Dear Pope Francis,
Today, you told the world that “the choice not to have children is selfish” referring to a “greedy generation” who is not reproducing enough. Since you don’t have any kids yourself, and I’m the mother of three, I thought it might be helpful to hear about my experience. Becoming a parent is probably the most selfish thing I ever did, and I’m far from unique.
Before I had children, like lots of people, I was busy contributing to society. I created a non-profit organization to foster and train ethical women leaders, produced top-rated talk radio programs, and wrote about politics and culture for newspapers, magazines, and the internet. I also spoke on radio and TV programs about these issues. At that time, I dated, but had no interest in having children or getting married ever. But when I was 32, I fell in love. I was so into this guy that I started to wonder what it would be like to create another human with him. The idea that you could make a baby with someone you love seemed crazy magical to me, so beautiful, like a miracle. I decided I wanted to have that experience. He felt the same way.
He wanted to get married, and I didn’t. For most of my life, I thought marriage was oppressive to women, taking his name, wearing virginal white, being given away by your father to another man etc. If you’re committed, you don’t need a piece of paper. But something happened to change my mind. I I live in San Francisco, and gay people were organizing and fighting hard for the right to get married. Witnessing people advocate for something I’d always taken for granted forced me to rethink the institution. I realized that since Biblical times (and even earlier) when women were property traded by men, marriage has been evolving and will continue to. Being a part of that movement felt inspiring, so we got married.
Over the next six years, we had two more kids, mostly because making babies and raising humans is as selfishly magical as I expected. It’s really fun creating little people and watching them grow. I love my children and my husband deeply, but in no way were the choices I made generous to society. I mean, you’re reproducing yourself. And after having kids, in some ways, I struggle to keep my world from getting smaller and myopic. I long for more time to write, create, and contribute to the world at the rate that I used to.
Women are the world’s biggest untapped resource. The status and education of women is directly linked to how many babies they have. The more children they have, the poorer women are. We all lose out. Deciding to have kids or not is a personal choice, but I have a lot of admiration for people who don’t. People like you, Pope Francis, who dedicate their lives to pursuing what they believe in to make the world a better place. Don’t you think women deserve to make that choice too?
Margot Magowan is a writer and commentator. Her articles on politics and culture have been in Salon, Glamour, the San Jose Mercury News, and numerous other newspapers and online sites. She has appeared on “Good Morning America,” CNN, Fox News, and other TV and radio programs. For many years, Margot worked as talk radio producer creating top-rated programs. In 1998, Margot co-founded the Woodhull Institute an organization that trains young women to be leaders and change agents. Margot’s short story “Light Me Up” is featured in the anthology Sugar In My Bowl (Ecco 2011) and she is currently writing a Middle Grade novel about the fairy world. Margot lives with her husband and their three daughters in San Francisco.
If you’ve had them you will say it’s selfish not to, and if you haven’t you will say it is selfish to do so. I do however sit on your side of the fence (which is why I found your article!). People are always shocked when I tell them that I think it would be wrong to bring kids in to a world so full of problems. Pro-creation is a beautiful thing, but I have struggled to come to terms with living in such an oppressive world (I still do and I’m 37!). I just feel it would be cruel to inflict the same confusion and suffering which I have had to endure throughout my life, especially when I also see it everywhere around me.
But by the same token we have all lived different kind of lives and therefore cannot generalise about the motivations behind child birth. I believe that every individual should have the right to choose and therefore neither side of the argument could be considered wholly selfish.
My response to the pope would be simply – I don’t owe it to anyone to have children. Therefore, if I don’t I cannot be described as being selfish.
However, a basic precept of this kind of religion is that having children is a duty. So, the disagreement is fundamental.
I really enjoyed your article. I can not have children and it is nice to see a perspective where I am not villainized or labeled as selfish. Thank you!
Having kids can most definitely be selfish, especially when you are not stable enough to have them. Kids are not for everyone, I personally would rather see those people who understand the sacrafice you make when you have kids, with kids, than those who are not able to provide for them in the way they need to be cared for. Too often we hear these stories of kids in bad situations because the parents who brought them in to this world are not mentally and financially stable enough to care for them, so they end up in the system where the rest of society has to financially support them, and how does that affect that child’s mental state? The problem is people having kids, and still beinging selfish and unwilling to make the sacrafice needed to care for them after the decision they made to bring kids in to the world, and then turning around and having more kids. I don’t think you can fully understand the impact of how much your life will change when you make the choice to have children, until you actually have one. All people focus on when considering having children is the cute baby, and cute baby clothes and the picture perfect idea of how having a baby will be so magical and perfect, but the reality is while those moments and things do exist and are wonderful and magical, there are also going to be times where you will be tested to the brink of insanity by that cute baby, and that baby will turn into a raging toddler screaming at the top of his or her lungs while kicking and pounding their fists on the floor because they couldn’t have candy for breakfast and then you will experience those same exact temper tantrums when they hit the teenage years.. it is a choice that will impact your life for the rest of your life. It’s not selfish to not bring a child in to this world that you are not ready or willing to that sacrafice for, it’s actually the other way around. It’s not for everyone and there is nothing wrong that. Women are becoming more and more independent and it’s an extordenary feat considering the mentality people have towards women being able to stand on their own. The idea that it’s a woman’s place in life to raise children and take care of her husband without complaint is fading away with the biblical idea that this is our purpose for being created. It is a choice that women rightfully have the option to make, it’s not a requirement and shouldn’t be made out to sound like a woman is less of a woman for making the choice to say children are not for me.
The choice is in the hands of the 2 people who either desire to have a child/children or not. Neither choice is selfish in my opinion. It all depends upon your inner core and how you handle what you choose to do. Having a child is selfless! That’s not to say that you ignore your own needs and responsibilities to mankind, but rather you strike a balance between your child’s/children’s needs and your own.
This was one of the most vile things I’ve ever read. Having money and feeling special in a career is more important than raising the next generation of human beings? From someone who had a mom with a career, it sucked. I missed out. She was a good mom, but I never was able to get attached to her. She died two years ago and I never cried. I wish she didn’t share your sentiment.
I’m sorry that your mother didn’t treat you as though you were the center of the universe, and I’m also sorry that you seem to think that your experience is typical of every child with a working mother.
My mother was a nurse. She regularly worked 12-hour days, also nights, and that whole weekday-weekend thing was just nonexistent in her job. So when I was away from school, there was no guarantee that she’d be out of work. I spent days with my dad or with my grandparents.
But you know what? I was actually able to comprehend that my mother only worked because she needed to feed me. She wanted to make sure that I was clothed, warm, fed, and sheltered. She wanted to make sure that I could go to a good school and live in a safe neighborhood. And although she wasn’t home all the time, when she was home, she loved me just as much as any other mother would. I looked forward to her days home with me. I didn’t whine about how she didn’t somehow manage to support me yet at the same time spend all her time with me. Millions of children live with working mothers and grow up healthy. You’re the only exception I’ve seen. I wonder why?
Methinks that if your mother didn’t have a career, you’d be complaining about how lazy she was and how she didn’t make the effort to make your child materially comfortable enough to your satisfaction. If there’s anything that’s “vile”, it’s yourself and your selfish attitude. Your mom is so evil because she worked for a living and didn’t spend every moment of every day fawning over you. You even admit she was a “good mom”. Not good enough for your discriminating ass, I take it.
nothing vile about this, at all. sorry your experience wasn’t a good one, but plenty of women have careers AND make time for their kids. plenty of other women simply don’t want kids.
maybe your mother shouldn’t have had kids, since she wasn’t able to give you a good life (this is NOT me saying she should have aborted you/you shouldn’t have been born, etc…i am NOT bashing you); maybe she was selfish in wanting a child she could not provide an emotional foundation for.
I’m sorry about the nasty response from Stephanie. You two must have had very different mothers.
There are some women who work to feed their children. There are other women on this planet who work to feed their own inflated egos and seriously neglect their children.
Yes! And, this doesn’t even get into how selfish having children is in terms of environmental impact, use of resources, etc. My husband and I have two children with a third on the way, but I don’t for one second consider that our choice to procreate was selfless and primarily (or even tangentially) for the public good. Of course, I hope that my children will grow up and be productive members of society who will make valuable contributions to their communities. But, that is in no way guaranteed when one makes the decision to have children. No, we pretty much decided to have kids because it is selfishly magical.
I believe it’s more selfish to have children when you’re not ready to have them. This could be mentally, emotionally, financially, etc. It’s more selfish to have children when you’re not in a stable enough situation to give children everything they need (again, not just financially but emotionally as well). There’s a great book on this topic called Generation Unbound by Isabel V. Sawhill that’s definitely worth reading.
This was interesting for me to read, because having been told I’m selfish for not having children I’ve done a lot of thinking about whether either choice is or isn’t selfish, and what it comes down to, for me, is that it is not selfish to refuse to bring a dependent life into this world if you’re not equipped (emotionally or otherwise) to care for it, and it is not selfish to put a child’s needs above your own, but whether you choose to have children or don’t you are making a choice based in *your* wants and desires and, while that is not selfish, it is a self-centred act. And that’s okay, because having children or not having children is such a life-altering decision that you should only make your choice based on what *you* want and think is right.
Maybe self-centered is a better word. As far as putting your child’s needs first, I’ve learned that mostly what is good for me is good for my kids. I put my oxygen mask on first, then their’s. This covers everything from doing my best to stay healthy, strong, and happy to showing them through my actions– not words– that I don’t cut down by body, abuse drugs or alcohol, make time for my work even though that means putting them in after school programs etc.
I agree! I think it’s particularly important for girls to see their mothers taking care of themselves, as so often we as a society expect mothers’ lives to revolve around their children, yet no one wants their daughter to grow up to sacrifice her sense of self on the altar of motherhood. Besides, my life was enriched by my parents’ interests; I’d never have learned to ski or canoe had my parents not been keen to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by living in a country as rich in natural beauty as Canada, nor would I be such an avid reader were my mother not one also.
Having children that you’re not equipped/unwilling to care for is a selfish choice that unduly burdens those around you.
The truly unselfish choice would be foster care and adoption. Bringing biological children into this imperfect world, especially as someone with the resources to care for a child, resources that are often spent on IVF or some kind of surrogacy or embryo adoption in an attempt to either produce biological children or experience childbirth, is a selfish choice.
I’m not trying to criticize anyone who makes these choices but it’s ridiculous to call having kids an unselfish choice. Unselfish for whom? An ethnic group that is worried about being outnumbered? A society that wants future citizens to control and manipulate in various ways? An organized religion looking to build its numbers in an increasingly secular/religiously diverse world?
Agreed. Well said. I’d just that choosing to adopt can be selfish too, in certain circumstances, society may be losing out on great books or art or scientific discoveries etc. I think it’s pretty impossible to make a generalization.
So me and my husband are selfish for going thur ivf? Sorry not everybody is blessed enough to concieve on their own, so does that mean we shouldnt be able to have one of our own? People like you piss me off. Are you dealing with fertility issues? I doubt it bc if you had to go thru it you would not be such a bitch and say something like that.
(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
Yeah, please tell me more how ivf isn’t concerned with your own personal profit or pleasure.
PS… Selfish is not, by definition, an insult. People choose to take it that way.
Great response! Being selfish is not an insult. Being selfless is not always a virtue. Sometimes we project our own issues onto other people and then become defensive as a result.
One thing I know for sure is that “hurting people, hurt people”. You’re hurting, and I am sorry for the hurt your fertility struggles have caused you. That being said, I think that you should reread this article with the authors true intentions in mind. The author’s intention was not to insult you or anyone else who desires children (she has three of her own). I believe her intention is to remove the stigma people place on childless couples. I honestly believe that the Pope’s comments were more insensitive to people like yourself who cannot make a simple decision to have children. Kudos to you for being persistent and taking risks and sacrifices. It showcases your perseverance in the face of both financial and emotional difficulty. I wish for you all good things; my most immediate wish is that you reread this article with new eyes, unclouded by harsh judgement, and open your heart to perspectives that differ from your own. I pray that you will practice more kindness with your words… the world will need them, and so will your children.
My husband and I are also going through IVF. And yes, I truly believe it’s a selfish act. Why? Because we want to be parents. And not only that, but we want to have biological children (or at least A child). I selfishly want to be pregnant. I don’t want my sister, or cousin, or best friend to carry my baby for me, I want to do it. As stated below “concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure”. Personal profit would be the gaining of a child who is a part of both my husband and myself, and that is selfish. And I’m okay with that!
Adoption can also be a selfish act. Why? Because you’re not adopting primarily to give a child a loving home, you’re adopting because (general you, not you specifically) want to be a parent! And that’s okay too! Yes, the children do get something out of it in the end, but the parents-to-be must make that first selfish decision to adopt.
No, sadly, not everyone can conceive on their own. We’ve been trying 11 years, and I’ve never even been pregnant. But as has been said, being selfish is not necessarily an insult. To me, it is simply the truth. I wish you and your SO luck and baby dust!
YES Great comment.
yes, IVF is incredibly selfish, as you are chiefly concerned with making a baby. if your sole desire was to be a parent, you could look into adoption, which is not as selfish; but your desire is to carry and birth a child, presumably with your genes, and that decision is wholly selfish.
I couldn’t agree more.
My sister just had a baby through IVF. She’s never had a boyfriend, and she didn’t even pay for her own IVF treatment. She got “daddy” to pay for it. And now she expects “daddy” to pay for the child’s upbringing and education.
I can’t think of anything more selfish. But hey, she wanted a baby. And she got her baby.
I whole-heartedly agree. I love my kids, but man oh man, this is a life of sacrifice and it’s not for everyone. Brave and strong the heart that stands up and says “No thanks, not for me!”
Thank you, Andrea!
(From one who says, “No thanks, not for me!”)