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Selfish

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.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Knowing how difficult it is to parent children, I salute you for taking a stand to be childless. Friendless…no. Childless…a free choice.

    October 7, 2013
  2. Renana #

    Dear Piper
    You are very honest and that is truly admirable.
    As I was reading your blog I was wondering what you thought about marriage?
    Wouldn’t it be easier not to get married at all? To be totally free? To come and go as one likes? To follow our own path without needing to consider another person..?
    You write about your decision not to have children and you are obviously passionate about it.
    I think that you may agree that being in a relationship has it’s challenges at times. We are forced to think of our partner and we are forced to make compromises.
    In a relationship we are confronted with our self from a different perspective. We are forced to become better people by working on our character traits – whether we need to show more compassion or be more patient and accommodating , or perhaps work on our anger or moods ..
    What truly makes us better people is the way we deal with the closest people around us, our parents our husbands and our children too.
    We must respect each other and the decisions each person makes in his or her own personal life and I truly respect your decision.
    Still, I feel that when a person gets married they are sharing themselves but gaining more by it.
    Whilst the formative years of raising children can be challenging they also bring with them many unexpected “benefits”.
    I always thought I was the most patient person .. Until I had kids and then I realised patience was something I had to work on and I Can work on and I Can become more patient when there are children demanding my attention, when it feels like my space is being overtaken for a while.
    I am really and truly not standing in judgement. I am just pointing out that whilst you write about your decision –
    Please don’t put us down – us parents who despite the many challenges we face by raising our children – we wouldn’t want it any other way.
    We want to be challenged because that’s how we grow. We want to have that interaction with our children that is sometimes intense and sometimes fun , at times calm and at times overwhelming.
    We love our children and we love all children because the children of this world are like new flowers sprouting on the hills , filling the world with pleasure and challenges. Every new soul is a new world opening up new possibilities , bringing into this world new talents.
    I believe that it is a privilege to bring a new soul down to this world. I truly believe that although having children is a “common” practice, it is truly an exceptional, wonderous and miraculous deed.
    I am sorry to hear your reasons for not having children.
    If you do not want children that is obviously your own choice, it just pains me to read the reasons for it..
    I am sure we could speak for hours and I am sure I would have a lot in common with you .. despite having four children of my own..
    I hope I didn’t offend you in any way. I hope I was able to convey my feelings in a respectful way.
    I wish you true happiness!
    Kindest regards
    Renana

    December 25, 2013
  3. Kathy #

    I have met a few parents who were brutally honest in admitting that they should have remained childless. They love their children, of course, but realized too late that they weren’t really cut out to be parents. I’d dare say most in that boat had children because it was expected of them or they were pressured to have kids because it’s what a couple does. What a sad situation to be in, for the parents and for the children.

    I applaud you for knowing what you want in life and standing up against those who think they know what’s best for you! People are not called to follow a cookie-cutter path in life!

    January 11, 2014
  4. Good for you for starting this site. I have four children. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably make the same decision. (Depending on when you asked me the question!)But I can’t say that I gave it much reasoned thought (at least for the first two). I was married. My wife wanted them. Why not? I got lucky because turns out that, for the most part, I enjoy it. Not sure why, though. I’ve got to wonder if this isn’t a trick nature plays on us. (See “The Selfish Gene.”) If you look at it, there is little rational reason to have children, at least in the modern-day world. They are expensive and much of their care is a damn grind. (See Jennifer Senior’s “All Joy and No Fun.”) Perhaps it was different 10,000 years ago – or whenever the modern human evolved. Children likely started contributing to the family unit early, and you didn’t need daycare or college! In any event, I now have a much greater appreciation for those who really think about it and decide to forgo the experience.

    April 23, 2014

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