“Pope Francis has directly described those who choose not to have children as ‘selfish’ and as obsessed with material things.”
The childfree beat goes on. La dee da deh dee. La dee da deh dah.
You would think the childfree horse has been adequately beaten to the mushy lump of flesh you’d find in any opening scene from Bones (which somehow always comes on right when I’m taking my first bite of dinner).
But, it isn’t. Something new comes out just about every month.
- April 2015: No Kids for Me, Thank You (New York Times)
- May 2015: 10 Things Childfree Women Want Their Friends to Know (Huffington Post)
- June 2015: The Dark Side of Living Childfree (Patheos)
- July 2015: 270 Reasons Women Choose Not to Have Children (Huffington Post)
- Aug. 2015: Why are Some Men and Women Choosing a Life Without Kids? (SBS)
And then we reach September 2015.
From “Pope Francis Vs. the Bible: A History of the Debate Over Being Childless” in the Daily Beast:
Pope Francis has directly described those who choose not to have children as ‘selfish’ and as obsessed with material things.
There are more important things to say about coercing people into parenthood, but the persistent notion that childfree=selfish needs addressing first.
It’s true: Some childfree – and childless – people are selfish.
But on the positive side, the childfree people who are selfish are being selfish in the absence of children who could be hurt by it.
But there are selfish parents, too. Having children doesn’t isn’t some kind of cure for selfishness. Not only are there people who have children for purely selfish reasons (to trap someone, to punish someone, to get money, etc.), there are selfish parents who don’t want to spend their fun-money on toys or clothes, who would rather do anything but hang out with their kids, or who would use their kids as weapons against a spouse or former spouse.
No particular group owns selfishness. It’s everywhere.
Choosing not to have children isn’t inherently selfish, but it can be a deliberately unselfish act. Some choose to forego having children because of a disease in the family, or mental illness, or the possibility of a complication that could damage the quality of the child’s life. What they don’t say is, “I want kids! I’ll risk it,” offering the child they create the opportunity to be the only real one at risk.
Others choose not to have children because their personal histories might make them bad parents. Still others have concerns about overpopulation and would like to, at the very least, help maintain a consistent population level with one new baby for every existing person (no more than two children per couple, which the Duggars and their ilk have taken care of for many a childfree couple).
Not one of those reasons is selfish.
The Pope’s argument in favor of children obviously stems from the Bible’s call to be fruitful and multiply, and Daily Beast writers Moss and Baden do their best to refute the argument that, according to the Bible, not having children is sinful. However, they only find passages that defend childlessness as a result of infertility. (Well, they also find evidence that in the end days it’s best not to have kids, but we’re probably not there quite yet.) What they fail to address (or defend) is the conscious, pre-end-days choice to not have children.
Pope Francis says being childfree is materialistic and “selfish.” The Washington Posts’s Kathleen Parker would agree, having suggested women avoid having children because they don’t want their bodies to change. These widely-held opinions egregiously oversimplify the act of creating life and reduce it to what Parker calls “the only question left to those with first-world problems.”
This is a lovely oversimplification, and it would be nice if it were true; however, whether to have children is a full-world problem. In some nations rampant, instinct-driven baby-having leads to mass starvation and AIDS epidemics; in others, such as our idyllic first-world nation, it leads to the perpetuation of poverty and unfit individuals in all socioeconomic brackets abusing and neglecting their offspring to the degree of five dead kids a day.
On a level that doesn’t create a life-and-death situation for the children strangers so desperately want all women to mindlessly bring into the world, the push to procreate delivered by newspaper and television personalities with an audience of millions creates immense pressure in young women to live one particular kind of life. That it is somehow acceptable to imply in popular media – or as a highly respected religious leader – that women who don’t want children are selfish, narcissistic, cold, unwise, immature, or silly adds to the pressure by communicating that they – we – are so unquestionably “wrong” that there should be no social barriers or general rules of propriety preventing this kind of open defamation.
But, let’s pretend for a moment that whether to create and form new human beings isn’t a monumental task best left only to those who truly want them – and who at the same time have considered the consequences and are fit to do the job–
Oh. Wait. That’s where we’ve always been.
There’s a phrase I can’t stand, one frequently used to get pornography off the internet or ban the use of colorful labels on liquor bottles: “Think of the children.”
If there’s any time to use that phrase, it’s in cases like this, when it seems the last people considered in the push to get women to have babies–regardless of the potential parents’ emotional, psychological, or financial fitness or desire to be parents–is the babies those people will have.
Don’t care about the happiness or goals of the uterus-bearers. That’s fine. Their lives, now that they’re of uninteresting walking-and-talking age, are irrelevant. But, please, in all sincerity, at the very least, think of the children.
And don’t worry about “everyone deciding not to have children” and the extinction of our species. Not only do too many people want children for that to ever happen, we’re far too narcissistic to ever let it happen.
*Parts of this blog post were taken from a 2013 reply to Kathleen Parker’s Of Pleasure and Parenthood