November 21, 2017

Is Having Kids Selfish?

The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his monumental book Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins suggests that we are basically envelopes to carry our genes around and make sure that these get copied and passed on into the future. It’s perhaps a little extreme a view, and he tempers his arguments, but ultimately the whole goal of existence is, well, to keep existing, and the best way to do that is by making fresh copies of the genetic material — which would otherwise suffer wear and tear — and for most of us multicellular organisms that means by having kids.

This is probably not the reason any of us would state first for reproducing, but is having kids selfish? Based on an unofficial summary of what I’ve been hearing over the years, here are the top 5 reasons people give for having kids:

  1. Because they’re so wonderful and fun!
  2. Because that maternal urge is just too strong to ignore
  3. To pass on my values and beliefs
  4. To keep me young and active
  5. To have someone who’ll love me even when I’m grey and saggy

Notice something all these reasons have in common? They’re pretty selfish. They’re all based on the parent, not the kid. So I’d be wary of labeling people who choose not to have kids as selfish. Surely deciding we’re so important that it’s worth procreating to pass our genes on into the future is the most selfish thing there is?

OK, so there will be a number of years characterized by almost total self-abnegation, as you feed, wash, cuddle, play with, protect and nurture  your offspring, but it’s like altruism. Under that selfless devotion, there’s a hidden agenda: you’re actually batting for your own team.

And then there’s the issue of overpopulation. Surely we don’t need more humans on our small planet? So to all those of you who have taken the decision not to have children — which cannot have been an easy one, and which will probably continue to be the source of much debate — I say, “Bravo!” You have overridden that seflish gene impulse and are working for the good of the planet by preventing overpopulation, at the cost of sacrificing your own genes. Luckily thanks to writing we can pass on values perhaps more effectively than via offspring!

So when my friends ask about having kids, my response is always the same : maybe. It’s an ENORMOUS responsibility, and it’s entirely ours: the children never asked to be born. Yes, kids are great, but aren’t our lives great already? Women today don’t need kids to fulfill our lives now that we have great jobs and careers and no longer live in the shadow of our menfolk.

Many were the conversations my husband and I had before taking this big step. We had such a great life, why change it? We made a list of pros and cons, and finally figured we were a happy, stable and financially settled couple and we could raise happy, stable children to become positive contributors to society. One of our arguments was that so many unhappy and unstable people have many kids, so shouldn’t there be a few stable, happy ones to balance that out? It was almost our civic duty to bear children. But if perchance we couldn’t have children, that was no big deal. It was a very logical, calculated decision. I never understood this irrational maternal urge that some women get, which pushes them to bear children regardless of the circumstances.

Until I actually HAD children myself. Now I fantasize about having more children all the time, and my motivations are purely selfish. To my surprise I loved pregnancy (and getting pregnant was fun), and thanks to epidurals I simply LOVED giving birth, and little babies are so cute, and toddlers are a scream, and my sons are heart-stoppingly wonderful. I want more of all that joy! This passion for children is completely unexpected and it mostly encompasses my own progeny. The only non-selfish reason I can bring up to justify having another child is that it would be nice for my first two to have another sibling to comfort them when we parents die.

My worry as I write this is that some day my sons will read it and think I didn’t want them, or regret having them. They were both babies conceived in love and anticipation, and I love them more than I can express without going all maudlin. They have enriched my life and changed my perspectives, and if I could relive my life I’d do exactly the same. But if they had never existed, well, things would be pretty good too, and almost certainly a lot less noisy.


  1. Amy Guglielmo says:

     This is great Anne! So selfless of you to share with the childfree community.

  2. Annediss says:

    Thanks for your comment Amy! I sometimes feel like I’m betraying the parental community with these thoughts… But I really truly believe the selfish ones are the parents, and that message doesn’t get received too well on that side, so this is a wonderful ‘exutoire’ (I’m not sure how to translate- it’s like an item that frees one of troubling thoughts. Must google translate that).

  3. Great post Anne! It is so nice to see someone who already has kids, be so objective and open to other lifestyles. Generally all I read these days is people defending their own lifestyle and way of life.

  4. The decision whether to have kids is a personal one, and as such necessarily requires personal, ie, self-centered, considerations, on both sides of the issue. Non-childbearers want their time and money. Or maybe save the planet from overpopulation The childbearers want their joy and genetic immortality. Or maybe save the world from evil. So in the larger picture, why try to label one as more selfish than the other?
    In the smaller picture, on the other hand. I certainly know that I am more patient, less critical, and a less selfish person than I was 10 years ago. Can you guess what changed me?
    Parenthood isn’t the only way to finish growing up, but it’s likely to force you to do so. Hard to raise kids if you still act like a kid yourself.
    Have that 3rd if you want to. Who cares what anybody thinks about it, other than you and your husband.

  5. To bring new beings into a world of suffering. Yes that is selfish. Especially selfish if the parents don’t look after their children properly (which you get a lot of these days). Although on the flip side there are many good parents too.

  6. Melanie Johnson says:

    Overpopulation is a myth go to overpopulatoin myth

  7. Melanie Johnson says:

    You can disgree.But the number go up and down.Matter fact no one if the world is over populate

  8. Melanie Johnson says:

    I am going to have 4 childern.I don’t care if it selfish because it not.I am having them for good reason to help make the world a better place.However don’t be like the duggars that away to much childern for two people

  9. I won’t have kids. World is a shitty place full of shitty people. I may adopt someday when I am financially settled enough to give a kid a quality life, though. But I will not create new kids. My money and my life are entirely mine to enjoy for the time being.

    I always laugh when people don’t realize having kids is a major economic decision in which you’re investing a lot of time and money for very poor returns…unless you are one of those dimwits who banks on your kid playing in the NFL or something (good luck with that dream, in 30 years I will put up my portfolio against your kid and see which one won out).


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