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Parents, particularly new parents of babies, will happily tell you/complain bitterly about how being a good parent generally entails an enormous amount of selflessness and sacrifice. Long gone are the days where we could loll about in bed until noon, then lazily head out for bagels and coffee before binge-watching television shows on Netflix all day, possibly with a dirty martini in our hands.
No, an involved parent's life involves putting our own needs and wants second to the children who are now the focus of our lives. We sacrifice a great deal of our freedom, pleasure and autonomy so that we can spend our days attending to the needs of our children—cleaning them, dressing them, changing their diapers, taking them to classes and play-dates and doctor's appointments and schools and activities. Then there's the massive financial and time investment, whether we're paying for our child's expensive daycare (cause heaven knows the government isn't much of a help in that regard) or private school or homeschooling them ourselves.
Parenthood is a never-ending stream of intense responsibilities that may lessen as your children get older, but those responsibilities never disappear entirely, nor should they. We're still liable to care as much—if not more—about our progeny's happiness and health and security, as much as our own.
That's certainly a big part of the reason that one of the great consolations and gifts of being a parent is the sense of moral authority and superiority over our single friends. Oh sure, they may rocket up the ladder of professional success due to the insane amount of hours they put in (you can do that when you don't have to devote much of your time and mental energy and hard work into looking after a precious little angel, we tell ourselves) or have an exciting and glamorous love life full of exotic trips, great sex, and passionate affairs.
After all, what are children if not little versions of us, allowing us to pass down our name and our often woefully faulty genetic material?
But we parents know what's really important, and that's the exhausted feeling of accomplishment we feel after schlepping little Junior to baseball practice or a doctor's appointment or cleaning up their vomit when they have the stomach flu.
Yes, the only thing keeping me from being absolutely convinced that being a parent is easily the most selfless thing anyone can do is my equally strong conviction that, on the other hand, maybe being a parent is actually the most selfish thing anyone can do. After all, what are children if not little versions of us, allowing us to pass down our name and our often woefully faulty genetic material?
Hell, some of us even give our children our own names, so that there is no question that Marty Offenheimer Jr. is the proud scion of Marty Offenheimer Sr., accountant extraordinaire and not a mere blood relative. Those "My child is an honor student" bumper stickers that some of us slap on our cars and minivans in a fit of parental pride not so implicitly also say, "Look what an amazing job I did as a parent, and look at the little scholar the wife and I raised! Are we great parents or what?"
Procreation is a way of extending, or attempting to extend, our existence and our influence beyond our natural lifespan, whether such an act is merited or not.
We encourage our children to attend our alma maters and live vicariously through their achievements, hoping they can accomplish what we may only have attempted. We post pictures of them on Facebook and care too much about whether a particular picture of our progeny winning an award or acting in a school play or just being adorable gets a lot of "likes."
If we're lonely and have difficulty making or keeping friends with our peers we bring a little person into the world who, by tradition, custom and heredity, is expected to love us, or at the very least be interested in our lives. Who else will give us "World's Greatest Dad" mugs on Father's Day?
Hell, it could be argued, and certainly has been argued, that the mere act of bringing yet another child into an overpopulated, wildly dysfunctional and often cruel and callous world could in itself be construed as a deeply selfish act. Procreation is a way of extending, or attempting to extend, our existence and our influence beyond our natural lifespan, whether such an act is merited or not.
So is being a parent ultimately the most selfless or the most selfish thing anybody could possibly do? As is almost invariably the case, the answer probably lies somewhere squarely in the middle. It's a combination of selflessness and selfishness, of sketchy self-interest and noble sacrifice. But if our single friends are asking—those selfish, deplorable monsters with their unforgivable "free time" and "disposable income" and "freedom" and "shameful dearth of never-ending responsibilities and obligations"—then we definitely fall on the selfless side of the equation. As far as single people need to know, all parents are saints, every last damn one of us.
Now where the hell did I put my "World's Greatest Dad" commemorative coffee mug?