Mad, Mad Myths About Those Who Opt Out of Parenthood

childfree people

The last post was about mad, mad myths about parenthood—Now let’s turn to the mad, mad myths about those who don’t have kids by choice. From interviewing over a hundred couples for Families of Two, here are my top, top four: First, the biggest I heard then and what still seems to be the most common:

Those who don’t choose not to have kids are selfish, self-absorbed people

In interviewing many couples and in just talking to folks who have chosen not to have kids, I’ve found that people who’ve make this choice often see far beyond themselves and the consequences of their actions. They are involved in their communities, churches, nonprofit causes they care about, including those that help kids.

On this score it is also important to define what we mean by “selfish”.

Wikipedia has a good discussion on this topic—here is the subsection of “the issue of selfishness”on its Childfree page:

“Some opponents of the childfree choice consider such a choice to be “selfish”. The rationale of this position is the assertion that raising children is a very important activity (childfree author Virginia Postrel calls it “the most important work most people will ever do”), and so not engaging in this activity must therefore mean living one’s life in service to one’s self.

There are two value judgments behind this idea: One is that individuals should endeavor to make some kind of meaningful contribution to the world. The other is that the best way to make such a contribution is to have children. For some people, one or both of these assumptions may be true, but others prefer to direct their time, energy and talents elsewhere, in many cases toward improving the world that today’s children will inherit.

Proponents of the childfree choice posit that choosing not to have children is no more or less selfish than choosing to have children, and in fact choosing to have children may be the more selfish choice especially when poor parenting creates many long term problems for both the children themselves and society at large. The decision to become a parent is often based on characteristically “selfish” and egotistical motives as well.

David Benatar argues that deciding to bring a child into this world does not have the potential person’s interest at mind but it’s the parents’ own desire (to enjoy child-rearing) that is at the heart of such a decision. Hence a childfree person is no more selfish than a person who has chosen to have a child. In fact, it can be the case that a parent is more selfish for the above stated reason.

There is also the question as to whether having children really is such a positive contribution to the world in an age when there are so many concerns about overpopulation, pollution and depletion of non-renewable resources. Some critics, however, argue that such analyses of breeding may understate the expected benefits of reproduction to society – e.g. a greater labor force, which may also provide greater opportunity to solve social problems as well – and overstate the costs.

Many childfree people are active in community volunteerism, are teachers, librarians, and authors of children’s books. Service groups, community theaters, and even youth centers, benefit from the many hours of work given by childfree people. Some childfree relatives assist in providing tuition assistance to nieces and nephews seeking higher education or specialized training in an area of interest or talent (music, swimming, acting, or horseback riding lessons, for example). Childfree advocates point to these activities as evidence that the childfree can and do contribute to the support of children in the society in ways other than providing offspring themselves.”

What are other common myths?

Those who don’t have kids by choice are more likely to have had troubled childhoods

They are no more likely to come from troubled childhoods than children that grow up to become parents. Very often, those who did have troubled childhoods want to have children to give their children the childhood they never had, or ultimately be a means by which they heal their own wounds from the past.

Those who don’t have kids by choice don’t like kids

While there are those that would say they don’t like kids, the lion’s share of childfree couples I interviewed did like kids; they just did not want them to become the major focus of their lives. And some even wanted that—I interviewed many people who were in occupations that are all about kids, such as teachers, child care workers, and working with mentally and physically disabled children.

Those who don’t have kids have lots of disposal income!

Not true from the couple I interviewed–I found that people from all socio-economic backgrounds make this decision, from professional nannies to senior partners in law firms.

The fact is we are from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all lifestyles. We have just made one major choice in life that is different than most.

What myths do you see most out there? As someone who is childfree what is the one thing you wish could be set straight?

8 thoughts on “Mad, Mad Myths About Those Who Opt Out of Parenthood

  1. Sorry to post so much, but it’s nice to see well-balanced articles on the subject! So many other childfree sites I’ve seen have been too derogatory toward parents (or, as they call them, “breeders”), and therefore off-putting. My decision not to have kids is based on personal preference, not because I think the decision to have children is an inferior one.

    The myth that bothers me most is that there’s no reason to get married if you don’t want kids. I love my husband an incredible amount, and am proud to say that I’m his wife and that we’re committed to one another throughout our lives. There’s the assumption that the purpose of marriage is to have kids, rather than to have someone there to laugh and cry with, to support and be supported by. Marriage shouldn’t be about being a mother and a father, but about being a husband and a wife. Even if you have kids, surely you can raise them better if you view your spouse as something more than just that other parent?

    1. There is no such thing as posting too much! Keep it up–thank you. It’s interesting how the myth re the purpose of marriage is about procreation remains pretty strong, even though research tells us that people don’t think so. I am going to post on this soon, but in a nutshell, what was so for oh about 1500 years (it was about procreation said the powers that be in government and church) in the mid 60s Griswold v Connecticut began the legal unraveling of procreation being so tightly tied to marriage. With the advent of the birth control pill being available to all in the 60-70s (supported by it being an era of “sexual revolution”) people’s minds continued to shift to why we get married (and get married at all!). In recent surveys, having children is low on the list of reasons why people say they get married. The church may try to continue the myth, but in reality, it is just not so…!L

  2. My husband’s in the military, and they tend to have fairly paternalistic views, so some of the stuff we get isn’t really that surprising. The same people have also said that they wouldn’t marry a woman who didn’t “respect” them enough to take their name (not a pointed observation–my husband and I share a name).

    While people may say they aren’t getting married to have kids, most of them who want children do seem to start trying for them a year or two into the marriage. It’s like it’s so accepted a timeline–marry, wait a year or so, children–that kids actually become a part of marriage. People say they aren’t getting married to have kids, because in their minds, kids and marriage are almost the same thing. Does that make sense?

  3. Thank you for this blog, Laura. I appreciate the fact that it’s respectful and thoughtful. 🙂

    I’m 34, and my husband and I are fence-sitters. We’re coming upon our 3rd wedding anniversary, and trying to decide whether to have children (I’m not a spring chicken, and we need to decide soon b/c I refuse to do fertility treatments). Right now, I’d say we’re both leaning more towards ‘no’ than ‘yes.’ Luckily, my parents are not pressuring us. The pressure I feel comes from my girlfriends with children. I’d say the myth they believe about childfree couples is that they are really “missing out.” I even had a friend imply that I wouldn’t feel the deepest depths of love until I have a child. Maybe parents do love their children more than non-parents can love anyone, who am I to say? But I don’t appreciate the implication. It’s as if she’s saying my emotional realm won’t be as full. My heart and life won’t be as rich without kids… like I’ll be emotionally stunted in some way.

    My husband and I are very happily married, and I love him tremendously. We are complete right now. I don’t feel as if anything is “missing.” But I have to admit that this implication about my emotional stuntedness concerns me. But then I think about the future child, if we were to have one. I don’t want to bring a child who I love SO MUCH into an overpopulated world where the resources are becoming scarce, and climate change is creating other adverse conditions. I want to raise a child in a world I feel good about, and I simply worry too much about the future of our planet (and our country… the U.S.). Maybe I’m loving our theoretical unborn child in a very deep way by NOT bringing him/ her into the world and subjecting him/ her to this scary future? I know it sounds strange, but there are all kinds of ways to love.

    1. Sara, Love your comments, and your point about loving the unborn child enough to be realistic about what his/her life would be like in today’s/future world is not strange at all–on the contrary, it is insightful, responsible and the farthest thing from selfish (which as you undoubtedly know we are also commonly accused of being)! I do wish more people thought like you before they just jump imto have kids. Your friends thinking you will be “missing out” on deep love–well true if you decide not to have childfren you will not experience that kind of love, but it certainly does not mean your emotional realm will not be as full as theirs. While well intended because your friends care for you and want the best for you, them thinking you have to be like them in order to find what they consider to be fulfillment in life is short sighted, and well, self-centered. It can also stem from fear–that if you don’t have kids and they do it will threaten the friendship because you won’t have something big in common. Next time they bring it up, you might try pushing the envelope and try to find out beyond why they think it is something You should do, ask them Why they want you to have kids–what would be in it for Them? This kind of conversation can be be very enlightening for all, and put an end to direct and indirect pressures to have children. Thanks again for your thoughts — worthy of a post in and of itself! ~L

  4. Thank you, Laura. Your response has made me feel better… more validated. I’m so glad I found your blog. It’s a life-saver! 🙂

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