Choosing to be Childless, Is It Selfish?

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The usual order of things is that people meet one another, fall in love, become engaged and marry. One of the oldest customs at the wedding ceremony is to throw rice after the vows are taken. Today, due to environmental considerations, we use substitutes for rice . Regardless of whether it’s rice or some alternative substance, the purpose is the same. It’s a symbol of fertility. The message is clear from the outset. Society expects the couple to have children.

After the wedding, couples face pressure to procreate in a number of ways. Parents and in laws make it perfectly clear that they want grandchildren. The way this is communicated may be direct or indirect. Directly, there are those family members who straight out ask the couple when they plan to have children, or “Isn’t it time already?” Others make more subtle hints, such as asking when the couple plans to purchase a home with more room than they now have. They may use such terms as “the clock is ticking.” This is usually directed at the wife. Friends who are married and pregnant or who already have children may ask similar questions about having a child. The point is that very strong pressure is exerted on the couple to “start having a family.”


But what if the couple opts to not have children? Let’s clarify. It’s not that they are infertile. It’s not that one or both have some type of physiological problem that renders them unable to have children. The fact is that they are fully capable of procreating but choose not to. Today, there are more couples than ever who make this choice. In fact, some of them go so far as to have surgery to render themselves infertile. For a man, this means a vasectomy and for a woman, a tubal ligation.

Are these couples being selfish by not having children? Why would they make such a choice? What motivates them? Doesn’t marriage mean having children?

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It is tempting to believe that a life without children is chosen because people think of themselves as being unfit for parenthood. For example, they may experience too much depression or mental illness to safely raise a family. Or, they may have serious addiction problems, an angry temperament, etc. While a few people may make this choice because they know they would be unfit to raise children, for most this is not true. Rather than being unfit, they would make wonderful parents. They have plenty of money, patience, confidence, warmth and love to raise happy kids. Yet they choose not to.

There are many motivating factors for choosing not to have kids. These people make this decision because they feel very strongly about it. In fact, many of them reject the use of the term “childless” and prefer “childfree” because it has less of a judgmental tone to it and better expresses their sentiments.

Among the couples who choose a childfree way of life, there are those who express the fact that they do not wish to be tied down with the chores and responsibilities of raising a family. They know, from their own childhood experiences, that having children means delaying careers, travel, hobbies, exploration and other sought after life experiences.

One individual put it this way:

“I just don’t want the hassle. Changing diapers and chauffeuring a kid all over town just isn’t for me.” Many childfree couples explain their decision in just this way. They don’t want the exhaustion that comes with having children. They don’t want to get up in the middle of the night to feed and care for an infant. They don’t want to have to stay at home when their child is sick with a cold or sore throat. They don’t want to spend money on child care and pre school when they work. In fact, they argue that there is no point in having children if you are not going to be home to raise them. They point out the fact that their sisters or brothers who have children are under pressure all the time because the demands of parenthood are relentless. Instead, they prefer to have the stability and peace that comes with being childfree. They explain that this also gives them the opportunity to enjoy their marriages without having to cope with the distractions presented by children.

Others are motivated by political and environmental factors. For example, they cite the increasing problem of over population around the world and do not want to add to the problem. They cite the growing number of poverty stricken and starving youngsters around the world. They don’t wish to adopt. They simply don’t want to add to the problem, at least, as they see it.

One of the greatest catalysts for not having children is the women’s liberation movement. While nothing much is heard about this any longer, it continues to exert influence over how women see their roles in life. In these cases, men and women are rejecting what they see as the stereotyping of how the genders are supposed to live. Women are groomed to become pregnant and give birth. Men are expected to father and raise children with their wives.

In contrast to these traditional male and female roles, women are now able to have professional careers once reserved only for men. The 1950’s family structure of the woman being at home in the suburbs, raising the children, while their husbands earned a living for the entire family no longer exists. Today women becomelawyers, MD’s, veterinarians, business people, managers and business owners. In this scenario, husband and wife each have a professional or business life and the combined wealth that accompanies it.

Of course there are those who ask childfree people why they married if they had no intent of having children? The responses to this query are varied but one of them is that they love their spouse and want to spend their lives together. Therefore, why shouldn’t they marry, even they choose not to raise a family?

As for the often voiced argument, “someday you will regret this decision,” they respond that they have no regrets. This is asserted even by those who have reached old age. They point out that they have lived happy and productive lives and were also free to enjoy all the things life had to offer.

What are your opinions about choosing to be childfree? Are these people being selfish? Shouldn’t people who have the means and the temperament to raise a family have children? Isn’t there a religious imperative to marry in order to have children, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Catholic or Muslim?

Your opinions and comments about this sensitive and controversial issue are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

For those readers who may be interested there is a website for people who choose to be child free. It can be found at the following URL:

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