The key to selflessness is having children...yeah, right.

I have often said that parents are the single most judged group in society. I have no statistical analysis to back up my claim, but there has never been a stage of my life where I’ve felt looked down on or held to a certain standard more than since I became pregnant with Brandon.

I think many parents (especially mothers?) feel that way at one point or another. Matt and I have talked about it a lot and decided early on not to get too caught up in comparing what Brandon is doing with other kids. I’ve had those discussions where we all talk about the age our child did something and how they went about it, but that’s rarely purely comparison so much as it’s sharing different experiences. Every child is different, after all.

One discussion I don’t think I’ve ever had with friends is why they had kids. I have no idea how I’d answer that question myself. I’ve always wanted to have children and I can’t tell you why. The desire for a child became overwhelming after I had a miscarriage - a pregnancy that wasn’t “planned”. The topic of when I was going to have kids came up a lot after I miscarried, mostly among people who didn’t know I’d lost a baby.

In one instance, a chauvinist pig coworker decided to ask me when I was planning to have kids. It had been over 18 months since I miscarried, but I was still raw and this guy was the last person I would ever confide in. I lied and told him I didn’t know if I would have any kids. (Well, I guess it wasn’t a complete lie - you never know 100% for sure you can.) He proceeded to ask me why and tell me I really should think about because parenthood is so great.

His persistence on such a personal issue left me without any words other than the sarcastic ones ringing in my head: “Yes, I’ll be sure to let you know just as soon as Matt and I decide on the when. You’ll be the first on my list to tell.” 

After the grilling I received, I vowed never again to ask someone if they want kids or when they will have them. (Well, unless it came up in conversation and there was a natural opening that wouldn’t make me sound like a total busybody. There’s a difference between getting to know someone and being nosy about their decisions.) The main reason? Because it’s none of my business what someone else’s life plans are. 

The expectations that are default in society are being challenged and changed by each new generation. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in controversial ways. 

Somehow, though, there are still some archaic ideas out there that shock me:

Having children used to be the point of being a pair. It was the great aspiration — along with finding love everlasting — a biological impulse to go forth and multiply and, later, once your babies reached a certain age, to cajole them about the merits and benefits of doing their bit to join the ranks of parenthood while giving Mom and Dad some grandkids.

This is a quote from Joe O’Connor’s recent piece in the National Post (my favorite rag this week), “Trend of couples not having children just plain selfish”. Sure, there’s some truth to what Mr. O’Connor says, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right reason for “being a pair”. I didn’t marry my husband for his sperm or ability to procreate; I married him because I wanted to spend my life with him - kids or no kids.

I remember a couple telling me years ago that they were too selfish to have children. And you know what? I respect that. Life changed for that couple and they now have a child. They’re great parents who are involved and unselfish. But I certainly wouldn’t fault them if they’d maintained their “selfish” stance and remained childless. I think there is an overburdened foster care system that proves truly self-centered people who refuse to change are not good candidates for parenthood. So, why should anyone be faulted for knowing they don’t want or shouldn’t have kids?

So, while this article focused on the lavish lifestyle of childless couples, which is a suspect claim to say the very least, it completely left off many very legitimate concerns. What about the following situations?

  • Are infertile couples selfish?
  • Are couples with financial troubles selfish?
  • How about adults who grew up with abuse and fear doing the same? Also selfish?
  • And a couple who finds out both carry cistic fibrosis or another life-threatening genetic marker?
  • Or perhaps a couple where one or both have a debilitating disease or disability?
  • The article addresses life partners who choose not to have children, but what about people who choose not to enter a relationship and have children? Are they also selfish? 
  • Am I selfish for having only one child? Because having another isn’t a guarantee.
  • What about couples who make a conscious choice to adopt rather than have their own biological children? (I would say that’s the most unselfish option of all, personally.)

I wonder if Mr. O’Connor and the people who (in the comments) agree with him have stopped to consider that their tunnel vision perspective on this issue is unfair and rather exclusive to what is likely a small minority of people that choose not to have children. And if they genuinely are too selfish, having kids isn’t likely to make them less so. Let’s consider that there are legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with selfishness that drive couples to remain childless.