Tag Archives: god

Why it’s Selfish to have Children

5 Jun

This is going to be unpopular, but sometimes you have to release the words or they just bounce about in your head forever. Try to engage the argument rather than releasing a visceral diatribe.

As it stands having kids is widely held to be a good thing. It’s rewarded by society via tax breaks, applauded by relatives and friends, is described as selfless, loving, altruistic etc.

I’m going to put forward the counter argument – that having children is selfish and ethically dubious.

What has Changed – Contraception and Choice

Prior to the availability of reliable contraception in the 60’s, having a child was the unavoidable by-product of placating certain natural urges, while technically you could argue there is always a “choice”, a fair minded person would not consider it so.

Now that contraception is available, accidents notwithstanding, having a child is making a positive decision.

Generally when a person(s) takes an action which has implications for themselves or others, the onus is on them to justify the action.

For example; If I own a plot of land and wish to build a house on it, I need to apply for planning permission. I must explain my intentions in detail so they can be assessed with regard to their impact on others. On the other hand, if I wish to leave my plot of land empty, obviously no justification is required.

Strangely when it comes to procreating, exactly the opposite seems to be the case; couples who do not have children are questioned, procreators get an automatic green flag and a pat on the back.

At this point all I want to say is;

1) At the present time having children is (usually) a choice,

2) The people making that choice are obligated to justify it.

Common Reasons given for Having Children

Over the last 2 years, as the situation allowed, I have asked people who have intentionally chosen to have children what their reasons and motivations were. Occasionally I got something unusual, however for the most part a clear pattern emerged with the reasoning falling into the following buckets:

1)    Fulfilling emotional needs (usually women), typically;

Babies are lovely.

Since I was young it’s what I’ve always wanted.

Having a family completes you.

I wanted someone to love, nurture etc.

2)    Self actualisation / Social proof (men and women);

Being a parent is a great experience, you learn a lot about yourself, etc.

It seemed like the right time to start a family.

It’s better [for me] to have more people like me around.

It makes your old age better.

3)    Grasping at immortality (always men);

I did not achieve much, my children will do better.

I will live on through my genes.

My ideas will live on.

For every reason given above, ask the question, who is the beneficiary? Contrary to being a “selfless act”, people have children because it makes THEIR lives better… And, yes, creating a person because you “need someone to love” is selfish, however “right” it might feel to you.

There are rationales that could be given which would not be selfish and one person did actually manage it, however the overwhelming motivation for having children seems to come from a desire to make the parents life better.

While we are here, I would like to point out that while #1 and #2 are selfish, #3 is both selfish and false. Sure, some bits of the instruction set for your body (after random scrambling and recombination) will be present in your children, but that is in no way “you”, do yourselves a favour and get a book on genetics. Your cherished ideas are also heading for the waste bin, and it’s just as well, if ideas could be inherited in the way you imply then we’d still believe the earth was flat. I’m sorry but the idea that you can live on vicariously through your children is a vain hope indeed.

Of course I have not yet argued that there is anything unethically about having children, I am merely saying that the motivations are selfish. It could be the case that although the motivations are selfish, the result is beneficial anyway. For now all I want to say is;

1)    People who chose to have children are obligated to justify that choice

2)    Reasons given for having children almost all centre on improving the lives of the parents in some way, i.e. are selfish.

Why Having Children is Ethically Dubious

How could something so natural be unethical? Quite easily, first of all let’s get the naturalistic fallacy out of the way because it comes up so often. The naturalistic fallacy is where we point to nature as the yard stick for what is moral or ethical – if the animals do it, then it must be ok. Did you know that on starting a relationship with a lioness, a male lion will kill all the lioness’ cubs? Also if you have visited the zoo, you may have seen monkeys peeing into their own mouths. Nature doesn’t have a say in ethics.

Everybody’s doing it. Again, it’s a fallacy (argumentum ad populum), just because a behaviour is widespread that does not make it ok. Back in the day slavery was universally practised, the argument was successfully made that the institution was immoral, now it is universally condemned.

But what specifically is the problem with having children?

Essentially, you are gambling with someone else’s welfare. You cannot guarantee the person you decided to create will have a good life.

Your child may be born with a major disability; they may be born mentally retarded, deaf or blind. They may be involved in a car accident, get an illness, catch a disease, suffer from depression, or some other misfortune with money or love. Every drunk in the bar, every cancer patient, every drug addict, every beggar you see on the sidewalk was someone’s child. And we have not even considered the suffering they may cause to others, the shoplifter, the rapist, the murdered…

These children did not need to exist, and they would not exist, if their parents had not created them. If they did not exist no harm would have been done, you cannot regret not existing if you do not exist. However a positive choice was made, they do exist and harm has been done.

This is what I am saying;

1)    Parents make a positive culpable choice to have children.

2)    They do this to make their own lives better.

3)    And often create a great deal of suffering as a result.

Some people would like to equate having children with a Forrest Gump box of chocolates “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”. The problem with the analogy is all chocolates are pretty good – the reality however is that life can contain very serious harm.

A better analogy would be that having children is more like playing Russian roulette, with someone else – for your benefit.

Addendum – Common Responses

Having made the argument, these are some of the typical responses:

#1        I am glad that I am alive / it’s good to be alive.

All organisms fear death (not existing) it’s in their programming, so it’s understandable that you value (your) existence. However, if you had never been born, you would not know it or regret it. If you have had a good life, please keep in mind that many people do not. Also as you get older you will experience more of the “downside”, bear this in mind when making bold statements about how wonderful life is. Getting old, sick and dying (usually painfully) is something you still have coming.

#2        Life for most people must be good because few commit suicide

This is a silly argument. Wishing you had never been born is totally different from suicide. Firstly we are all shit scared of dying, see #1, if you don’t believe this go stand on the edge of a tall bridge. Secondly consider the suffering you would inflict on your relatives if you committed suicide. Never got born = no harm done, suicide = much harm done.

#3        Life in general is a good thing.

If people really believed this they would have lots of children, as it is they usually have 2 or 3, that is because having children is about making THEIR life better, not about more humans being good in and of itself.

#4        If your logic was followed to it’s conclusion the human race would go extinct.

True, but that’s not going to happen because most people will always be overcome by the temptation to improve their lives by having children. Also you need to explain to me why that’s a bad thing. If the idea of planet earth minus humans disturbs you, do you regret the billions of years the earth did not have humans on it? Do you regret all the “Goldilocks” planets without life on them? Do these things keep you up at night? Of course not.

#5        You are just bitter because your life sucks.

Go back, read the argument, it is in no way contingent on my quality of life or how I feel, in fact it does not mention me at all. This is called an ad hominem.

#6        My children will pay your pension.

This is a bit like robbing a convenience store and offering some of the stolen goods to get me to OK your heist. Not gonna happen buddy.

#7        My children will be [insert religion] like me, so they will go to heaven…

I’ve had a few conversations with people of faith on this subject; the initial reasons given for having children are always the same as for everyone else. However after I point out the children they have may suffer harm, they typically agree, but state that heaven will make it all worthwhile.

Be careful. You potentially make my argument stronger than it could ever be for an atheist. Just as you cannot guarantee a healthy baby, you cannot guarantee your child will adopt the same religious worldview as you.

Fill in and verbalise the following sentence:

If my child [C] turns away from [religion] the consequences for [C] will be [X]

For some religious worldviews, it AMAZES me that not only do the members have children, they are most vocal in extolling the virtues thereof.

#8        You hate children…

No, just like you, I’m very fond of them, they are cute and funny, having children around makes life better. But when people create children they take a gamble, with someone else’s welfare to improve their own lives. That is the problem.


No Baby No Cry