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.

275 comments
EmilyMadison
EmilyMadison

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WilliamBrendy

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journey44
journey44

Selfish and self-focused, huh? That's really interesting because my husband & I know plenty of parents that shock us with their selfishness - kids in tow. Happily married for over 12 years. I must have the same biological clock on mute. Ironically, I could never figure out why I really didn't want kids (but pour adoration, attention & money on my several nieces and nephews) then got ill in my 30s and have serious health problems with a Doctor's command to not have children. Selfish, huh? Among all our siblings who have children, my husband and I: Live the most simply and humbly (although his income is one of the highest), give more to charity, volunteer more, have more sponsor children, mind our business and don't meddle in other's affairs, aren't bankrupt (50% of our siblings are), don't try to put on 'a show' (all the others but 1 do), treat and spend $$ on our neices/nephews to help out and alleviate the expenses for siblings (including medical ones), are adored by our neices and nephews and are the favourites who play with them while their parents sit and play on their cell phones, are affair-free (not to be said for all the siblings with kids), are deeply in love and best friends (see previous comment)....yes, us childless couples are certainly selfish. And as for the supposed higher divorce rate: out of the 20 couples I can name immediately who are divorced, only 1 was child-free. Wow people are delusional.

Jim_Reality
Jim_Reality

I think "selfish" is the wrong word, but "self focused" is correct.  As the author says she prefers being able to jet off to Peru to pursue her own interests, and this is more important to her than caring for the needs of an infant.  As long as you are happy, go for it.  For me I've lived in 10 countries, traveled, and done crazy stuff until my late 30s.  Now I have kids, travel little, and spend days changing diapers and  playing dress up with a 5-year old.  I adore them, and would never go back.   I done enough living for myself at this point, and am looking forward to helping these kids find their own way.

DrocellKainz
DrocellKainz

It's the people who have children that are selfish. This world is overpopulated as we know it and they are just contributing to it more because they want to have cute little babies that they will disregard when they grow older and less cute--and their children are thus born into a society in which they may suffer while growing up. Childfree people, however, do not choose to contribute to overpopulation or exposing a future life to possible suffering. The tables have turned!

JennWhitfordPalumbo
JennWhitfordPalumbo

Better not to have a child than to have one only to hire a nanny to raise him/her.  There are people out there who only have children for show. Ask them about their childs achievements and they will tell you. Ask them about their childs favorite color, musician, food.......they are clueless.

TC357
TC357

One word.......OVERPOPULATION!!!!!! The majority of the worlds problems stem from overpopulation. Not enough food, not enough work, pollution, global warming, etc...the list goes on. Back when mankind was close to being extinct then it made sense to procreate. We are very far from extinction. So it is alright for some people to not have kids. Besides, not everyone should have kids. If you don't want them you will just be miserable and so will the kid/s. I would rather be happy chile free than a miserable parent!!!

Ericawhat
Ericawhat

I don't think people who choose not to have children are selfish, I think they're scared.  In my experience there is always some superficial reason as to why they don't want to have kids.  There's always a deeper reason, and it's 100% based on fear.

Eric_P_VG
Eric_P_VG

As a guy, I don't want kids either. If I'm selfish, so be it. There are worse things to be- I could be an axe murderer, for example. But I have my reasons why I never want kids:

1. It's cheaper not to. I'd rather travel and see the world than raise kids. It's my chance to do some good in the world.

2. What I want to do with my life (win an Academy Award) means that kids wouldn't be a priority. 

3. There are already seven billion people in the world anyway. Why do we need more? 

4. I have a history of depression and mental disorder in my family, so that would be too much to put on a child. Perhaps it's a good thing that my defective genes will die with me.

ElyseLusk
ElyseLusk

My husband I want a child but owning a home takes everything we have. We bring our lunches dont go out no car payment but our house is a major fixer upper so we have a huge loan and we found out that we haft to replace the whole roof and we only make 350 a week each so a baby just isnt in the budget and we only have 1 cell and live very close to our jobs. The only way we could have a child is if my parents were willing to baby sit or if 1 of us got prompted which we are trying to do since our parents made it very clear that they won't babysit unless an emergency. Sometimes we feel left out because most people we know live at their parents rent or make more money to do both and they have a family go on nice vacations drive nice cars . People often put us down because we dont have children and go out all the time. Sometimes I regret owning a home because if we lived with our parents we could do all those wonderful things like have a child. Or even if we had supportive parents like everyone else seems to have thats in our shoes that would help us out a lot. Right now we are trusting in god and trying to move up in our no s

jodie
jodie

well this page won't let me post my list of about 50 childless heroines

, so just look up lists of childless women on the internet... so many interesting women who didn't have kids.. its time people dropped this last prejudice against childless women.. it says more about them , than about us free thinkers!

jodie
jodie

 this article and the responses are so interesting to read!

I am a 49 year old woman, married for 14 years to my husband and was also previously with another guy for 10 years before that.

I decided not to have kids for about 10 reasons.

I won't list them all here, but they are well-thought out reasons; both intellectual and emotional.

I sometimes cannot believe that it is 2014 and there are still people out there, men (and i have to say, mostly child-bearing women) who think they have a right to comment or criticize women who don't have kids!

It is a joke!

I do sense other people's reactions sometimes when i say i don't have kids.... they range from being curious or nosy at best, to pitying me or looking at me like i'm some evil, child-hating freak..

I even had a good friend who'd just had 2 kids talk to me like i was some kind of child hater when i said we liked to eat dinner late in the evening, not at kiddy dinner-time lol

Good thing is about all this, i just don't care...

I don't get confrontational but, what i can't stand is women who have kids who think they are superior to women like me that don't ..they are so irritating..if someone rude asks you why not say its a lifestyle choice isn't it? or something to wind them up....

So just for anyone who feels that women without kids are selfish, what would you say about all these women in my list who didn't have kids? selfish? No!  More like female childless icons that will never be forgotten...

I'd rather spend time with them than talk about the price of nappies and how many hours sleep you didn't get last nite..yawn...

AprilMesnard
AprilMesnard

I found out about 5 years ago that I have fertility issues. The ways of society..."getting married, buying a house, and having kids" I felt pressured to procreate. I tried fertility pills with no luck. It was an agonizing and stressful few years going to doctors, getting ultrasounds to see what was going on with me. I felt like I was letting people down...my family, his family, my husband. But then I talked to my husband about maybe adopting. He had no interest in that. He said to just see what happens if I get pregnant I get pregnant. He said he was happy with just me. When I decided to get off the fertility pills I decided to let God handle this. However, now that we are not trying I feel so much happier. Less stress. And sometimes I feel like I don't even want kids! And you know that isn't being selfish. Its being real. I have come to the conclusion that just because I am a woman I don't have to be a mother. So what I don't fit into the stereotypical ways of society. I enjoy the time I have with my husband. We have a special kind of closeness that now I would worry kids would interrupt. People are quick to judge and they might think they know what is best for others. But only you know your own heart, your wants, needs. Also having kids doesn't make you any better or worse than anyone else. It is simply a lifestyle choice. God has opened my eyes a lot during this 5 year journey. The lesson I learned was to truly enjoy what I already have. If I don't have it, then I must not need it.

jbats777
jbats777

I don't want children either but more concerned that you are writing for an outlet of prestige and do not have health insurance, lest regular dental cleanings.

Fairytellmetrue
Fairytellmetrue

My rescued animals are my babies and I don't have to put them through college.

gdess82
gdess82

I find when people get obnoxious and rude about the fact that I don't want a kid, "Well, I see parents as a lower class" works. 

MaryTheGeek
MaryTheGeek

I agree 100% with this article and am so glad I found it.  I am 42 years-old, am divorced, and have no desire to have children (nor really to get married again).  I am a very happy person, have plenty of time to spend with my close family and friends, and honestly, at the end of the day, our goal in life is to be happy, right?  In addition, I know plenty of people who have children but who are completely miserable.  One of my co-workers is only 32 years-old and has 4 children.  He makes a very decent living, but with 4 children now (and a stay-at-home wife), he simply cannot make ends meet.  He has had to take a 2nd job as a newspaper carrier, and as a result, he gets virtually no sleep.  He's constantly tired, never has any money (not even the $5 on Fridays for our team lunch), and in all honesty, seems completely miserable.  I would never, ever trade places with him for the world.  Why have children when it only turns your life into a hell-on-earth?

Christy'Weathers'Overall
Christy'Weathers'Overall

Creating a child with another human and then spending the rest of your days a slave to your own handiwork...I think that's selfish. In fact, I think that's its own form of idolatry. Hungry children in the world? Orphans? The elderly? The ill? Those already in existence need your undivided attention and the childless are sometimes the only ones with the time/freedom to do so.

a.kulich
a.kulich

Carolina, It's very simple. In fact you live for yourself. Artist, writer, etc? It's good for nothing. In 70 years from now you are just a grave stone and your husband as well. All childless men and women are nameless gravestones leaving nothing after them. Books for no one to read, paintings for no one to see. No children, no life. That's why you are selfish. And not a good writer. 

Maximus7
Maximus7

It is interesting that some individuals advocating child bearing, put forward the points that their roadmap to life is unselfish and that the evolutionary need to pass on their genes is necessary and natural. Living in an increasingly manufactured world, terms such as "natural" and "unselfish"present an interesting dichotomy. One doesn't need to look far to realise that we are approaching a fairly critical stage in terms of resources at all levels from healthcare to energy. We may have deep rooted instincts to reproduce, just as we have instincts to fight, protect, even kill; we are animals after all. However the human gift of self awareness has provided us with the introspective capability to question these instincts and exercise judgement and restraint, based on knowledge, education and understanding. 


Whilst I am proud to be an uncle, personally I will choose not to bring a child into this man-made chaos. Natural to me does not comprise of two parents working full-time to afford a lifestyle that one working parent could provide 30 years ago. Factor in the cost of childcare, education and lack of quality time available by working parents to be invested in these young minds and it personally does not paint an attractive portrait. After removing instincts and societal norms from the equation, one has to individually question what is right for them and more importantly whether there are more effective ways they can contribute their time and energy to society. 

LouisPFreely
LouisPFreely

What's the point of getting married if you're not gonna have a family if you're a man? What a waste. If I don't want kids, i'd rather stay single and bounce around from girl to girl. Men in these relationships must be chumps.

piratessfas
piratessfas

Why do you assume selfishness is a character flaw? It is not. Ayn Rand never had children...just "intellectual heirs" ;)!

jonhansenj
jonhansenj

Why is this all about women, men are childless to a much larger extent.

CeriannLightAngelParkhouse
CeriannLightAngelParkhouse

I understand all of this, my bfs mother tries the kid topic... I don't want kids. LOLS. NOTHINg wrong with that. my choice my feelings end of. if she wants a kid, she can go find one lols.

MezzRhetta
MezzRhetta

@journey44 yeah it is sad how people try to compare or assume what or who you are by rather or not you have kids or married. I hate this ever so much. Why do I have to be selfish when I buy your kids toys because you can not afford to? Why do I have to be selfish when I give your kid attention and affection when you are too busy or would rather do other things? Why do I have to be selfish when I be bothered with your kids by choice although I do not have kids of my own? Why do I have to be selfish when you should be selfless it your kids not mine???

AlexandraGrey
AlexandraGrey

@Ericawhat How about I just don't want kids, and though you may not understand it, you have no right to tell me what to do with my ovaries? Not all of us were born to be brood mares, thank you.

gadgetgalct
gadgetgalct

@Ericawhat

I too find your comments entirely offensive.  I have a colossal fear of heights.  I jumped out of a plane anyway.  I'm pretty sure fear has nothing to do with me not wanting kids. I don't want kids because I don't like kids.  At all.  I have pets; they are my kids.  They can eat, groom, sleep, and defecate with little assistance.  They love me; I love them.  It's a perfect arrangement. I have PLENTY of free time to spend with family and friends, on my career, my PhD, and my MANY fun hobbies without the distraction of a needy child.  What's wrong with that?

laurah8849
laurah8849

@Ericawhat You are totally clueless.  I'm not afraid of kids I just don't like them.  People who have kids are the ones who are afraid.  Afraid of not having someone to take care of them when they are old, or of being the only one of their friends to be with out kids. 

Boomz4
Boomz4

@Ericawhat  Wow - I find that incredibly offensive. I am 28, I do not want kids, I have never wanted kids and I don't envision myself ever wanting kids. I'm not scared - just not interested. As for why it's always "superficial reasons" we give when asked? It's because we don't know why, and you're forcing us to answer a question we don't know the answer to, you are putting us on the defensive and making us defend our decision.. so we give whatever answers we can think of. 


What I've never understood is why people think it's ok to ask someone to defend their choice not to have kids, but never think to ask someone to defend their choice TO have kids. When I've asked people why they had kids, the answer is always the same - "because I always wanted to be a mother/father". Why do we accept that answer as is without prodding them for "better" more concrete answers, but when a person is asked why they don't want kids and answers with "because I've never wanted kids" instead of just accepting that answer, they are badgered for further explanations?


If you ask an architect why they wanted to be an architect, any answer they give can be considered superficial - because I like buildings, because i find it interesting, because the pay is good, because I thought I'd be good at it - but really, it boils down to one thing: it's just what they wanted to do. The myriad reasons given are just some of the things that they found attractive about that choice. The same goes for peoples' given reasons for wanting or not wanting kids. 


I think that people who are offended by those who choose not to have children are insecure about their choice to have them. I think that they need to invalidate the alternative decision to validate the one they made. My choice to have or to not have kids does not reflect on your choices, so stop acting like it does. Stop telling yourself and others that people who don't want kids are selfish so that you can tell yourself that you are selfless. Stop telling yourself and others that people who don't want kids are superficial, so that you can tell yourself that you are grounded. It's cruel, it's disrespectful and it's completely unnecessary. 

kris5972
kris5972

@Ericawhat  I don't think people who choose not to run a business are selfish, I think they're scared. In my experience there is always some superficial reason as to why they don't want to run a business. There's always a deeper reason, and it's 100% based on fear.


Or maybe some people just aren't interested? Know they wouldn't make good parents? Have genetic problems they don't want to pass on? Can't afford it? Don't have the time? Have other goals in life? Literally hate kids? Only like to be around kids for a short period of time?


Don't assume you know what's going on in other peoples' heads. If you are a good parent and are happy to have kids, that's awesome! I am truly happy that you are living the life you want. We need more *good* parents in this world. But people that do not want to have kids usually don't make very good parents. Why put that burden on those people and make those kids have to live with unhappy parents?

ElyseLusk
ElyseLusk

I meant one of us trying to get promoted not prompted and a baby sitter is not in our budget sorry typo again on my phone

ElyseLusk
ElyseLusk

My husband and I want kids but we only make 350 each a week and sacrifice already a babysitter is just not in our budget right now. Our parents will not help babysit and our house is a major fixer upper

If our parents were willing to babysit we could have a child. Sometimes we feel left out because a lot of people we know live w their parents or rent and they have kids new cars and get to gonna on nice vacations and we can't go out and do anything most of the time. People often put us down because we can only afford a house and not a child sometimes I wish we loved w our parents or rented instead than we could have a child

laurah8849
laurah8849

@Christy'Weathers'Overall   I love that "idolatry".  Really people just want a carbon copy of themselves to hear others say what an attractive child they have.  I hate the obligation to say someone's kid is attractive when they show you a pic. It's like they are fishing for a compliment for themselves. That's selfish.

journey44
journey44

@a.kulich So what do you say to the people I know who outlived their children? Apart from the fact that I can't even tell you my great-grandparents name - we're all forgotten eventually honey. 7 billion people in the world - name 100,000 of them... That's a selfish reason for having children if I ever heard one!

msthang
msthang

@a.kulich  You're wrong.  Childless people have families, too.  I have an aunt who is childless not by choice.  Do you not think she will live on through me?  Through my nieces and nephews?  In the end we are all going to die and guess what?  If you're not Oprah or somebody famous you will be forgotten anyway, and in time so will Oprah.  So what you're saying is just dumb.

amandakstroud
amandakstroud

@a.kulich  I'm actually okay with that. People live, people die. It is the natural order of things. I do some good here and now, and that is fine. The fact that someone wants to have a child in order to leave something of themselves behind--that actually seems kind of narcissistic. I don't care if I'm gone, and my genetic code isn't carried on. I'm not that damn special, and neither are you. 

Eric_P_VG
Eric_P_VG

@a.kulich I'm never having kids either. I'm an actor. I want to win an Oscar one day. I'd rather focus on that than being a father. Audiences are my children. The books and the paintings are for them. Katharine Hepburn never had children; do you think she's been forgotten?

mlbe
mlbe

@a.kulich  That is bs. Having children doesn't necessarily mean you or your gentics are a gift to society either. There are a number of ways to contribute to society and leave it a better place when your time is up. Only giving your time, energy, and resources to only those who share your genes is kind of selfish in its own way as it is fairly biased and limited in scope. Childless people have more time and energy in giving to a wide variety of people and making a profound difference in peoples lives and future generations. I am not saying one life choice is better than the other...but can be equal in altruism and selfishness albeit in different ways. 

kris5972
kris5972

@a.kulich  That's why if you really want to be remembered for all eternity when you die, you have to make a name for yourself. Don't make it the responsibility of your children, who may or may not even care about you in the end. Do you remember the names of any of Einstein's children? No, I highly doubt you do. But I'm sure you can name some of his accomplishments. In 70 years, you will also just be a gravestone. Go accomplish something other than increasing overpopulation.

friendlychick111
friendlychick111

You obviously didn't read the part about her choosing to share her life differently with the people she cares about. Just because someone does not have a child it does not mean that she cannot impact the people around her and leave a legacy. It is sad that you are so close minded and hateful with your words. May you come to terms with your personal decisions and what ever bitterness you feel doesn't rot you completely.

gdess82
gdess82

@a.kulich 70 years from now, you are a nameless, faceless gravestone as well. You're just too delusional to realize it. 

Christy'Weathers'Overall
Christy'Weathers'Overall

@a.kulich Oh, yes, Jane Austen left no books for anyone to read. In fact, I've never heard of her. Oh, and Jesus, don't forget Jesus. Sooooo selfish. And MOTHER TERESA, what did she know, right?!

Marie-EveLandry
Marie-EveLandry

Having children to "leave something after you're gone" sounds pretty selfish to me.

laurah8849
laurah8849

@LouisPFreely Actually most guys want to be a dad because being a dad is great, all of the perks with none of the work.  Being a mom sucks.

Boomz4
Boomz4

@LouisPFreely  Couldn't possibly be because they love their partner and want to spend their lives with them....

msthang
msthang

@jonhansenj  Because most societies only value women for their reproductive function.  Men are valued for what the do.

Boomz4
Boomz4

@jonhansenj  Because the point of the article was that childless women are often judged and criticized for not having children. Sure, childless men might be judged and criticized a bit, but it's nothing like the contempt and disgust thrown at childless women.

Eric_P_VG
Eric_P_VG

@jonhansenj I'm a man, and I'm never having kids. That's probably the thing I will never be flexible on.

AprilMesnard
AprilMesnard

@glitterngold@LouisPFreely Glad I found a man who loved me, because he didn't bail when I found out I had fertility issues. There are really good guys out there who could care less about having kids and enjoy having found a life partner. My husband is far from being a chump. He is a good man and I thank God for him every day. Really its all about lifestyle preferences. To each their own I suppose. :)