Lately I’ve been thinking about two “isms”– hedonism and narcissism.
Childless women are often accused of leading hedonistic lifestyles full of shoe shopping, manicures, massages, and fancy cocktails. Given the increasing expense of raising children and the hollowing out of the middle class, however, this seems like rational economic calculation to me. Daycare alone can cost $1000 a month. It would take an awful lot of lattes and pedicures to approach that. I indulge mainly in dance classes and eating out, and although I do often feel guilty about the expense of both, I remind myself that the cost of those activities doesn’t come close to the economic outlay of having a child.
Narcissim, I sometimes fear, can be the flip side of the endless self-development that the childless can afford to indulge in. Even if that self-development involves volunteer work, it doesn’t usually require the in-your-face, endless demands of another person that childrearing does. Self-development after a certain age can start to feel hollow, perhaps more so for women, since we are raised to care for others. I worry that I am sometimes in a state of arrested development since I’ve never had to put the relentless needs of another person ahead of my own.
I battle this fear through finding hobbies that allow me to connect with “the universal flow” and by reminding myself that empty-nesters face the same issues eventually. I also remember that there are plenty of parents out there who easily fit the clinical profile of narcissistic personality disorder, so having children is no guarantee of selflessness. Finally, the money I spend on my hobbies contributes to the ability of my teachers to make a living, which heartens me. There aren’t a lot of parents who have the resources to do so.