What is Selfish?

Drawing the line between selfish and creating the life you want.

Posted Aug 10, 2010

Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston

Is it selfish to refuse to get a dog when your children want one? Is it selfish to go to a party and leave your ill significant other home? Is it selfish to spend hours on a golf course-or anywhere-while your partner cares for the children or waits for the plumber? How you perceive selfishness or the appearance of selfishness is often open to debate, if not attack.

As more and more women decide to have a baby and start a family without a man, the conservative outcry is that they are being selfish. When promoting "The Switch," her new movie about a single woman using artificial insemination to have the baby she wants, actress Jennifer Aniston said, "Times have changed." And, they have. As we redefine "family," what we knew as the traditional family is being altered.

Today, forty-one percent of women having babies are single, a number that would have shocked a couple of generations ago. Motherhood, like the traditional family of mom, dad, and two children, has new parameters and wider acceptance of configurations once viewed as different. Women don't have to wait for Mr. Right unless they want to. For more and more women the choice to start a family without being married is realistic, not selfish.

Similarly, if you have an only child, you are berated for not having another: "How can you do THAT to your child!" "It's not fair to your child." "You are being so selfish." For parents of one, the attacks don't stop until you are too old to have another child. Other excuses are seen as selfish, too. In his article, "The one and only: Why more parents are choosing a single-child family," for the Daily Mail in England, Damon Syson, the father of one outlined all the reasons to have a second child. He then concluded: "I'm not selfish; I'm realistic...if I'm completely honest, the deciding factor is financial. We simply can't afford another child." How can anyone argue his position or call it selfish?

One woman summed up the issue in a comment to the post, One & Done: Changing the Conversation. To have one child she wrote is "seen as selfish, because children are the ultimate sacrifice. Those of us who attempt to make the best of all aspects of our worlds are often seen as greedy because we want it all. I WANT and love my child more than anything, but I also WANT a career and I really WANT a happy marriage. Adding another child to our lives would directly affect two of the three things that have the greatest impact on my happiness quotient."

Where do you draw the line between being selfish and having a life that allows you to be a content, happy person or parent?

For more on selfishness, see: The "S" Word: A special brand of finger-pointing

  Copyright by Susan Newman, Ph.D. 2010