Where Logic Meets Love

Everyone Feels Selfish: Judgment in Parenthood

Friday, May 11, 2012

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Everyone Feels Selfish: Judgment in Parenthood | Faith Permeating Life

Since writing On Adoption and Selfishness over a year ago, I've had conversations about children with many different people, mostly women. And I discovered something fascinating.

So many women consider their specific decisions to be selfish.

In my previous post I wrote about how selfish I feel for wanting to have a big family but not having to "sacrifice" my body in order to get there. I recently had a conversation with a woman who said she'd always imagined she would adopt a child because she knows what a great need there is for adoptive parents. But then she admitted that she also had the selfish desire to bear a child herself, just to have that experience of intimacy of having another person grow inside you. How funny, I thought: She considers it selfish to want to experience the very thing I feel selfish for wanting to avoid!

I've talked to women who feel selfish for decisions across the spectrum.

Some feel selfish for wanting to have children as soon as they're married, feeling that they should really wait until they're more financially secure but craving that mother role. Others feel selfish for waiting to have children, as they've heard the disparaging comments about women who put their career and their personal dreams ahead of their family, who wait for that nonexistent "perfect time" to have a child.

Some feel selfish for only wanting one child, fearing they're dooming their child to being spoiled or lonely. Others feel selfish for wanting multiple children, reasoning that their attention and energy will be divided, that they'll have less money to spend on any one child.

Among those who want to adopt, the trend continues. I feel selfish and awkward telling people I want to adopt domestically, knowing that children in many other countries have far greater needs than most American children. But then I talk to those who tell me with embarrassment that they want to adopt internationally, because how can they go halfway around the world for a child when there are children right here in their own country who need homes?

It's no wonder, though, that so many people have doubts about their decisions regarding children. If there's one thing I've learned from reading parenting blogs, it's this: No matter what decisions you make, there will always be someone there to judge you.

A thoughtful reader sent me a link to this radio show about the ethics of having children. There's a caller right at the end who talks about how people will judge your decisions about having children almost no matter what you do.

If you have no children, it's "When are you having children?" or "What's wrong with you? Why don't you want kids?"

If you have one kid, it's "So, when are you having another? Don't you want him/her to have a playmate?"

But if you have three kids, you start getting, "Wow, how come you're having so many kids? Are you done yet?"

It's the same thing I wrote about when I said how everyone tells me I'm too skinny. There is, for some reason, an inexhaustible supply of people wanting to comment on other people's lives.

So at this point I've pretty much accepted that I'm going to be judged no matter what and that there is no one "selfish" or "unselfish" path when it comes to having kids. With so many women feeling called to so many different paths to motherhood (or not), why try to conform my life to someone else's calling?

Better to live my own imperfect life path the best I can than try to stumble through living someone else's.

Have you ever felt guilty or selfish for your decisions or plans about having children? Why or why not?

27 comments:

  1. I've always wanted to adopt. I don't know why, but I just remember being a kid and it popped into my head and it stuck. Then as I get older and the more and more I think about it, the more it JUST MAKES SENSE for my life. What's crazy is that even as a kid I've gotten grief for it. One of my big reasons is that I feel as though I couldn't physically handle pregnancy. My doctors already warn me about gaining weight because if I gain too much that will be too much pressure on my fraigle bones and back. Um... pregnancy would probably make me break several bones and/or I would have to be on bed rest for FOREVER. No thanks. When I told this to one friend who had a baby she was all "But Emily it's so worth it in the end." Maybe. But God bless the man who would have to put up with me on bed rest. I would be COMPLETELY miserable. Selfish? Maybe. But oh well. I also have realized that if I have a child there is a 50/50 chance they also will have brittle bones. I remember all of the PHYSICAL things my parents had to do to take care of me as a kid. Carrying me up and down stairs. Carrying me around and letting me lay on their stomach while I was in body casts. Um... I can't do that. I wouldn't be able to take care of a child who also had brittle bones. Yes, whoever my husband is would help of course. But is it fair to him to have to do everything. Nope.

    Sometimes I feel selfish about it. But as you said, no matter what you do SOMEONE is going to judge you. You can't base choices off of what other people say all of the time. You have to do what works best for you and your family.

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    1. It sounds like you've given a lot of thought to this! To the person who said, "it's so worth it in the end," I would say, I'm sure it could be worth it if it is extremely important to you to have a genetically related child and/or to experience pregnancy. If neither of those things are important to you, then in what way is it worth that pain, over choosing adoption? About the only other thing I can think of is that adoption is expensive, but I don't think your friend meant, "It's worth undergoing broken bones / bed rest so you can save all that money!" Um, no.

      Yes, there will probably always be people who will judge you. But do what makes the most sense for you and your family!

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  2. I've always known I wanted to have my own children. I just really want to feel a baby growing inside me, feel it kicking, it just seems like a wonderful experience. Although I'm absolutely terried of the whole giving birth process, I've just heard too many freaky stories. I'd do it though, it's just something I really want. If only I could skip that part. I suppose there's adoption, but I really would want a child that's part me and part my partner. I don't really think that's selfish to want that, but some people might think so. I mean, the world is seriously overpopulated. The best thing would be that we all have as few children as possible, but people are selfish and do what they desire. We only live once.
    I do know that if I was unable to have children I'd adopt. But only then.
    When it comes to children, all people do is judge. If you don't, or even can't, breastfeed you're a bad mother. If you do breasfeed, they judge you on how long you do it. They judge you on your disciplining, the food you give them, the shows you let them watch etc.

    People will never stop judging really, everyone has their own idea of what is good parenting and what isn't. The main thing should be that the children are happy and healthy and loved.

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    1. I love the site Offbeat Mama because they take the approach of your last paragraph. Here's part of their About page:
      "We believe each parent has the right to make their own educated decisions about what works for them and their family. Our only shoulds are loving your children and caring for them with educated intent. Offbeat Mama doesn't subscribe to any particular parenting philosophy or dogma, as we believe that every family and situation is unique, and what works for one Offbeat Mama in one situation may not work for another."

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  3. It's true about the universal judgment. I actually don't feel selfish about how many kids I have because I had them because I thought I had a moral duty to and I stopped when I realized there was no way I could care for any more. So it really wasn't a selfish choice on either end. On the other hand, I do get kind of annoyed with myself for not actually thinking about what *I* wanted at any point, but I'm sure if I had I would feel selfish. I would certainly have had kids at some point anyway, and probably at least three or four, but definitely not so close together!

    The trouble is, in modern life we have *so many* choices. We have to make them on some basis, since tradition and custom are out the window. So doing them on the basis of what seems best to us is really the only way. But that is always going to seem like an essentially "selfish" choice.

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    1. Yes -- we have to make choices somehow, based on something. I do think some people still strive to make decisions based on tradition -- I guess I'm thinking of the capital-t Catholic Tradition -- but even then you're going to have people telling you that you're doing it wrong, that you're not following tradition in the right way. There's no way to win!

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  4. I want both actually. I want four of my own children because I feel one or two is not enough, three gives you the awkward middle child syndrome and such, but four is perfect. I'm one of four and I absolutely loved it. I also come from a large family in general (on my mom's side, counting JUST her parents, her siblings and their spouses, and their children and the two bachelor uncles who have always been around, there's already 50 of us), and I just love having people around. I want my kids to be able to grow up with that experience, too.

    I really want to adopt in addition to having my own kids, but my adoption desire is unique because I want to adopt a deaf child. I took ASL during high school and I fell in love with the language and the deaf culture and community and it breaks my heart that so many deaf children are born into hearing families who don't understand them and don't let them be the deaf people they were created to be. But sometimes I feel selfish for wanting to adopt a deaf child when there are deaf parents who might be infertile and want a deaf child.

    And I think you wanting to adopt domestically is a wonderful thing. We have several friends who have adopted both domestically and internationally (in fact, one of my cousins is from China), and they're all wonderful children. Follow your heart, lady. :)

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    1. I'm not sure I follow how you're counting -- are your adopted kids counted as part of your four kids? Or you want to have four genetically related children and then adopt additional children?

      I wrote about this in my previous adoption post, but I have thought it would be cool to learn ASL and build a house specifically equipped for Deaf children. I don't think you're selfish at all -- I would imagine there are far more Deaf children in need of adoption than there are infertile Deaf couples out there wanting to adopt. I feel selfish sometimes for not planning to request children with known special needs since there are so many who need to be adopted. See, this is what I'm saying -- do what feels right to you, because someone else feels selfish for doing exactly the opposite!

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  5. I completely agree with this! I first time I became pregnant, I was less than excited. None of my friends were pregnant and I just felt like I would be the only one toting a kid here and there. During that time, I experienced a miscarriage and became absolutely devastated. I felt selfish for not being excited for the baby when so many women can't even get pregnant. When I became pregnant again three months later, I was ecstatic and terrified. Would I actually be able to carry the baby? After I reached the 7 month mark, I felt selfish again when I saw the scale creep to an outrageous number. I had never seen it go that high before and boy was it depressing when I couldn't fit into my clothes. Now I'm 37 weeks and I can't wait to do it again. I think there will always be selfish moments but it may just be apart of life change. : ) Thanks for this post!

    Vonae Deyshawn
    www.myvirtueplace.com

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    1. I hadn't even thought about this aspect of it, but I would imagine a lot of women feel selfish for not experiencing pregnancy the "right" way. There are so many cultural messages about pregnancy, about how you're supposed to "glow" and feel uber-connected to your unborn child, how you're supposed to happily suffer through anything during your pregnancy for the sake of your child. How silly! Mothers are people like everyone else, who have ups and downs and who may get irritated when their body changes in unexpected or painful ways. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  6. I've definitely run into the judgement factor when talk about my future plans for having kids. For a while know I've known that I've only want one. I've been told how my child will be lonely or spoiled or even unable to work with others. My reasoning is often dismissed, and I'm told how I really want at least two.

    No, not really.

    Healthy pregnancies are hard to come by in my family, so one healthy pregnancy and I'm cashing out while I'm ahead. I also am aware of my temperament and having one kid and four hands seems like a ratio I can handle. Which I suppose on the surface could be considered artificial, but being raised by a mother who is emotionally underwater, there is no way I could consciously do that to my own child.

    Then there is the financial part. I currently am in a career path that doesn't pay much at all, and the men I meet tend to be in the same field as I am. I want to be able to give my child everything that I can, which already isn't going to be a whole lot of extras. I couldn't imagine stretching finances further to give two or three children what I know I want to give them.

    I also get odd looks and judgement when I say I want to go as natural as possible when I do have a child. I mean midwife sort of natural - no hospital, no drugs, no standard birth plans. My body was made to make babies, and I feel like it should be given every chance to do just that. Besides, contractions are there for a reason, and why on Earth give birth laying down when you have gravity to help you out!

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    1. Seriously, what is up with this cultural myth that every woman *really* wants two children? You feel strongly about wanting one child, I feel strongly about wanting five. Shouldn't that clue people in that different people were made to parent different size families?

      I'll recommend Offbeat Mama to you as well -- they recently did a series on different types of births, from hospital births to home births to caesareans. They also explain why they use the word "unmedicated" instead of "natural birth." It's a great site with a great community.

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  7. I'm completely single, and I don't want to have kids unless I'm married, but I'm worried that if I ever do get married, it will be too late for me to have kids and I'll have to debate whether to do fertility treatments, adopt, or both. Both would be difficult for different reasons, and I've always felt like whatever I end up doing when it comes to having kids, there will be some guilt. But honestly, I don't think there's a parent alive who doesn't feel guilty about something.

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    1. Unfortunately I think women who are older when they first want to become a parent are probably hit with the most kinds of judgment from others. If you decide not to have children you're looked down upon, if you try to conceive a child yourself you're warned that it's dangerous to get pregnant past a certain age, if you do fertility treatments you face religious judgment, and some places don't want to let you adopt unless you're infertile and have exhausted other options (something I'm concerned about for us). It's ridiculous!

      But then there's something freeing at the same time -- if you know you'll be judged no matter what, then you know that there is no "right" choice you can make, there's no decision you could have made that would have spared you the judgment. So you may as well do whatever seems best for you! In the end, it's your life, your body, and your family that you have to be concerned about, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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  8. I have three kids right now, and I honestly yearn for more. Whether that happens biologically or through adoption has yet to be seen, though either way is perfectly fine by me.

    I absolutely can attest to the fact that people judge BIG TIME when you have 3+ kids. I have had complete strangers ORDER me to never have more children (and not jokingly). Many people assume that the third was an "accident" (which, by the way, what a horrible way to refer to your child: "you were unwanted, but you're here now... so...")

    But as far as me personally, I don't feel guilt or shame around our choices. My husband and I know what we want, what the Lord wants for us and what we can handle. The other opinions are worthless in this conversation.

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    1. I feel like I'm pretty prepared for the comments since I've read a lot of other people's experiences with large families. However, I've heard that people react differently to a woman being out with a group of children than a man, so I'll be interested to see what kind of reactions Mike gets as our stay-at-home parent.

      That's great that you have such a realistic view about the worthlessness of other people's opinions on your family. I hope I can get to that point also :)

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  9. I feel judged for not being sure I want kids - or, I guess now that I've decided I DO want kid(s), for not being ready YET. I've also gotten a lot of comments when I say I'd probably prefer just one kid. You know, "Your child will be so spoiled! It's wrong to just have one!"

    I also know that when I do have kids (one or a million of them!) I'll be judged for not breastfeeding. It's not anyone's business and hey, if I can't breastfeed because I had surgery to avoid DYING OF CANCER, it's better for my kids in the end. But I already stress out about it, especially since breastfeeding is always such a hot topic.

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    1. I'm not really sure when "this is the ideal" (e.g., breastfeeding) became "this is the only one right thing to do and if you do anything else you are an evil person who wants to ruin your children." The truth is that there are millions of healthy adults in our country, some of whom were breastfed, some of whom were formula-fed, some a combination, some for a matter of months and some for years. Certainly you can talk about advantages and disadvantages about any aspect of parenting, whether it's breastfeeding or when you have kids or how many kids you have, but short of abusing/neglecting/etc. your children, one decision is not going to make you a "bad" or "good" parent.

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  10. Reading the comments, it can be said: people know themselves and what works for them. We (myself included!) need to get better at trusting everyone else to make the decisions best for them.

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    1. Amen :) I do think there is a benefit to sharing one's own experiences, suggestions, etc. (in a polite, helpful way, at the right time -- not a judgmental, intrusive kind of way), to aid others in making informed parenting decisions, but then we need to let people make those decisions in the way that's best for them.

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    2. I should add that I think the phrasing of suggestions is very important as well -- if someone says they're having some issue with their child, it's a lot more helpful to say, "Have you considered/tried this?" instead of "Well, why don't you just..." or "You should really..."

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  11. I think the worry that whatever you want might be selfish is part of the female gender role. I so rarely hear men thinking like that!

    I have been through other people's accusations that I am selfish for having just one child, like Alice mentioned. When we had trouble conceiving that child, I worried that it was because we'd been selfish in waiting to get our adult lives firmly established before becoming parents and had passed peak fertility (by, like, 3 years). When he was little, I was very happy having just him, but I did sometimes get guilt-tripped by all the people saying everyone ought to be welcoming all the "little blessings" God can possibly stuff through them.

    Earlier this spring, I realized I was pregnant. Total surprise gave way to surprising delight within a few hours. My son is 7 now, and we are in a much better position to welcome another child than we were a few years ago, but we just had gotten used to the idea that we weren't going to have another. We are just barely young enough that we still could. My partner had exactly the same reaction when I told him, and then my son did too. All of us were excited about a new baby...but after 7 weeks, it died. "Am I selfish?" is a question that has twisted me in every possible direction! Am I selfish to wish for another baby when I already have an excellent kid? Am I selfish to be relieved that I'm not exhausted and nauseated by pregnancy anymore? And many less logical variations.

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    1. I have to say that I'm glad to know you have these same frustrating thoughts of selfishness and guilt, as you tend to seem so rational and put-together, particularly in regards to parenting!

      You make an interesting point about how men don't seem to have these same thoughts -- I wonder if it's because women tend to also be the ones collectively passing judgment on each other for our parenting decisions?

      I'm sorry to hear about losing your child at 7 weeks. I can definitely understand how many different emotions that could cause, particularly as the pregnancy was a surprise but not an unwelcome one. Has this changed your thinking about whether you want to try to have another child?

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  12. Rational though I may be, I have problems with guilt. Paula Poundstone used to write an advice column in which she told someone, "You're like me and just feel guilty all the time and can't even go to a People Who Feel Guilty Support Group for fear you'd be taking someone else's chair." I'm kind of like that. :-)

    My feelings have been all over the place--although I haven't wavered in feeling that an early miscarriage is not such a terrible thing compared to, say, losing a baby 7 weeks AFTER birth, when you have gotten to know it and have so much more invested in it. An embryo is a tiny blob of such immense potential that it warps my whole reality, but it is not yet a person in my life, more like an idea of a new person coming soon. My body and mind were very much set on snuggling a baby soon, and having those hormones abruptly yanked (it was the type of miscarriage in which the mother's body goes on acting pregnant after embryonic death, so the uterus has to be emptied surgically, causing a sudden and uneven hormonal reset) made me feel very bereft on top of the conscious disappointment--but it's not like mourning the death of a specific person I knew.

    We are waiting a few months before we decide about trying again. In many ways all of us would like a baby. Late summer might be a very good time to start. I'm taking all the vitamins now, and we're getting some home repairs out of the way and otherwise preparing to do it right this time, if we're going to do it. But I'm also refocusing on being content with my one child. Even if we decide we want another, there's no guarantee we'll get one.

    By the way, this surprise pregnancy was not a failure of Fertility Awareness! I knew we were taking a chance; it's just that it was a chance we'd taken before without conceiving, so I figured it wouldn't happen this time either. Live and learn! It's actually kind of encouraging, because if we do decide we want to conceive again, our odds of success may be higher than we'd thought.

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    1. I definitely can understand what you mean about how losing a child you had gotten to know would in some ways be worse than an early miscarriage, though it seems that mentally and hormonally it was still quite a difficult situation. It sounds like you've found a positive view of the situation, in terms of refocusing on Nicholas and being encouraged about your fertility. I hope that whatever happens next brings peace to you and your family.

      I was wondering about Fertility Awareness, but didn't want to ask, so I appreciate the clarification! :)

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  13. I can relate to the selfish feelings as well as those of some of the above posters. I currently have a one month old (he's 5 weeks today!) and while he was and is very much wanted, I did not enjoy pregnancy. I wasn't excited like I thought I would be and it gave me so much guilt. My emotions were completely out of whack and in hindsight I think I may have been dealing with prenatal depression, though I didn't want to admit it to myself or anyone else, particularly because most anti-depressants are either not safe for pregnancy or their safety is unknown. Nevertheless, it has seriously caused me to rethink our plan to have 4 bio children - we'll no longer go ahead with that plan (which makes me feel selfish) but we've agreed it's for the best. However, we had always planned to adopt (domestically) and/or foster (and of course if I get pregnant for whatever reason that's that) after we were finished having kids - we've just moved up those plans.

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    1. I am sorry to hear you went through a difficult time, and glad that you were able to be honest with yourself about the best plan for the future. In case you haven't read my original post on adoption, Mike and I went through a similar change of plans in that we were going to adopt after having biological children, then decided to intermix them, then when I was honest about dreading pregnancy, decided to go with all adopted children. Know that you are not alone in feeling selfish, but that I applaud your decision to do what you feel is right for you and your family.

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