Not too long ago I met a 30-year-old man at a networking event. He asked me (age 25) if I wanted children and I said no—a position I’ve developed since moving to NYC a few years ago. His response? “Oh you’re just going through your selfish phase. It will pass.”

His reply reminded me of the way that women tell men that they’re just scared of commitment when they say that they don’t want to get married. Because my anti-motherhood stance is relatively new and more fluid and dependent on current circumstances than etched in stone, I let the comment slide. But since I’ve come to find that this too is the reaction of my family to this choice, I can’t help but question, what is selfish about saying no to motherhood?

Being a mother is often considered the most selfless and thankless job in the world, and it may very well be, but that shouldn’t take anything away from women who don’t dream of baby carriages, first words, and school plays.

In some ways, motherhood has begun to look less appealing to women of generation Y, burdened by hard economic times, supposed limited options for marriage, and a desire for a booming career. On the surface, these issues may seem selfish, but I think the logic behind this thinking speaks to the exact opposite.

People like to say that children don’t need much, that all they need is love, support, etcetera, etcetera. That may be true fundamentally, but they also deserve the opportunity to attend the best schools possible, and to see the world outside of the two-block radius of their home, and to not have to balance school and work at a young age in order to help support the household. If I know that I don’t have the financial means to provide all of the things that I would want my child to have, then it is in no way selfish to say that motherhood is not for me.

Without striking a nerve with women who don’t feel that they need a man to have a child, I subscribe to the two-parent household school of thinking and if I don’t have any fatherly prospects, then I don’t think that I have any business having a child. Yes, single mothers have proven a million times over that a child can be raised well without a father, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she should be or that that is the ideal family situation. If the sound of rattles and nursery rhymes was playing so loudly in my mind that it kept me up at night, I could see the temptation to take matters into my own hands, but isn’t it a bit more selfish to think about what I want more than what my unborn child will need?

And of course there are countless examples of women who balance successful careers and motherhood in ways that seem unimaginable, but for women who already know that their career is always going to be number one in their life—there’s nothing selfish about saying that they don’t want children. They just hear the sound of corner offices and executive titles calling them more loudly than the cry of a newborn.

When I say that I don’t want children now and perhaps never, I’m not saying that I’m so important and cold that I could never nurture another human being. I’m saying that given my personal, mental, emotional, and financial status, it would be unfair to my offspring to bring them into the world. Isn’t the recognition that you’re unable to provide these things, and thus will not procreate, less selfish than the woman who’s always dreamed of having children, and despite the fact that she isn’t ready, decides to have them anyway?

Even without pitting these two types of women against each other, can we just accept that some women want to be mothers and some don’t? Motherhood isn’t the only way to demonstrate selflessness or to give of ones self, and women who choose to contribute to society in a different way should not be looked at as if they have three heads because they don’t want children.

I imagine that this generational shift will likely straighten itself out as time goes on, but until we get to that point, let’s stop using the s-word to describe such women.

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  • Introvertchick

    So i’m about to get married in 2 months. I’m very much in love and 24. My friends who are of similar age are on their second, even third child– YIKES!!!

    I’m in school and will be a doctor soon, just to think, if i have a baby i’ll be leaving that poor kid with a babysitter to raise him/her for the majority of their childhood. My time with the child will be some weekends, and to pick up from the babysitter, feed and kiss goodnight. I am not the stay at home type of woman and praise those who are. My fiance says he’s happy with whatever decision i make. I’m slowly starting to come to realization that maybe kids are not for us, its still a pretty scary concept to me, mostly because of society’s brainwashing.

    Also, a side note that i take into consideration: Me and the fiance are living very comfortably and our incomes together will put us in a really great income bracket. So if we decide to have kids we will have to say goodbye to the overseas luxury trips, and trade that in for a disney cruise. I’ll respectfully pass… catch me in San Tropez ;)

  • eren

    I’d take it a step farther and say that motherhood is completely selfish. What is more selfish then abandoning the potential you have to change the world to play mommy?


      Mommies can change the world, too–if their husbands are President. :-)

  • Bren

    What matters most is that you know your limitations and don’t EVER let anyone make you feel bad or guilty about your decision. My husband and I had our first (and most likely only) child a year after I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree and let me tell you: it is VERY difficult raising a child. There are rewards but there is no doubt in my mind that it would have been better had we waited until we were in our late thirties. It is unfair to bring a child into the world without making proper provisions (ensuring that you will be able to meet all of your child’s needs). You are not selfish; you are wise and thinking about your future. I commend you as you know that you have a bigger purpose in life than having children. I cannot imagine living in a world without my son as he is a part of us. Now that he is here, what we are striving to do is to make sure that he has the best and that he has everything he needs. Parents should want their children to have the best in life from the time that they are small until they are old and gray. Parent’s should also have proper supports to help them when they do bring a child into the world. Keep your head up and take care of yourself FIRST so that, if you do decide to have children, you will be able to care for them.

  • We are conditioned from birth to be mothers and the conditioning is so intense and subtle that more often than not motherhood is NOT a free choice. My latest book, The Last Taboo: Saying No to Motherhood, exposes the motherhood myths and shows, through women’s stories and data, the untold negative side of mothering. The glorious images of moherhood everywhere in our culture fail to show the harm motherhood often does to women, unwanted children, and the environment and human species reeling under overpopulation.