Opinion: Childfree People Are Not Just "Selfish"
I may change my mind, but right now, I'm like 70-80% sure I don't want to have kids in the future. Student loan debt and money issues are a factor, but even if I were making six figures, I would probably get there by working my butt off all day, every day, and have no time for the tremendous commitment of parenting. So I'm basically stuck with either being unavailable to a kid I support financially, or being physically in a kid's life with no money. Either option sucks. But even if that were not the case, I personally am not that interested in having kids. I picture my future and I think of marriage, travel, a nice condo by the lake, eating at nice restaurants with my SO, and a QUIET home I can retreat to and relax in during my time away from work. Kids are so messy, needy, and noisy that I would become psychologically unhinged entirely by them, by not having my home be my sanctuary, and I don't see how anyone does it at all. Many people have them without understanding the full toll they will take on your happiness, sex life, finances, and sanity.
But saying that I don't want to have kids (Why wouldn't I want a parasite growing inside me for 9 months that will most likely permanently disfigure my body and cause major pains, physical, and financial, on its way out the door?), I have to answer the charge of selfishness. Because as we all know, having kids makes you "selfless" and not having kids makes you "selfish" and being the latter makes you basically Hitler or something, right?
It's Selfish To Want A Genetic Replica of Yourself
I don't see what's so "unselfish" about procreating, when you're basically saying "my DNA is so damn superior to everyone else's that it MUST proliferate". Ok, they probably don't think that. But, I have to wonder why it's considered rational to have children because your ovaries are commanding you to, or because you feel obligated to continue your family, race, religion, etc.
Why don't more people who want children adopt them? Look, the human race isn't going anywhere as a whole. The main reason to have kids to "continue the species" is really just for the sake of replacing oneself and one's partner when you get older with someone who looks like you. I find that selfish too, in that it's much more noble in my opinion to work to raise someone else's kids than to insist on having your own, especially in an overcrowded planet. It's also a bit narcissistic to take pleasure in the creation of what is essentially someone like you but younger. And let's be real, when parents pick favorites, they're usually picking the one most similar to themselves. But, you know, I'm just a selfish person, for thinking you should have the capacity to love people who don't resemble yourself.
There Are Selfish Parents
Abusive and narcissistic parents are the worst kinds of people. For them, parenting is not about the kid's happiness and wellbeing, like it is for normal parents. It's about using the kid to get something the parent wants out of life, usually pushing them to do something the parent wants them to do to "relive the glory days" or to reach career heights the parent themselves wanted to reach. Pageant moms are an ugly cultural phenomenon. In Hollywood, history is full of bad moms who either pushed their children to become stars so they could live vicariously through their child's fame, or moms who severely neglected their children in pursuit of their own fame ambitions. A child is more likely to be killed or abused by their parent than by a stranger.
I'm not bringing up these examples just to be mean, and I know #NotAllParents. I'm not saying all parents are bad. But, the countless examples of shallow, narcissistic, self-absorbed, dramatic, abusive, neglectful, jealous, petty, and spiteful parents really put a lid on the tired line "having children makes you less self-centered (or more virtuous)". The truth is, having kids is so stressful that it might drive an ordinary person to crime and vice, and people often have children unintentionally, without enough warning ahead of time for them to plan their lives and visit a shrink and sober up. Sometimes people also think they'll make great parents and want to have kids, only to later find out that the responsibility is too much for their sanity. Bottom line: having kids does not automatically make you a saint, or anyone else, quit acting like it does.
There Are Unselfish People Who Aren't Parents
Again, with a big caveat that I'm not generalizing or saying that ALL non-parents are selfless, either. Selfishness is the rule of human nature, selflessness the exception. But I would like to point out that there are many, many people who are not selfish who do not have children.
Monks, priests, and nuns in the Catholic faith, for example, choose celibacy in order to better devote themselves to their parishes, the Catholic faith, their communities, God, and the world. They're pretty much living the definition of selflessness and self-sacrifice, modeling themselves after Jesus, who was also celibate and the pinnacle of self-sacrifice. But I don't think anyone is arguing that, in order to be truly selfless and righteous, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, or Pope Francis should have chosen to be "fruitful" in a crass, physical sense.
A non-parent can have a lot of wisdom to give children, a lot of nurturing, loving, support, and guidance. In fact, not being a parent frees many people up to serve, nurture, and protect the children of others. There are many childless nannies, daycare workers, teachers, pediatricians, nurses, OB-GYNs, etc. on whom parents depend. Who is more selfish, the woman who forgoes having her own kids to be a full-time nanny to some other person's, or the woman who has kids even though she has a demanding job and can hardly ever be there for them, leaving much of the work of mothering up to her nanny? Again, I'm not trying to say all parents are selfish and all childfree people are devoted to children, but many people who are devoted to children do not or can not have their own. And that doesn't make them bad people for it.
Not Parenting Actually Will Help Me Do More For Others
So, you have to choose between two therapists. They both went to the same school, and have the same experience, credentials, and qualifications. But, every so often, one will be interrupted by calls from her kid's pediatrician, and may occasionally cut your session short to go check on her sick child. The second one does not have kids and doesn't intend to have kids. Obviously, the second one is going to be more valuable to you. Or if you're running a law firm and you employ two lawyers, one who has to pick up her kids at soccer practice at 6pm every day, and one who has no children and can stay in the office as long as necessary to complete the assignments at hand. Of course the second one is obviously more valuable of an asset to you.
As a childless person, you have more time. Sure, people on both sides tend to visualize that as time devoted to hobbies, leisure activities, and travel, but it's not all just romantic cruises and skydiving. If I do not have children, I am choosing to free up time I have for volunteering, helping my family, and taking part in my community. I don't have to worry that kids aren't allowed in the animal shelter, or that I don't want to explain to little Timmy what a rape crisis hotline is for or why I'm answering calls for one. Free time and more money are only selfish in and of themselves if the person with them is.
Finally, What's Wrong With Some Selfishness?
But also, I feel like one of my biggest reactions to the charge of "childfree people are selfish" is, "so?". Everyone acts selfishly, and there's nothing wrong with concern for your own wellbeing and happiness. You only have one life, and then it's gone, you only get to be young and hot once, and then you're old and weak before you know it. Your youth is a precious resource you should not have to be asked to spend wiping butts and picking up Legos if you don't want to.
This country is founded on principles of individual rights. You should never have an obligation to have children placed on people who don't want to. And we need to stop invalidating people who say they don't want kids. Just because someone is young, does not mean they'll change their mind at whatever magical age they have a baby panic because their womb is decaying or they see their first grey hair and want a baby because they feel their own mortality's hand around their throat. And, I wouldn't want to have been the daughter of somebody who wanted children for such stupid reasons anyway.