Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Selfish Saints

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).


firefly said...

Great rant. You are so right!

What is really sad, though, is that mothers (like my MIL) whose families are not perfect and even maybe totally dysfunctional still get to delude themselves into believing the whole mythology. They are not just saints, they are MARTYRS to the family cause, and the family? is just plain ungrateful and selfish for not recognizing them as such.

They don't (can't?) see the part they played in making it that way -- and therefore, take no responsibility for the result.

Me said...

I agree whole heartedly.

Steph said...

Yes it is selfish, we all are to a point.
I never did understand the martyrdom that some mothers claim and carry around. It's not like someone puts a gun to your head and says you must reproduce or your beloved ones suffer and die.
If I ever become a mother, it will be because I wanted to for my own selfish reasons.
I don't see anything wrong with it, since sometimes our desires are not rational, but I think people need to own up to the fact that, no, it was not a selfless endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! I used to know a woman simliar to the one firefly described who had a messed up family that was mostly her fault and seemed to do everything in her power to keep it that way. Even though all four of them (yes, the whole family: Moo, Duh, Bratliegh and Princess) were in therapy and on various medications, they were still incredibly messed up and yet she was convinced that she was the best Moo in the World. And that her husband and kids always "ganged up" on her in family therapy (she also went to couples therapy and individual therapy) and always misconstrued her words and intentions. I shit you not about her being in three different kinds of therapy! Guess what her degree was in when she went back to school? Counseling. Yes, folks, that messed up sack of potatoes got a degree in counseling. Selflessness should NOT be equated with motherhood!

Childfreeeee said...

Thanks for all your comments, everyone.

I agree the martyrdom thing makes me completely crazy. My mom was a total martyr (still is) and I remember even as a young child thinking, "you are the one who chose this life so why are you bellyaching about it?"

The "oh, poor me" thing is just so old.

Unknown said...

I don't like the fact that US has Mother's Day and Father's Day. And I am a mother, by the way! (One human child, one feline child).

In the country I was born we celebrate Women's Day and Men's Day. Seems more fair to me this way ;) I'm afraid that American society would never give up the breeding-status-related holidays :/ As long as majority has this unhealthy attitude about parenting, at least...

Thank you for this blog! I have literally read every single post, including the ones in archive and loved it!!!
Now you know at least one parent is reading it :D

Childfreeeee said...

Thanks for your comment Ellie. I like the idea of a man's day and woman's day - or how about people's day? Actually, when you think about it, the holidays are a little out of control. Here in the US we call them "Hallmark Holidays" because we suspect that the company Hallmark (a greeting card and gift company) created them to drum up business.

So tell me...what is it about my blog that appeals to you as a mom? I hope you don't find any of it too insulting (I know I get revved up at times).

Unknown said...

"So tell me...what is it about my blog that appeals to you as a mom? I hope you don't find any of it too insulting (I know I get revved up at times)."
Lol. No. I don't find your blog insulting, at least 99% of the time ;)
What I DO find insulting is the looks I got when I mentioned my 10-days Hawaiian vacation sans my 5-year old daughter. Never mind that I am a single parent and really needed it. Never mind that I had no vacation in the last 10 years for various reasons. Never mind that my daughter was left with her loving grandparents and had a great time. Everybody was shocked. I might have as well mentioned that I locked her in a cage or left her in the forest or something of that nature.
I (parent). Dared. To. Have. A. Vacation (from my child). !!!
With the intention to relax rather than entertain somebody.

I am a weirdo like that, I guess. Or, maybe I am just a product of my culture where it was OK to send children away every summer to summer camps or relatives so that parents could get a break. It was a norm. I never felt neglected, by the way.

But back to your question, Childfree. I like your voice in this child-centric society. You sound like a kind, loving, rational and mentally healthy person. I love the sense of humor and abundance of common sense on your blog. All without excessive name calling or attacking anybody (except things that should be attacked).

I don't think there is anything wrong with having or not having kids. It's merely a choice. Like to have a dog, to become an athlete, to go to the monastery, etc. It doesn't automatically make somebody a good or a bad person.

American society seems to be out of balance when it comes to children, though. Check out this article, you'll like it! Written by a parent ;) The Kindergarchy.

Childfreeeee said...

Thanks, Ellie. It is interesting to hear a parent's viewpoint on this blog. I am glad you don't mind most of it insulting. I never think there are parents reading it when I write it (which is probably a good thing - it keeps me inhibited). These are the things I don't really say too much in my every day life because I just don't feel like dealing with all the weird looks and judgement. But here I can just let loose.

That's interesting that people are shocked because you went on a vacation. I would think that of all people, parents would be the people who would most GET your need for a vacation. And you're right...the kids don't suffer. They like the change, they get spoiled by their temporary caretakers. Everyone has a great time. It's a win-win for everyone.

Thanks again for your comments.

Childfreeeee said...

P.S. Yes, I saw that kindergarchy article...very good article and a lot of truth to it.

Temujin said...

Ironic that, from what little I know about Catholic theology, many of the martyrs who became Catholic saints were people who had no children, or at least the martyrdom legends don't mention any. I don't know if she's been canonized yet, but Mother Teresa would be a good modern-day example. (Irony within irony, she was childfree and still called "Mother".)