Does having children make you selfish?

Tauriq Moosa replies to Georgina Guedes's honest and thoughtful piece on having children.


Georgina Guedes penned a thoughtful response to Jill Filipovic's article on being childfree.

Filipovic argues, correctly, that being child-free is not 'selfish'- a strange accusation that is thrown about, usually at women.

There's no law violated by choosing not to use our genitals for procreation, just as we are not violating a law by using noses to support spectacles or monocles (or however those work).

Guedes correctly highlights, though, that the word ‘selfish’ really should be got rid of from this debate. She highlights that she selfishly wanted kids“…because that’s what I wanted. For me, having children was a selfish act. It was a thing that I desperately wanted, and nothing was going to stand [in] my way. I didn’t do it as an exercise in selflessness, I did it to scratch the maternal itch that had been niggling at me for years”.

Guedes is rightfully targeting the idea that by giving up the freedoms of non-parental life to raise children, we are being selfless. Yet Guedes turns this argument around and rightfully, honestly, points out the selfish nature of procreation.

“I imagine that people who don’t have kids by choice are doing exactly what they want too. I don’t call this selfish, but I don’t think it’s admirable either”.

I agree, too. As someone who will never procreate, I don't see anything admirable in that gesture – or rather that non-gesture?

However, if we are getting rid of the "selfish" claim trotted out like a guard dog against those who are "weird" - for not wanting or having children - we need to examine other areas.

The idea of creating new people must have a basis in whether it's at least right or not, that means assessing whether it is right or wrong to have children.

By asserting her reasons as "selfish", as merely wanting "to scratch the maternal itch", Guedes has given no good moral reasons for procreation. She's given biographical descriptions - honest descriptions - but not justifications.

Merely wanting something doesn't mean you should have it; what makes the maternal itch morally sound by definition?

To be clear: Guedes wasn't defending a moral position in this piece, but she did highlight her reasons for actions - more honestly than most. And we can almost always assess reasons for actions and judge them as right or wrong.

Presumably we all want to act for the best reasons, not ones that feed mere biological yearnings (at least in actions that will affect others).

And creating more people does not merely affect you, but those around you and most importantly the new life which you have brought into this world.

That so few consider why they should have children is perhaps the most troubling aspect when this topic comes up. Admitting selfishness and mere maternal itch scratching is at least a step towards self-reflection, even if it's not actually a justified claim.

(I should mention that the idea of "selfish" seems to flirt with the idea that magical children exist somewhere just waiting to be born. By not creating them, by thinking only of ourselves, we condemn these innocent children somehow. However, no one is being passed over or abandoned since these children by definition, don’t exist.)

Finally, Guedes uses the word parenthood for both procreation and actual raising of children. The latter can be done without procreation and vice versa (both in the sense of donating semen and “eggs” and in the unfortunate, abusive form where people have kids but don’t care about them).

I do admire people who don't procreate but adopt (assuming they're decent people and can look after children) Many people can procreate – most of us have the requisite anatomical requirements. But raising children, looking after them, is something else entirely.

We should clarify constantly in these discussions what we mean by parenthood, which is why I'd rather stick with procreation - since parenthood in terms of looking after, raising and loving those less vulnerable, is not only worth admiring, but worth emulating. But it doesn’t require making more children.

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