Is Having Babies Selfish?

Baby me. I used to be so innocent and adorable, I wonder what went wrong...

Baby me. I used to be so innocent and adorable, I wonder what went wrong…

Here’s my foreseeable future: go to college, get an undergraduate degree in English/Psychology/Philosophy, go to graduate school, solidify a successful career, get married, have kids. Sounds like a plan, especially after throwing in a mother with anger issues and the fact that I don’t know how to drive yet. As you can see, I’ve thought about my future a lot.

But here’s something I haven’t thought of yet: why do I want kids? I’m a seventeen-year-old male who has years of work to do and fun to have before settling down and forming a family. I feel like society forces this belief upon us – that we should grow up to have children. When we see two married adults our first thought isn’t usually “wow, they have kids!”, rather, it’s “hm, I wonder why they don’t have kids yet.” Then the judgments flow in. Perhaps they are having trouble reproducing naturally, maybe they’re late starters, or maybe they’re just selfish.

Here’s a thought that might make you pause: having your own babies is selfish. Isn’t it? Common reasons to have children include the personal experience of raising kids, the pleasure of parental competence and responsibility, the status and extension of the family name, etc. Some sources say that overpopulation is rapidly taking its toll on the environment and that we may be the last generation that doesn’t extensively budget its resources. Add to the list all of the other horrible things that could go wrong in a child’s life, and you start to wonder why exactly we think having babies is a good (or at least moral/logical) idea.

Despite all of this there’s a part of me that still desires children. After talking to a few of my teachers and obtaining their perspectives, I’ve gathered that a mix of biological (continuing the human race/legacy), psychological (the pleasure/societal impact), and spiritual (some people’s religions, I suppose) factors contribute to the urge. Maybe I am simply selfish. Maybe I want to raise a child who will care for me when I’m old and decrepit, teach a child SAT vocabulary by the time he or she is three, and rear a child well to make up for my mother’s mistakes. Or could it be that I want to raise a child who can positively affect society and give hope to future generations?

While I wouldn’t mind adopting – which seems less selfish from a philosophical standpoint – there’s still a strange urge inside of me to pass down my own genes. I guess I’ll have discuss this with my partner later on. For now, I will continue to consume novels and write random blog posts instead.

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “Is Having Babies Selfish?

  1. Having your own child is a funny thing in that even though you have to be kind if narcissistic to do it (it’s kind of like assuming that you will be able to climb Mt. Everest before you’ve even started training), but once the child is born, you have to give up a huge part of your ego. Babies are massively humbling. They demand so much and teach you compassion if it doesn’t come naturally to you. All of a sudden, you are not the focus anymore. This tiny human is.

    • I see your point – even though I’m not a parent myself I can understand how it would provide people with the challenge of constantly showing compassion and caring toward another human. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Perhaps it is only selfish when you make the decision to have the child. Following that, when the kid is there, existent, real, and very demanding (because of course, it’s a baby, then little kid, then kid, then annoying preteen, then even more obnoxious teenager, and THEN finally an adequate person to hold excellent conversations with [as a generalization {I'm 17 and kidless}]), you will have to be the most selfless person to raise the kid properly. So perhaps it’s the one selfish, selfless act we, as a species, collectively do.

    • Intriguing perspective. So the end (the process of raising the child) justifies the means (the conception of the child) in this case, which makes sense – without procreation we wouldn’t exist, so perhaps it is the one act that all humans strive to accomplish.

  3. I don’t see it in terms of ego, selfishness or narcissism. It is a natural instinct for all animals to procreate. It is a key instinct in everything from virii to humans and lions and blue whales. What I do think is a bit egotistical and selfish and narcissistic is to think that humans are beyond this primal rule of all life on earth.

    There are, of course, individual variations. Some people don’t want kids, others do. There’s a wild variety within the group that is humanity. But on a species level, we’re as much slaves to the rule to procreate as the viruses and the blue whales.

    I think I want children, eventually. In ten years time. Maybe. I know my boyfriend does want one or two.

    • I see your point – that we should abide by our natural instincts – but is it really selfish to go against what we’re naturally inclined to do all the time? Biologically it may be more natural for only men and women to engage in relationships because only they can naturally procreate, but I disagree with that.

      You’re right that there are individual variations. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we’re “slaves” to the desire to have children, it is an instinct that isn’t exactly harmful. You still have time to think about whether or not you want children as well; I wish you and your boyfriend all the best!

  4. This is an interesting post..as a person married without children I experience daily the pressure to go ahead and have children. I am personally waiting until I feel a) better prepared emotionally and b) better prepared financially..but people don’t understand that they say you aren’t getting any younger and people poorer than you have kids. My argument is I think that people rush into having children too quickly because it is expected of them. I think it is better to wait until you feel entirely ready and that it’s a responsibility taken too lightly by people in general.

    • I agree – if you’re going to have kids, you want to have the resources to support them, whether it be the emotional resources or the financial resources. I think you’re smart to wait until you’re ready; we shouldn’t do things just because we’re expected to by society. Thanks for sharing your opinion!

  5. This is a complex issue with many grey areas, but from a global perspective I’ve always felt it is more selfish to have your own children. Of course it is difficult to be a selfish person once you actually have the children and are in the process of raising them.

    I have never experienced the need to ‘carry on my genes’. I’ve always wondered if this was something that was more important to men? On a biological level it would make sense.

    • Yeah, so far I still haven’t shaken the feeling that having your own children biologically is selfish in terms of the world at large. You’re right that it is implicit that having children will breed or force compassion, otherwise, something is going wrong.

      I guess for me it’s not so much as a “need”, just a preference. It feels like choosing between an ice cream flavor I really love and an ice cream flavor I only somewhat love. Sort of like “oh, I love cookie dough, but I wouldn’t mind chocolate either”, except on a grander scale – perhaps it’s all due to society’s influence. It might be more prominent for men but I can’t think of any studies or statistics that would support the claim at the moment; I’ve talked to several female friends about this and they feel the same way, so I think it affects both genders to some extent.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

  6. Great post! I do think it’s incredibly selfish. As a person with a biological clock on the march, I experienced lots of people assuming I didn’t want children because I’m selfish and wanted to continue living my own life uninterrupted. Whereas I was looking at them wondering why on earth they felt it was their right to introduce new beings into this world on an irrational evolutionary urge. In the end, my partner, who is on another ideological plane, was desperate for children and I finally conceded after a painful year of separation over the subject. Obviously not a whiff of regret. But I haven’t shifted, it is indeed very selfish.

    • Interesting perspective – as someone who will never actually give birth to a child or have the ability to do so, I’ll never know what it feels like to really have that biological clock and to have people expecting me to get pregnant. I admire you for sticking to your belief and I agree that it is selfish, even if it’s not the worst thing in the world.

  7. wow, i admire you. for a seventeen-year-old and to want having babies?! that is so rare. if having a son or a daughter is selfish, so be it. :) maybe i’m selfish, too. :D great post, Thomas. I super like it.

  8. Well, from an evolutionary standpoint, that’s all we’re meant to do. Pass down our genes. The desire is hardwired into us, in a way. (Well, some of us. I personally would never think about having children, but then again the woman is stereotypically the one burdened with all of the responsibility, so. . .)

    • That’s true, but we as humans contradict what may come naturally to us biologically all the time. I see what you mean about the woman being burdened with the onus, but there are alternatives (like adoption)!

  9. Kelsey

    Hi Thomas, I’m new to your blog!
    I think this is a really interesting topic, and being in my mid-twenties it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot more lately. You’re right about our culture setting a standard – I always thought that having kids would be a “given,” because that’s what people do. But really it is a huge responsibility that deserves some consideration. When I see people with kids now part of me thinks I’m so thankful to not be dealing with that yet. But another part of me knows that it’s something I really want….someday. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to enjoy the freedom of just taking care of myself for now (I enjoy my alone time and when you have a baby you’re never alone!), but I will have kids someday because I feel like if I don’t I will be missing out on a huge life experience.

    • It’s great that you’re thinking about it instead of just blindly jumping in – I think you’re smart for wanting to preserve your freedom for awhile longer before attaining the experience having a child offers. You’re right that it does seem like a huge life experience though, and one that can promise joy and prosperity.

  10. Valeria

    I think having babies is selfish. I am 30 and married and I don’t want children. I don’t want them because I look around and I see that the world is collapsing under the weight of over population and that lack of resources can only lead to more conflicts and misery. How can I put a child into the world, because “I feel the urge” not considering what world he/she will live in? True, if nobody had babies, human race will cease to exist. My argument is “so what?” We will cease to exist at some point, we know that already. I am not going to put another person in the world because I have an “urge”. It dimishes me as an intelligent animal to concede to that.

    • Intriguing arguments. Going along with one you said I doubt that any one person (or a large amount of people, even) not producing babies wouldn’t send the world spiraling them – there are more than enough people reproducing at this point, especially in certain countries. I think it’s great that you’ve thought about this deeply and know why you don’t want children, even if other people do!

  11. I don’t want to have babies. I want to raise babies. Even the thought gives me tickles. Once I had decided to not marry, but having a baby was always 50/50. Now it is certain and so is the marriage (if not, civil union (if not, long-term live-in relationship)).

    But really, I just want to raise a child who wasn’t raised like me. And I would adopt it. Her, because I want a girl. The girl would be karate-kicking hell. She would learn how to ride a bike, she would be able to enter late at night at home (I’m not sure about it, but there would age-related limits, not gender-bound), she would probably join army.I am sure that my sister would ascertain it, if I would be unable to. And she would get a sibling, but I haven’t decided on its gender yet. She would be probably be spoilt by me. And oh yes, there would be no time to sleep or to wake up because I just hate it.

    And then maybe she would get sick of all the strain and yet feel that there was a lack of discipline in her life. So her kids would have to live harshly because she lacked it in her life. That completes the chakra of life, which would yield me ugly (due to my ugly genes) grandchildren just like me; we would share ice-cream at the dead of the night. oh, I have seen my future and it seems bitter-sweet enough.

    • Aw, it’s great that you’ve put so much thought into how you want to raise your future child – who knows, maybe you’ll surprise yourself with the way you raise her… it may even go against your plans. I hope you’ll be able to blend discipline and freedom to foster a warm and loving household; with the passion you’ve put toward your plan to have a child (or children) I’m sure you’ll be one of the best parents out there. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  12. Rachel

    I used to think people who are eager to pass down their genes are just egotistic. I know I am probably too extreme on this, but , it’s just life is hard, who is to say their parenting style is the right way, I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the confidence to bring another life into the world.

    • I think you’re right in that it requires confidence and faith in one’s ability to parent, though it might not be as extreme as egotistical. I’m sure that if you decide to have children you will one day attain a strong enough belief in yourself to do so – it’s great that you’re contemplating what it takes as a first step.

  13. It is a selfish act 100% even from a continuing the species angle. Because one you give a reason or think of a reason it becomes about what YOU want.

    But when you say that in conversations, as I have, people always jump on you as if your judging them or that they are doing it for the wrong reasons. It is not right or wrong. It is just simply selfish. Everything we do is for selfish reasons. Being selfish is only seen as bad because of the way society uses the word, without acknowledging all of the selfish acts people do that achieve great things. Even the most unselfish like Mother Teresa or the Dalia Llama did it for selfish reasons. The results of people like those are deemed as selfless by society because they were acts looked at as morally kind and good. While other selfish acts embezzling etc are seen as morally bad.

    There is an animal instinct in us (we are animals after all not fungi or plants) to reproduce. The entire animal world does it. But we have yet to find proof that than non-human species ever do it for the reasons humans do (i.e. to make up for a lost childhood, for status etc.). This is mainly because we don’t know if other species see a “self”.

    Adopting is less selfish you’re are right but any reason you may want to adopt no matter how noble comes to filling some need you have (i.e. wanting save child from a life of foster care) because in the end it will hopefully make you feel better as well as provide a good life for someone in need.

    Now one of the problems I find when you talk specifically about having a baby with people that adds to allure of the baby fantasy is the term baby itself. You are not really having a BABY that is temporary. You are having offspring. You are also having a messy eight year old, a grumpy teenager, a twenty something that comes back to live at home or do any number of unforeseeable things. The reason I think this is a problem is because society tries to sell us the idea of the baby, this cute little cuddle thing almost like a toy or a dog. But they don’t sell you the idea the pain in the butt teenager that swears at you out of hormonal imbalance. Babies are on the whole easy for one or two people to take care of. But it takes an entire tribe to keep a teenager in line it seems. And maybe that is why tribes operated the way they did (putting the boys with all the men and the girls with all the women) so when one parent couldn’t handle them another could or another 5 could. You might act out against one adult but probably not 5.

    • Hm… I find your reasoning intriguing. I think the main conflict within my mind regarding your comment is whether or not altruism truly exists.

      “Even the most unselfish like Mother Teresa or the Dalia Llama did it for selfish reasons. The results of people like those are deemed as selfless by society because they were acts looked at as morally kind and good. While other selfish acts embezzling etc are seen as morally bad.”

      Why do you think they did it for selfish reasons? In my opinion it’s rather difficult to discern that; maybe they did it just because it was the right thing to do. I don’t think that every individual who does good deeds is motivated by the “righteous feeling” they earn afterward or the fact that it will benefit their reputation. I know this doesn’t relate to the topic of having babies but it does make me (and hopefully you) think.

      Also, I agree with you in that sometimes it’s good to be selfish – it’s good to feel good about doing good things. While the concept of “good” certainly is subjective – as is morality, which seems to be molded by the popular opinions of one’s time and culture – it’s reasonable to say stealing or murder is justifiably bad and saving another person’s life is justifiably good.

      Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment. I’m going to continue thinking about this!

  14. laurarue

    I completely agree with you Thomas. You’re the only person I know who shares the same opinion as me on this issue. Everyone else just looks at me like I’m crazy when I try to explain that having children is selfish.

  15. You definitely bring an interesting perspective to the idea of having children. I’ve never wanted children in my life. Before I accepted myself as gay in my mid-20s, I remember having a discussion with my mom when I was close to your age. Her and I were talking about me having a vasectomy when I turned 18 just to ensure I could not have children. Even if I was straight, I likely would not have done this as I could have met a woman I loved and the only way I could stay with her was if I had children.

    But, I’ve always seen my reasoning for not wanting to have children as selfish. I’m an extremely independent individual. I don’t often date, because I feel smothered very easily. I don’t want a child to depend upon me, because it will only frustrate me that they’re dependent on me. My other reasoning was that I wanted to have the freedom to do as I pleased. If I wanted to go out to a bar, or a theater, or whatever, I wanted to be able to spontaneously. With a child, I wouldn’t be able to do that.

    It’s interesting the reasoning you point out for people wanting to have children. I personally think it’s a selfless act for the most part, but you definitely raise my belief into question in some respects. I’m the last male that can carry on my family’s last name. If I ever wanted children (which will likely never happen), my family name would be a major factor in that decision.

    • Hm, the points you raise in the second paragraph of your comment do make me stop and think. Perhaps the act of raising a child is selfless in regard to how much time and dedication you must commit to, but the actual universal implication of bringing another life into existence may be selfish. Though now I realize that it’s unwise to ascribe black or white words like “selfish” or “selfless” to such a complex concept as the morality of having kids. Please keep me updated if your thoughts on this matter develop; I’m curious as to how one’s perspective on this may change after he or she has children.

  16. Mary

    Yes on the selfish to have kids in our 1st world culture-once they are here, we consume so many resources for them to have many clothes and toys. And we are very ego invested in them (mini-me’s). We just transfer our egos to them. Have you ever seen how competitive parents can be about their kids, and how egoistic (pictures on FB, etc.) mine mine mine are best!

    • You have a point – we do spend a lot of money on our children and I do see pictures of babies on my Facebook feed all the time. Perhaps it’s okay and necessary to invest yourself in your children to a point, but beyond that, and it may become selfish or subconsciously self-centered. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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