Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is it selfish not to have kids?

Strange question - as a willfully childless person, I think it's selfish to HAVE kids these days. Yeah, yeah, survival of the species and all that, but the species is in no risk of extinction, while the planet is at or beyond its carrying capacity.

For those folks like me - I am constantly being told that I am missing so much in not being a parent, or that I would make a wonderful father - this post is a good reminder that we need to listen to our inner awareness about these things. Too many people have kids when they really would rather not - or shouldn't, since I see a LOT of terrible parents.

Is it selfish not to have kids?

Is the choice not to have kids selfish, smart or something different altogether?

Brandon Foss right, dumps a bottle of water over his head as he and his brother Aaron and father, Andrew, look on in Ocean City, N.J., Tuesday July 6. Deciding to have children or not is a deeply personal choice that one makes taking into consideration his or her values, goals and talents.

By Trent Hamm, Guest blogger / July 9, 2010

A couple weeks ago, I posted some links to a discussion concerning whether it was smart or selfish to not have children, as well as a response to that issue.

Since then, the whole matter has stuck in my head. Is it smart or selfish to have children? Several readers have emailed me their thoughts on the subject as well.

In the end, I don’t think you can strictly say whether it’s smart or selfish to have children or not without deeply knowing the people you’re talking about.

First of all, children are expensive. An average child born today will take up somewhere on the order of $300,000 in expenses before they are fully independent (though, honestly, some of that is offset by behavioral choices made by parents). They also require a lot of time, emotional giving, and patience.

Some people – and I would put myself in that camp – deeply want to be parents. It’s a personal goal in their lives. They spend a lot of time focusing on how to be good parents. They genuinely strive to produce good children, not only for the benefit of society, but because it’s a personal drive within the parent.

For me, the price of being a parent is one I’m willing to pay, because being a parent is something I’m intrinsically driven to do. My deepest personal values tell me that being intimately involved with the crafting of the future people of this world – directly, in the case of my children, and indirectly, in the case of many of their peers – is one of the most valuable things I have to do in life. I can equip them with the basic tools they need to achieve things beyond my imagination.

Other people don’t have that drive. Their motivations and goals and aspirations lie elsewhere – in career paths, personal endeavors, or other areas. Without that drive, they tend to see the costs – which are easily calculable – in front of the benefits, which are much less direct at first glance.

I think that many people are on the fence about where they stand. They see the positive experience that some parents have and want that in their life, but they’re also taken aback by the problems and difficulties and social implications of parenting.

My belief is that if you don’t wish to have children, don’t have children. If you think that children are more trouble than they’re worth, you probably should not have children.

I also believe that if you feel driven to have a child, you should do everything you can to prepare to be the best parent you can be. This means spending the time to really figure out who you are, how to control your emotions, how to teach, and most importantly, how to be patient.

The world needs both parents and non-parents. There is a lot of societal value in a wide range of skills, abilities, and thoughts. I absolutely feel that being a parent is a noble choice, but that does not imply that DINKs are not making a noble choice. They’re making a different one in line with their values, goals, and talents.

To put it simply, I think it’s smart to follow your nature and inner drive – whether that leads you to be a parent or not – and it’s selfish to ignore that drive and push yourself in a different direction. If you’re born to be a caregiver, it’s smart to become one and selfish to push away that nurturing side. Similarly, if you’re born without that ability, it’s selfish to try to force yourself into it, but quite smart to seek out and follow your other talents.

The worst thing that either side can do is insult the other and believe that their side of the coin is the only worthy side. We need both parents and non-parents in society – without both, we would see the end of the human race.

Just remember, you don’t have to be in either group. If you listen to your heart of hearts, though, it will eventually guide you to where you should be. Just remember that society needs the caregivers and it also needs those who walk alone and blaze a different path.


Steve said...

Bill, I agree with you that it's not selfish to abstain from having kids and that it's selfish to have them.

In fact, I go even further than you on this. You say that what's selfish about having kids is that we already have too many people to sustain on this planet. But I say that what makes having kids selfish is what philosopher David Benatar argues in his book "Better Never To Have Been." I think I discovered this book through one of your blogposts.

In any case, Benatar argues that "Each one of us is harmed by being brought into existence," and this implies that when we procreate, we do it not for the benefit of the child who ends up suffering net harm but for our own selfish purposes.

This may sound extreme, especially to the superficial ear. But the more I think about it, the more I think it's true.

Tombstone said...

The idea that having children is a selfish act is tenuous at best, and downright ludicrous at worst.

Completely absent from the rather anemic analysis proffered above is the idea that existence can be, and quite often is, a joyful experience.

Likewise in its fractured fairy-tale manner, the daft proposition that what you say sounds extreme only to the "superficial ear" produced a guttural laugh and wry smile. Its a neat trick I used to use all the time in my previous life.

This perspective says quite a bit more about one's own internal suffering and lack of joyfulness than it says about any theoretical propositions.

And I duly apologize if THAT sounds harsh to anyone's ears, but...well, there it is.

Mark said...

I respect anyone's desire not to have children. However, this argument should be included and rarely is:

While conscious people are busy not having children, the unconscious ones continue to have them and are not going to stop. What good is all this consciousness raising and ideas about helping children and people grow spiritually and so forth if it is not passed on to the next generation of children and future leaders? Armies of therapists can't do as even 1/100th the good in their one hour per week for one year (at most) that excellent parents can do in a lifetime(and I say this as a parent and a child psychologist). Therapists spend much of their time simply correcting damage.

Who is going to steer the ship in 40 years when all the conscious people are dead and have left no kids around? There will be overpopulation and environmental degradation, but who is going to help?