• Thu, Sep 16 2010

We Don’t All Need to Be Parents

So who remembers Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs?  Anyone?  Psych 101?  Probably not, but Maslow hypothesized that human beings have levels of needs which they strive to fulfill.  First were physiological needs like food and water.  Then comes safety, bringing shelter and security.  These were followed by the wishy-washy needs like social relationships, esteem and self-actualization.  That last one, self-actualization, has come to mean many things to many people.  Maslow described it as, “the desire for self-fulfillment.”  I like to think of it as the Army slogan “Be All You Can Be.”  Maslow classified these needs so that he could show what motivates people.  In my example, I have plenty to eat, a house and wonderful people in my life.  Right now, I would be striving for esteem, trying to gain recognition and acknowledgement in my chosen career path that I’m doing a good job.

(*Side note: Psych 101 is as far as I got.  So if anyone has a better way to explain, share it with us.  I’m really sorry if I botched it, this isn’t my expertise.  But I promise, I do have a reason for attempting my explanation.)

Recently, a group of psychologists has tried to change Maslow’s 70 year-old hierarchy.  As reported by Lisa Belkin over at the New York Times, these academics have knocked self-actualization off the top of the hierarchy.  The new order goes a little like this: physiological, safety, social, esteem, self-actualization, mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.

Let’s all take a minute to think about this.  Finding a partner and spawning some offspring is now a psychological need.  For whom?  Everyone?  I know what you’re thinking.  Surely, some idiotic doctor is not trying to persuade everyone that we have an innate desire to pair up two by two and settle down with a broad of kids.  Tim Gunn isn’t even sleeping with anyone, let alone procreating, and he’s the epitome of all that we’re striving for.  Does Karl have kids?  I don’t think so.  And they cannot be implying that Karl is still in need of anything.

In all seriousness, this redesign of Maslow’s needs has pissed some people off.  And for good reason!  One of the scientists defending this claim, Douglas Kenrick tries to explain that this new hierarchy isn’t supposed to be “aspirational.”  They aren’t trying to tell us what we should be doing; they are just trying to explain why human beings act like they do.  But honestly, I don’t care what semantics you use, calling it a “need” means that all of us inherently want it.  And for all three of these added needs, that simply isn’t true.  Not everyone wants to find a mate, lots of people don’t want to keep them around forever, and plenty of wonderfully satisfied people don’t want to be parents.

I am a mother.  I love being a mother and I would never wish for anything different.  But if I wasn’t a mother, I don’t think that it would make me any less fulfilled as a human being.  I think that’s a big problem with parenting today.  Men and women are choosing to have children because they think it will complete something in their own life.  Truly wonderful parents are happy with themselves first.  Then they decide to share that joy with a child.  Becoming a mother helped me grow in many ways, but it didn’t make me a better person.  It made me a different person.  There’s a distinction here that I think these academic psychologists are missing.

These people were trying to update a theory from 1943.  In my opinion, they made it a lot more antiquated.  Find a man, keep a man, pop out a baby.  This is a pretty old fashioned list of goals.  And I know plenty of people who choose to go this route and don’t find any type of self-actualization.  We’re all striving to be the best we can be, but that doesn’t mean we’re all going in the same direction.

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  • Melanie Notkin / Savvy Auntie

    At Savvy Auntie, we couldn’t agree more. There are people who can’t have children (biologically or because they haven’t met a partner to have a child with) or who choose not to have children (some at least for now). That hardly means they are not climbing the ladder of life. Aunts (and uncles) not only inspire the lives of the children they love (by relation and by choice) but are inspired by the love they are given back. Parenthood can happen by mistake. Being an aunt is a choice motivated by love, legacy and the joys of life.

  • nolalola27

    Typically, “needs” are used in definitions of abuse & neglect. Saying that procreation and marriage are “needs” has some interesting implications for that type of legislation, no?

    • Lindsay Cross

      Very interesting implications, indeed! In fact, some people against this new hierarchy say that it’s just a stunt to try to support same-sex marriage arguments. I have no idea if that’s true or not. However, there is a huge difference between everyone having the right to wed (which they definitely should) and everyone needing to wed (which I would argue is bullshit!).

  • nolalola27

    Also that pic of Kate is hilarious.

    • Lilit Marcus

      Heh, thanks. It came to me as if in a dream.

  • porkchop

    That is appalling. It’s hard to read this any other way besides: If you aren’t trying to get married and have kids, then you are missing something, socially. These people are not describing human psychology, but entertaining gross generalizations. If human nature were so simple that having kids meant you’d reached the mental health peak, there would be no such thing as “psychology.”

  • SB

    Ugh, this is just going to encourage the people who keep telling me “I’ll want kids when I have them” or that I’m “selfish” for refusing to bear children. Why is it so hard for some people to understand that not everyone has that drive to procreate? To put parenting on a hierarchy of needs directly indicates that it is a universal desire, and that, frankly, is bullshit. Also: insulting.