Non-parents – what makes us selfish?

By Allix Denham 

Read any online newspaper article about a woman choosing not to have children, and the comments that follow will invariably be opinionated bordering upon abusive: “You don’t know what you’re missing!”, “I couldn’t imagine my life without kids”, “Who’s going to look after you in your old age?” and, my personal favourite, “You’re so selfish”.

Because in deciding that motherhood isn’t for you, you are, of course, declaring your innate selfishness to the world. And if remaining child-free is selfish, logic goes that having children must be unselfish.

But is it? Most people have children for deeply personal reasons: I want to experience unconditional love; I want the fulfilment of having a child; I want a baby I can kiss and cuddle; I want to avoid loneliness in old age; I want to be surrounded by family; I want to go through an experience my body is designed for; I feel there’s something missing in my life; I want to cement my relationship…

While there’s nothing wrong with any of these reasons (although the last one might be misguided), there’s nothing unselfish about them, either. Which parents-to-be honestly think to themselves: I want to raise a person full of wisdom and integrity, who’ll make a profound contribution to the wellbeing of mankind and the planet?

They’re too busy deciding which colours to paint the nursery – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So why the pretence that having children is unselfish, when really, most people only do it for themselves? Why can’t they just admit it – I want children for the pleasure they will bring me? To claim it’s an unselfish act is tantamount to saying that in becoming parents, you’re making a sacrifice.

And is this the reason behind those ‘selfish’ accusations? Because when the kids are screaming, the house is a mess, money’s tight and difficult schooling decisions lie ahead, do parents subconsciously feel they’ve made a sacrifice to arrive at their position, and resent anyone who hasn’t done the same?

I would argue that neither option – to have kids or not – is selfish, it’s just who you are and what you want out of life. Why do we need to judge, or compare, or accuse?

For the record, I don’t want a dog, either. Does that make me selfish?

Allix Denham is a writer currently based in France. She and her partner have no children, but entertain the neighbours’ cat on a regular basis.

Childless by choice

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