Jesse and I were watching Nanny 911 a few weeks ago, because we watch far too much crap TV. On this particular episode was a family consisting of a woman, her husband who happened to be confined to a wheelchair, and their 23 adopted boys of various ages. Another 9 children were grown and had left the house. Each of the boys had some sort of challenge--some were in wheelchairs, others had ADD or other bipolar disorder, one had permanent brain damage from abuse as a baby. Most of these children were the ones that literally no one else would take. The mother was actually succeeding in running this household very well, despite the obviously crushing amount of houseworkto do, and even seemed to find time to attend to the emotional needs of each child.
Alright, so: I recount this because seeing this particular story really outlined a residual personal bias that I ashamed to admit that I have. My first reaction to this story was that it was clearly lovely and heartwarming. But there was also the thought in the back of my mind that large families are one thing, but 20 or 30 kids, well. The mother must have some sort of martyr complex, or is filling some sort of need or insecurity in herself, that's she's not doing enough for herself, that her life stuck in the house doing endless loads of laundry and bandaging endless knees must feel very small.
The point I'm making here is that, for that moment, I was being achingly stupid. It's stupid to be suspicious of people who are trying to do good on an individual level, while one never thinks "Hmmn, the president of Amnesty International must really be covering for his own deep-seated insecurity". More than that, it's the feminism=work for pay mindset. The woman in this story has chosen mothering and caring for otherwise lost children as her calling in life, and that's the opposite of small. It's beautiful and selfless and real. There are worse ways to spend one's life. Generally, when we refer to a "calling" in life, it refers to a profession and work. We celebrate the women who claw their way up to vice-sub-assistant of marketing at GloboChem international. The women who are in the trenches actually making someone's life better we say "Ugh, I don't know how she does it", outwardly applauding her efforts but wondering about what could possibly to motivating her to give up her whole life. This is obviously a very extreme example, but I think that it illustrates the difference between parenting as a part of life and parenting as a calling in a life.
Also, some questions, if anyone cares to humor me:
Is parenting a component of the parent's life, or a life's calling?
On the same note, is it taken too much for granted to that everyone will at some point have children, to the point that it is no longer really questioned, and people don't really ask if having children is their "calling"?
I would argue that one of the kinks that needs to be worked out of feminism in general is the work=value-in-life connection. More than that, though, did the feminist movement teach women to place a greater value on being selfish? Is being more selfish a necessary component of being what they used to call "liberated"?