good and correct and deserving of being passed on. This passing on serves to validate the truth and inherent goodness of these values; in other words, it emphasizes the positives in the one doing on the transcribing of these values.
There will be someone to look after me when I am unable to look after myself
Do I even have to say anything? Yes, I am selflessly creating a new person so that fifty years from now they can spend the last bit of time before they begin grieving my death being my nurse maid. Aren't I so selfless?
Reading over all that I feel pretty confident that while some counterarguments could be made, there is no way anyone could deny that the reasons most commonly given for having children are mostly, if not totally selfish.
That being proven, I'd like to examine a couple of reasons that not having kids can be selfless:
Note: Before I do, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am in no way claiming or about to claim that not having kids is not also selfish. While I am about to point out some reasons for not doing so that I believe to actually be selfless, I would also readily admit that not having kids is a mostly selfish act. I wouldn't believe a single person who tried to tell me that their reasons for not having kids were entirely selfless. I'd grant them some selfless component but they would be lying to themselves/me if they claimed that it was an entirely selfless sentiment.
This was alluded to at the beginning of this post, and it is a straightforward point so not much needs to be said other than the world is absolutely overpopulated and this is only going to get worse, so not having kids is actually a good thing for all of us, even if the people not having them aren't doing it in any way for this reason. I honestly believe that this point alone is serious enough that everyone who considers the question of having children should at least think about it.
The "gift of life"
If you are not a regular reader you may not know this but I myself do have a child. A four year old girl named Hannah who I did not plan to have (I never really wanted children) but whom I love very much. And since having this child, especially since she has started school, I have spent some time pondering both the positive and negative things she has been and will be experiencing throughout her life and wondering what the net result would be if these were added up and the smaller number was subtracted from the larger. I do not claim to know this answer, but what I do know is that the answer, despite what those who want to have children may insist, is not clear. And it is this fact that raises, at least in my mind, the following question:
Did we do her a service or a disservice by having her?
See, there are a few facts that need to be faced, as uncomfortable as they might be. Most kids are going to grow up to be perfectly average. As much as we fill our kids' heads with grand notions and big expectations, most of them are going to live average, ho hum lives. Many of them will hate their jobs. Many of them will be in unfulfilling relationships and anti-depressants will fill their medicine cabinets. While some of them will be self actualized, successful, happy people, many will be out of shape, unsatisfied and live a life full of struggle and setbacks. Nearly one hundred out of one hundred parents goes into it dreaming of the possibilities that lie ahead of their children, but just like those who play the lottery and dream about what they would do with the winnings, most don't ever get the prize.
Now, it is at this point where if you already haven't, you might be thinking "what a negative outlook you have." And it is at this point that I would ask you to consider if negativity negates reality. Ask yourself what number out of any thirty average kindergarten students will achieve their dreams and live successful, satisfying lives versus what number will either live average ones or even toil away in hardship, poverty and malaise. Can you honestly say that more than half will fall into the first group rather than one of the last two? Is honestly assessing reality "negative" or just honest and free of ego/denial?
And so given this, are we giving our kids a gift when we give them life (the "gift of life" is a very popular phrase, especially among the religious) or are we sentencing them to 70-ish years of time to fill, most of which already slotted to be filled with responsibility and work? (And yes, I am aware how harsh the word "sentencing" is in this context. I used it for effect. Substitute in a less distressing euphemism if it makes you feel better.)
I honestly do not know the answer to this question. I wonder what Hannah will have to say about it in twenty or thirty years. I wonder what all our kids would say if asked. I guess one way we could look at it is to ask ourselves: Did our parents do us a favour by having us? Was it better that they did, or would you have preferred that they hadn't? If I ask myself this question, I can honestly say I din't know. I do know, however, that like most people, my parents did not have me because they were thinking about all of the ways in which it would benefit me. They had me because they just wanted kids and the culture in which they were raised reinforced this desire and cast dispersions on the alternative.
And of course there's the heretofore unmentioned but terribly important fact that we are simply biologically driven to procreate. Cells multiply and genes replicate; life exists to exist.
And on and on it goes.
EDIT: I found and posted a conversation I had online with someone roughly 2 years ago pertaining to the realities of having kids. I found it interesting and relevant to the topic at hand and so I posted it. Have a look if you want, and if you're one of the people in the "man, you're negative" camp, you'll positively love(or at least how I felt about it two years ago) what you read).