The XX Factor

What’s Wrong With Putting Your Children First?

Sara, I agree with your defense-in response to Katie Roiphe’s piece about women hiding behind their children on Facebook -of a woman’s right to put her kids first . I’m 25 and enjoying my selfish years now, because, as Judith Shulevitz pointed out in her piece about the seasons of a woman’s life, I fully expect them to end when I have kids. And I think that’s natural. Just as natural, in fact, for fathers as it is for moms.

My mother once relayed to my sister and me a hypothetical question she’d posed to my dad. A bus is hurtling down the street, about to hit her. Would he jump in front and sacrifice his life to save hers? He wavered. Perhaps to protect herself from having to hear him deliver a “no,” she quickly presented a second scenario. “What if it were one of the girls?” This time, no wavering. “Yes, I’d jump in front of the bus.”

My dad’s response is more about evolution than self-definition, though. It’s not that he would save my sister or me because we’re his proudest accomplishments. It’s that we’re his genetic offspring who still have kids of our own still to produce-kids that will carry on his DNA. Isn’t that how the whole circle of life thing is supposed to work? And while the bus scenario is farfetched, the same mentality would apply to everyday decisions, like whether to miss a big conference to take care of a sick child.

I think in discussing Roiphe’s piece (and what a discussion it’s triggered in the comments section !), we’re conflating too many things. While I agree with you, Sara, that it’s okay (good, even) to put your children first, I’m with Roiphe on the point that that shouldn’t mean your kids are all you can talk about, their faces all you care to have anyone see when they type in your name. One of the things I’m most grateful to my parents for is raising me in a home where dinner table conversations were interesting, involving thoughts on the day’s news, the books we were reading, their issues at work. If Roiphe’s women friends can only talk about their kids at dinner parties, I hope-for their kids’ sake, at least-that their family-dinner conversations are a little more expansive.