Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Selfish Assumption

CFVixen sent me an interesting article on CNN.com entitled What's so Wrong with Being Selfish? The author of the article defends childfree folks against the accusations that we are selfish with this simple argument, "Yeah, we're selfish. So what?" She wants people to get over the fact that childfree folks are out having fun instead of suffering at home wiping runny noses and poopy asses. Live and let live.

I know the author means well and I generally like the article, however, I do have a bone to pick. She declares that childfree folks are selfish (a very tired stereotype), the underlying assumption being that parents are not. This is where I take issue with this article and if I have to keep arguing this point over and over like a broken record, I will. Parents are just as selfish as childfree folks. Can anyone see this besides me? Parents don't have children so they can toil, suffer and sacrifice. They choose to have kids for the joys they believe they will get out of it. Childfree folks choose to live a life sans children for the same desire to live a joyful life. We all want to be happy and joyful and we pursue the life that we believe will make us feel that way. Pursuing a happy life is not selfish, it's just the point of living. Why would someone want to pursue a life that didn't make them happy?

However, despite the fact that both childfree folks and parents live the way they do because they are in pursuit of a happy life, the two groups are judged very differently. Parents are ascribed positive traits - giving, caring and selfless, while the childfree are called selfish. And why? Because people who have kids have to trudge through a boatload of misery to obtain the joy and happiness they seek, whereas childfree folks sail effortlessly to their goals.

If pursuing a happy life is selfish, then parents are at least as selfish as childfree folks, if not more. What could be more selfish and narcissistic than bringing another child into an already overpopulated world when there are so many homeless orphans clamoring for loving homes? What could be more selfish than creating a little mini-me (instead of adopting) because you want a little replica of yourself? What could be more selfish than wanting someone who needs you, who depends on you, who looks up to you, who you can mold and shape into what you want so you can feel good about yourself? What could be more selfish than creating a human being so that you can add some meaning to your life? Or so you can live vicariously through her? What could be more selfish than bringing another consumer into a world whose resources are growing more scarce by the day?

Need I go on?

Childfree folks are always, automatically assumed to be selfish, even by people who should know better (like the childfree author of the article in question), while the parents are selfish angle almost never gets explored. Frankly, I am tired of it. So I am going to keep exploring it and exploring it even if I have to beat it like a dead horse. Yes, childfree folks live fun lives and everyone should get over it. But don't exclaim "yeah, I'm selfish - get over it" unless you also exclaim, "and you're selfish too". The truth is, we're happy living our fun childfree lives and we hope you're happy living your life of ass and nose wiping. To each his own.

And then, there's this final point: I may not be wiping noses and asses all day long, but that doesn't mean my life revolves only around myself or that it's all about me. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a friend, a companion of house cats, and an employee. In each of these roles I am devoted, caring, committed and engaged and I give of myself every day. To label me selfish because I have declined to participate in one specific type of caring role - the parental role - is ludicrous. It is akin to calling someone a picky eater because they don't like Hamburger Helper, even though they eat everything else in the cupboard.


14 comments:

Patty Jean said...

I just wanted to say... the last few days I've 'stumbled' into different blogs about the 'Childfree Movement' and I enjoy reading it. I enjoyed this blog entry in particular. I should say, I'm a mother. Reading blogs such as this does not make me regret being a mother, it only confirms what I've always wanted to be true, that being a mother is not what defines me entirely. It does not validate my existence. It is not all that I am. I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an Aunt, a Real Estate Appraiser, a Feminist, and many other things. Just wanted to show my appreciation to you for helping remind me of that. I think all [future or existing] parents should read 'stuff' like this as well as anyone who 'questions' whether they want to be parents or not. It absolutely should be a choice and not something you feel you have to do to feel human. I blogged about this in more detail on my Push the Little Daisies blog if you want to check it out (or not LOL). I should also say that I do not and have not ever felt that folks who choose to be childfree were selfish. I've always known for a fact they were much less selfish than I. I find it just as absurd as you do that people actually find childfree folks selfish. They obviously have no idea what the definition of selfish actually is. Anyway, thanks for the good read. -PJ

Amy Guskin said...

Another point about the "people who don't have children are selfish!" argument. Doesn't this in fact say outright that having chlidren is NOT the fun-filled, all-positive, life-fulfilling experience we keep hearing it is? If childed people think the childfree are selfish, they must also think that they themselves are suffering, doing something that is not pleasant and not fulfilling, something difficult; in short, something selfless.

They can't have it both ways!

Phyllis said...

I have two children and they are busy having kids of their own. More power to them, and I love my kids and grandkids. BUT...I have long felt that if I had truly "perceived" what a child filled life really was all about, I (we) very possibly would not have "conceived" any children. In truth, I don't even like children very much.
So, are child free people selfish? Maybe. But in general I would say they are not. I know a number of child free people and selfish is the last thing I would call them. Giving, Caring, Busy, Involved, Generous... yes...definitly. But selfish? Never. In fact, they have likely taken time to really understand their desires and goals and know that they would be doing a disservice to a child if they had one. So, more power to those who know this is the kind of life they want and stick with that decision.

Mimi said...

I think a childfree person is perceived as being selfish because of the reasons they give for not wanting children, i.e. they are too expensive, they will cramp my lifestyle, I will have to clean up after them, etc. Not wanting to give up their own money and time can be perceived as selfish in that sense b/c you want to keep it all for yourself so to speak. I have a friend who has no children and she constantly obsesses about all the fancy clothes and shoes and purses she buys. It's actually kind of sad that this is what is so important to her -- the material things.

marin said...

Ask someone:

"Why did you have / do you want to have a chidren?"

Let's put together the answers we get and make a list, would be the best indicator of the parents' selflessness level, don't you think?

Here are mine by now:

Female
to have a family
to have someone who takes care of me when I'm old

Male
to make my dna material immortal
to follow my natural instinct
I love to stay around childrens, so I want one of my own
It wasn't a decision, it's just happened

Wag the Dog said...

I'm childfree but my brother is not. And when he found himself without a babysitter one weekend, guess whom upon which this duty fell. I took the 3 hour train ride to his house that Saturday morning and made the return trip early Monday morning. I shall never ever find myself in a situation where I'd have to ask my brother to do likewise for me.

I'm childfree because in the time it took for my parents to raise me, the world has become Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Now individually opting not to have children is not going to significantly make the world any less hot and crowded, thanks to the rebound effect. But faced with the choice of how to spend my time: raising kids and scraping enough money together to ensure they have all the latest toys, OR devote myself to working towards solutions to the energy/environmental crisis; you know which one I'd choose.

I'm childfree in one of the worst countries to be a selfish childfree person. The British socialised healthcare and benefit system rewards parents, and their kids won't be paying taxes for a decade or more.

Parents have no right to call me selfish.

Childfreeeee said...

Mimi,

The stereotype of childfree people as materialistic is just that - a stereotype. Are there childfree people who are materialistic? Yes. Sounds like your friend may be one. There are also many parents who are materialistic, competing with the Joneses over the type of cars they drive, the brand of clothing they dress their kids in, how expensive of a school they put their kids in.

A childfree person does not live in a bubble. As I have said before, I do not have kids, but I have a husband. I have siblings. I have friends. I have nieces and nephews, and my life is intertwined with all of their lives. This intertwining involves (among other things) GIVING - giving of my time, giving of myself, even giving material things like gifts, taking the kids out on day trips. The stereotype that childfree people are only selfishly focused on themselves and on materialism is simply false.

Childfreeeee said...

Patty Jean,

I am glad that this blog has helped you to realize that you are more than a mother. It seems that for so many women, the role of mother supercedes everything else.

It is refreshing to hear a supportive comment from a mother, esp. re: the "selfish" issue.

Childfreeeee said...

Amy,

Good observation. I think parents realize they have to sacrifice a LOT to get the benefits of the having children. And I think on some level it may burn them up that we have a happy life with far less burden and sacrifice.

Phyllis,

Thank you for your interesting comment. So if you could go back and do it all over again (knowing what you know now about motherhood), would you do it again?

Childfreeeee said...

Marin,

You hit the nail on the head: there certainly are MANY selfish reasons people have children, yet parenthood is never looked at as a selfish lifestyle choice.

Wag the dog,

The sentiment you expressed is similar to what I have expressed about how a childfree person does not live in a bubble. Just because we have opted not to take one ONE type of giving/caring relationship (the parenthood role), doesn't mean we don't have other significant giving/caring relationships. But sadly, it seems that only PARENTS are entitled to label themselves as giving and selfless.

Michi said...

Mimi -

I don't see how an honest assessment of the financial costs of raising a child is actually selfish. Children ARE expensive, and some people might prefer to not have child if doing so would mean that child would be raised in tenuous circumstances in which stretched finances might mean that maintaining an adequate level of care was questionable at best. I think it would be more selfish to go ahead and have a child even though you knew that you lacked the financial resources to give that child proper care.

Yes, a person can save by going out/traveling/shopping less, and I know plenty of parents who have made those sacrifices so they can give the best possible life to their children (which doesn't mean indulging their every whim or buying the latest hot toy - more like sacrificing for education/enrichment opportunities or even basic needs like food/clothing/safe housing). But even with those sorts of sacrifices, it still isn't always possible for some people to afford having a child. Boundless love for a child is great, but it means little if you can't afford to feed or clothe your child either.

WaterBishop said...

Like being Childfree, parenthood is a choice. Always. Even if you don't want to be pregnant or have a child, you still have a choice to go through with the pregnancy or give up the baby. Which is why I will never understand this selfless image attributed to parents. As if they had children thrust upon them, involuntarily, and now have to suffer a martyred existence for all eternity. Its a ludicrous viewpoint. Every reason for becoming a parent is selfish.(Unless you were in some bizarre, rare circumstance in a remote part of the world I suppose). And that's OK as long as people recognize that fact. To say choosing a Childfree life is more selfish, makes no sense.
Every choice we make in this world is based on what we selfishly want for ourselves. That is why its a choice. Parenthood is no different.

Phyllis said...

You asked if I would do it again, if I could go back and get another shot at motherhood. I don't think so. The argument about having someone to look after you when you are old is not necessarily valid, because there are way too many people in care homes that next to never have family even come to visit, much less look after them.

Jennifer Lynn said...

HERE HERE!!