Not sure whether Americans are becoming more materialistic and self-absorbed? Look no further than Time Magazine’s recent carnival of narcissism and celebration of selfishness.
In a bizarre cover story entitled, “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths,” Lauren Sandler writes in personal terms of her and her husband’s decision to have only one child. G-d bless them. It’s a free country. Have however many children you wish or don’t wish. But Sandler is an evangelist with thinly disguised contempt for parents silly enough to ruin their finances – not to mention their lives – by being burdened by more than one offspring. Her twisted argument is that the purpose of having children is not a love of kids, or an appreciation for the beauty of life, but parental happiness. Too many kids involves a life of drudgery and expense that extinguishes parental joy. Kids get in the way of their parents tennis lessons and weekends in Paris.
Sandler is as anal as they come. ‘We’re pushing toilet training just to drop the cost of diapers — about $100 a month — from our monthly budget.’ Whoa. If you’re writing Time magazine cover stories, and your husband is also a professional with a separate income, you have only one child, and you can’t even afford diapers, then what are you blowing your money on?
Sandler then gets to the meat of her disturbing line of reasoning. “As parents, we tend to ask ourselves two questions when we talk with our partners about having more children. First, will it make our kid happier? And then, will it make us happier?” Really, I never had such a ridiculous conversation with my wife. Our decision to have nine children revolved around a simple love of kids. We love their cuteness, their playfulness, their gentleness, their innocence. Sandler’s conversations sounds more like two people buying a pet. “Perhaps the parakeet droppings will be too much for us to cope with and we ought to buy a plastic Chihuahua instead?”
If you’re having children for your own happiness, you will be a lifelong burden to them as parents. Rather, the happiness that our children bring to us is the natural and organic by-product of being a parent rather than the reason to become one.
But all this is just the appetizer for the main course of contempt Sandler will serve up for parents primitive enough to have more than one child. “University of Pennsylvania demography professor Samuel Preston,” she relates, “…told me the discovery that surprised him most was that parents felt so madly in love with their first child, they wanted a second. That's an unusual finding.” To Sandler is it odd to find parents who actually enjoy raising their children.
But let’s not stop her when she’s on a roll. “Parents who intend to have only one say they can manage the drudgery with an eye on the light at the end of the tunnel. Beth Nixon, a Pennsylvania artist and mother of a 1-year-old, says she finds reassurance every day in the fact that "it's not going to be an endless chain of need which is going to be fulfilled for years and years." One can picture Sandler finding interviewees in “Narcissists Anonymous” for her piece. Let’s hope Ms. Nixon’s daughter never reads her mother’s loving comments.
But lest you conclude that to Sandler parenting is nothing but monotonous labor with few rewards, she shares how becoming a parent provided a golden epiphany. “I used to suspect that mothers who talked about their children with such unbridled wonder didn't have much else going on in their lives. Then I had my daughter — and now I gush like the rest of them.” Oh, to be so enlightened, to come around to the idea, Lauren, that women who raise their children are not losers and airheads who get knocked up to fill the void in their lives. Lauren, you rock!
But lest we get too carried away with the pleasures of children, Sandler reminds us that “social scientists have surmised since the 1970s that singletons offer the rich experience of parenting without the consuming efforts that multiple children add: all the wonder and giggles and shampoo Mohawks but with leftover energy for sex, conversation, reading and so on.”
Are these the new standards for a Time magazine cover story?
For the record, I am a father of nine children. They are the best thing, aside from my wife, that ever happened to me. With them I have RV’d around all of North America. I have taken them to countless lectures, debates, museums, and of course, Synagogues. At our weekly Friday night Shabbat dinner we host people from every culture, religion, and nationality and have incredible giggles and conversations. The more children we have had the more blessing has come into our lives. And yes, parents with large families have active and fulfilling sex lives, as I discovered from interviewing hundreds for my best-sellers Kosher Sex, Kosher Adultery, and the Kosher Sutra. Where do you find the time for everything? With a large family you learn to economize both your resources and your time. Your heart expands and you develop healthier priorities. The older children help with the younger children and the family becomes a loving unit.
Sandler drones on about the high cost of ballet and piano lessons and how impossible it would be to afford it with a large family. But do children really need this robotic overprogramming more than nurturing relationships?
In her effort to prove how successful only children are, Sandler gushes over Franklin Roosevelt, Elvis Presley, and Lance Armstrong, which is curious because all three are famous for professional achievement and personal failure. Roosevelt forever lost the affection of his wife Eleanor when he had an affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Elvis famously could not sustain an intimate relationship and tragically died of a drug overdose, and Lance Armstrong seems challenged in the sphere of personal relationships as well. None of which means that this has anything to do with their having been only children, and indeed I know only children who are as well-adjusted, giving, and happy as any other children. It is to suggest that narcissists like Sandler have warped values where success is measured by money, fame, and power rather than loving relationships.
Want to know why Islam is taking over Europe and why Latinos are becoming such a political force in the United States? It’s because they love children and they are exploding demographically. In the summer of 2008 The New York Times Magazine published a cover story entitled ‘Disappearing Europe’ that explained that countries like France, Norway, and Russia had hit ‘lowest low fertility,’ having so few babies that they cannot replenish their numbers even in two generations. In the 1960’s, as Time itself notes, Europe constituted 20 percent of the world’s population. Today the number has fallen to under 10, despite massive efforts to boost births. How ironic that as the West has become richer and more capable of affording children it has lost its appetite for kids, believing instead that real happiness lies in a BMW or a Prada handbag.
In that sense, perhaps the most striking statement in Sandler’s cover story is this: “I, for one, was happy without siblings. A few ex-boyfriends aside, people seem to think I turned out just fine.” With values like these, I truly wonder.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts ‘The Shmuley Show’ on WABC 770 AM in NYC and is founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author, most recently, of “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley and on his website: www.shmuley.com.