Is It Selfish to Bring a Child into an Unstable World?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I grew up in a large, loving family, and thought for most of my life that I’d have a few kids of my own. I do ache for a family all my own, children to shape, share, and dream with, and the life that comes with being a part of something bigger than myself.

But in an increasingly hostile and unstable world, I have found myself in recent years questioning whether bringing another soul into it is a selfish or irresponsible act. I am not generally a pessimistic person, but trends over the past couple of decades—violence, overpopulation, pollution, disease proliferation, climate change, and more—give me little reason to believe the world will be a hospitable or positive environment for any children I choose to have (by the time they become adults, anyway). I don’t think I’m being overly fearful. These concerns are real, and they’re not going away. If anything, they’re very likely to worsen.

So where does that leave me? These concerns aren’t stopping most people from having children. All my friends are having them, blissfully leading their new, bigger lives seemingly without any consideration for what their children will face 10, 20, 50 years from now. I wouldn’t ever call these parents selfish or irresponsible to their faces, but I do think they are, at least to some degree. If I have children of my own, I think I’ll feel like a hypocrite. If I don’t have children, I may feel like I have the moral high ground but my life will be emptier, too. I don’t know how to reconcile these feelings.

Am I looking at this all wrong? Please help! —Conflicted About Children

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Dear Conflicted,

The tension you are describing, between general principles and specific emotions, is challenging to reconcile. You are essentially torn between your head and your heart. Yes, the world can feel like a dark and scary place, particularly when so much of the news we read and hear focuses on tragedy. And yes, overpopulation is a global concern. Your concerns are real, and thinking about the world that your potential child(ren) might inherit is not unreasonable.

I wonder, however, about the role hope has for you as you look to the future. Is it possible that our children and our children’s children might play a pivotal role in reshaping the world for the better? In many ways, hope in the face of bleak prospects is one of the most radical stances we can take, and there is little in this world more hopeful than bringing a new life into this world. The parents you see “blissfully living their lives” are likely incredibly concerned, like you are, about the world their children will inherit. Perhaps that makes them more likely to live intentionally and seek solutions to the issues we face globally.

If adding to the global population truly does not sit well with you, there are ways to parent and nurture children who are already in the world and who could benefit from having loving adults to share and dream with.

None of us knows what will come next—what changes the world will see, what surprises our futures have in store for us. If we live only with thoughts about the long-term future, we risk missing the joy that can be found in the present moment. Your expressed desire to experience “the life that comes with being a part of something bigger than myself” is powerful and reveals something about how you find meaning in the world. There are, however, many ways to experience that life. If adding to the global population truly does not sit well with you, there are ways to parent and nurture children who are already in the world and who could benefit from having loving adults to share and dream with.

As you try to reconcile your mixed feelings, it might be helpful to find a good sounding board to explore how you might live authentically without denying yourself opportunities to live meaningfully. Counseling can be a great resource.

One final thought: I hear your concern about feeling like a hypocrite if you make choices at odds with your stated principles. True wisdom lies in reshaping our beliefs as we learn more about ourselves through life experience. This isn’t hypocrisy, it is growth. As you explore your feelings, it will be important to be open to reexamining what you believe and to be compassionate with yourself as you change and continue developing your worldview.

Best of luck,

Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Gladys

    Gladys

    August 19th, 2016 at 1:44 PM

    I don’t think that it is selfish at all. We all have a desire to share our lives with people surrounding us that we love. We never love anyone more than we do our own children, I say that as a mother, wife and a grandmother. There is something very special about raising children to be good and honorable people, and hopefully these children that we are raising today can make a significant difference for the better for this world tomorrow.

  • marco

    marco

    August 22nd, 2016 at 9:24 AM

    So glad you wrote, sort of feeling that same way, like is it selfish not to me necessarily but to bring a child into a world that I know will be filled with uncertainty for him or her?

  • Tanner

    Tanner

    August 22nd, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    I believe that every generation has probably felt this way at one time or another.

  • Debario

    Debario

    August 24th, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    It was this very question that led my wife and I to consider adopting rather than bringing more children into the world.
    We always wanted kids together but it never seemed to be in the cards for us. Once we seriously talked about it we decided that maybe we could do more good by taking in children that have been abandoned for whatever the reason and give them a good home.
    We now have three wonderful adopted children and we could not be happier.

  • zachary

    zachary

    August 24th, 2016 at 2:27 PM

    Sometimes and some things? There is never going to be that perfect or right time.

    You can wait on that all you want to and it might not ever come and then you have given up on something that at one time you really thought that you wanted in your life.

    I think that there are just some things that can’t be thought about too much or over analyzed, you just have to go with what feels right to you in that moment.

  • Taylor

    Taylor

    August 25th, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    You have no way of ever knowing what tomorrow will bring. Who knows? There could finally be peace in the Middle East or the US could come to some great compromise vote with the election this year.

    The point is if you spend your time worrying about what might will happen then the chance is fairly great that you will never truly find happiness in your life.’
    I say take your family, love them, hold them close, have another if you want to, and do the best that you can with the time that you have been given with them.

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