Is having kids selfish or selfless?

This is a discussion on another board, and I’m curious as to what our Dopers here think.

To me, it’s selfish. We’re having kids because we wanted to, not for any altruistic reasons. I have no visions of my kid curing cancer or saving the world (not that I wouldn’t like to see it), but I just don’t see how having children is considered a selfless act.

So…what do you think? Is it selfish or selfless to have kids? Are you doing the world a favor?


I too, have been greatly puzzled (and extremely annoyed) by people who, in the past, have called me “selfish” for not wanting children.

But I have come to realize that those people aren’t thinking I would be doing the world a service by having children. (Since at least one of them was a creationist, I feel safe in saying that they are not necessarily motivated by a concern that the childless aren’t contributing to the evolution of the species, either.) What they think is that without children to love, cherish and most importantly, work hard and make sacrifices for, a person is too wrapped up in his or her own selfish pursuits :rolleyes: . After all, you don’t hear them calling members of celibate religious orders selfish for not having children.

I wouldn’t call having children “selfish” either. Sure, it might be a fulfillment of the parents’ personal desires, but I see nothing wrong with that. (There are exceptions, though. Please don’t ask me about my cousin who has six children by as many fathers, seemingly because she enjoys having babies. She doesn’t get the “love, cherish, work hard and make sacrifices for” part.)

Doing what one wants isn’t automatically selfish, which to me, at least, is a very harsh pejorative.

We are biologically wired too have them as a species, I would wag that intentionally not having them is the selfish act.

How does one follow from the other? You could argue that men are biologically wired to sleep with as many women as possible. Am I being selfish by being monogamous?

Mark me down as “neither.” Or “both.” Really, it depends on why the person has decided to have or not to have children. There are too many reasons for either decision to be able to pigeonhole it as one or the other.

If it must be one or the other, selfish. Or do people think “my genes are so absolutely amazing that they must be passed on or humanity will suffer”? Whatever.

There’s nothing selfless about having a child - there are ways to raise a child that might be considered selfless once it’s already there, but having one is not a selfless act.


Above and beyond that, the dichotomy of “selfish versus selfless” has an inappropriate (in this context) semantic connotation; someone who claims that you are “selfish” for not having children is speaking in terms of their own expectation, i.e. you are not living your life as they see fit/providing them with grandchildren/suffering the same economic sacrifices as parents, et cetera. You can certainly provide great benefit to society at large (assuming that this is the criteria for selflessness) without every siring or bearing children, and the vast majority of offspring offer little or nothing of permenant value to humanity. Anybody who views the act of rearing children as definitionally either selfless or selfish is too simplistic in their outlook to be worthy of consideration of their opinion on the topic. IMHO, of course.


I’m not really talking about rearing children, though - I’m talking about the act of HAVING them purposely - choosing to have a child.

To me, our choice to have a child IS selfish. We’ve done it because we wanted to, not for any other reason. I don’t know how I view the choice NOT to have a child - I think if you know you’d be a bad parent or that having a child wouldn’t be in the child’s best interest is NOT a selfish act.

Raising kids is a totally different story, I think. Giving up things for yourself for your kids, going without so they can have, making sure they’re fed, clothed, and well-cared for - yeah, I would consider that more along the lines of totally unselfish and into the realm of selflessness.


If you have to choose one or the other, I would have to say the decision to have kids is selfish - people don’t have kids for the kids’ sake. They don’t go into it thinking, “This is the best thing I can possibly do for these kids, is to give birth to them.” People just want them, so they have them.

I agree that your post is a non sequitur, kanicbird. My husband and I have no interest in having kids, and we have no problem accepting that that makes us biological dead-ends. Being biological dead-ends doesn’t make us selfish or non-selfish, though. (Although recognizing that we don’t want kids and having them anyway would be - selfish isn’t the word. More like disastrous.)

Selfish. We live in an unpleasant world, full of tragedy, injustice and suffering. I consider it wrong to bring one more unfortunate into the world.

Definitely selfish.
I often ask people why they decided to have children:

“Because I wanted to carry on my name.”

“Because that way, I can leave a little piece of me behind when I die.”

“Well who else is going to take care of me when I’m old?”

“I didn’t plan it. It just happened.”

“I was in love, and my boyfriend/husband/partner wanted a child.”

“I wanted to complete my life.”

These are all selfish reasons. It’s all about what the parents want, not about what’s best for society or the planet. I don’t believe people think about that very much.

I think having children is a social norm, and that if you don’t, people wonder what’s wrong with you. But more and more people (my friends included), have decided NOT to have children, and I personally consider that an educated, intelligent decision.

Choosing to have a child is not simply the biological act of a willing ovum meeting a friendly sperm, it’s choosing to have everything that follows – up to and including rearing a child. You can’t separate the two.

If you could separate the kit from the kaboodle, I’d argue choosing to have a child is an unselfish act for a woman (and a morally neutral one for a man). Choosing to have a child requires a woman to subjugate her body and her health to another person, the child. But that’s not really what you’re talking about. You’re talking about the whole shebang: not just the choice, but the action that follows.

I want to have kids, and I would agree that some of my reasons for wanting kids are selfish. I want to see MY DNA live on in the next generation. I want to have the fun of seeing MY kids accomplish things in life and spawn grandkids for ME to play with. I want someone younger around to keep me company and keep an eye on me in MY old age…yep, kind of selfish.

On the other hand, there are some foster and adoptive parents that I would consider to be pretty selfless: They choose to have kids not to pass on their DNA or anything like that, but just because they want to make a kid’s life better.

However, I also think some people who choose not to have kids do so for selfless reasons. Since the biological urge to have kids can be strong, I’d expect that for some people it is a bit of a painful sacrifice to admit to themselves that they wouldn’t be a good parent and that it would be best not to have kids. So, I don’t think that either choice is necessarily selfish or selfless.

There is an organization called the Nobel Sperm Bank that tried to collect semen from nobel laureates (most wouldn’t donate, so they just collected from generally successful people instead of laureates). Many of them would agree with your idea and the group was started with that idea in mind.
I would say having kids is more complex. Having kids and mating is a complusion more than anything else. I don’t know if that falls under either category as both imply that the individual thinks about it and decides on one path or another (I’ll decide to have kids for my own reasons or for their reasons). I don’t think people do that, I think due to natural selection most of us just feel compelled to mate and have children so really neither label applies as it really isn’t based on the whims or desires of the parents.

If I did pick one answer or another I would say it is selfish, but there is selflessness in there, but at the core it is selfish and a desire to pass on genes.

I can’t see it as an either/or question. People have lots of different reasons for having children, and I don’t see how you can separate the “having” part from the “raising” part very easily. When we decided to have children, we also committed to raising them the best we could. Probably some of my reasons for wanting to have kids were selfish–my mommy-brain-stem was in overdrive–but on the whole it’s made me into a much less selfish person.

And now I shouldn’t have any more children; my body won’t easily take it. The first two took quite a toll, as pregnancy often does. Is it now selfish of me not to have more children, as some might say? Or am I now selfless for not having more because I’m selfish enough to want to stay healthy?

I’m not sure some of this childbearing thing really even comes under the heading of ‘selfish’ or ‘selfless.’ For many of us, it’s a deep-seated biological and moral imperative that requires years of self-sacrifice as well as fun and snuggles. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saw, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my kid, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for another one.” Is that selfish or selfless? I dunno, I’m not sure it’s either.

I’m for a moratorium on use of the word “selfish” to judge one another for choosing how to live one’s life. I see the word used to control people instead of to elicit humanitarianism.

Having kids is inherently selfish, but not always in a bad way.

I’ve mentioned before that my husband has a congenital disorder that has a 50% chance of being passed on to any children we might have. It’s not fatal, but it can result in a vastly reduced quality of life, and massive amounts of corrective surgery can be necessary in early childhood just to get to that quality of life. We’ve made the decision not to conceive children - to do otherwise, just so we could have a child to carry on our name/(defective) genes would be selfish. In a bad way.

Falling pregnant to trap a partner, or sabotaging birth control efforts to try and salvage a relationship is also selfish in the bad way. You’re using another living being as a tool to manipulate someone else. Not good.

But the simple drive to have children, to raise them and love them is also selfish. You want your name/dna/legacy to go out into the world. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you raise a good child into a good person, then they’re ultimately going to do good for the world. It may only be in small ways, but every little bit helps.

Or so goes my crazy theory anyway.

Seconded. And by the way, if it’s all down to “biological wiring”, what, adoption is now “unnatural”?

I do not see any grounds on which having children can be regarded as selfish. Having kids means pain, effort, expense, difficulty. Having kids means changing diapers. Having kids means long, sleepless nights of comforting a crying baby. Having kids means dealing with ear aches, head aches, tummy aches, and various other aches. Having kids means parent-teacher conferences. Having kids means spending August at home, driving them to summer camp when you’d rather be taking a cruise.

Do you really think that anyone has children if they don’t intend the children to be the center of their life? Do you really think that there’s anyone for whom love of the ikds isn’t the driving force? Do you think that when parents are up treating an ear infection at two in the morning, they’re thinking about passing on the family name? Do you really think that people endure PTA meetings because they want someone to take care of them when they’re old? Do people change diapers in order to complete themselves?

I suppose you could call it a benevolent perversion of one’s natural instincts. We are “wired” to feel affection towards the children we take care of, which is normally our genetic child; if we take in a stranger’s child our instincts aren’t bright enough to tell the difference; we bond to it just the same.

As far as some behavior being unnatural; almost all our behavior is unnatural. Humans past infancy seldom rely on pure instinct; we learn and think. If we don’t learn and think about something, we’re either brain damaged or a fool. Natural and good aren’t the same thing, and if unaided instincts were so good we would never have involved intelligence. Embrace your unnaturalness !

People can be amazingly shortsighted; just because those things are true doesn’t mean they really thought about the implications before having a kid. And yes, many parents are selfish; even ignoring outright abuse, look at the parents who treat their kids as a Mini-Me, living vicariously through them and doing things like pushing them to compete fanatically at sports or academics or the arts. All the stuff they were never good at.

An awful lot of people have kids by accident.

Err, yes. Quite a few people abuse or neglect their kids.