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Children and selfishness

August 31, 2012

Well, now that we’ve finally found a place where our childfree days are numbered, XY and I can figure out what sort of things we really need to do while we’re still youngish and better looking than we’ll be in ten years. Some of these things are kinda selfish, to be perfectly honest: going out and drinking lots of good beer doesn’t really benefit the world at large, aside from whomever gets to laugh at the two of us in our pleasured drunken goofiness. Obviously our bucket list includes lots of planning that, quite frankly, we’d have to take on anyway in building a household together. And we’ve recently come to a point where we’ve decided proximity to public transit & the lake outweigh any concerns about school district, etc., that would get us to move to a family friendly town or neighborhood now, instead of in seven years (the theoretical time our oldest would enter kindergarten, assuming the stars align and we get pregnant within minutes of removing birth control, of course). My fears of navigating CPS are pretty silly compared to the joys of going for a walk on the beach in good weather (a perk we currently enjoy, which is why our neighborhood continues to fill us with so much love), and we’ll continue to enjoy those perks even after we have an infant, toddler, or preschooler. So yeah, we’ve decided to probably buy a condo here in the big city, something that will benefit us even if we don’t have kids right away. Of course, during this time I would like to continue to open my mind to learning, thinking, growing, and participating in our culture as an adult too. Even though lots of things will change after we have a kid or kids, philosophical exploring and growth really shouldn’t be related at all to whether or not you have children.

Which is why it really surprises me that to so many people, it IS related.

I mean, I’m happy that having a kid makes many people question their day-to-day decisions, especially things that impact the rest of the world. Specifically, of course, things like the choice to cloth diaper could lead back to encouraging other choices that make people want to have a better planet for their children. The choice to avoid certain things in pregnancy or to breastfeed to optimize a child’s health could help women consider making other choices to help improve their own health.  But it seems weird to me, and sometimes a bit disingenuous, that having kids make you less “selfish”, or that not having kids IS “selfish”.
Let’s be frank here. XY and I want children. But young humans are a big drain on the environment generally, and first-worlders have a particularly bad pull on the world’s resources. Whether or not we cloth-diaper, XY and I will probably continue to own a car, and any driving we do as a family is bound to add to the world’s carbon footprint. The thought of starting a family has also made us consider the possibility of moving to the suburbs (ugh), and the addition of a new person will add to the shuttling about and gas usage that we expend. The energy to run our household may be more evenly distributed between three or four of us rather than “just us two”, but that doesn’t change the fact that American families (including each new individual bundle) end up using way more resources than we should, especially things we have little control over from a materialist environmental perspective, like clean water and unpolluted air that support our cooking, cleaning, and growing our food. The childfree actually already have a one-up on us environmentally, regardless of individual choices like paper or plastic at the grocery store. Any individual choices we make as a family (e.g. cloth diapers) can only go so far to limit the impact our new family member will make on our pretty planet.

Furthermore, the idea that having a child will help you to grow into a less-selfish person because they are a new being who is completely dependent on you, is a bit of putting the cart before the horse, methinks.  Sure, focusing on your child and their needs is an exercise in patience, care and concern, and does help many parents grow into better people generally. But c’mon: there are plenty of careers, volunteer opportunities, and the like that you can spend your time on if you’re main goal in the world is making a difference. If your real motivation in having a child actually has more to do with a desire to propagate a mini-me (or a mini-version of your beloved), then you might as well ‘fess up to yourself and admit it. Particularly BEFORE you get caught up in the selfless day-to-day drag of caring for a needy infant.

I am honestly convinced that I want children, and  that I want at least one biological child of our own. The reasons I want a child? They’re clear as mud most days, but they are definitely tied to a biological drive I’ve got going inside of me, which has been turned on since before I was a sexual being. But anyone trying to “justify” having children as “selfless”, or worse, try and guilt trip the childless for being “selfish”, just seems plain wrong to me. Sure, we want to try and do the best we can by our hypothetical children, but XY and I remain convinced that doing the best includes a lot of foresight into the process. In some ways one could argue that really seriously thinking carefully about various childrearing practices and then carrying them out is a selfless act, because the world DOES need to be repopulated (just maybe not thousands of times over!). But I do not believe the cruel and callousness questioning of the childless by those with children, accusing them of selfishness for their choices, is logically justified. Whatever reasons people choose – even if it’s just because they DON’T have that built-in biological drive, and have zero interest in having or nurturing a child of their own – is moot. Childless folks are no more “selfish” than those with children – and many of the childless are a great deal LESS.

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