How Not Having Children Made Me a Better Person

OK. I’ll admit it. That title is total inflammatory click-bait. Sometimes I just like to mess with my Google rankings. And I want to assure you that, even though I am childless, I am very pro-parents. It’s hard, often thankless work and most of you do it with breathtaking grace.

But you’ve seen those articles, haven’t you? The ones where someone becomes a parent and suddenly discovers compassion, the environment and the wonders of sunshine. And writes as though their child(ren) invented compassion and sunshine.

Before they had children, they could watch the news and it didn’t seem to affect them at all and then parenthood happened and magically they were connected to the suffering of others. And they believe this only happened to them because they became parents. And some of them go so far as to theorize that ONLY parents can know these things and feel these feelings, and that, I’ll admit, does make me a little snippy.

I applaud anyone who discovers their humanity, who realizes that we are all connected, to each other and to the earth. But I think this happens more by a process I like to think of as Growing the Heck Up and Getting Over Myself than by pushing tiny humans out into the world.

Because, let’s face it, with 7 billion of us on the planet right now, there have been a lot of people becoming parents over the years. If that alone caused people to become better, wouldn’t the world be in a better state than it actually is? Surely we would have ended hunger and/or achieved world peace by now.

We learn our lessons when we’re ready to learn them. And for lots and lots of people, having a baby coincides with being ready to learn those lessons of compassion and a wider world view. These things happen concurrently but, maybe due to sleep deprivation or the overwhelming cuteness of children, people get confused and think that having children caused the compassion. It’s really easy to mistake cause and effect. I’ve done it myself on occasion. And I think we should cut new parents a whole lot of slack, just because.

But to credit parenthood with all the goodness in the hearts of humanity doesn’t just do a disservice to those of us who are childless, for whatever complex reasons we happen to find ourselves in that state, it also does a disservice to parents.

It’s lovely of you to want to give all the credit for your newly softened heart to the tiny humans in your life. And maybe there’s an evolutionary advantage to that. But when you get a minute, you might want to look around and notice that not everybody who has children is as good as you. Some parents are environmental nightmares. Some don’t actually give a crap about others. And some are just really bad parents. So those of you who are trying and doing actual good in the world will be taking nothing away from your children if you take a moment and give yourself a little pat on the back for being the good people you are.

We’re all in this together, parents and non-parents. It’s a big old world and the paths to enlightenment and compassion are many. Opportunities for greater maturity and love happen every day, whether we’re in our child-bearing years or not. We see them whenever we’re ready for them and as our hearts open, we say that looking after a dying parent, volunteering at the food bank or having a baby is what caused it. When really, the cause was some internal prompting that saw an opportunity and took it. Take away that internal prompting and the opportunities are invisible, standing dormant until we have matured, incorporated our previous stage of growth, rested up from a challenge and are ready to take on another one.

I think it’s becoming human that makes us better people, not necessarily making humans.

How about you? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

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13 Responses to How Not Having Children Made Me a Better Person

  1. Mary Ann Rosenbloom says:

    Having never made a human I can agree wholeheartedly…I consider myself a compassionate and caring, environmentally conscious person …so I guess I got all the good stuff some other way…you don’t suppose I learned it?

  2. John Cowling says:

    Great entry. Thought provoking and beautifully written as always. From an environmental standpoint, some of my childless and one child friends seem to be the most active and willing to volunteer to make the world a better place. People with lots of kids don’t have time and I get that. But I’ll come right out and say it: the world does not need any more people. That is largely why my wife and I never procreated. If you have zero or one or maybe 2 kids you can say you are doing your part but the planet does not need anyone to have 3 kids. Period. I will also come out and say that having children connects you to them, not having children connects you sometimes to your community instead as a sort of surrogate family. Which is great for community building. I will also just come out and say that many childless people I know are some of the smartest, funnest, wisest, bravest, most interesting people I know and I wonder when I see the kind of people who think it’s fine to have lots of kids, whither the gene pool? If you are reading this and taking exception, then I promise, you are the exception.

    • Barb says:

      Thanks John. Of course, we’ve also met childless people who don’t really care about the community around them at all.

      I think it comes down to how we respond to the circumstances of our lives than the circumstances themselves…

      • John Cowling says:

        Of course, Barb. Hard to make generalizations for sure.

      • Kim says:

        I will debate that ones that have lots of children don’t have the time; I think what would be more true is that perhaps it presents one with an excuse to not make the time. It’s work to make time, and you have to be willing to do the work. If something is important enough to you (i.e., community, school, environment) you will make the time, gaggle of children or not.

    • Ms.Anthrope says:

      I completely concur. You actually took the very words out of my mouth; my stance is one child per customer. It irritates me to no end when I see a pregnant woman, carrying a 6 month old, while pushing a double stroller with a 2 &3 year old in it and another kid walking behind….TOO MANY PEOPLE….I have one. And I almost never had any. I waited until 36 to have my one child, and I’ve always known that she would be an only…oh…and I do believe I was actually a better person when I was childless; less stressed, not sleep deprived, not to mention all the ectra disposable income that I had to give to numerous charities and neighbors in need.

      Great article.

  3. Christine Johnston says:

    Interesting. I think your view is very simplistic. I think many parents (I am one) are aware of humanity or the world at large before and after having children. Deciding to have children is personal and problematic (some people can’t have them). People who are parents have the benefit of knowing both – being childless and having children. People are prompted to act in many ways – the very act of deciding to be active is, in my view, a combination of life experience, personal, professional and yes intellectual. I think you are, unfairly, painting all parents with the same brush with your implied reference that the reason parents are engaged in activism is because they are parents. You are entitled to your choice to be childless and should not be judged for that. It is interesting, your choice of words, that you feel you are better for not having done something. Many parents are active and aware of issues before and after they have children. Some are good parents some are bad parents. There are good people without children and bad people without children. Motivation can be anything but the important thing is acting upon it. Internal prompting? I don’t think we have a button we push and decide. The internal prompting comes, usually, from all of the things mentioned above. Your tone appears defensive. Becoming human as you put – can come from many things – which includes not having and having children.

    • Barb says:

      Thanks Christine.

      I maybe should have chosen less of a hot-button topic than parenthood to try to make the point that it’s more about our response to our circumstances than our circumstances themselves that make us better people.

      I’m sorry if it seems that I was painting all parents with the same brush. That was definitely not my intention.

      I do love your point that as a parent, you understand being childless and being a parent – I’d never seen that pointed out quite that way before. Very cool!

      • Christine Johnston says:

        Thanks Barb. I maybe should have pointed out too that you made a lot of very valid points as well! I have one child and I am totally with you that humanity does not just spring from pro-creation. Thanks for your thoughts. I stumbled upon your blog and read many of your posts and enjoyed them as well.


  4. Heidi Ruttinger says:

    Becoming human is a lifetime job. With children, or without children, it requires growing, learning, selflessness (and paradoxically, sometimes selfishness) and time. We are often challenged in our growth by others, supported by others, and sometimes re-shaped by others. Sometimes those others are our children. Sometimes not. I don’t think the HOW or WHO matters as much as the actual growth. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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