The other day Pope Francis said that “The choice to not have children is selfish.” As far as I know, he himself does not have children, but in his mind, different rules apply to him. He was talking about me, a married lady who isn’t Catholic, because he feels like his opinion of my life matters.
I hear this thing about being selfish all the time, and essentially, I suppose it’s correct. I never wanted children, and so I didn’t have them because I figured that would make me happiest. I’ll go further and confess that I make most decisions based on what will make me happy: marrying a wonderful man, taking a great job, and so on. Most people I know make the decisions the same way.
Usually when we talk about selfishness, we refer to actions that harm someone else. But when someone chooses not to have children, who does that hurt? It’s nonsense to say that you are hurting kids by not having them, because the kids in question do not exist. Certainly the decision doesn’t harm an already overcrowded planet.
The Catholic Church has a long-term monetary interest in the procreation of its members, however. More babies means more future members and more money flowing up to the top. Of course women, who bear the pain of baby-having and more of the work of child-rearing, have no representation in the church’s hierarchy. They are denied priesthood and leadership positions based on their gender, now, in 2015. I think men keeping all the power to themselves seems pretty selfish, but Pope Francis has given no indication of caring about it.
The existence of child-free hetero couples, of course, also poses a problem for people and organizations like the Catholic Church who oppose same-sex marriage. I believe gay marriage is a sacrament, but those who say otherwise often claim, “But marriage is for procreation.” Then someone asks about marriages like mine, and it messes up the argument.
I think most people who choose to have kids do so for selfish reasons. They think they will be fun, and cute, and make their lives more complete. Parenting strikes me as very difficult, and I think it’s best left to those who at least believe they are getting something wonderful out of the deal.
Francis said, “Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.” This suggests that I’m not being selfish by not having kids, but rather missing out. This is actually very typical of people who tell me I should have children. Somehow, I’m simultaneously being self-centered and denying myself the best thing ever.
I think for lots of people, having kids is amazing, and I enjoy liking their cute photos on Instagram and hearing about their interests and accomplishments. I know lots of happy families, and I’m glad.
For me, not having kids is amazing. I don’t have to drive kids anywhere, or figure out dinner for them. I can go somewhere for the weekend with no advance planning, or stay in and write with few interruptions. My lifestyle hasn’t changed much from the time I was in my mid-twenties–heck, even my boobs haven’t changed that much. I think I don’t feel the passing of time or aging as keenly as people with children do.
But mostly, not having kids affects how I see the future. I feel like I have a lot of options and possibilities, and I don’t have to worry about college costs, which are disastrous in this country.
I apologize if any parents are reading this on a bad day (or year.) I’m putting it out there for the benefit of anyone who’s considering a child-free life. We all hear a lot more about how great having kids is–it’s not only the most popular choice, but also an effective message in advertising. There’s a lot less PR about how great not having kids can be. I think it’s fantastic, which is why I can’t get too mad at the “selfish” accusation.
Lots of people are going to tell you what you should do with your life, including people who, like the Pope, do not know you at all, and will give you no help once you make that decision. In the end, you’ve got to listen to your heart and do what’s right for you. And if that’s selfish, so be it.