Since then, the whole matter has stuck in my head. Is it smart or selfish to have children? Several readers have emailed me their thoughts on the subject as well.
In the end, I don’t think you can strictly say whether it’s smart or selfish to have children or not without deeply knowing the people you’re talking about.
First of all, children are expensive. An average child born today will take up somewhere on the order of $300,000 in expenses before they are fully independent (though, honestly, some of that is offset by behavioral choices made by parents). They also require a lot of time, emotional giving, and patience.
Some people – and I would put myself in that camp – deeply want to be parents. It’s a personal goal in their lives. They spend a lot of time focusing on how to be good parents. They genuinely strive to produce good children, not only for the benefit of society, but because it’s a personal drive within the parent.
For me, the price of being a parent is one I’m willing to pay, because being a parent is something I’m intrinsically driven to do. My deepest personal values tell me that being intimately involved with the crafting of the future people of this world – directly, in the case of my children, and indirectly, in the case of many of their peers – is one of the most valuable things I have to do in life. I can equip them with the basic tools they need to achieve things beyond my imagination.
Other people don’t have that drive. Their motivations and goals and aspirations lie elsewhere – in career paths, personal endeavors, or other areas. Without that drive, they tend to see the costs – which are easily calculable – in front of the benefits, which are much less direct at first glance.
I think that many people are on the fence about where they stand. They see the positive experience that some parents have and want that in their life, but they’re also taken aback by the problems and difficulties and social implications of parenting.
My belief is that if you don’t wish to have children, don’t have children. If you think that children are more trouble than they’re worth, you probably should not have children.
I also believe that if you feel driven to have a child, you should do everything you can to prepare to be the best parent you can be. This means spending the time to really figure out who you are, how to control your emotions, how to teach, and most importantly, how to be patient.
The world needs both parents and non-parents. There is a lot of societal value in a wide range of skills, abilities, and thoughts. I absolutely feel that being a parent is a noble choice, but that does not imply that DINKs are not making a noble choice. They’re making a different one in line with their values, goals, and talents.
To put it simply, I think it’s smart to follow your nature and inner drive – whether that leads you to be a parent or not – and it’s selfish to ignore that drive and push yourself in a different direction. If you’re born to be a caregiver, it’s smart to become one and selfish to push away that nurturing side. Similarly, if you’re born without that ability, it’s selfish to try to force yourself into it, but quite smart to seek out and follow your other talents.
The worst thing that either side can do is insult the other and believe that their side of the coin is the only worthy side. We need both parents and non-parents in society – without both, we would see the end of the human race.
Just remember, you don’t have to be in either group. If you listen to your heart of hearts, though, it will eventually guide you to where you should be. Just remember that society needs the caregivers and it also needs those who walk alone and blaze a different path.