There was a report earlier this summer, which claimed that, for parents, personal happiness and satisfaction levels tend to drop once children arrive upon the scene. Now anyone consciously, and abidingly, heading into the realm of parenthood knows the job of parent is both psychologically intensive, as well as labor intensive. So it comes as little surprise, to some of us, that for many parents (not all), the rigors of parenting would lead to a drop off in a sense of independence and personal satisfaction (MSN Money calculated that if a mother were compensated for all of the elements of the job of parenting, the salary would be around $138,000 annually – sadly this set wage is not written into the parenting contract). And grab any parent off the street, and ask them about their children, and you will either get a flood of unmitigated praise, or a litany of complaints (likely a bit of both).
So is having a child a selfish act? Sure, some would argue that the initial desire to have children (whether biologically or by adoption) is almost entirely self-serving (in concept), whereas the reality of caring for a child calls for a more selfless disposition. A recent post I had written about IVF had garnered a lot of emotional and emphatic responses about the lengths to which some hopeful parents will go to have biological children of their own; as many readers say the expensive IVF procedure as a waste of resources when there are perfectly good children to adopt (there are canyon-sized holes in this argument that I will address in a coming post). The adoption argument comes from a very real concern that each human leaves a sizable imprint on the planet (some more significant than others) and there just isn’t enough room and resources left to accommodate the growing population, or planet for that matter. And there exist a very vocal minority who strongly believe that procreation is a scourge upon the planet, and they will do whatever they can not to add to the population count.
Back in 1992 Professor of Psychology Jeffery S. Nevid Ph.D and fellow psychologist Spencer A. Rathus interviewed hundreds of couples as to what their reasons were for having, or not having children. Their report revealed that couples with children had 9 common answers for their decision, and that couples without children had 13 common answers for their decision. Here are the reasons for both approaches:
Nine common reasons for having children:
1. Personal experience – to have the experience of being a parent
2. Personal pleasure – the fun and joy of raising children
3. Personal extension – carrying on the genetic heritage or family name
4. Relationship – the close bond which is shared with children
5. Personal status – culture affords some respect just for being a parent
6. Personal competence – gratification from facing the challenge of parenting
7. Personal responsibility – the opportunity to look out for the welfare and education of another
8. Personal power – some find the power they have over children gratifying
9. Moral worth – some feel it is a good and selfless act to put the life of another first, or that it is a moral obligation to have children
Thirteen common reasons for not having children:
1. Time together – more time each other and for other interests
2. Freedom – more opportunity to pursue other areas of life
3. Other children – can enjoy other children, and can help children who are already here through foster parenting or charity work with children
4. Dual careers – both people may pursue careers full time, a person (woman) does not have to quit, and a child is not raised by day care
5. Financial security – more money to pursue other interests
6. Community welfare – greater opportunity to get involved in community organizations
7. Difficulty – parenthood is a demanding and difficult job which is not always enjoyable
8. Strain on environmental resources – the world is already overpopulated and is unable to support the people who are already here
9. Increase in overpopulation – having children geometrically increases this problem and all of the problems that come with it
10. Choice not mandate – parenthood has to be a choice, not everyone is meant to be a parent
11. Irrevocable decision – once the decision is made it cannot be changed, so people must be sure it is what they want
12. Failure – some people had unhappy or abusive childhoods and fear that they would not be a good parent
13. Danger – the world is a dangerous place and it is not right to bring a child into it
While this study from two decades ago is hardly the last word on the debate, it apparently reveals that all nine reasons listed were rooted in self-interest (selfish might be too severe a term), as they seem to illustrate what the parent will gain from the experience of parenting. Whereas a much smaller percentage of the answers given for not having children were rooted in self-interest, with a near majority of the reasons being rooted in altruistic concerns, environmental concerns, and ultimately quality of life concerns for the unrealized child.
That said, isn’t it our obligation to give birth, effectively parent and guide children to perpetuate (and hopefully improve upon) our society and culture? Or does wanting more children when things are already at peak insanity make you essentially and effectively selfish? Does it really boil down to deciding between the planet and the children?