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Parenting: Is it Selfish to Want to Have Children?

Parenting: Is it Selfish to Want to Have Children?

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?

Read more: Babies, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, Pregnancy, ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

100 comments

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7:00AM PDT on Jun 6, 2013

Barbara E: Children are a blessing IF you want them.

6:57AM PDT on Jun 6, 2013

Jane, my lie was not incomplete before I had my daughter. It had its ups and downs but it was a good life overall.
My daughter did not comlete my life, she jsut changed it. Life with her has had its ups and downs, but it has been a good life overall.
Had I never had her, I would have been just as happy as I am after having had and raised her.

1:31PM PDT on Apr 28, 2013

It's selfish to want to have children in order to get handouts from the government and sit on your dead ass all day!

9:55PM PDT on Jun 23, 2011

yeah, selfish happiness drops in favor of genuine meaning. If an experience happens to you in your life especially the purposeful or accidental creation of a new human being there is nothing but perfection there

11:27PM PST on Dec 8, 2010

there are plenty of people out there who shouldn't have children, you either are not or choose not to be the type of people that should be responsible for children. unfortunately most of those people have children, lots of them.

I worry that if all the well educated, socially / environmentally conscience people choose not to have children for ____ reasons that only the ones who shouldn't be having them will in turn have ill equipped children who have children and where what will the world be left with then? Who will be left to care for things? what kind of state will the world be in there?

I choose to have children to raise them to be good adults. I will also adopt later on if things go according to plan to make room for a child/ren that is already here and needs a home. and after that I will foster.

Try to leave this world with adults who are prepared to take care fo it, and the people in it.

5:58PM PST on Dec 3, 2010

this article speaks to me, my boyfriend thinks that having children is extremely selfish and I do not. I love children and would someday possibly like to have one of my own. I don't see responsible child rearing a strain on the environment, having 3-10 children definitely I don't understand people who want to put that kind of strain on themselves or the environment, however they probably don't see having kids as an environmental issue.

2:14PM PST on Nov 17, 2010

The selfish argument is a moot point: both sides can argue selfish on the other side. I am another CF individual whose kid has four legs, lots of hair, and doesn't speak English very well. Of course, I also agree that there are too many humans on this planet, that I'd prefer to make my mate my priority (I'm not interested in a mate as sperm and my ATM), and the majority of the other no-kid reasons.

In regards to the argument of my "species dying out," I won't be here to give a darn, but it'd be nice if Mother Earth didn't consider us humans a virus, which seems like our current profession.

8:22AM PDT on Nov 5, 2010

Life is incomplete without children

3:39PM PDT on Nov 4, 2010

Some people should not be parents ...and some should.
Sadly often they don't know which they are.

4:02AM PDT on Nov 4, 2010

If you don't want children fine, don't have any. If you do want children have as many as you can care for if that's what you want. it should be a personal decision.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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