Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Does adult = parent?

I'm not sure how I stumbled onto Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, on The Atlantic site, but I enjoy having him on my blog reader (although I sometimes find it hard to keep up with his steady stream of daily posts -- especially when I sometimes struggle to post once a week!!). Sullivan blogs a lot about politics, current events & world affairs, but lots of other stuff too -- not only his own thoughts, but reader comments and great commentary from across the blogosphere.

Today, he addressed a topic that, as an observer rather than a participant (someone who hoped to be a parent but isn't), I find fascinating -- hyper or helicopter parenting.

He included an excerpt from a great article on "Modern Parenting" by Katie Roiphe that was recently posted on Slate (originally published in the Financial Times):

This line in the excerpt that Sullivan printed struck me (added emphasis mine):
One wonders if family life is somehow overweighted in the children's direction—which is not to say that we should love them less, but that the concept of adulthood has somehow transmogrified into parenthood.
I'll buy that. Today, more than ever, more than it ever was in the past, the adult world is tied to & tied up in parenting & children. While I know lots of parents who say they still don't feel grown up yet, the general attitude seems to be that you're not really an adult until you're a parent. I remember recently reading about proposals to alter Maslow's pyramid of needs -- so that the apex became not self-actualization but parenting (!!). (This isn't the article I read then, but it explains the new theory.) (ETA: This is the article I was thinking about.)

I have to admit, sometimes I don't feel a day over 21 -- & it's funny how quickly my sister & I revert to our childhood roles when we're around our parents. But I really (REALLY) resent the implication that, since I'm not a parent, ergo, I am not an adult, nor will I ever attain self-actualization or completeness as a human being. (This is 2010, people...!)

And in the Slate article itself, this line grabbed my attention:
This fantasy of control begins long before the child is born, though every now and then a sane bulletin lands amidst our fashionable perfectionism, a real-world corrective to our over-arching anxieties.
"Fantasy of control." So true. And while I wouldn't describe pregnancy loss as "a sane bulletin," or a corrective to anxiety (more like the confirmation of it and the launch of your worst nightmare come true), it made me think about how pregnancy loss shatters that illusion of control & attitude of entitlement that most women seem to have when their pregnancies have come easily. There's an implicit assumption among most women (most people, period) that pregnancy = baby. Even if someone we know has had a miscarriage or other type of pregnancy loss or complication, it may register intellectually, but not in our hearts. We just blithely assume that that is something that happens to other people, not to us. It's a huge shock when the universe so cruelly demonstrates otherwise.

As always, I zero in the parts that relate to my own ALI experiences -- but there is lots of other great stuff in there about the hyper-parenting trend. Have a read.


  1. something is really wrong with that proposal to change 'self-actualization' to 'parenting.' i have to think about that for a while.

  2. This made me smile because in my family you weren't considered an adult (especially if you were a woman) until you got married.

  3. ok, i've been thinking about that proposal (i.e., to change self-actualization) and it's lunacy. i think REALITY is self-actualization. i think the FANTASY is: 'parenthood for everybody, otherwise we'll deny you your rite of passage to adulthood. because if you're not a parent like i am, i'm afraid of you.'

    sorry, i haven't worded this elegantly but i'm just appalled at the idea that the apex of everything for everybody should be parenthood. yes, this notion sanctifies parenting; and yes, it goes too far (in the words of the NYT article you posted).

    reminds me of the quotation on my blog: "There is no normative female identity for the woman who is not a mother" (Mardy Ireland).

    stupid. how to change it all? an entire paradigm of thought and belief. i don't know.

  4. parenting fro some people might be their 'self-actualization' but it is not for everyone (even for people WITH kids)

    and it is funny to look back. My parents in the 70s would be considered neglectful these days...