Childless by choice

Chelsea Handler, one of the rotating hosts of The Daily Show until they find a permanent replacement for Trevor Noah, talks about her decision not to have children and the reactions of disapproval she gets from people when they learn of it.

It is quite astonishing how people feel quite comfortable criticizing the choices of other people even if those choices have absolutely nothing to do with them.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    It was quite astonishing to me when a colleague told me that not having children was an extreme example of selfishness. I considered telling him that, IMO, having children was the ultimate in selfishness (passing on DNA, values, etc), but thought better of it. Life’s too short.

  2. Dago Red says

    In addition to being highly offensive and sexist, this weird argument about it being a “selfish choice” to NOT have kids has long baffled me too. I’m someone who chose never to have children too, but as a CIS-het male, I have never gotten any criticism or push-back at all about my choice because….why? Men have multiple purposes of equal value to contribute while women have just one? The level of stupid hidden behind this accusation of selfishness is just astounding!

    To put it bluntly, why do people have children in the first place? It’s because they personally WANT them (or more selfishly, they simply wanted to have sex and they happened to make another human being as a side-effect)! Either way --by definition — the choice TO MAKE children is the only selfish choice here that can be made. It’s no more selfish to NOT have a child than it is to decide NOT to grow flowers or to NOT plant a fig tree in your own yard! To be a selfish choice one has to deprive someone else of something by one’s action or inaction — so whose the victim of people who choose to NOT have a kid? That existential meeting of one sperm and one egg that will now never occur? It’s not like there is a long line of unborn souls that give a collective sigh because they feel short-changed whenever two living humans fail to conceive during sex.

    The level of unspoken and indefensible assumptions one must hold to make sense of this charge of selfishness (and lets be completely honest, all of these unspoken assumptions are born from ridiculous religious suppositions) are just a product of religious narcissism — that is, religious people so over-confident in the truth of their beliefs they simply can’t conceive or understand any other conclusion in this situation…let alone to realize their own conclusion is rather incoherent in the first place.

    Individual people can be quite intelligent but any “collective opinion” divined from a large portion of humanity (like this one) often makes me wonder if humanity, as a species, can ever escape our own obviously incoherent ways of thinking. Are stupid people destined to always make up the overwhelming majority?

    Evolution, not Obi Wan, you’re my only hope!

  3. anat says

    To the best of my understanding, people making the ‘selfish’ accusation think of parents as constantly making sacrifices of some kind (whether in money, time, attention, or something else) towards their children, while people who do not have children get to not have to worry about that particular aspect. They can (if they so prefer) make all their choices according to what would please themselves. I suppose the accusers can’t imagine someone giving up on some benefit to themselves for the sake of others who are not their children? (And of course plenty of parents willingly shortchange their children one way or another.)

    There are two different definitions of selfishness involved: One is benefiting oneself at someone else’s expense, the other is not sacrificing one’s own benefit for another.

  4. Silentbob says

    At the risk of stating the obvious -- this is deeply misogynist; it comes from the patriarchal “Madonna” trope, that a woman doesn’t exist for herself, but as a vessel for others, and if she rejects that, if she wants her own life, that is against her purpose.

    I’m most familiar with this in anti-trans bigotry which will make a big deal of “children being sterilized!!!”. Which is not a thing. Only adults (if they want) transition to the point of infertility. But the scaremongering is very much predicated on this idea that women have a sacred duty to procreate and they must not put their own health and happiness above that sacred duty. I mean just look at the cover of the reactionary anti-trans book “Irreversible Damage”. It’s pretty clear.

  5. antaresrichard says

    At sixty eight, the youngest of four siblings, all of us chose to be child free, and our parents were perfectly fine with that.


  6. cartomancer says

    The gendered aspect of this has already been pointed out, but there is another aspect that needs mentioning. The same people tend to get very upset about the idea of LGBT+ people having children. Indeed, gay men in particular have been very actively dissuaded from it for a long time, and gay women only slightly less so. As a gay man who has never wanted children, these bigotries work to make my life easier, but there are plenty for whom they are damaging.

  7. Katydid says

    I’m with @5, it’s mostly misogynist.

    Also, look how hard the religiously crazy and conservatives are trying to remove contraception from women--not just abortion, but contraception itself. Recently there was talk of turning women who are brain-dead into incubators, too. A mind that could come up with that idea and a mind that would think it’s a great idea, that’s a mind that sees women as items to be used at men’s pleasure, as breeding machines if that’s what’s desired by men.

    Just recently the newest book dropped from one of those uterus-as-clown-car families that TLC built much of their programming around in the early-2010s. This one was written by the oldest in a family of 12 children in a fundamentalist Christian sect run by the father. The father pimped them all out as a singing group while sexually assaulting the girls and physically and emotionally assaulting the entire family, including mom. Mom’s job was to birth and raise and homeschool all the kids while also acting as the manager of their group. She was never allowed to give birth in a hospital and in her last pregnancy, her uterus literally shred itself apart and she nearly died. What did Dad do? Pretty much just sexually assault and abuse the family.

    The thing about this book is that this is pretty much the same story in all those religious families; no birth control, no sexual control. Just wall-to-wall breeding until the breeding tool (the woman) breaks down irreparably or dies.

  8. says

    Having kids now is just dooming them to live through a mass extinction (or die failing) -- it’s not “the gift of life” its “welcome to a hell of a struggle.” Rich people’s kids will, naturally, have advantages unless the global poor figure out what has been done to them and put them to the sword. My usual response when someone asks why I don’t have kids is “would you tell someone to have kids on the Titanic?” Its always some war or disaster or famine that people are dropping their kids into, and if it’s not they’re being set up to be exploiters and oppressors -- fodder for the guns or the machinery of capitalism. Way to parent.

  9. says

    Having kids now is just dooming them to live through a mass extinction (or die failing) — it’s not “the gift of life” its “welcome to a hell of a struggle.”

    With a hefty dose of “Get a job, moocher, there’s plenty of work for you, just don’t expect us to find you anything that pays a living wage! You gotta get out there and earn it…from someone else!”

  10. Dago Red says

    #3 Anat said: “There are two different definitions of selfishness involved: One is benefiting oneself at someone else’s expense, the other is not sacrificing one’s own benefit for another.”

    While there may be two definitions to selfishness, my point was the term “selfish” simply does not apply in this situation. Selfish actions, by their very nature, requires at least two parties to be involved — the person being selfish (or, failing to sacrifice), and then the other party who is deprived of their largesse. But deciding NOT to have a child only involves a single person. The child doesn’t exist so there is no way to assign “expense” or “benefit” to the potential kid that makes any sense in this situation — thus parent’s who find voluntary non-child bearing people “selfish” are simply misusing the term. This is why its totally weird to characterize a choice not to have children as selfish. Its just not an appropriate use of the word, unless you are willing to apply some kind of magical thinking — like there are “unborn souls” waiting to be embodied, or other such nonsense. A kid has to first become a conceived reality before any person can be called selfish for depriving it of something, right?

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