Is It Selfish to Forgo Children?

| Well Being
the atlantic childless women
(Photo: Lauren Giordano/The Atlantic)

A recent review of "Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids" prompted The Atlantic to publish readers' comments on whether or not they view forgoing children as selfish or not. Check out the diverse opinions below and comment your own!

First, a snippet from the review:

[A]s a collection of manifestos, it’s hugely significant. It won’t influence anyone hell-bent on children away from having them, nor will it dissuade people who feel eternally conflicted about the subject. But what it does, more crucially, is refuse to accept the perpetuation of the myths that have surrounded childbirth for the last 200 years—that women have a biological need to procreate, and that having children is the single most significant thing a person can do with his or her life, and that not having children leaves people sad and empty.

This reader doesn't seem sad at all:

I always knew I wasn't going to have babies of my own. My mom got pregnant at 18, had three babies by the time she was 21 and two more after that. She was unhappy a lot of the time. She often told us, "Don't get married young, don't have kids." This was a warning to us that if we did, we would be similarly unhappy in life.

I also always knew I was going to college, no matter what. I was the first person in my family to do so. I did get married at 22 but my husband knew my position on kids. I said if the time ever came when I wanted them, there were enough kids available through adoption, already looking for parents. I had a tubal ligation at 23, after having to spend several sessions with a psychologist to make sure I understood the permanence of the procedure and that no on was forcing me to do it.

30 years later, I have no regrets. And I have lots of nieces and nephews if I need to see a cute baby.

From the other side of the divide, this dad posted one of the most up-voted comments:

Well, I am not a woman, but I will say that fathering and raising my children was not only the most important but also the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life.

little girl child playing

Another top commenter was kgasmart, countering essayist Lionel Shriver:

"Did I have fun" is not what I'll be asking myself on my deathbed. It's, "Did my life have meaning?" ...

Look, children may be lots of things, but children are love. It may not have been that way in your family, but I love my own children in a way I have never and could never love other human beings. And the love of my children for me—the way my 5-year-old son puts his head on my shoulder when he's tired; the way my 8-year-old daughter blows me kisses at bedtime—I would have been a far poorer man without these things, regardless of where I might have traveled or who else I might have met.

So I may miss exciting things by having kids; I'm sure of it. I would suggest those who opt for those exciting things over kids are also missing something. ...

I'm not suggesting I'm "better" than anyone. I am, however, saying that there is a fundamental difference between human beings who have experienced parenting and those who haven't. I believe there is a difference in how they understand the concept of love and sacrifice.

But much of the commentary coalesced around the counterpoint that having kids is the selfish choice. Here's Phranqlin:

Plenty of people have kids who really shouldn't have. Some feel it's expected of them. Some are careless or clueless about sex. Some want to satisfy their own emotional needs for unconditional love and social approval. Some do so out of narcissism. And some are simply too immature, violent, or damaged to be successful parents.

In other words, having kids can be a selfish choice. It would be better for everyone involved if these folks had enough insight, self-knowledge, and personal responsibility to realize that they should not have children.

I say this as the parent of two children. I've wanted to eventually get married and have children ever since I was young and knew I was taking on a huge responsibility by becoming a parent. It is not as easy as it looks to be a good parent, and it requires commitment and sacrifice. You are no longer the center of your life. You have to realize that your children will grow into independent, autonomous human beings. While you are responsible for their health, safety, and welfare, they are not you; they have lives, hopes, and dreams that are independent of yours.

That isn't even the half of all the insightful comments. Click here to see them and read the original article from The Atlantic.

>> Read more: Lessons Every Mother Should Teach Her Daughter