An intellectual cul-de-sac of no particular importance, by an overthinking dabbler of no particular genius. The opinions expressed herein are never certain, sometimes reasonable, often wrong, and therefore always dangerous. Come to your own conclusions at your own risk.
I can think of several unselfish reasons to have children, but it’s hard to imagine any that are not totally lame or totally creepy. None of these are very common reasons for Americans to have children. Some relatively unselfish, for-the-greater-good kinds of reasons:
1. My religion needs more followers.
2. The rain god demands more human sacrifices or else my people will starve.
3. The master race needs more members.
4. My country needs more soldiers, especially since those evil ____s are breeding like rabbits.
5. My parents want grandchildren.
6. My spouse wants children.
7. My first child needs a bone marrow transplant.
8. My cannibal village will starve without fresh meat.
9. My first child needs some companionship.
10. My pets need more human companionship.
11. My friend the neonatal nurse will lose her job if the birth rate goes too low.
12. The community garden needs compostable material, and if I don’t provide it, who will?
(Okay, some of these are gruesome, but don’t tell me that having a baby for food is really all that different from having a baby to provide organs for your other child. Potayto, potahto.)
There is another kind of extremely lame “unselfish reason,” unselfish in the sense that it is not overtly or consciously driven by self-interest, so it’s not exactly cold calculation. That doesn’t mean it’s selfless, either, just that it’s easy for that person to imagine that it’s not an actively selfish choice.
I’m talking about getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant:
1. On accident, because of laziness, carelessness, or ignorance about birth control or reproduction. (Yes, sweetie, unprotected vaginal intercourse in a hot tub CAN result in pregnancy.)
2. Because you never really thought about doing anything else.
3. Because you let other people make the choice for you.
4. Because you were totally wasted when it happened.
5. Because you weren’t considering the consequences of your actions.
Notice how many of these unselfish reasons are grounded in ignorance or carelessness. That’s not a very noble basis for becoming a parent. Something like half the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. There are a whole lot of “oopsie” babies out there. As bad as the American sex education curriculum is, it’s not THAT bad. These are largely preventable oopsies, assuming the people WANT to prevent them.
A lot of the myth of the unselfish parent is based on the reality that parenthood may not be a well-thought-out choice in the first place. “How can I be selfish when it was a total accident? Don’t blame me, it must have been fate!” To really take credit for an unselfish decision, it ought to be a real decision.
Sorry, no credit for selflessness when it's really thoughtlessness.
This is inspired by a childfreedom post about a Shine.com article. Check out the original to see what I'm on about.
There are ways that parents do have special skills and qualities that are useful to an employer, but they’re not necessarily things that parents or employers want to admit. When I think about what it would be like to be a stay-at-home parent rejoining the workforce after 10-20 years, here is the list of things I think I would be able to offer an employer.
I would do just about anything to keep the job, if it meant not going back to my life of mind-numbing drudgery. Do you need me to stay late to work on projects? You got it. You’re doing me a favor by giving me something interesting to do with my time. I enjoy having grown-up conversations with adult people. Please don’t send me back there. Please. Here is where childfree people may take their jobs for granted – you think THIS job is boring and soul-crushing? You’re lucky you’re not home with my kids....
Does your CEO act like an impulsive, spoiled brat? Make me his assistant, because I know how to deal with that kind of person. Perhaps I can give him a cookie or make him take a time out. Maybe take away his TV privileges. If you’re a company that treats its employees like children, then my management skills are just what you need. If your firm is in any way like a group of self-centered, immature, needy people, then I have exactly the tools you want.
As a stay-at-home parent, my individual identity has for years been conveniently subsumed under the needs of the collective. No need to waste time squashing my individuality, because it is already pre-squashed for your convenience. If you could train me to obsess about profits as much as I obsess over my kids, then I can guarantee you Fortune 500 status. If you could convince me that the company is my family and you could guilt me into sacrificing everything for it, then you have got one loyal worker.
Do you have outside pressures from creditors and auditors? Do you need to deflect outside criticism? As a dedicated pronatalist I have a big toolbox of techniques for doing that very thing. I’ve got the Sob Story, the "How Dare You Judge Me" Deflection, and my all-time favorite, the "You Don’t Know What Love Really Is" Speech. (I've even made a Power Point of that one.) If you are looking to offset this whole new “social accountability” fad by presenting yourself as the victim instead of the perpetrator, then I have some tactics you are going to love. As a divorced parent with stay-at-home experience, I know all about using legal action to pre-empt hostile action or to destroy the competition. I know how to launch a money-seeking lawyer at someone. That just may come in handy in your line of work.
5.Blind Optimism and Trust in Authority.
I'll do what I'm told by the peer pressure that's around me. I will drink the Kool-Aid if you appeal to my need to fit in with everyone else. You could give me the worst job in the world but tell me it’s "The Best Job in the World," and I will probably believe you. I fell for that trick once, so there’s a good chance I will again.
The Yeah, But.... All sarcasm aside, I do agree as a very general rule that parenthood could be good preparation for other jobs. At least, I would agree that being a good parent could help develop attributes that would make you a good worker or good business person. If you handle parenting responsibilities well, then that could be good sign that you handle responsibilities well in general. However, there are at least two big problems with that argument, or at least two big questions that have to be answered: 1.Does being a parent mean that you are a GOOD parent? I said that being a good parent could be good job training, but not all parents are good at being parents. In fact, it is extremely hard to have a parent fired. You have to break the law in some very specific ways to be fired from motherhood, for example. It is much easier to be fired from a job than to be fired from parenthood, so the level of accountability for parents is actually much lower. If your irresponsible financial habits bankrupt your household, you still get to keep your job as parent. In most businesses that would get you fired. If an employer really is supposed to use parenting experience as a guide, then the employer would need to be able to evaluate how successful you have been as a parent.
2.Is being a parent the BEST way to get these skills? I have no doubt that many people thrive as parents and learn a lot of valuable things that would be useful to a boss someday. But, compared to other ways of getting these skills, becoming a parent may be a really poor route to take. Perhaps there are better alternatives for acquiring these abilities. I’m guessing a few accounting classes could be as useful as running a household budget for a few years. In many fields, it could be that a decade of parenting could teach as much as just a couple years of formal education. Furthermore, there is the question of the depth of the knowledge you gain as a parent. If you’re a school district, you would do better a) to hire someone trained as a kindergarten teacher than b) to hire someone to teach kindergarten just because her one child was five years old once. Being a parent is obviously not the ONLY way of getting these skills. Spend 10-20 years doing just about anything and you’re bound to learn something useful, but that doesn’t mean every way you spend your time is equally valuable.
Like I said, parenting can be great, so parents can be great employees. I’m just not so sure they are automatically the best. Nor are they good for reasons that make parenting look good.