Personal Identity Whatever
6 September 2002
Well, I'm happy with Strangers from a Different Shore. As research reading on Chinese immigration goes, it's really interesting. Might be a good reference work to have around the house, although I'm not going to put it ahead of...well, of much of anything, really, unless it's cheap at a used bookstore. Which random pieces of nonfiction are often not, or can't be counted upon to be.
I'm also reading Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard, because I never have, and it's one of those books people keep telling me is cool, and I don't want to have to mess with marking up this particular research book on the train when I go to see David and Miss Jasmine today. The Perilous Gard is a children's book, and this particular edition is in large type for those with limited vision. So my per-page reading rate is somewhere in the range of Ludicrous Speed. But that's all right, it's fun, although I'm pretty sure it's not going anywhere I haven't predicted. We'll see.
So I was journal-surfing the other morning, because several of the people whose journals I read haven't been updating, and I have to read something while I eat my Grape Nuts. And I came upon Pamie, who seems to be famous to other people who read journals, and she was talking about how she isn't having children. And she ended up saying this: "I won't ask you what it's like to lose what I can only imagine is your personal identity if you promise not to comment on how empty and lonely my life must be."
You know, I really, truly, deeply do not care if this woman has a baby. If she had a dozen of them, I'd probably care, because that's a lot of babies to take care of, and our society doesn't really have a lot of the family farm thing that makes it more necessary to have a dozen kids to use as farmhands. Beyond that, no. It is not my business whether she spawns now or never, and I don't think it'll make her life empty or lonely if she doesn't (or does). She may or may not do that on her own, but kids are no guarantee, anyway.
But the idea that parenting takes away your personal identity is one that I've seen a lot in essays, editorials, and journals in the last year, and it just infuriates me. I want to ask these people, "Does it take away your personal identity to get married?" Some of them think it does. Oh. Well, okay, "Does it take away your personal identity to be friends with your best girl friend from college?" And, "Does it take away your personal identity to get a doctorate?"
The choices we make build our personal identities. They don't detract from them. Loving people, choosing to have another person in your life to love, whether it's a spouse or a friend or a kid or what, cannot make you less than what you are. As (the more talented and better-looking than China Mieville) Charlie Stross said on Saturday, human relationships, done right, are a positive sum game.
One of my friends brought this sort of thing up in another form several months ago. She said that she wanted to just be able to have kids or not have kids, and not have people see her as a parent or not a parent. To me, this sounded like she wanted to go to med school but not have people see her as a doctor, and I believe that's the analogy I used when I wrote back to her.
Children take time, work, attention, love. Of course they do. And of course you're not going to have the same personal identity as when you went into the whole business. No more than I have the same personal identity as before I started grad school, or before I quit grad school, or before I got married, even. Staying exactly the same is a sign of failure. It means that you spent another year on the planet and didn't expand your horizons, didn't figure out anything else neat about yourself or anyone else. Sure, your changes don't have to be the same as everybody else's changes. Shouldn't be. That should go without saying. But change doesn't mean loss.
Frankly, it seems to me that the people who are on about children taking away your personal identity managed to get to the stage where they realized that Mom (or, more rarely, Dad) might have wanted to do something else with their lives, might have had unmet aspirations. But it doesn't sound like they've gotten past that to the stage where they recognize that Mom and Dad might have grown in other directions from those aspirations, and might have still retained that supposedly elusive personal identity. A lot of women in late high school and early college talked a bit angrily about how their mother's lost opportunities and how, "She could have been someone besides my mom!" And I always wanted to say, dude, she is someone besides your mom. And maybe she likes being your mom. Honestly.
I think it's another case of who looks weird to whom. Women in their late 20s and all through their 30s who are not having babies seem to feel compelled to write all this stuff about why not and how they're a complete person without it and how they don't want to give up their personal identity and they like not having drool on their books so there. But their audience of their peers seems much more likely to go, "Yeah! What she said!" than "But don't you feel incomplete?" I really doubt that Pamie got a ton of e-mail about how she really should have a kid and wasn't a fulfilled woman until she did, when she wrote that entry. I doubt that Sars over at Tomato Nation got that kind of mail when she wrote about how she's not going to have kids, either, although hers was less defensive and didn't feature an attack on people who have kids in a very small, thin disguise. My point is, this is about as controversial in this setting as coming out and saying, "I like Buffy, and I don't care who knows it!" And attacks like that are stupid and uncalled for. Putting it that way is cheap: "If you don't attack me in the way that you, personally, have not attacked me, I will not say the following bad things about you...."
Ah well. It'll keep going. And there'll keep being people who are convinced that having a child is life's ultimate fulfillment, and there'll keep being people who believe that they are morally superior for not adding another set of needs to their lives. They might both be personally right. I just hope they manage to stop setting each other off on it and extending their sweeping generalizations to the rest of us.
In other news...well, we heard from Timprov's parents late last night. His aunt is still having stuff ruled out, gradually, one thing at a time. She's still in the hospital, but his uncle says she has a lovely view of Mount Tam from her room. I would find that to be a happy thing. They're happy with her doctors and the level of care she's getting, from the sounds of it, so now we just wait and see what they have to say.
So. Those of you who keep journals and weblogs should post on them, so that I have stuff to read when I'm eating my Grape Nuts and don't have to wander. Thanks to the wonders of e-rejections, I have another story to prepare and send out this morning before I go. And then it's back to research and a bit of writing work. Of course.
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