I was reading a Cracked article earlier today, 5 Popular Excuses That Are Totally Meaningless, and one of the excuses really got me thinking: “I’m too selfish to be a parent.”
Now, you know what? I know some parents who should have had this thought before having kids. At the same time, though, I can honestly say that I don’t know very many parents I would consider to be terrible, and part of that is because having kids changes you in some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) ways.
Of course we all know that, from an evolutionary standpoint, the release of oxytocin helps to cement the powerful relationship between mother and child, but that sense of euphoria doesn’t explain the way mothers seem to instinctively know what to do with their own child(ren), even when the mere thought of holding a friend’s child sends child-fearing women running for Depends.
Let me give just one example: Jen and I own two cats. We’ve owned at least one cat constantly since shortly after we got married. Both of our cats are capable of delivering toxic stenches bordering on the biohazardous. In that time, we have never gotten used to that stench, and will frequently move to get away from the stench of their emissions and deposits. Before Morgan was born, my experience with diapers consisted of 1: Standing outside of nurseries holding my nose at the stench while friends changed their younger siblings’ diapers, and 2: Almost passing out from the stench of changing my nephew’s diaper when I had to watch him for a few hours one day and having that stench seared indelibly upon my olfactory memory. I don’t remember anything about changing that diaper beyond the horrifying stench.
Morgan has had some pretty stinky poops in the past 6-1/2 weeks, but you know what I remember about changing her dirty diapers? How hilarious it is when I open her up too soon and she’s still pooping, or how shocking it is that someone so small can produce so much poop. As soon as a stinky diaper is changed, the stench is gone from my memory beyond a vague footnote that, “Oh yeah, that didn’t smell very good.” I remember the taffy-like consistency of Morgan’s first Meconium-infused bowel movements far better than I remember the odor of the huge poop she had last night.
I don’t have the excuse of a bliss-inducing hormone addling my senses so much that disgusting poop no longer disgusts me, but the fact remains that 6-1/2 weeks of having a baby has addled my senses in a way that 7 years of cat ownership could not, which makes it clear to me that there is more than a hormonal euphoria forging the bond of love between parents and children. And yes, the cats are still capable of dropping bombs of horrific proportions that leave me looking out the window for UN inspectors investigating violations of the Geneva Conventions.
I can’t say that I ever looked at it this way, but I have heard some non-parents talk about having a baby in the same way they talk about owning a pet. On a purely cognitive level, I understand some of the parallels, but I also understand that this kind of statement comes from the same place as that “I’m too selfish” excuse: inconceivably vast ignorance. Owning a pet is something you do for companionship. Having a child is not something you do for companionship. Even the worst pet does not have the potential to fill you with joy or break your heart like a child can.
Ultimately, having a child is something that you do when you have matured to the point that you no longer want to be the main character in your own story. Plenty of people have children before they reach that point, but it is the mark of the greatest parents I know that they are no longer the protagonists of the story of their life, but rather the key supporting cast in the story of their children’s lives. You can still live a rich, fulfilling, and important life as a supporting character, but you can never look at yourself as the most important character again for as long as your child is in the picture.
Ultimately, this is what someone who thinks they are too selfish for a child truly means. As Cracked points out, that excuse itself is insane. After all, if you’re too selfish for a child, what makes you not too selfish to have friends? The truth is, these people aren’t selfish, they’re simply unwilling to cease being a protagonist, because they realize that, in actuality, a child is nothing like a pet. You don’t have a child to support your own needs and desires (certain celebrities notwithstanding), you have a child to support their needs and desires and to give everything that you have to give to the process of creating another beautiful human being for this crazy world. You have a child because, no matter what they ask of you, it’s never too much, because you love them with every atom of your being.
It isn’t selfish to be unwilling to do that, and if you feel like you can’t do that, you absolutely should not try. There is nothing wrong with being unwilling to have a child. Absolutely nothing. If you need to spend the rest of your life as the main character in your story, then do so and be happy! But if you one day wake up and realize that nothing would give you greater joy than seeing someone else skyrocket to greater success than you ever could have had, well, you know what to do. Evolution will handle the rest.