Sunday, June 28, 2009

Keep Running (it prevents thinking)

Sometimes I have this thought about people who have kids and I wonder if it is just my own prejudice or if I am on to something. My thought is that many people have kids because they are lazy and want an easy way to create a life for themselves. They don't have anything interesting going on, and are too lazy to put real thought or effort into creating a meaningful life for themselves. Becoming a parent is an easy way to create an instant sense of purpose in their lives.

This thought occurs to me frequently when I observe the lifestyles of people with children. The constant on-the-go, hyperactive, rat-on-a-treadmill, day-in-day-out doing doing doing, running running running from dawn until dusk, keeps peoples' focus permanently off themselves, off the greater good, off introspection, off the pursuit of self actualization, off personal, intellectual and spiritual growth. Those who have children would argue that being a parent is a means to self-actualization, achieving a higher purpose in life and contributing to the greater good. Of course it's easy to maintain this idea when it's so heavily reinforced in our pronatalist culture. But I disagree with this on a fundamental level.

The fact is, in thinking objectively about all the people in my life who are parents, my assessment is that aside from raising children, they have nothing else going on. They are busy, busy, busy and doing, doing, doing, but what does all this busyness and doing amount to? It amounts to expending one's entire life energies solely to raise a child who will grow up to become a parent who will be busy, busy, busy, doing, doing doing and the cycle repeats itself ad infinitum. And for what purpose? What purpose does all this serve aside from keeping humanity going?

Keeping humanity going is seen as the greatest purpose in life and parents are ascribed hero status for doing their share toward contributing to this most selfless of goals. But for the sake of argument, I would like to ask a question which never gets asked: why do we assume that the continuation of the human species is a heroic goal? Or even a worthwhile goal? Are humans so egocentric and self important that we cannot imagine a world without ourselves, or see how much of our planet would benefit from a reduction in our numbers? Do we really believe that the earth would cease to exist without us in it?

Even if one ascribes to the idea that continuing the human species is important, the world is already severely overpopulated. Environmental resources are strained. The earth is overheated and polluted. Ice caps are melting. Sea levels are rising. There are millions upon millions of poor and starving human beings inhabiting our planet, many in our own country. Do we really need to add more? Given the fact that the earth is teetering on the edge of extinction thanks to mankind and the exploding population, perhaps the mandate that we each replicate ourselves is not only outdated, it's dangerous to our very existence.

The parental rat-on-a-treadmill existence may keep minds occupied, calendars booked, mini vans running, wallets emptied and consumerism in high gear, but aside from that, I think the question really needs to be asked of what the greater purpose of all this really is and why we are so easily brainwashed into the idea that reproduction is the highest of human aspirations. In reality, having children is the path of least resistance, of greatest reinforcement and when all is said and done, it's no great accomplishment. So why do we continue to treat it like it is?

19 comments:

CFVixen said...

Another great post. In a very simplified sense, I often think of parenthood (for many people) as a hobby. They wanted something to fill their lives. They work all day, and come home and night and feel the need for "something else." So they have kids. That definitely fills their time. But then they feel that the rest of the world should be awed at their "contribution."

firefly said...

Brava. I have had thoughts along similar lines, and this post really expresses it beautifully.

I saw this up close and personal recently when my 21yo nephew, wife of 1 year, and 4 mo son came back to visit. Neither have gone on to secondary school; he's in the military and she is Full-Time Mom.

Why? I think they just didn't know what else to do with themselves.

They're nice enough, but all I could think was, you're so young and inexperienced, what can you possibly teach a child about life?

What was really ironic was that through the whole wedding cycle, they were too young to drink alcohol, and yet they're old enough to get married, join the military, and have children.

It's sad, really, how society is organized to encourage certain choices.

A said...

I had a boyfriend who figured that a lot of people have kids because they're bored with life, and/or they simply don't give any thought to their lifestyle choices. Despite that revelation, he went on to marry, have kids, a mortgage, and all the other trappings of this society. It amazes me just how strong societal conditioning is. :(

absurdnerd said...

Great post, thanks! This echoes my own sentiments about many people who have kids; they just don't seem to GET IT, they just don't seem to LIVE. Your post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau, "It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy ABOUT?" To me, the meaning of life is meaning itself and so many people go without!

It's disheartening to think about, but at least I know my life will be different because I will fill it with my own hobbies, adventures, dreams and MEANING.

I.am.free said...

I agree that many people have children in order to create meaning in their lives. What surprises me even more are those who should have meaningful lives but still find something missing without children.

I had a friend who claimed to not want children and who had a great life... master's degree, wonderful career that she enjoyed, volunteer work, loving husband, etc. After she became pregnant, I jokingly asked if it was because her biological clock started ticking. She smiled and acknowledged that was part of it, but then she said, "One day J and I just started asking ourselves if there was something more."

To me, it was so tragic that her rich, full life could not give her meaning and so she had a baby to fill a void. Maybe it was that busyness that several of you spoke of. "If I'm too busy with this kid to stop and think about my life, I must have purpose."

Schrodinger's Kittens said...

Beautiful essay! I’ve thought about all of these things, although I could never have expressed them as coherently.

Creating a life is tough. Your goal is not guaranteed, whether that is advanced education, groundbreaking research, or excelling in the arts. At every step of the way, in addition to setting aside immediate gratification for the sake of your goal, you have people who are skeptical, perplexed, or actively hostile to the idea of you attaining that goal: who do you think you are? Isn’t an average life good enough for you? For many of us, the answer is no, it isn’t. We want the opportunity to reach for our dreams without shackles on our hands.

But it’s hard, lonely work. If a person doesn’t have the fortitude for it, kids are a safe choice. Hey, it’s something to do, and it’ll certainly take all a person’s time. Plus there are all those other people who gave up their dreams, so there’s built-in support for the decision and safety (and tax breaks, and entitlement) in numbers.

Sea_creature said...

Thank you for a wonderful post. As I watch the 15th stroller slave of the day pass my office window, I wonder... What the hell is the point? We don't NEED any more people. I wonder how long it'll take us to get it through our thick skulls. It's just all so selfish to me.

Dave said...

Good post, the way I've always looked at it is to imagine how many of my married (with children) friends would still be married if it weren't for the kids. If you take the kids out of the equation I think there would be a lot more conversation-less dinners. Kids give them something to talk about.

Phoena said...

Dave, so... your point is that without children marriages don't survive because the couples have nothing to talk about?

Oh-kay.

Childfreeeee said...

Thanks for all the comments so far, everyone.

I think what Dave might be getting at is that most people are simple and in a sense, boring - particularly married couples with kids. They have children to create some interest and meaning in their lives because otherwise, they just don't have anything interesting going on. I look at a lot of couples I know who have kids and like Dave, I cannot imagine what they would talk about if they didn't have kids. Their kids are their entire life. They are not really deep, insightful, well-read or interesting about anything outside of family life. They are regular people.

I think many people who choose to be childfree are by nature people who are thoughtful, informed, think outside the box and lead interesting lives. That's one of the reasons they choose not to have children - they know that they would have to dumb down their lives for a life with kids. I know there is certainly no shortage of interesting conversation between hubby and me. In fact, we often tease each other about who is the biggger chatterbox.

In my masters research, I delved into how childfree marriages are happier and more interactive than marriages with children. The research I dug up found that "childfree couples have significantly more positive marital interactions for example, “having fun away from home”, “having a stimulating exchange of ideas”, “working together on a project” and “having sexual relations” more often...childfree marriages are more interactive, with more conversations in the areas of “work”, “health”, “feelings”,
“cultural” topics, “mutual friends”, “politics” and “sexual relations”. As would be expected, parents talked more frequently than nonparents about rearing children.

Tina said...

I have a life that is rich in travel, beauty, love and friendship.

I have my own business based on my passion; photography. I travelled a lot and photographed the most interesting people I will ever meet in this life.

When I decided to have a child, it wasn't from 'lack of anything to do' or 'to fill a void'. Truth be told, I have yet to meet anyone who has 'popped out a kid or two because they were rather bored, didn't want to think and needed something to do in the hours after work...etc'

What an absolutely ridiculous generalisation. I've heard and read a lot of extraordinairy assumptions in my life to date but this...this takes the crown.

I had a child because, wait for it, drumroll please...
.
.
.
.
.
I wanted a child.

I know...what a novel concept huh?! I wanted to experience creating a life, birthing a life, teaching this new life the ways of the world and sending them on out there to experience it for themselves.

There's a myriad of reasons for me to 'selfishly procreate'. Sorry to disappoint but the reasons assumed in your 'article' are just, simply, nowhere close to the surface of reality.

Listen, you don't want to have kids. Awesome! Shut down those ovaries of yours, put a "This mine shaft is dangerous' sign in front of them and get on with your life. Be happy about your decision.

For some reason, I wonder if you're 100% comfortable with your stance? It smacks of defensiveness. I don't get why you feel the big urge to insult parents? I've read a couple of your posts with raised eyebrows (followed by a "WTF is she ON?" face) and all I have taken away from your rants is just grossly misinformed generalizations and this constant need on your part to keep justifying your childfree life decision.

You DON'T need to justify your decision...you don't want to breed. So what? Be comfortable in that and move on. Until then, I guess you'll just keep on insulting others in order to make your decision feel ok to you.

I have never had a problem debating people on issues and listening to opposing thoughts and opinions to my own. However, during those debates, there have been informed and intelligent arguements for the other side. This blog relies too much on assumption, whines and insults. Normally, I would just shake my head, laugh and not entertain the idea of indulging anyone who puts forth moronic arguements with a reply but I am really sitting here with "What the hell are you people ON" questions running through my mind.

CFVixen, "they feel the rest of the world should be awed at their 'contribution'. Thank you also for your moronic statement. Would you like some more b/s with your toast?

Tina said...

"If a person doesn’t have the fortitude for it, kids are a safe choice."

Had to address this stupid comment too.

I'm not the only parent who can say this, there are most likely thousands like me, but I have lived (and STILL live) an amazing and meaningful life. I've achieved a lot of my dreams, big and small and I'm still working on down that list. Being a parent isn't a 'cop out'. If anything, it's a freaking scary thing to do. Parenthood aside, I think I've got the balls to face life and what it has to throw at me and the only time I won't, well...that means I'm dead.

You keep on lumping parents in the 'cop out' basket though because it obviously is working for your own justification. So...I expect that you're going after all your dreams and goals too and are fearless? Considering you're not hiding behind a child and all....

Childfreeeee said...

Tina,

I am happy to hear that there is a parent out there who is living a fulfilling life that isn't completely consumed with their kids. You are a apparently a rare exception to the rule. Of all the parents I know (and most people I know are parents), NONE are living the way you are living. I am not generalizing. I know about 20 sets of parents in my immediate circle and none of them - not one - is pursuing a business, or travelling (unless it's to Disney), or meeting interesting people, staying informed, or having interesting discussions about anything.

So kudos to you for bucking the trend!

Now what I'd really like to know is, being that you are such a gratified parent, why are you drawn to my blog?

CFVixen said...

Tina:

QUOTE: CFVixen, "they feel the rest of the world should be awed at their 'contribution'. Thank you also for your moronic statement. Would you like some more b/s with your toast? END QUOTE

Exactly what is moronic about my statement? Care to elaborate? Because in case you haven't noticed, this is a CHILDFREE BLOG which discusses how child-centric the world is. From the vantage point of many CF people, parents are continuously rewarded by society for their "contribution." From tax breaks to stork spots, society kneels at the almighty alter of parenthood. So I'll stand by my statement....no matter how "moronic" you think it is.

firefly said...

YOU "wanted to experience creating a life, birthing a life, teaching this new life the ways of the world"?

This is the most self-important, entitled BS I have ever heard.

'Selfish procreation' is another aspect of career fulfillment, with the emphasis on YOU and what YOU want to do with that child.

Any idea whether that child wanted to be born in a world where there are already too many people and resources are becoming scarcer, where the economy in America and worldwide is going down the toilet -- and more people will only worsen it? Think you can teach this child how to re-create the aspects of your 'beautiful life' when reality intrudes, as it will?

And what about the rest of the world? We don't need another child, and we certainly don't need a copy of anyone so selfish and inconsiderate as YOU.

That 'beautiful' jet-setting life you WERE leading (swallow TV commercial myths much?) cost resources at a rate at least three times as much as most of the world's population uses.

If anyone needs to shut down their ovaries and wear a "this mine shaft is dangerous" sign, it is YOU.

Because if you teach that child to live the way you did, then what comes out of YOUR "mine shaft" is a hell of a lot more toxic than what HASN'T come out of any of us.

Sea_creature said...

Just look how long Tina's post is. As usual, ye doth protest too much. Go back to your 'amazing life' and get out of the childfree space.

Ms. Christine said...

In his comedy special, "Never Scared," Chris Rocks opens by mentioning that he had a baby girl since he toured (which of course received a round of applause). He followed that by saying, "Now, it's not a big deal, I mean, even roaches have kids."

Word. Not that parenthood isn't hard, but sometimes we act like we're the only creatures on Earth that reproduce. Can we really brag about something that equates us with roaches?

Stella said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Your thoughts echo my own, which I also posted a few weeks ago.

http://stellatex.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/on-resisting-motherhood/

jilren said...

I asked a friend (not a close friend, more of an acquaintance) years ago:
"So how did you decide when you wanted to have kids?" and her serious answer, no joke was..."Umm, I am getting tired of going to the pub."

In effect..."I'm bored."

What?!

Her poor, lovely little girl was born with serious congenital heart defects later that year and had to undergo several open heart surgeries for the first three years of her life. Not to sound nasty...but I would imagine THAT would keep you from being "bored."

Her daughter is OK now, but still has serious medical issues and is often in hospital.

She accidentally "oopsied" a third baby eight weeks after her "surprise" second was born, and now she has two extremely lively little boys 10 months or so apart and she is seriously miserable. I have never heard someone bitch louder about being a mother.)

She is also still bored, and tells me how much she misses "Our girlie nights down the pub!"

Go figure.