July 13, 2007

Moral Superiority

Guest Post by LynnS
Childfree Irish Lass (yes, blogging from Ireland!)


Does being a parent make you morally superior? Why does this generation in particular act like they invented parenthood?

A few weeks ago, I was chatting to a woman I'd just met at a social function. She seemed very chatty and friendly and we were getting on really well. Until, that is, she hit me with The Question. Yes, you know the one I mean. The "do you have kids?" question. I responded the way I usually do - I calmly and politely replied that I didn't.

"Well, I have two, and I can tell you, you
don't know what you're missing".


And just like that, her whole attitude changed. One moment, we'd been having a civilized conversation, the next she was literally looking down her nose at me. What could possibly have caused her to judge me and find me inferior in those few seconds? She is a parent and I am not. In her eyes, and in the eyes of most of society, that makes her somehow superior to me.

It's not the first time this has happened to me, and I bet it won't be the last. It does beg the question, though: exactly why do so many parents feel morally superior, especially to non-parents?

Popular wisdom has it that being a parent is the most important job in the world. I disagree. If parenting were advertised as a job, would you take it? Think about it: no sick leave, no holiday leave, no overtime pay, being on duty 24/7. Not to mention the fact that handing in your notice if it gets too much isn't really an option. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that some parents are so self-congratulatory.

But wait a minute. Isn't parenting an option? For our generation, certainly. We now have the choice to forgo parenthood altogether, if we choose. Doesn't being a parent make you a better person? Not necessarily. I have seen people who are so stressed out from the unrelenting demands of parenthood that they certainly are not better people. The exact opposite, in fact.

One thing I have noticed is how often parents claim that being a parent makes you a lot less selfish and more concerned about the state of the world. Even if you feel you could do with a little self-improvement and contribute more to society, surely it shouldn't be necessary to become a parent to accomplish that?

What about today's parents, then? My gut feeling is that we live in such a heavily pronatalist world it's hardly surprising so many of them feel superior. No wonder they act like they've invented parenthood.
Society worships children. Society is obsessed with them. More than ever before.

Kids eat free. Kids fly free. Kids stay free. You get the picture.

If you have produced a little being, ta-dah! Instant status!

If you haven't. . . well, you don't know what you're missing. You're shallow/selfish/irresponsible/immature. Your life is incomplete without one. You're not a real adult, and you're definitely not a real woman. Or so society in general would like you to think.

People are still led to believe that children equal nirvana. Despite the thousands of children languishing in foster care. Despite the abuse statistics. Despite the fact that rapists, murderers, terrorists were once somebody's children. Despite the fact that studies are consistently showing the strain children place on relationships and finances. Need I go on?

Of course, there are superb parents out there. In my experience, these are the ones who will admit that children demand sacrifice and that parenthood can be exhausting and thankless. They will admit that parenting isn't for everybody, and they won't try to ram their life choices down your throat. They certainly won't think that the mere fact of being parents means they're morally superior.

Next time you find yourself bingoed, remember this: parenting is nothing new. It's been going on for millennia. Giving birth is no miracle when millions of women are doing that every day. As a childfree person, you don't need a Mini-Me to make your life complete. You've most likely thought long and hard about your decision to be childfree, rather than blindly following society's script. You realize that there are lots of other ways you can contribute, and that raising children isn't the only worthwhile thing in life.

Finally, it means realizing that some people just aren't capable of understanding and it's impossible to have a rational discussion with them. The only thing to do is ignore it and move on. Anyone who thinks they're superior to you simply because they're a parent clearly has issues. If, like me, you find yourself almost starting to feel guilty, remember that.

In the end, what you think of yourself is really all that matters.


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11 comments:

AnitaD said...

You take the words out of my mouth. What an excellent post. Welcome to the Blog. I look forward to reading more of your contributions.

The first few years of my marriage I didn't feel that pressure so much as I do now as we approach our 5th anniversary. Family and friends are starting to wonder what our plans are. Closest family members and friends have known a long time that I want to live my life free of children....but there are others whispering and asking questions.

Anita in England

LauraS said...

Lynn --great post.
When people suggest that I'm missing out because I don't have children, I wonder if they are truly concerned about my own well-being or defending their own well-being or choices.
But now that I think about it, it's the choice of words that sting.
"You don't know.... (imlying you don't know any better)
what you're missing" (assumming you want what she has).

jules said...

Nicely done!
I especially enjoyed the suggestion that you aren't grown up unless you have a child :-) When I let people know that I am child free, I immediately get the "oh, you aren't grown up" look.

:-)
-jules

Lynn said...

Thanks for the welcomes and compliments, all!

Anita - it's nice to know there's someone this side of the pond! I would ignore the whispers and questions - others don't get a vote, and it's not their business. Simple.

Laura S - I definitely agree that they're defending their own choices. Her choice of words stung, even though I know I don't want what she has! My belief is, if you're so sure about your choices, why feel the need to shove said choices down other people's throats?

Jules - parent = responsible, real adult. How sad that this myth persists. Next time you get that look, remind yourself that you've probably thought longer and harder about parenthood than they have. . .

AnitaD said...

Lynn,

I don't feel the pressure so much from people here in England. I do hate it that the ladies in the office felt compelled to ask me what our plans were. I finally broke the ice and told them we don't plan to have any children. So, they don't expect me to come into the office announcing the "wonderful news" of pregnancy.

I thought I would never feel the pressure from my father. Mom died in Feb of this year. Ever since then Dad has mentioned how much joy grandchildren would bring into his life at this time. Something else to focus on. He doesn't realize how "guilty" he's making me feel. He's known a long time that I didn't want children. And he knows my husband got snipped.

People in my Dad's church keep asking and then he passes on those questions to me. It seems that's all people are talking about now. When are Gary and Anita going to start having children?

frieda said...

Great post.

I wonder if the morally superior attitude doesn't at least partially come from a feeling of power people get when they have children. Suddenly they hold the ultimate responsibility over someone else's life besides their own, which (in their eyes) elevates them beyond where they were previously in life. I guess I can understand it, but it bothers me because sometimes it gets translated into that person thinking they have power over other adults in addition to their children, just because they have children!

Lynn said...

Thanks, Frieda!

That's an excellent point - I have wondered in the past if part of the appeal of parenthood to some is the fact that you're the boss. You call the shots. The child/ren literally depends on you for its very life. That alone means you are in a position of power.

Like you, I can understand it but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

AlphaGirl said...

I used to have a button that read "Your reproductive status does not make you morally superior to me".
Reproduction is a basic biological function. It boggles my mind that people are so heavily rewarded for it.
Time for me to dig out that button again....

rethots said...

...whoa! 'm shocked.
What???
What the h*** does having children make one morally superior? (people damn are shallow).
...understandest them not that the reason(s) people get married, varies? (some for companionship)
...or that even the children they have now's not theirs (at least, they'll eventually leave the house).
Until we begin to realise that our lives is ours to live (& not according to the world's dictates), we just may not fully live life.

gailee said...

AMEN!!!
I'm so tired of people telling me, "you better hurry up so you can have kids." I'm 37 and have no plans for this endeavor. Frieda has offered a definable insight to this contrived lofty moral ground.

Anonymous said...

i stumbled upon this site and was rather impressed with the readings i came across. I am a single mother of 2 boys, 16 and 12 and i can assure you that in having them i do not feel superior to those that dont. i find myself in a rather different relm of judgement to be honest, rather than receiving the aww you dont have children look , i receive the awww your a single mother look... hmmmm which do you suppose is more judgmental of a look??
any way you look at it, the world is filled with those that will judge and criticise for no other reason than it's in them to do so. If you are among the many that choose not to have children than that is your right to do so, end of story!
should you ever put any thought into how much your missing out from those that criticise, come spend a weekend here and i can assure you youll be quick in confirming your reasons to want to live in a child free environment. Unless of coarse you like the sound of load rap music 24/7.. LOL :)
being a parent can be a thankless job, but like any job, it does have its rewards.
like any other choice we make in life, there are no guarentees.
I am a firm believer in the statement , Life is what you make it! So god bless and live life to its fullest because it is your right with out anyone passing judgement on how you do so!
Take Care!