As a happily-married, high-achieving, spiritual but non-practicing Catholic woman who has happily chosen to be childfree, I am familiar with the various opinions -- popular or non-popular -- on the subject of deciding between having children and not. One of the most prevalent opinions is shared by Ross Douthat's "Parental Pity Party," which was published in the New York Times on February 15, 2014. Although I appreciate Mr. Douthat's candidness on the "un-decadent hardships" of parenting, I do not agree with his premise that choosing to be childfree is decadent or selfish.
Oftentimes, one hears that people who choose to have children think of themselves as unselfish. Are they really? What are the real reasons for them to choose to have children? Are they looking to find meaning in their lives? Are they following a religious or societal dogma? Do they want to extend their family legacy? Looking at it from a different perspective, most people choose to have children for "selfish" reasons -- to make them happy, to find meaning in their lives, to extend their family legacy, heck, even to qualify for government's subsidies or other financial incentives reasons.
We need to change the paradigm in which the conversation of whether or not to have children shifts from selfish vs. unselfish and decadence vs. un-decadence, to where we respect each other's choices. America is the land of the free, where even in the Declaration of Independence, it was stated that Americans were of one mind to protect "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." People are supposed to be free to choose whatever they want to do with their lives, provided they do not commit criminal activities, of course. And this includes the very personal choice of whether or not to have children.
My husband and I have been happily married for almost 13 years and we have made the conscious decision to be childfree. The way we came to our decision was neither earth-shattering nor epiphanic, but was rather an accumulation of experiences and preferences. Our reasons are personal and we respect others who make a different decision. We also recognize the tremendous life purpose and immeasurable emotional rewards that come with raising children. To be fair, we find that many of our friends and family, and even some strangers, respect our choice. Unfortunately, there are still others out there who pass judgments, consciously or unconsciously. That is one reason why most people, especially women, may be hesitant to talk openly about their childfree choice, lest they are judged as selfish, or worse, pitied.
To balance the well-established point of view, there are "unselfish" reasons not to have children. According to the InterAcademy Panel Statement on Population Growth (1994), many environmental problems, such as rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming and pollution, are aggravated by population expansion. Wikipedia also stated that other problems associated with overpopulation include increased demand for resources such as fresh water and food, starvation and malnutrition, consumption of natural resources (such as fossil fuels) faster than the rate of regeneration, and a deterioration in living conditions. The United Nations estimated the current world's population to be over 7 billion and growing to over 10 billion by 2050. Some scientists and environmentalists are concerned that the rapid recent increase in human population is causing some adverse impacts that the planet may not be able to sustain the present or larger numbers of inhabitants.
In light of this, making new children can be argued as selfish because how can one be so concerned as to reproduce one's "self," when there are so many other abandoned and suffering children in this world? According to a June 2013 BBC report, a child dies of hunger every 10 seconds and more than three million children died of under-nutrition in 2011 alone. By choosing not to have children, the childfree person chooses not to contribute to the overpopulation problem.
While parenthood is an important job and if done well will benefit society in many important ways, for the childfree couples, especially women, this choice can also results in as much meaning in their lives as parents do. By not having children, the childfree couples will have more freedom to pursue work that may actually benefit society more, like dedicating themselves to public service and mentoring poor children. Moreover, by not having to provide financial resources or legacies to one's children, the childfree man or woman can retire early and devote his or her time to important causes around the world.
The bottom line is people should be free to make choices that make them happy. Just as I respect those who choose to be parents, I hope those parents also respect my choice to be childfree.
And for Mr. Douthat, while I enjoy my long brunches, that's not all I do. And no, I also do not mind the stain on my favorite sweater. And I know it is not from the béarnaise sauce.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly spelled Ross Douthat's last name.