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The Selfishness Of Parents

By Kali

I can remember my mother telling me that people who didn't have children were selfish. Such people wanted only to travel and live in nice houses, not to Give Of Themselves. As a pious Catholic, my mother believed you should Give Of Yourself, preferably to her. My mother is about as self-centered as it is possible to be without a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but never mind. She's a parent. By definition, hers, that of her church and that of her society, she is Good and Giving, a superior being. Her statement was memorable to me, because it was the first in a series of statements and acts designed to quash the threat posed to her orderly parent-centered universe by my burgeoning 11-year-old environmental consciousness. She wanted me to be a parent, so that she could brag about grandchildren. She wanted validation for the poor choices that had robbed her of the accomplishments she had craved but hadn't gotten around to because she'd chosen the path of conventionality and child production. If I enjoyed travel, adventures, or independence, she would feel bad. Once again, never mind. Her many attempts to cut my ambitions down to size are praiseworthy, because their object was to prevent me from doing anything with my life that might compromise the production of children, the most glorious end of any woman, at least if you believe the priests and the shillers of cell phones.

How is it possible to be so fundamentally selfish and yet be so transformed in your own perceptions and that of your culture into a paragon of unselfishness? How is it possible to believe your acts to be so virtuous when they are transparently motivated by the lowest form of self-interest?

I do not even claim that my mother was particularly bad. She wouldn't have considered being an unmarried parent; she gave me a decent man for a father who was able to provide a good standard of living along with a lot of softball tossing and homework help. She could do nothing less, as she feared going to hell if she had a child out of wedlock or divorced her husband, and, she enjoyed buying herself nice things. The closets full of clothes, the kitchen gadgets, the latest electronics made her feel better about the things she had been forced to give up because she was so unselfish. She wasn't one of the new breed of mindless tarts, teenagers simpering away on the 700 Club as they proudly identify themselves as (Aw!) single moms, as though they expect praise for their stupidity in creating children the rest of us will eventually have to pay to imprison. Once again, in the irrational doublethink of parenting, a disgrace becomes a virtue.

Technology brings the saintly procreator new ways to don the halo in pursuit of the most heartlessly selfish ends. The news services recently reported that a woman who has the gene for a particularly early acting form of Alzheimer's disease has had a child and is pregnant with a second. The woman went through the process of in-vitro fertilization in order to conceive these children. In-vitro fertilization allowed her to have the eggs that formed both children tested prior to conception to make sure they didn't carry the deadly gene. Based on the news reports, she's had at least three rounds of in-vitro fertilization in order to conceive her two children. Fertility treatments are extremely unpleasant. They require hormone shots that cause horrendous mood swings and surgical harvesting of the eggs forced to ripen by the hormones.

So this woman goes through the hell of fertility treatments in order to give the children she so desperately wants a healthy future. She could have just conceived the usual way, but she would have risked the birth of a child with the same horrifying gene she has, one which will turn her drooling, blank-eyed and bedwetting before she sees forty, and dead some few years later. That would spoil the whole point of having children she won't recognize by the time they're five years old. The idea is to find some immortality, to descend into dementia content that her children will live the life she never had the chance to enjoy, to pass on those selfish genes, but only the good ones. So she underwent the shots in the belly, and the mood swings, the laparoscopic procedures, and the regimen of pills, so that she can leave her mark on the world. Perhaps her children's stepmother will someday tell them to be thankful that they had a mother who went through so much for herself, er, them. No, of course not. Stepmothers are never too fond of the first wife's kids. They suck up money and time and energy from the husband that should rightly be spent on the new baby, the baby Of Her Own. Well, maybe when they're teenagers, they'll appreciate having a mother who won't nag them. There's the silver lining. An hour a month in the nursing home, watching T.V. with Droolsilla, Patron Saint of Loving Mommies, and anticipating the day she dies. Much easier than alternate weekends.

I actually appreciate what this woman has done. She's certainly achieved new heights of genetic cupidity compared to all the other newly minted parents cooing over their own goodness as they create human beings in order to fulfull their own emotional needs. I appreciate that, as I appreciate all excellence. I appreciate the grandiosity of it, the nightmarish twistedness of it. But most of all, I appreciate that she has finally engaged in an act of parentage so selfish that its nature cannot be denied. It's a start, in a world exploding with people and rapidly being depleted of every other organism, of stripping away the piety hiding the relentless selfishness of our uncontrolled reproduction.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008