Monday, November 10, 2008

How Parenthood Changes Us

I was mulling over our experience at the amusement park on Saturday and contemplating the fact that, for us, it was all about the kids. In fact, although Nathan loves roller coasters, he didn't go on a single adult ride at the park and neither did I. As any parent knows, you don't take the family to an amusement park for your own amusement. We and the many other parents there were having a wonderful time watching the kids enjoy themselves.
Interestingly enough, even in the children's section of the park, there were a number of young adults, people who looked to be between the ages of about 17-25. They were wandering around among the game booths and going on the kiddie rides. I'm sure had we gone to the more exciting parts of the park we would have seen many more.
I started thinking about the changes that parenthood makes in us. We see all around us, particularly among teenagers and unencumbered young adults, a rather intense focus on self. The time spent worrying over clothing, appearance, social status, and other self-absorptive concerns is substantial. I occasionally stumble upon the blog or social networking page of one of these people who obviously thinks the world does or should revolve around themselves.
I'm not trying to slam teenagers or young adults as a class, as I also know many who are generous, kind, and service-oriented. I do, however, think there is a great shift that takes place in the thinking and attitudes of many people when they become parents. All of the energy that might previously have gone into thinking about oneself now goes in concern for a child. In the process, I believe many of us discover a great truth: seeking for the happiness of others is in fact much more fulfilling, and therefore brings us more happiness, than seeking for our own happiness could do. With this in mind, I wonder what the implications to society are of the trend towards delayed marriage and even further delayed child bearing. The effect seems to be that we extend the po0rtion of our lives that is dedicated to ourselves, and put off those experiences that teach us the joy of selfless service. I would not be surprised to learn that one result is a society where selfishness is normal and expected.
Certainly the parents at the amusement park, ourselves included, took great delight in watching our children's delight.


Grace said...

i had $100 to spend for my birthday from a gift card. I didn't come home with one thing for myself. But my kids have some new clothes. Funny, huh?

Maile said...

I absolutely agree! I've noticed within myself a gradual process of becoming less selfish (I still have a long way to go, but I improve on this the longer I'm a mom). Most of Peter's coworkers are about his age but are still single. Their lives really do revolve around themselves and their after-work recreation. I honestly feel badly for them. They have no idea how great it is to be married and have kids.

Catherine said...

For us unmarrieds, it's hard to know what else to focus on. =)

Dorothy said...

Mmm....I don't know. I didn't have my children until ages 34 and 36 and I couldn't WAIT to be doing things for other people at last, putting others first. It gets boring when you are just living for yourself all the time! {g}

Laurel Kornfeld said...

I would like to offer an alternative view. As a happily single person well over 35, I have experienced discrimination and prejudice for not being married or having kids, something surprising in the 21st century. The kid thing is not for everybody. If a person knows he or she will resent having to put someone else first and won't be able to do a good job at it, it's better for that person not to have kids. I love being the one to enjoy the amusement park rides, to take the classes and lessons, to pursue careers in the creative arts, specifically writing and acting. I could never give those things up. On the other hand, I love my nephews and enjoy spending time with them. There is a lot in life for a single person to focus on, including community service and activism, for which married people may not have as much time. I volunteer at a local food pantry and know there is a great deal of need for people with time to devote to helping their communities. This is a great opportunity for single people to do some real good in the world, work that others with more commitments are unable to do. In short, no one path is right for everyone, and those who make different choices than others should not be denigrated for making those choices.

Paula said...

Laurel, I hope you don't feel denigrated for being single. I certainly didn't intend for my post to come across as "all single people are selfish". As I stated, I know and admire many single adults who are generous, kind, and service oriented. They can and do contribute greatly to their communities and the world.
How can I explain what I mean? When I was single, I had many spheres of interest and activity, centered around my relationships, my beliefs, my dreams. When I married, those spheres expanded to encompass my husband's relationships, his beliefs and dreams. With the arrival of children, suddenly my own interests and activities faded in importance. Now much of my life is centers around their needs, relationships, and potential.
In individual families, if this shift does not occur children's needs will be neglected and marginalized. What happens if an entire community or society chooses to focus principally on the needs and desires of the adult members at the expense of the next generation? I hope our children don't have to learn the answer to that question by experience.