Childfree Adults Are Not “Selfish”

In choosing not to have children, we have not abdicated obligations to friends and family.

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Let’s start with the facts: I’m 41. I’ve been happily married for 16 years. My reproductive organs are in good working order. Yet, I don’t have children — nor do I want them. And my intention is to keep things that way.

This should not seem that radical. But 52 years after the advent of the birth control pill, and more than a century after the word “feminism” was first coined, a woman’s decision not to have children remains fraught. It is also very public, relentlessly scrutinized by psychologists, politicians, statisticians and the media, who gather to discuss what it may mean — for women, for the funding of Social Security, for Western civilization as we know it. This past winter, a pair of Newsweek writers — of the dude persuasion — went on a gloom-and-tirade about declining birth rates and the self-involved young adults that are causing them. The Daily Mirror in the U.K. recently ran a story titled, “Women are not freaks just because they don’t want children.

(POLLWhat Do You Think of the Childfree Life?)

My big beef in all of this has to do with the ways in which women in these cases have been characterized. Not having children is often described as “selfish.” (It’s right in the first paragraph of that Newsweek story.) And the word comes up repeatedly in articles of this nature — often from women themselves. Comb through the newspaper features and you’ll find the inevitable quote by some career-minded thirtysomething saying something like, Omigod no, I’m way too selfish. Even women who might know better perpetuate the idea, such novelist Lionel Shriver, who in 2005 penned an essay titled “No kids please, we’re selfish.” The piece is problematic in other ways, too. Shriver and her friends are concerned that not having babies may signify the extinction of their European lineages. (They shouldn’t fret. Europeans spent the Age of Enlightenment spreading their seed around the planet. Their legacy will live on.)

The idea that women don’t have babies because they are “selfish” is not only reductive, in so many cases, it is simply incorrect. My husband and I chose not to have children for myriad reasons. I’d say selfishness is not among them. First and foremost, neither of us was ever keen on the kid thing. I’ve never felt a desire to get pregnant or give birth. If I have a biological clock, it’s on mute. As for my husband: I once asked him to hold a six-month-old that had been left in our care. He held the infant in the same awkward way that one holds a clutch of deadly mold spores.

Just as significant is the issue of lifestyle. I am a writer. My husband is an artist. We live paycheck to paycheck and go long spells without health insurance and dental cleanings. Our schedules are beyond erratic. I often write on weekends. My husband has had jobs that require regular night shifts. And there’s the issue of travel. Last year, we trotted off to Peru for several weeks when my husband was asked to do a series of installations at an old Inca sun temple. The year before that, I spent five weeks in Costa Rica on assignment for a guidebook company. For me, there is no greater joy than slipping on a pair of rubber boots and going to meet an encampment of gold miners in the middle of a rainforest. For my husband, bliss is sitting at a drafting table, surrounded by paint, razor blades and paint sticks. These are the things we love to do. And while we could have found some way to squeeze children into this complicated equation, neither of us was very interested in doing so — just like neither of us is very interested in watching major league baseball or the Lifetime network.

(MORE: Life Without Kids)

Yet, over the course of our marriage, we’ve been peppered with the kid question — from distant uncles, hair dressers, bartenders, bosses, the postman and even the neighbor lady: Don’t you have kids? When are you going to have kids? Early on, I learned that the worst thing I could do was to give an honest answer. Saying “I don’t want kids” simply set me up as a challenge to be surmounted. I’ve spent BBQs and cocktail parties fending off some inquisitor who made it their mission to convince me to reproduce. In my twenties, I got around this by telling people that I simply wasn’t ready to have a baby. But now that I’m in my 40s, I can’t use that excuse — and so the entreaties cascade in. It’s now or never. You’re not getting any younger. Aren’t you afraid you’ll regret the decision? That’s kind of selfish, don’t you think? Needless to say, the questions are generally directed at me — not at my husband.

In so much of what is reported, childless adults are often depicted as slavishly self-involved: people who sacrifice communal bonds in order to hole up with box wine and re-runs of the Walking Dead. In our case, it couldn’t be farther from the reality. In choosing not to have children, we have not abdicated obligations to friends and family. When my father developed brain cancer, I took him to treatment almost every day for eight weeks. When my mother-in-law had an aneurysm, my husband took off to help care her for her. In the coming years, I will watch nieces grow up and keep a close eye on friends who might feel depressed. I will spend a great deal of time with people I care for deeply.

My decision not to have children was never made out of some desire to keep my life out of the hands of others. If anything, I have simply chosen to share my life in a different way. Sure, I may one day regret this decision. I may also regret a heap of other things. Not spending more time with my father. Being a jerk to a good friend. Eating too much pizza. But perhaps a bigger regret would consist of being strong-armed into having a baby I simply never wanted.

To read the full TIME cover story “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children,” subscribe here. Already a subscriber? Click here.

329 comments
Galwaygirl1
Galwaygirl1

Miranda ... the "journalist" you have a typo in your article. Perhaps you need a better proofreader. I picked it up immediately

Galwaygirl1
Galwaygirl1

Miranda - the "journalist" you have a typo. I noticed immediately. Perhaps you could use a better proof reader

aaron1208
aaron1208

I can't stand when people say this to me! I'm a 35 year old and have found most parents have some amount of misery as a result of being parents. Why would I want to do that to myself? I learned long ago that I can do most anything I want if I don't have children. What IS selfish are those who have kids and care for them and/or make the tax payers do it. I get taxed very highly because I am unmarried and don't have kids. That is what's selfish to me. 

kgjsch
kgjsch

Thank you very much for this wonderful article Ms. Miranda! I am 26 and I made the decision not to have children when I was 13-14. People said I was too young to make the decision and I would change my mind when I'm in my 20s. Well, now I'm starting to approach 30 and I still don't want children.


Women who don't want children get a lot of crap for it because people still have the belief that women "naturally" want children. Yet, many baby boomer women did not have children and are happy with it, including my aunt.


I am probably repeating what has already been said, but with overpopulation, the more people who choose not to reproduce or at least choose to limit it to one or two kids the better. I've been told I should have one kid just to "replace" myself, nevermind that with the world population possibly hitting 11 billion in the future there will be plenty of people to replace me. It is also better not to create more Western consumers because we use more resources. 


And since when does having children make you a good person? My cousin has five kids with four different fathers because she thinks "if we have a baby together, he'll stay." Her latest man did stay but he cheats on her and she hates his guts. She fawns over her kids when they are little and then ignores them when they grow up and aren't "cute" anymore. (Her mom and dad did the same thing.) Now she and some of my other cousins with children they can't afford act all superior to me because they're "real adults" for reproducing and I'm not a "real adult" because I'm a lesbian and I don't want children. Kind of sad that they use their children as objects in a pissing contest that I don't care about.


I really haven't heard any arguments in favor of me having children that weren't misogynistic (women naturally want to reproduce and you are going against nature), racist (you are white and should find a white guy to have kids with so the minorities won't outnumber us in 2050), or lesbian-hating (you just need the right man/the right semen in your life so you will be a proper het woman who reproduces).


Also, I found a good argument is that when someone says that you are "selfish" for not reproducing, sarcastically tell them that you will have a child if they are willing to pay for at least half the costs of raising it, and do at least half the housework since they seem so invested in it. Much backpedaling will occur.

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MiaDonativo
MiaDonativo

IMO people who call childless people selfish are probably wishing they didn't have the cost and hardships that go along with raising children. 

I can't have kids but if I could I certainly wouldn't be mad at people who don't want any. Good for them for making a wise decision and for using birth control.

I have actually had people tell me I am lucky I can't have kids because they cost a lot of money and are a lot of work etc. (which they are duh). If you are struggling with one child and choose to have a 2nd and 3rd I can't help you. Children are a choice and a gift. Nobody forces us to have them (unless you were raped of course).

I hate hearing parents complain about their lives as if the children were a cancer placed upon them. Thankfully not all are like that.

Shaunmbax
Shaunmbax

@MiaDonativo Exactly!  They want everyone to suffer along with them but they would never admit it!  They're animals, those people.  Woe to anyone who called me selfish for not having kids.  They wouldn't come away with teeth in their heads.  Probably wouldn't come away with their bones in tact either.

kgjsch
kgjsch

@Shaunmbax @MiaDonativo 

I agree! I think some of my cousins who had children they can't afford at a young age are jealous of me. They can become borderline psychotic about it. "Why don't you want a baby? Everyone wants a baby!" Actually the same thing happens with strangers and causal acquaintances. Instead of reproducing in my late teens/early 20s I decided to go to school. I might be poor right now, but my degree choice does have a lot of good career opportunities.My cousins could have done the same thing as me, or at least put off kids until they were older, but they didn't.

quatra1001
quatra1001

I had my vasectomy in 1983.  After 3 visits with my family physician at 23 because then I was convinced that 4 billion people were enough and the Earth didn't need me to put more strain on it.

In the meantime I've adopted 2 children, from people who wanted to f--ck and didin't want to take the necessary consequences. Like rats or dogs in heat.

I gave them a good life, education (both have graduated).

I think it's a much better option.



Stormageddon
Stormageddon

Our planet is soooo over populated we should be talking about a one child policy. People pop out 2, 3, 4 or more kids per household (or what about that TLC show with that couple who has a whopping 19 kids. Seriously. No one needs that many kids) and eventually we're not going to have enough room on the planet for everyone. Deciding to NOT have kids is the LEAST selfish thing you can do at this point. In fact, by deciding not to have kids you have made space for someone else's kids. Who is selfish now?

And why is anyone spouting off at the mouth about not enough babies?! Regardless of what country you live in, we as a PLANET are over populated. Boo-hoo if you precious race dies out. We are all so mixed now-a-days it doesn't really matter and it also gives off a Hitler vibe.

No one has a right to even comment or question you on this topic. I tell people it's none of their business and make it clear that their two cents are not welcome and will result in them being asked to leave. If someone continues to bully you about the subject you should think about either kicking them out of your life or taking a break from them for a while (probably after discussing the reasons why would be most beneficial).

Good luck and I hope society eventually catches up with rest of us soon.

Menacia
Menacia

What I find absolutely irritating are those who will not condemn the teenager who gets pregnant, or the people who have too many kids and can't support them, but will condemn someone who makes an intelligent decision *not* to procreate!  Where is the logic?  Oh, wait, there isn't any, which is why there are too many people in this world already! 

Yvette
Yvette

@Menacia  Disagree with the ironically judgmental comment about people who choose to have kids young (there are many excellent parents who have had children particularly in their late teens; the assumption that they are all irresponsible and unmotivated [to work/study/get ahead] riles me) or large families.  It sounds as if you are trying to take the moral high ground which rather defeats your objective in claiming that people should not be doing exactly that here; whether others choose to have kids or not, full stop.


Agree that people who choose not to have kids should have their decision respected.

KatRoe
KatRoe

You are 100 percent correct. Too many have sex young when they should be focusing on college or finding a good husband/wife for a good family future. Being poor is setting your children up for a long road.

ops
ops

@Yvette People who "choose" to have kids at a young age usually don't even choose. It just happens. Reason why teenage pregnancy shouldn't ABSOLUTELY be encouraged,in ANY way - most of the times,the parents (or most likely,the mother...since many young fathers just run from their responsibilities) end up raising their kids in a dysfunctional household. The result is that these kids might end up having a lot of problems in the future. Where do you think criminals come from,uhm? They come from dysfunctional families. North America is a perfect example - especially the US.

My point is very general,and I agree that this is not always the case - there are probably some teenage mums who are very good mums,but still,your comment is just so ignorant.

Chewytowel
Chewytowel

If I am supposed to have kids as a man, can I also neglect and abuse them as I see fit?  You know since I don't really want nor can really afford them.  Not to mention that people and politicians whine and complain about people and their babies on welfare all the time and yet people here are saying they should just keep reproducing cause it is what we are supposed to do.  I say that because I am pretty sure if I had some they would definitely be on welfare until I got a better job and slaved away just to fit into this weird group of peopel that can't understand why anyone would not want kids and feel threatened by it.  Also the idea that society would die out if people started to more and more not reproduce is just stupid.  Obviously if the population dwindled too much we would have kids if needed regardless.  


But if you want a really serious reason, I think the smarter people realize the nihilistic cynical society we live in doesn't provide and enticing or enthralling argument for procreation.  I'd rather stay single and piss you folks off that I chose differently and selfishly like you say then adhere to your views just to please you and make you feel a little more comfortable with your choices.


Anyway, I know this post is over 1 year old or so, but figured I'd spew my so called insane opinion against those who think I must reproduce. 

jfreyah
jfreyah

This is all wonderful and I support it very much. And it makes sense if you have the great fortune to have siblings and you can be an aunt or uncle.  My only sibling died when I was 21 and I have no family aside from my parents.  Now in my 30s I know that if I do not get married (or not) and have a child (or adopt one -- I am very keen on this) that I will grow old without family and the joy that can come with that... Circumstances change what we may want or feel we want.

PeterKelly
PeterKelly

" a woman’s decision not to have children remains fraught."

The second paragraph starts off assuming that men do not or can not decide to be childfree. I am one such male who has. Men have every right to control their fertility just as women do The author stereotypes men and women right at the top.

Stormageddon
Stormageddon

You are totally misinterpreting and removing from context a single sentence...

kratos1256
kratos1256

Having children is what is selfish. I do not know how anyone could claim with a straight face that not having children is selfish. People do not have children to fulfill some duty to humanity. They have children for egotistical reasons, namely starting with the reasoning of, "I want a child" or "I want children." If someone ever said to me, with regards to not having children, something like, "That's kind of selfish, isn't it," I'd just throw it right back in their face and say, "Actually, no, it is the decision by most people to have children that is what is selfish. People do not have children for altruistic reasons, they have them for reasons of ego and selfishness."

Yvette
Yvette

@kratos1256  By the same vein, people also may choose not to have children for selfish reasons.  "They are disruptive to MY career", "MY lifestyle", "they will ruin MY body", "MY sex life"/relationship, the same way someone may rule out a relationship with someone who already has a child or children.


If you are trying to claim only people who choose to have children are selfish, you are grossly misinformed.

ops
ops

@Yvette Excuse me,but this is just...pretty disgusting to read. MY career,MY lifestyle,MY body,MY relationship = MY LIFE. How can you call someone selfish for wanting to live THEIR OWN DAMN LIFE the way they want! That has nothing to do with being selfish - life doesn't last forever,and that's literally all we have until the very end of our existence. Not having children CAN'T be,in ANY WAY,a selfish decision.

Having kids can't instead be selfish,in some situations. YOU are the one being misinformed,other than having such bigoted opinions.

kgjsch
kgjsch

@ops @Yvette 

Agree with you ops. Nothing wrong with wanting to live your life the way you want and at least by not reproducing you're not contributing to overpopulation.

Plus even in an industrialized country like the United States, you can still die in childbirth or have permanent health problems as a result of the pregnancy.

Anne-MarieCamsat
Anne-MarieCamsat

I don't think that people who don't want to have kids are selfish. For me it's quite the opposite.

The world is overpopulated because some irresponsible adults have a lot of babies without even knowing if they will be able to raise them, to love them and to afford their care. They just "reproduce" sorry for the word, but it's true...

I have had three children in the 80-90 and they are doing fine, but when I see the world now I can't help thinking that maybe things could be different for me. I mean, of course I could afford having kids and they are loved loved loved, but if it was now? I just don't know, maybe I would analyse the situation more thouroughly.

The world, right now, has too many people in it, this is a fact and I think that people who think twice about having kids are smart, wise and responsible. They are, for me, the opposite of selfish. The selfish ones are those who have kids almost every year and who very often don't even care about them. They are choking the world by bringing more and more people in it as they sometimes don't even take good care of their kids. They are more than selfish no doubt about that.

I believe that these people want to have children because they need to feel "immortal" and they want to keep their " birthline" going, it IS selfish, they, without any doubt, do that for themselves, without thinking aboit the state of the world, the depletion of ressources and the economic problems. It IS selfish. Period.

JilMcIntosh
JilMcIntosh

There is nothing more ridiculous than telling me I am "selfish" because I didn't want children. It's an insult from someone who doesn't comprehend that we're all built a little differently.


Some people are born without hands, some without wisdom teeth. I was born without maternal instinct. What's more selfish: me procreating because "that's what people do," or me having children I don't want and will probably mistreat?


Everyone is selfish to some degree. Ask most people why they have children and they'll say, "I wanted them." Or what about people who have them to please their parents, or glue their marriages together, or they want so many that they can hardly keep count of all they've had? And people have the nerve to say I'M selfish?


Here's the bottom line: we're all different. There are already too many people in this world, and the human race is not going to end if I don't pop out a baby. In a weird way, I'm doing my part to save the planet. The people having three and four children? If anyone has earned the "selfish" badge, well ...

ThinkerTwinkling
ThinkerTwinkling

@JilMcIntosh A woman who does not have a strong maternal instinct could, and in most cases, would make a wonderful mother (unless she is generally detrimental to herself and anybody in her life). There are plenty of women who develop a specific psychological syndrome where they feel disconnected from their child in the months after it's born. They literally don't want it, don't want to hug it, don't want to have had it. And it's a horrible thing to experience. But they do go through it, often in silent suffering. That's just how it is. And there's a reason for it. That's what nobody seems to notice. It's the stereotype of what it is to be a mother, and the pressure of expectations imposed on you. But if you don't have that maternal instinct, and you are OK with it, and you understand it's not the ONLY prerequisite needed to be a good parent (if it's any prerequisite at all really), then you won't be obsessed with your child, you won't suffocate it either, you won't seek to do everything you never managed to do through them, you won't end up hating them for "ruining" your life, because they never will, you will not have surrendered and given them that power. If you are a responsible person by nature, you will help grow a responsible, independent individual. Just because you don't have a maternal instinct, doesn't mean you can't become your child's good friend throughout life. Now, whether or not you want to do the work is a different question. And it's so much work indeed. Here the word "laziness" and "bored with routine" comes more to mind than "selfish". Selfish is a stupid word. Everybody does everything they do out of the innate need to satisfy their ego. We're all selfish, always will be. Maybe if our society stopped having specific expectations from what a mother or father or parent should be or act like, more people who think they don't want children, would realize their is so much in it for them, and their kids, and their relationships - no book or work can teach you what you learn from the people in your life. First, it's your parents that affect you tremendously, and really govern who you become. Then your friends, then your partner or the relationships you have. And then, your children. I just think it's such a wonderful journey and learning process to give birth to a child and raise it. It's existential, practical, and intellectual knowledge you can't get from anything else (I find it odd the author compares having children to watching sports games... as if it's just another hobby or something you just do in your spare time). And it's about time women felt actually empowered by that, rather than disgusted, confused or apathetic towards it. I honestly believe your perception of parenthood is very skewed, mingled with a lot of influence from old stereotypes that few have the courage to break. So they decide - it's not for me. No, my friend. Have a child and have it your way. There's plenty of ways to have a child. Don't have a baby. That's only a stage, crucial as it might be. For some, babies are a bundle of joy. For others they are just weird. And all that is fine. But your child will one day be an intelligent person who can talk, think, achieve, live happily, suffer, learn, drive the next generation forward and simply experience all the abundance of life that you are experiencing because someone chose to have you as their child. That's the non-selfish part of having children. And while the author's article is very clear about her own point of view and her personal struggle, and her and her husband's decision in the end, I don't understand why so many comments are so negative against people who do have children, however many those may be. It's their business really. You don't want children. Fine. Don't blame it on those who do. Seems like every other comment is really full of actual hatred towards people who have children, even those comments that mention caring for other people's kids. I really don't get it. And finally, I am in a happy marriage, and I have thought about not having children a lot, I have often come close to making that decision. I realize our marriage might even suffer from having a child, because we have such a unique connection one-on-one. But you know what, if the connection is so strong, it cannot and will not be lost. It can only be enriched. And the happiest children are not those whose mothers move mountains for them, jump at their every call and neglect their husbands meanwhile (or vice versa, where the dad does that and stops seeing the woman as he saw her before the baby came), but those that see two people crazy in love all their lives. A friend once told me her parents' wedding anniversary was a far greater family holiday than her own birthday. And they live in a rural area in Europe, so no high intellectuals really. And she is the kindest, most gentle friend I have. I really don't understand why such a complicated topic as having children is discussed constantly in only black-and-white terms. There's nothing radical in deciding not to have children. The radical part is breaking the stigma of seeing it only as TheChild-VS-Me or MyChild-AND-Me relationship. It's so much more complex than just that. 

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