I am quite fond of children. I think it is good that there are children. I think the world is better for their existence. If something is good, does it follow that there ought to be as much of that good as possible? With some things (men that look like George Clooney and perfectly in-season watermelon come to mind), yes. Children, however, are not such a good. This leads me to two core beliefs: all women should have the education and resources to control their reproductive lives, and no child-free adults should ever be met with cajoling or criticism from parents or teachers for their choice. I’m not going to say more about the birth control stuff now, but more ranting and complex arguments about future people available upon request.
As advocates for children, we have the ability to affect the future in this way, too; by respecting the choices of those who think they do not want to have kids. I am all for all sorts of different people being parents, but here’s who should not be parents: people who don’t want to. For all of their many joys, children are indisputably time consuming. The world, including children, benefits from good adults who don’t need to devote tons of their time and energy to their own children. People don’t even need good reasons to not have kids (though there are quite a few). Here are some claims I hear parents regularly make in an effort to change the minds of the childfree, (followed by why they are wrong):
If you are not a parent, you will not get all of the joy of parenting!
True, it may be a great source of joy to some parents, but the truth is, it is also frequently grueling and heartbreaking. Maybe we are afraid or ashamed to admit this, and this is why we so often feel the need to try to compel others to join us on the roller-coaster ride. I personally have found it overall deeply rewarding, as have many other parents, but the truth is, not everyone does. No one should get on roller coaster rides if they don’t really, really want to.
What about the future? How will you even be remembered?
The desire for a legacy, biological or ethical seems to be very important to some people, but for others, it just may not be a value. Also, one can have a deep and lasting impact on children in a role other than as a parent, and one can have a deep and lasting impact on the future in ways not directly pertaining to children.
Being a parent teaches you to not be so selfish. If you don’t have kids, you can always stay self-involved.
I wish! I would love to live in a world where having one’s genome replicated in an infant magically made adults more other-regarding! We know that is not the world we really live in though, right? If we were to somehow generate a list of the most self-involved people alive (though reality TV seems to have done some of the work for us), do we really think there would be no one who has had a child on that list? I suppose there is a kind of ‘unselfishness’ that many new parents experience, but it is not the kind of unselfishness that actually benefits the world. Instead, I think this new parent unselfishness is sometimes just a case of a parent’s notion of ‘self’ being increased by their number of children. That is, rather than just considering one’s self, the parent I am referring to now considers only the needs of herself and her child- the child that is, in a large sense, the parent’s own creating. I am willing to believe that some people are transformed by the experience of parenting into better, more open-hearted people. Others, however, go from being worldly activists to being obsessed with the details of one life. I am not arguing against parents being partial to their own children. I’m only saying that I am not convinced that such a parent is necessarily less selfish in any meaningful way than someone who never has a child.
Horray for children and hooray for the people who teach them and love them and create art to inspire them and buildings to hold them and books to move them and hooray for these people if they are parents and if they are not.