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Does being a parent make you more selfish?

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?

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11 comments to Does being a parent make you more selfish?

  • Such as maybe, but these people at the barbecue are far more selfish if they expect the planet to stop being populated so they can eat their burgers in peace. Anyone who thinks they can go through life never spending time with little folk, whether they find this pleasurable or not, needs to GROW UP.

    • Muddling Along

      I think one of the things I needed to remember is that not everyone is childfree voluntarily and there is an element of perhaps not wanting to have life taken over by children when you haven’t got them – not sure how to resolve that though

  • Fantastically thoughtful post. I have often grappled with this question and the feelings it brings with it. I was the first of my friends to have kids and my eldest is autistic so take your typical toddler behaviour and times it by five and extend it until the age of seven.

    Am currently dealing with the consequences of my latest selfish act; having another child knowing that the first is autistic. B is now 18 months old and entering the period where ASD behaviours start to exhibit themselves. My nerves are shot, I am watching her like a hawk and I have to put up with other mothers saying “…and you chose to have another child?! Well done you!”.


  • I always thought when I was a Mum I’d be so unselfish. But no, I hide behind doors to eat chocolate so I don’t have to share with my children.

  • Spot on. Short of being cloned or having staff, though, what else can you do. And – believe me! – this eternal phase passes horrifyingly quickly. Enjoy it. The friend will still be there, and will hang onto the other side of the sentence for you when you get back!
    I don’t think it’s a case of being selfish or otherwise. You give into a biological urge and then you tend to the outcome as best you can! You’re doing well. Don’t stress! (says she ….)

    • Muddling Along

      Sometimes feels as if staff would be a nice touch – good to know it passes, I guess the toddler years are incredibly intense, mostly because they just don’t know so much about what trouble they can cause themselves

  • I don’t think it’s inherently selfish or selfless though it certainly has the potential to be either or both. As for the impact on friends, we all have to live our lives and real friends adapt with the changes. It’s certainly taken me a while to get used to the changes that partners and sometimes careers have introduced to friendships.

    • Muddling Along

      Interesting point – any change has an impact on friendships, guess I’m just paranoid about inflicting my bundles of joy on other people

  • Working London mummy

    Interesting. I think a lot of the situations you describe are not selfishness but the love and protectiveness of a parent whose priority has shifted from friends or even society to the child. X

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