(this was written as the answer to a question from a dear friend and i thought it was worth sharing because there’s so much talk about the other side of this argument and the other side is relatively silly if looked at anything but hormonally. please enjoy.)
children are a disaster. the world has too many of them. too many by several orders of magnitude. let’s start there and see where it leads. we have about eight billion people on a planet that can sustainably function with about a hundred million, maybe less. so that means a hundred times as many people as there should be on earth. if for each hundred people who died one was born, in one generation we would stabilize at a more sensible level. one for every hundred. that’s not a lot of babies. of course, population isn’t the only issue. but it’s a good first step on a path that leads to sensible decisions. if there are too many people, it eliminates all the pressure that goes along with “you should have children because the country needs you to” or “your people need you to multiple”. they just don’t. there are too many people on this planet. i’m not advocating we get rid of any of them. but we are mortal and people are dying all the time. we need to stop replacing them and let the population stabilize at a reasonable and sustainable number, about a hundredth of where we currently are.
that being said, there are plenty of more personal arguments. but it’s good to begin from the perspective of children not being a social, cultural or species requirement. they are solely a personal issue and you should never feel like you should have them to satisfy anything else.
what was once a social imperative — a woman without children is a broken woman — is finally seen as a personal choice. they used words like barren or empty to describe women who didn’t procreate. as if sexual functions and replication were the only things humans were supposed to do with their lives. much the same as women were pressured to marry, they were pressured to be sexually open and uterinally prolific. thankfully the world has realized women are no different from other humans and potential for activity and function is exactly the same. replication has finally been relegated to a secondary role and it is sensible to understand that most women will never need to fill their bodies with parasitic new lifeforms to life fulfilling lives.
there are many people who discuss the positives of having children. you can train a young life and see it learn and grow. you can duplicate yourself and live into the future. it’s selfish in a lot of ways. and it’s hubris in the most significant terms. thinking you’re better than others at this task. though you might be. it’s just dangerous to assume.
there really are no positives to having children except this one. in your old age, it’s more likely they will take care of you than the government. so, much as was done in past centuries, having children is an investment in your retirement happiness and prosperity. if this is why you’re having children, it’s important to admit it’s an investment in your own future, not theirs. i don’t think this is a fair way to treat a new generation but it has been the case since before recorded time when children took care of their elderly, broken parents after having children of their own, who would eventually do the same for them, a cycle without an endpoint. but most children now become vigorously individuated from their parents and most never really contribute to their parents’ retirements in any meaningful way. the investment has become a generalized loss and the money and effort might have been better spent on an investment portfolio and a retirement insurance plan — or perhaps a retirement villa in the country to be happy in without needing help.
of course, given that rather absent list of positives, having a list of negatives for something that costs pain, effort, money, time and vast sacrifice seems a bit moot. but there is a huge list of negatives.
the first and most obvious one is that children are expensive. food, clothing, school, a big place to live, transportation, not to mention college and the rest. yes, a child may eventually contribute to your financial stability in your old age. but i guarantee you unless they are a billionaire they’re not going to be a financial investment anyone could possibly advise in the modern age — and that’s even if they do decide to help you later, which is far from guaranteed. they might not even want to talk to you once they leave home and that’s more and more frequently the case. you can minimize some of this expense but we are talking about an absolute base of many thousands of dollars every year. if it costs only a thousand dollars a month to take care of children and you save that for twenty years at a very minimal investment interest rate, by the time your child dealt with college, you’d have a retirement fund of a half-million dollars. and that’s a severe underestimate of the cost of taking care of a child.
the second is that children are an investment in time. unless you’re a shitty parent, you will spend a lot of time teaching your children. every good parent does it. and you will sacrifice your work advancement and personal goals, learning, education, qualifications and extended family commitments to do it. and you should, as a parent, put your child first, of course. but if you’re not a parent yet you can weigh this against the alternative. do you want to be able to keep working? studying? advancing? making a difference in the world? it’s certainly up to you. and you’ll be able to do some of these things if you have children but it will be far easier without them holding you back. children will require you sacrifice your time for them and they are being totally reasonable to expect your undivided attention and commitment whenever they need it. so if you will be disappointed in your lack of master’s degree, glass-ceilinged job prospects, limitations on your personal freedom because you have to be back to take care of your children, this is an excellent argument for not having them in the first place. a good parent puts themself second to their child. if you don’t want to be second-most-important in your life, a child is not for you. ask any parent you respect who the most important person in their life is and they’ll tell you it’s their child. it’s perfectly natural. is this the future you want or do you want a free experience of life without sacrifice? that’s up to you.
if that’s not enough there are other costs to having children, too. the most obvious is the physical one. the female body was designed with children in mind but that doesn’t mean it’s either pleasant or safe. reproduction is a nightmare on the highest order for all animals, mammals perhaps more than other families. creating another life costs us very dearly. it’s not just the time and energy. the damage having a child does to the body is irreparable and is simply compounded over time by aging and potentially repeating the process. a mother’s body is damaged forever. that doesn’t mean it’s weak. but it means it’s not as strong as it would have been without having to sacrifice and change itself to provide a safe place for a fetus for most of a year. if you think those changes are minimal, it may be time to look at a textbook on mammalian reproductive biology. the hormonal shifts alone are enough to stagger a herd of wildebeest mid-stampede. the unidirectional physical alterations would (and do) fill multiple volumes of research literature and none are positive from the perspective of the mother’s health. is that sacrifice worth it? perhaps. the species continues. but does it have to continue at the cost of your body? no. do you want it to? perhaps. it’s a personal choice but it’s rarely a pleasant one.
the real cost, though, is personal freedom. you aren’t just financially limited by the presence of a child. you are limited in terms of your ability to explore the cultural world, especially when the child is young. go to a concert? fuck no. country fair? not likely. backpack across asia? not bloody likely. the world will condemn you if you take time away from your child (rightly, too) and you won’t be able to live with yourself. even if you took that opportunity, you wouldn’t feel very good about it. now or ever. so you have a choice. you can sacrifice the life you want to live in the moment or your child. or you can avoid that decision in the first place.
anyway, that’s the argument against motherhood in a nutshell. be an adult. leave the childish world behind. put away childish things and walk away. procreation is never worth it. leave it to someone whose need for sacrifice and commitment to educating the next generation is overwhelming and comprehensive. unless that’s you. if it’s you, congratulations. but i suspect it’s not.