Monday, May 11, 2009

Parent Worship Further Deconstructed

I hope you don't mind, but I would like to take my previous discussion about Mother's Day a little further. This subject really knaws at me and the more I think about it, the crazier it makes me, so bear with me. I'd like to examine this "worship your parents and be eternally grateful to them" ideology a little more closely because I think it needs to be critically deconstructed a bit more.

As I touched on in the previous post, our culture (and probably most cultures) relentlessly promotes this idea that parents, by nature of bringing us into the world and taking care of us, deserve undying gratitude and honor for all eternity. They are beings to be worshipped, respected and appreciated for all they have sacrificed for us. Parenthood is the highest calling in life, the greatest role one can pursue and so on.

I've already argued that excessive gratitude to parents for caring for their kids is uncalled for, since having a child is a choice, and once you have one you must take care of it. You are simply carrying out your duties.

My argument today is that all of this excessive worship of parents is misplaced because people have children and take care of them, not for selfless, saintly, self-sacrificing reasons, but to satisfy their own selfish desires - to fulfil wishes for all sorts of self-gratifying things - receiving unconditional love, feeling needed and important, enjoying the activities of "family life", carrying on a last name, gaining acceptance into society via conformance, feeling a sense of accomplishment (since having children is equated with "having it all" and accomplishment in our culture), having a caretaker in old age, and on and on and on - the list is truly endless. People do not have children because they are selfless beings who want to struggle and sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the world or to help a needy person. They may enjoy thinking of themselves this way, but parents are not Mother Teresa. A selfless being does not reproduce and bring more people into the world when the world is already overpopulated with millions of needy, homeless children rotting away in orphanages, clamoring for homes. A selfless being does not need a genetic mini-me who reflects herself back like a mirror for the purpose of self-admiration and worship.

Perhaps I am over-analyzing here, but to me this whole parenthood = sainthood ideology is such a ridiculous and obvious sham, it makes my head spin. It is particularly irritating to me as a childfree person because so frequently the childfree get slapped with the selfish label, while parents walk around wearing a badge of sainthood for this phoney, non-existent selflessness - taking care of the little creations they made to satisfy their selfish desires.

And let's not forget the fact that our self-congratulating parents never asked for our permission to bring us into the world, and yet we are commanded to be grateful that they produced us, as if life on Earth is the best thing going. Maybe it's not - we have no way of knowing. One thing we know for sure is that every human being who is born is born with a death sentence.

The bottom line is, people have children for themselves - for everything they will get out of it and for all the ways they think parenthood will benefit them and make them happy. So putting parents on this pedestal of sainthood for the purpose of expressing undying gratitude and appreciation is simply wrong on every level.


CFVixen said...

Wow...awesome post. Truly thought-provoking. You are dead-on, as usual!

eyemandy said...

It irritates me to the core to see people praised for things I do 100x better, so I know how you feel! It's just not fair. And that "but you know you're doing what's right..." cliche that our parents taught us--that's no consolation. Speaking of selflessness: letting people get the undeserved praise they get is selfless! ;)

No one does anything for purely selfless motives--even most philanthropists wouldn't commit to altruistic endeavors if it hurt. Luckily for everyone, it feels damn good. Like I said in the other comments, I've never been a proponent for thoughtless praise of people who are just doing what they should be doing; however, I am aware of the strength it takes to do well enough as a parent to raise an empathetic, thoughtful, valuable member of society who doesn't judge or contribute to the rampant hate in society as a whole. For this feat alone, I'm thankful that I had the type of people raising me that I did--and, coincidentally, I was adopted. I'm also thankful to my biological mother for not aborting me and for having the strength to give me up. I have had an awesome life because of all people involved in creating me and making me who I am. Whether or not they meant to or not is irrelevant! lol. Seriously, how often do "good Samaritans" or "heroes" get praised for doing something that's instinct? I expect someone to try to pull me out of a burning car, honestly, because I would do the same. And firefighters and police officers? They choose to do what they do, so why are they praised for doing it? Would they be doing it if they weren't getting paid? Would they commit to those career paths if they required a graduate degree? Would they do it if they didn't come with praise? No one wants to admit that a firefighter took an easy-to-get job with good benefits most likely to help support his family, for the excitement, and a number of other selfish reasons. The fact still remains that what he is doing, is noble.

This post reminds me of kindergarten--the first time I was ever jealous. A little girl got a compliment on her dress and I thought, "It's not that pretty." I always wore pretty dresses--why wasn't I complimented daily?! I didn't realize that she got compliments that day because she never wore pretty dresses. Only an insightful being would recognize that type of compliment as an insult. There's really nothing to be jealous of.

Gumby said...

Exactly! I've had the same thought before re: the whole undyingly grateful bit.

While I do for the most part love my life - my husband, my friends, my home, and my parents - and, yes, I am grateful to have all these things - however, I did not ask to be born. Nobody did me a selfless favor by bringing me into this world. I didn't have a choice in the matter.

Who knows, maybe I was floating around in some incredibly awesome afterlife or other-world that is so much better than anything could ever possibly be here on earth, so much so that when we leave it, all memories of our time there must be wiped away to prevent us from committing suicide to get back... If so, I was rudely ripped away from that wonderful, peaceful place to come live nearly a century on this stinkhole?! Now how selfish is that?

It could happen. And we may never know... ;)

firefly said...

Another excellent post. I couldn't agree more!

My bf's mother has swallowed this "parent worship" idea wholesale. Every time one of her kids is rotten to her (usually the same one), she cries and says, "why are they doing this to me?"

She ignores advice along the lines of, "you know this is going to happen, so why do you put up with it?" Not what she wants to hear. She wants to be revered as a motherhood martyr.

Because of course she is self-sacrificing and deserving of worship because she had a child and raised that child and washed its clothes and made its meals etc etc.

And, although she didn't like her own mother, she did her duty by ferrying the old lady around to the Mall and grocery shopping, and playing cards with her every Sunday until grandmother died, and that's the important part: it's the other side of that equation.

You pay your parents in worship, and your children pay you back in kind.

djmist said...

I completely agree that deciding to have children is always rooted in selfishness. Philosophically, one could argue, and many have, that there is no such thing as a truly selfless act. I have no problem with the concept of Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day). As humans, we like to be praised even if it is for things that we are expected to do. It makes us feel good with which there is nothing wrong. More importantly, we know that just because you are supposed to do something doesn’t mean that all individuals do it. Nor does it necessarily mean there are consequences for those who fail. Look at all the inadequate parents in the world. There is nothing wrong with saluting good mothers and fathers but to really legitimize these holidays we should be calling out negligent moms and deadbeat dads so that we, as a society, aren’t left with their mess.

scapegoat said...

I so totally agree with this post, and I also tend to make the argument about why parents should not be blindly treated like gods and goddesses for having children based on the fact that child abuse is still a huge problem. People have kids and then use them as a release of their hatred and rage at whoever/whatever else. Or bringing a child into a home where domestic violence, even if not acted out on the child directly, runs rampant and affects how these kids will grow up to view relationships.

People usually don't even think about these things when they go into automatic parent worship. Imagine if all those who worship parents found out what happened behind closed doors of so many homes.

hybrid756 said...

Hmmm. Praise for good parenting? Absolutely. As in, praise for doing anything well, will make the person who did it feel good. Nothing wrong with that. Especially as there seem to be so many BAD parents around, praise for the good ones helps to differentiate the good from the bad, and rewards those who bring their kids up well, when they could have chosen not to do so, and pays them in gratitude for what seems to be an absolutely thankless task.

However: it's the parent-worshiping which gets out of hand. Say, martyr parent buys their kid a rabbit. But the kid has to promise to take care of it. The kid feeds the rabbit, and tells their parent "oh, look what I did!!", and the parent tells them, you're doing what you're supposed to do, what do you want, a medal?

You bring a child into this already overburdened, overstretched world, and you look after it as you're supposed to? Well done, that's the bare minimum. You damage that child with careless parenting? You deserve to be chastised. You put some real thought into how you bring your kid up to be a good, decent human being? Praise where praise is due. But not worship.

What is really selfless is taking in a child that has nowhere to go, apparently there are quite a few of them around, and giving it a better shot at life than it would otherwise have had. Solving a problem that we already have is a benefit to society. Causing a new life to exist and then doing what you need to do to take care of it is more of a zero-sum equation.