Now that I am completely (and sadly) out of vacation mode and have slipped fully back into my curmudgeonly American persona, it's time for another rant! (Hurray! Admit it, your life has been lacking without them).
As you know, there are many things that perplex and fascinate me about the subject of parenting and motherhood and which I like to complain about in this blog - our media's fixation on celebrity breeding; noisy, obnoxious parents polluting our environment with their self-absorbed entitlement. The usual suspects. There's another topic, though, that I haven't touched on too much and it deserves some attention - the engrained, persistent notion of motherhood as sainthood.
To be a mother in our culture (and in most cultures) is to wear a badge of the highest honor. To become a mother is to receive instant esteem in our culture. Motherhood is equated with (among other things) goodness, virtue, selflessness, sacrifice, femininity, wholesomeness, and even patriotism. A woman becomes pregnant and the seas part - she is an instant celebrity - parties are thrown, she is showered with gifts and heaped with praise about how beautiful, how glowing, how magnificent and miraculous she is. She becomes an instant lifetime member of the Mom Club - a group whose members fawn over each other and hang on each other's every word. No wonder so many women can't wait to be mothers!
It doesn't stop there. For the rest of her life, she will have special stature. She will have a special holiday just for her and will be held in high regard simply because she reproduced. She will always be held up as the example of caring, compassion and selflessness. Her status as mother will be such a badge of honor that for the rest of her life she will be known as a mother first before anything else. She will find tons of validation and support everywhere she looks as her choice to reproduce is celebrated in every facet of culture, community, religion and the media. For crying out loud - she will even get her own premium parking spot. Never will her role be questioned or criticised, for motherhood is the sacred cow that is never spoken of in any terms other than those of reverence and endearment (well, except maybe on childfree blogs).
Well, I would like to take this opportunity to challenge the foundation of this mythology about motherhood. My argument? Mothers cannot be saints because they are selfish.
It begins with the decision to reproduce and bear biological children rather than opting to adopt one of the millions of homeless and orphaned children waiting for a home - orphans whose adoption would not only be a great benefit to the children, but to our environment, since the more children who are adopted (and the fewer who are newly bred), the lower the world's population and the less negative impact on the environment. After all, there is a direct connection between world population and the looming destruction of the planet. Global warming is a testament to this.
Women (and men) decide to have children for a plethora of reasons and most of those reasons are selfish. They want a little being who will love them more than anyone. Selfish. They hope for a little "mini me" who will (hopefully) reflect themselves back like a mirror - a little carbon copy of themselves. Egotistical and selfish. They want someone to carry on their name. Egotistical. They want to relive their childhood because they really don't enjoy being adults. Selfish. Their lives are empty and meaningless and reproducing is a quick remedy which requires little thought, talent or consideration. Lazy and selfish. They hope to have someone to take care of them in old age. Selfish. They long for the acceptance and status that comes with parenthood. Selfish. They want their lives to be full of activity and excitement. Selfish. They love the idea of family and all the warm, fuzzy notions that accompany it - holidays with a big family around the table, vacations to Disney World, traditions like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Selfish. Shall I go on?
Claiming that a parent or mother is selfless is akin to saying that I am generous because I pay my mortgage. I chose to purchase my home, therefore I am responsible for paying my mortgage. Paying my mortgage makes me responsible, not generous. Likewise, people who choose to bring children into the world and then exert all of their time, effort and money to care for them are not selfless. They are responsible. And sadly, many parents cannot even lay claim to being responsible (the aforementioned orphans are a testament to this). There is a clear distinction between selflessness and responsibility and it's a distinction that has to be made.
I am tired of hearing childfree folks referred to as selfish (not only by parents, but often by themselves). I am tired of parents (and especially mothers) getting all this phoney worship for being selfless when their motivations to live the way they do are no less selfish than mine. We all choose to live the life that we think will make us the happiest and for this we are all inherently selfish. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be selfish, but we need to get real about what selfishness and selflessness are and who possesses these traits (we all do) and we also need to get real about who is a saint (none of us).