There is a school of thought that becoming a parent is one of the least selfish things you can do – that by having children and nurturing them that you are achieving a higher plane of selflessness and doing a Good Thing.
That somehow being a parent lifts you above the average childfree person.
That the payback for the pain of childbirth, the sleep deprivation and having your house taken over by piles of plastic tat is that you are seen as a Good Person.
Trouble is that I am not convinced.
There is a significant part of me that wonders if actually having children is incredibly selfish.
And there is a larger part of my that wonders if inflicting your offspring on the rest of the world can be anything other than selfish.
I love my children. Plain and simply and incredibly, unconditionally I love them.
But I am not blind to their shortcomings.
They are toddlers and with toddlers comes a certain degree of anti-social behaviour. They don’t understand all of the rules of society and certainly don’t want to comply with most of them and that drives some fairly unpleasant behaviours.
And inflicting that on the rest of the world is fairly selfish.
Yes I try and keep it to a minimum and within the bounds of what I hope is acceptable but they aren’t going to sit quietly during an hour long church service, they aren’t going to sit primly on a train and they are going to find it hard to behave exactly like little adults if we take them to a restaurant. I can try and I can instil some basic form of civilised behaviour in them but the bottom line is that there are places and times when its better that children are not seen and definitely not heard.
On top of all of this is the fact that because they are such a big part of my life I risk being an awful bore – ask me how they are and I have to try very hard to not spend half an hour delighting you with anecdotes about how wonderful they are or the cutest little things that they have done recently. And you know what, I realise most people aren’t being more than just polite by asking and I do try very hard to say ‘oh they are lovely’ and no more.
I also want what is best for them. I’m not at the fighting other mothers to get the last frock in a shop stage but even though its early days I can see that I will do my best to give them all the advantages in life that I can – I will try and get them into the best primary school, the best clubs, to find the books I know that they would like. Yes I’ll even go out of my way to find the Octonauts Cbeebies magazine and yes if its the last one left I will grab it and be pleased I managed to find one, even though I know at the back of my mind that someone else won’t be able to have that copy.
And having had children changes relationships too.
Go to a BBQ with a bunch of old friends and the childfree will be subjected to the impact of you having had children – you can’t help but realise that you only have part of your attention on the conversation whilst you try and keep an eye on your children, you can’t help but have to cut conversations short as you sprint off to remove your youngest child from the top of a climbing frame and yes you can (and do) apologise but the bottom line is that your decision to have children has impacted more than just you and your life.
You didn’t check with friends if they would mind having to deal with all of this, if they would be ok with the changes to your relationship and the fact it would probably mean that the balance of give and take, of effort and return was going to be out of kilter for a long time.
And that has the potential to be selfish.
The question is how do we moderate our behaviour so other people don’t have to go out of their way to change theirs because of choices we have made?