Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Not Priding Yourself on Your Children

I always thought that people who took personal pride in their children were distasteful (as opposed to being proud of their children, which is both understandable and sort of darling). After all, if your child is beautiful/clever/accomplished/kind, isn't that due ultimately either to your child's hard work, or just luck of the draw? Crediting primarily yourself for such an outcome seems either disrespectful of your child, or hubristic. It also seemed to savor of an unhealthy separation between child and parent.

However, now that I have little R, sometimes I am guilty of this. When people compliment me on her appearance, her good behavior or her development, I smile and am unduly pleased. In my weaker moments, I also congratulate myself on my skills in birthing and raising a child people find attractive, pleasant and engaging.

This is going to sound like I am a dour moralist, but I disapprove of my reaction. First of all, beauty, as a gift of nature, is not something to take pride in. While it is good to be attractive, since you don't have much control over your appearance (makeup, tasteful dressing and exercise only go so far), it is not a moral quality. I especially hate the emphasis on appearance for women, which discourages them from trying to perfect other, more important personal characteristics, like their intellect or their concern for others. I kind of feel that people's looks should never even be mentioned (even though I know this wouldn't change people's thoughts). I don't abide by this rule in real life though, as I know other people enjoy such compliments.

Second, having a pleasant child (especially when they are a baby) is also a gift of nature, since temperament is mostly genetic. Just because little R is sociable, adaptable, and easy-going, doesn't make her a better baby than a sensitive or timid child. In fact, the sensitive child might have many strengths that she lacks. And while little R always tries her best, she is too small to have real moral agency or make actual decisions. She can't really be credited for sleeping well or being advanced for her age as a result.

These arguments gain even more emphasis when applied to me. If little R shouldn't take credit for her personal characteristics, I certainly can't. She may be cute and well-behaved, but that isn't because I am so awesome. It's just luck.

It is important to remember this, because it would be so pleasant to congratulate myself on my skills (especially because being a mother generally involves no positive reinforcement/feedback whatsoever: it is one of the world's most thankless tasks). Hopefully I can keep all these arguments in mind when things go wrong, so that I won't feel depressed or guilty in that instance. I think it's very important to remember that all children are their own personages, and that ultimately, their destinies are self-directed, not by their parents.

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