I was reading an article on XO Jane where a woman explores all of the feelings she had while dating a single dad..feelings which led to her ending the relationship, and realizing that she was not cut out for stepmother status just yet. Amongst them were profound feelings of hurt and jealousy, knowing that she would always come second to someone else in his heart. Not that there’s something inherently wrong with putting your child as the number one priority over anything and everyone else in the world: in fact, in her own words, she said:
I hate to admit that I was jealous of a three year old. Even writing it now I feel ashamed. After all, he’s three and I’m old enough to know better. Sadly, Dan was in a no-win on this one because if his attention had NOT been on his baby when we were together, I would have considered him a negligent parent not worth seeing and walked on the spot.”
So what was her malfunction when it came to the priority battle, then? I suspect that the problem had much to do with the fact that, to her, this child was essentially nothing. And no, I’m not calling her a man, cold-hearted bitch. In fact, I’ll blatantly state right now that that statement applies to how anyone feels about their new partners kid. As in, she had the feelings of “nice kid” or “cute kid” or “sweet kid”, or something, but that was probably about as far and deep as her feelings went. You’ve really only got two ways to go when you get into a relationship with a devoted single parent: either you quickly start falling in love with the child, developing the ability to share in that “I’ll die for you and sacrifice anything for you” feeling for the child, and they become a shared object of affection and protection to bond over, or the child becomes an adversary and competitor for time and affection, and a threat to your future happiness. In our writers case, the special moments, the sacrifices, the love, and having all plans surround the well-being and happiness of the child had literally nothing to do with her, and since she didn’t fall in love with the kid instantaneously, her resentment of said child was only natural, and bound to happen. She’s not some unnatural monster for not automatically developing maternal love for this child, or for resenting her necessary role of #2 forever and ever, and in fact the larger majority of cases turn out this way. Most people just aren’t honest about the why’s things didn’t work out when they date single parents, or at least most women aren’t.
Now, I’m focusing on this one part of her article specifically in response to a back and forth dialogue that happened in the comments section. Sure it was a tangent, but it still sparked a lil bit of annoyance in me. I’m posting a bit of that discussion here for you. Which side of the debate do you side with? Which side do you think had me rolling my eyes? Do you automatically feel that any child’s life, even a child that is a virtual stranger, is more worthwhile and precious than anyone’s life, yours, your mother’s, your spouses, and your best friends, included? Check it out.
Person 1: “It’s the social contract. Any child trumps any adult when death is on the line. You don’t have to be a parent, want or even like kids to know this. But of course since death is rarely on the line, the real issue is about who comes first day to day and yup, kid still trumps adult”.
Person 1: “But of course your husband would never allow that. Your instinct is from love, which I totally respect.”
Person 2: “Yeah, he absolutely would allow that because he has no feelings for children either, and his life is far more valuable to him than a child whose life has no effect on him…Yeah I get your premise but it’s flawed because it’s simply not true. Children are not inherently more precious than someone I love personally.”
and now some other people get into the mix…
Person 3: “Whoa. That’s cold blooded. Children ALWAYS come first. That’s always been my first thought. Look at the teachers during school shootings. They protect any child near them, and it’s not their kids. Firefighters get children out first if they can….. I get that loosing your love would be devastating, but I can’t even begin to imagine the guilt one would live with having picked an adult over a child in the face of death.”
Person 4: “I’ll be honest, anyone who thinks that literally any child is more important than the most important person in your own life is delusional. I wouldn’t intervene to save another human being probably ever, unless that person was a friend or family member. I know it’s dickish, but I’m not about to risk losing everything to a lawsuit.”
Did you guess which side of this argument annoyed me? Ok, now instead of just blatantly calling the bleeding hearts completely irrational, moronic idiots and calling it a day, I decided to make this entire post to explain WHY they are irrational idiots, and to support one of the commenters’ positions that by making the assertion that they would save some random child over their loved one, they are only deluding themselves.
And before you get all outraged, I want you to really think about this for a second. The special bond between parent and child, at least in normal, sane people, is there from the moment of conception (and yes I mean this with adopted children as well), and is so fierce and so all-encompassing that not only would you do absolutely anything in your power to provide the best life you could for them, but you would easily die for them, not only to save their life, but to save them from suffering. To some extent, you also feel the same about all close members of your family, right? Parents, grandparents, siblings, maybe even extended family and very close friends.
But do you feel that way about everybody?? I don’t care how caring and compassionate and open-hearted you are, the answer to that question is no. In fact, nobody’s honest answer to that question could even be “mostly” or “well, except for (insert qualm here) then of course”. As genuinely noble as I’m sure you are, if you really put yourself in the position where you had to hand over your life, guaranteed death for you, to save some random person you didn’t know, or some casual acquaintance, you definitely wouldn’t. This fact does not make you a bad person. In fact, it makes you a very normal, very sane, very genetically human person. The instinct for survival, the self-preservation mode that kicks in, is so deeply ingrained that, should you truly be in a situation that requires it, it will override even the most decent, humane, and moral parts of ourselves.
Let’s work with the assumption that if you are in a position where you need to be saving anyone’s life, yours is also probably either also slightly at risk, or will become at least somewhat at risk by saving them. The fact that you would actually put yourself in that position is something called altruism. Now, theoretically if there was no choice involved, the majority of decent people would definitely save the child from the burning building, or from falling into the volcano, or whatever catastrophic event you’ve dreamed up. It is also quite likely that, given a choice between two strangers, one being an adult and one being a child, you would also save the child. But given the choice between your own loved ones, especially family or those that you love as family, and some random stranger, random stranger loses every time.
Bet you think that’s just the cynic in me, right? Nope. Not only have they done many a study on altruism, but they also have worked up many a theory on what factors motivate altruistic behavior to begin with. Check out this article on altruism if you want to read a lil more on it, but let me break altruism, and the likelihood of altruism, down for y’all. So, first and foremost, you are more likely to put yourself in harm’s way for someone you are genetically linked to, the closer the genetic tie, the more likely the selfless behaviour. This all comes down to the likelihood of your own genes being passed down to the next generation…the closer someone is genetically tied to you, the more likely they will pass down genes that you both share to the next generation. In survival of the fittest, the goal is not simply for you to selfishly be able to live a long life, it’s for your genes to be passed down (survive) forever and ever, and for you to live long enough to make sure that is going to happen.
So understanding that, next let’s take a look at the possibility of future reproduction. This one is going to work on a couple of levels. Let’s say you’re confronted with the imminent death of two close family members and you can only save one. All other factors being equal, you’re most likely to save the closest genetically to you, who will also be most likely to pass down your genes. Sooooo in that case, if you have two female cousins, one who is 30 and one who is 57, you are more likely to want to save the 30 year old cousin instinctively. On a purely species level, with both options being complete strangers, we are more likely to save the 30 year old over the 57 year old, because the 30 year old is the one who has eggs left and therefore is still in a position to at least perpetuate the survival of the species.
But there’s another consideration, isn’t there? What about those people who you love like family, but aren’t genetically tied to you…are they just grouped in with the strangers group? Pffft, of course not, you could look at the level of relatedness using other cues. For example, how many shared life experiences past, present, and future do you have, or see yourself having, with them? How pivotal of a role do they play in your current life, in regards to the survival of yourself or your loved ones? How valuable emotionally and mentally are they to you? How valuable are they as a member of society, on a whole? How much do they have to live for (like, do they have children, if so how many and how many are dependent on them still, etc.)?
It’s not an exact science, so using it couldn’t predict with 100% accuracy if you would pick your BFF’s 10 year old or your own 35 year old sister to save, but one thing is pretty clear: The stranger doesn’t win out in that kind of life or death choice situation, if the other option is a loved one of any kind. Would you feel absolutely horrible about yourself afterwards if you let the 8 year old screaming little girl die to selfishly save your own mother? Probably. Would you do it again the very next day if the situation was given to you again? Yup.
One of the commenters brought up the guilt factor, saying “I think the catch is that the loved one who you saved will spend the rest of their life knowing a child died so they could live. Most people couldn’t handle that. I think it would be very likely to have a severely negative effect on your relationship with that loved one.” Probably. In all fairness though, survivors guilt doesn’t just happen when you survive and a child dies instead. If you suffer from survivors guilt, it could be that a terrorist group and yourself were all in the position to die, and the terrorists died, and now you feel guilty. It doesn’t really matter. Really at the end of the day, the feeling of guilt is triggered by the fact that in that moment in that situation, you went into survival mode and couldn’t have cared less about anyone else living… and being social animals, the depth of that selfishness, that counter-character immorality of that instinct, can make some feel terrible about themselves.
If she was also a parent to this child, every moment he put the child first would make her more and more in love with him, right? It would seem not only reasonable, but absolutely necessary, for any man that she loves and shares her life with puts her child above all else. But when one person in the relationship doesn’t have that emotional attachment to the child, it’s you versus them. And she says as much within her article…she just couldn’t help but view it that way.
And the fact is, we were built that way…if we have the tendency to put our lives on the line to protect those we love, then wouldn’t it make sense that we don’t just hop on the “love every random kid you meet along the way” bandwagon? Shouldn’t that type of love and sacrifice be saved for your own family, the people in your life who actually matter to you personally? Because seriously, how many of those people, if roles were reversed, would actually let their soul mate of 40 years, or their aunt or uncle or parent die, to save your child?
Anyone being honest with themselves knows that saying the obvious, though selfish and slightly evil-sounding, answer is truly the ONLY answer…
Don’t you think?
Happy Day-Before-FRIDAYYYY!!! If you want to explore altruism even further, check out the video below.