Parents. Oh, long-suffering, self-sacrificing parents. How they dedicate their lives to their children. The snot stains on their crumpled clothes and the dark circles under their puffy eyes are badges of honour. Their inability to watch Netflix marathons in peace can be likened to the great sages going without food and water to achieve enlightenment. Look, look, see how they give, give, give. Instead of romantic vacations in Ko Phi Phi, they endure roller coaster rides on Sentosa Island, instead of dining out every night, they sink most of their finances into school fees. Selfless, selfless parents.
Sorry, I beg to disagree.
If anything, parents are way more selfish than those who choose to be child-free. How do I know? I’m a parent! I have two beautiful babies, a daughter and a son, and my ovaries keep whispering at me to have a third one before it’s too late. In short, often to my own surprise, I love breeding and rearing kids. But I also know how selfish this entire pursuit is. It really struck me the other day when I was lunching with an old friend of mine. She is pretty certain she doesn’t want to have kids, but her choice is being deemed as “selfish” by many family members (and others who have no business poking their nose into what she chooses to do with her reproductive organs). Wherever she turns she finds herself looking into the baleful eyes of wannabe grandparents and friends who keep trying to convince her she will regret her choice.
If you really love children, don’t have them.
The term “childfree” invokes images of twerking in an Ibiza nightclub and eating croissants in bed all weekend (and WHY NOT), but what it actually entails is constantly battling societal pressure, emotional blackmail and the need to justify one’s own existence—it’s as if those without kids become living spectres if they don’t produce replacement versions of themselves. And they are repeatedly told they are selfish, selfish, selfish. Now, I don’t believe being selfish is necessarily a bad thing, but if the title really HAS to be given to anyone, it is parents, not non-parents.
Here are my reasons.
- The world is an ugly place
Air crisis, water crisis, food crisis, Donald Trump, war, cyber-bullying, reality TV, Justin Bieber, climate change… the list goes on and on. It is morally wrong to bring innocent babies into this mess. I was acutely aware of all these things and more, but I was selfish… I wanted to feel a baby grow, to birth them, feed them. And having done it once, I wanted it again, and again… even though it is wrong on so many levels, like a hit of heroin. I love them so much but I have done them no favours by giving them a ticket into this hellhole. Fortunately, as this article in Scroll points out, many Indians are making the wiser and kinder and less selfish choice.
- Babies are bad for the planet
Yes, I know they are beautiful look at and delicious to smell and hold. And there is a tiny chance that a baby will achieve great things… but let’s be honest, how many of the 131.4 million babies born each year will actually change the world in any positive way? They will add further stress to already burdened resources and end up as cogs in an increasingly meaningless and dubious wheel. Do you know that the biggest personal contribution you can make to climate change is having less/no babies? If we were so unselfish, we would have thought of that instead of buying plastic ovulation sticks and starting a diaper fund. Oh, you’re one of those virtuous parents who uses cloth diapers, and each load of shit you clean adds to the halo around your head? Sorry, your overpriced organic cotton options are just as bad.
- They are unlikely to be happy
An insane number of children suffer abuse—physical, sexual, emotional. The world is becoming sadder and sadder, and so far none of the pills we’ve produced have helped very much with the anxiety and depression that so many young people go through. In India, for example, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth, who were cute little babies not so long ago. It is heartbreaking. It seems like a healthier choice to prioritise one’s own happiness and wellbeing rather than birth kids who may not have the same luck. Why play Russian roulette with the happily unknowing unborn?
- Poor parenting could destroy them
Families can be wonderful, but they can also be sites of abuse and murder. Too extreme? Murderous or not, how many of us can truly say that we will be good parents? Are we sure that we can give them the financial and emotional security that will give them a much greater chance of becoming productive citizens? Are we good enough role models? The chances are your parenting could add to crime statistics. It seems like a rational choice to take that uncertainty out of the mix and do the best you can do to follow the law and not transfer your insecurities, pathologies and hang-ups on to someone else.
- Children are not objects
SO many people have kids for the wrong reasons. Some do it without thinking (so selfish! See all the reasons above), others shamelessly and narcissistically want a “mini-me” (what if it looks like Aunty Reena with the unfortunate nose, what then?), some misguidedly want to undo the mistakes of their own parents (are children experiments for you to demonstrate your superior skills?), others think their children’s job is to take care of them in old age (invest in a retirement fund instead of selfishly burdening your kids!) Some get tired of the constant pestering and have babies to “give” their own parents grandchildren (are children playthings to be produced for people who will not be their primary caretakers?).
It is absolutely morally wrong to have children just to make someone else happy, or to fill up a void or unmet need in your life. It is selfish. Babies deserve better. What will you do if they don’t make you happy or you can’t properly take care of them? There’s no store to return them to. If you have such an emptiness in your life, get a hobby or a prescription. Babies are not antidepressants. They are people. Respect them, even if they are never born.
- Being a parent doesn’t add joy to the world
When you don’t have babies, you are doing a favour to cinema-goers, restaurant patrons and airline passengers. There are a few less wails and tantrums for the public at large to endure just because you decided to multiply. Also, parents are grumpy… no surprise that a study found that having a child causes a greater drop in happiness than divorce or unemployment.
7. You can do better than merely propagating your genes
Let me give you my example: motherhood has made me extremely complacent about my hard-earned education and work experience, and I choose to spend the majority of my time engaged in raising my babies. Like many parents, I have taken a backseat to my kids. Their needs, ambitions, goals—those are the things I’m focused on. But that could very well come to nought. I may try to create a beneficial set of circumstances, but I cannot control what they do with their lives. Instead of driving myself to contribute more economically, or achieving more ambitious personal goals, or working for the greater good in some way, I am cleaning bums all day with wipes that are probably going to do all sorts of awful things to the earth. So maybe I AM contributing something despite my paltry earnings and fixation on creative purees for my infant, but what about me and what other things I’m capable of?
The argument often trotted out is that many parents (and we all know, by parents every one means “mothers”) do end up achieving great things and “having it all” but that’s a cop out. Something has to give—you’re either going on the mommy track and retiring—in a sense—prematurely, or you’re as focused as ever on your personal goals, but your kids lose out on a strong parental presence. In both scenarios, you stew in guilt—guilt for working, guilt for not working. It’s little wonder that so many mothers are depressed—which is neither good for them nor their babies.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to be the best you can be rather than sinking your all into a tiny being who you will likely screw up?
At the end of this rant, I have realised something. I love my children. But if you love all children, you won’t have them.