Childlessness and the issue of legacy

By Nina Steele 

In her book Confessions of a Childfree Woman, Marcia Drut-Davis recollects an incident in her past when she was invited as a guest speaker in a high school. The lecture was about making students aware of the challenges of being a parent, in light of an increase in teenage pregnancies. The school hoped that she would succeed in conveying the message that having children was a choice and that the students could choose to have or not have them. At the end of the lecture, one of the students was heard saying to another student: “but I want my name handed down” to which another student shouted “don’t worry, your name is Smith.” To everyone’s amusement.

Joking aside, the sense of despair that the student felt at the very thought of not being able to pass on the family name to the next generation is what many people, particularly men feel and the latest boom in people wanting to know their family history online shows how important this subject is to many. I am sure many other people have found this state of affairs rather outrages and I can understand why. I mean to have children just so that you are not the last one on your line of the family is a bit selfish, isn’t it?

How many times have I heard childless people, particularly those who are childless by choice, being called selfish? Many times indeed. Among the many reasons why they have been called so is that in the eyes of some, they are depriving their parents of grandchildren or that they are not doing their bit for humanity, meaning that they are not contributing to increasing the human population, to name but these two. Let us deconstruct both arguments.

To expect people to have children just so they can make their parents happy by making them grandparents imply that the interests of the parents should supersede that of their children. How then can we call a child selfish for not wanting children when in reality the parents are themselves the selfish ones for wanting the child to put them first? We are told time and time again how much our parents love us and how they will give their life for us without hesitation if they had to, yet when the children need their parents to support them in their choices and I don’t mean anything that is harmful to anyone, what do they get, the same old fashioned beliefs being regurgitated. To put pressure on your child to be something he/she is not, just so that you as a parent can be happy is selfish.

With regards to the other accusation that those who choose not to have children are not doing their bit for humanity, this could not be further from the truth. Indeed, with the world population currently standing at over 7 billion and counting, doing one’s bit for humanity some may argue is to go in the opposite direction entirely and curb population growth.

My experience of those who see childless people as selfish is that they are often entrenched in their views and refuse to make allowances. They see the world in an old fashioned way, where women preferably stayed at home to raise children while men went to work. They find it difficult to accept that times have changed and that the world has moved on from that perfect family ideal that is still being promoted in commercials.

They see their children as a continuation of themselves, as opposed to seeing them as independent, mature individuals with their own views on life and how they wish to go about living it. They often see it as their right to tell their children how they think they ought to live their life, as opposed to encouraging them to pursue their own dreams and be true to themselves. Now you tell me who is really selfish here.

Passing down names and family heirlooms are not valid enough reasons to have children. Legacies can be left in many other ways. For example, the work of a childless nurse or teacher has greater impact on humanity than a person who spent his/her whole life on welfare and had many children. Legacy is more to do with our contribution to society as a whole as opposed to just the handing down of one’s name. To reduce legacy to such frivolous matters is missing the point entirely.

Childless people should therefore take comfort in the fact that they will leave a legacy and that depending on how they lived their life, it has the potential to be of great value.


  1. Great article Nina! I have to admit that I did feel a tinge of sadness knowing that my line of the family tree will end with me. Thankfully it did not take me long to realise that legacy is as much about your contribution to society as it is about the children you leave behind. I suppose you can even argue that it is more about ones contribution to society.

    • Yes as I said before, legacy is more about one’s contribution to society. Take the example of Florence Nightingale, who accomplished so much, yet was childless. Who is to argue that her contribution to society is less worthy because she did not have children; I suspect that no one would dare cause such upset.

  2. HoldenCWannabe says

    What if your legacy is one that you don’t want to leave, because you feel like you’d be judged for it?

    • Hi Holden C, I hope you are well. A legacy is whatever you want it to be. Helping out in your local community is one of the things you will be remembered for one day. Anything to do with service to others is a legacy. It doesn’t have to be big. Any act of kindness can be part of your legacy.

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