Friday, September 21, 2007
The "S" Word
Okay, I admit it. It really irritates me when childfree folks are labeled selfish. That word gets under my skin like nothing else. It's worse than being called clueless, confused, misguided or foolish (yeah, we childfree get those labels too). But selfish - now there's a word that has a sting to it.
The idea that childfree people are selfish apparently stems from the fact that we choose to live our own lives as opposed to spending all our time taking care of children. But this is faulty on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin.
Let's start by defining the word "selfish". The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines the term as follows:
self·ish /ˈsɛlfɪʃ/ –adjective 1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.
Does this describe childfree people? Well, it certainly doesn't describe me and I don't think it describes any of the other childfree people I have met either. Speaking for myself, I have many roles in life - I am a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a colleague, and the companion of three housecats. In none of these roles am I centered on myself or focused only with my own interests at the expense of others. In fact, I pride myself in being a person that can be relied upon to be a good listener, a helper and a caring, devoted, reliable friend, companion and family member.
Most of the childfree people I have met also have multiple roles in life in which they invest so much of themselves in caring relationships. The idea that we are selfish simply because we choose not to undertake one specific form of caring relationship - the parent relationship - is simply ridiculous. One doesn't need children to be a caring and giving person, and being childfree does not a selfish person make.
Equally irritating is the secondary message that is expressed when somebody says "childfree people are selfish" - the underlying message being that people who parent are not selfish. Granted, people who parent are spending a lot of themselves taking care of others and sacrificing their time, energy and money for the wellbeing of other people. Nobody's disputing that. But not so fast. There is plenty of selfishness going on in this land of Oz, so let's take a peek and get a look at that man behind the curtain.
Selfish Motives for Having Children
People have children for all kinds of reasons and let's just be frank - many of the reasons are outright selfish.
"I want to experience the joy of being a parent."
"I want to have someone to take care of me in old age."
"I want to re-live childhood again and I can do that through my child."
"I want to see what a mixture of my spouse and me will look like."
"I want to carry on the family name."
"I want to be really needed and loved by somebody."
"I want the attention, esteem and community acceptance that comes with being a parent."
"I want to be a role model to somebody who will look up to me."
"I want to feel like I have a purpose in life."
The Truly Selfless Parent
People who have children think of themselves as selfless, but if you really give it some thought, what is so selfless about creating a new life, bringing it into an already overpopulated world and then taking care of what you've created? Want to be a selfless parent? Adopt an orphan. This is far more selfless than bringing more lives into the world when there are already scores of homeless children who need parents.
Conversly, there is nothing selfish in choosing not to have hypothetical children. The choice to be childfree negatively impacts no one, nor does it further contribute to overpopulation. In fact, because the childfree are not bogged down with the responsibilities of childrearing, many of them are able to spend time contributing to their communities through volunteer work and other civic activities. Some of this selfless work even involves helping children.
The fact is that we all - childfree and childed alike - have the same goal of living the lives that make us the happiest. For childfree people, that means being free to spend quality time with our spouses, friends and family, travel, pursue educational opportunities, civic activities and other interests, without being burdened with the unending responsibilities of parenthood. For parents, that means investing their energy, time, money and effort in the rearing of children and reaping the rewards of being good parents.
If wanting to live the life that makes one the happiest is selfish, then I guess we're all guilty. But it's time to expand our idea of what selfishness is and isn't and cut the childfree folks some slack.