I have caught a lot of crap over the years for choosing not to have kids.
Some reactions are patronizing — “oh, you’ll change your mind.” Some are consoling, as though I must regret my choice — “you still have time.” The response that surprised me most, though, first came from a co-worker I did not know well. “That is so selfish!” She actually yelled it.
I was too stunned to respond — I had only recently started telling people that I had chosen not to have children and was not yet accustomed to being insulted to my face.
These days, I like to answer, “Do you really want selfish people having kids?”
When people tell me that not having kids is selfish, they mean it in a negative way — I think of it as “bad-selfish.” It is bad-selfish to harm others to get my own way. My decision not to reproduce hurts no one — certainly not my hypothetical imaginary children who don’t exist — so it isn’t bad-selfish.
Having children without wanting them, however, would be bad-selfish. It would curse the innocent kids with a resentful mother. People often say “you’ll love them once they’re here.” That may well be. But what if I didn’t? And even if I did love them, I might remain uninterested in doing the work of parenting.
Choosing not to have children is selfish, but in a good way – good-selfish. I did it to make my life better without hurting anyone. As author Anita Brookner said, “You have no idea…how much healthier your decisions are once they become entirely selfish.” Every issue of O Magazine says the same thing in a lot more words. Know what you want, realize your dreams, love yourself, follow your own drummer, and so on.
People troubled by my choice try to appeal to my self-interest by wondering aloud what will become of me in my dotage. Without children, who will take care of me?
Making babies to have an insurance policy years later would be blatantly bad-selfish. If the kids don’t have the money to quit their jobs and be full-time caretakers when mom needs them, or if they live far away or just don’t get along with her, she will be bitter and they will be guilt-stricken. Why do that to everyone?
Raising children can be good-selfish. Parents who strive to raise individuals who are content and have integrity, parents who respect their kids’ choices and don’t pressure them to follow in their own footsteps, do a great service both to their kids and to everyone who will know them.
My choice not to have children is mine, just as the children would be if I had them, but it seems to bother some people that I didn’t follow the same path they did. Perhaps some consider it a challenge to their own decisions. If they do, they ought to work on not comparing themselves to others or thinking that everything is about them. A subscription to O Magazine might help.