I remember learning in one psych class or another that the human mind insists on things making sense. If we do something that doesn't make sense to us (we act badly, we act nicely to someone who doesn't deserve it, we act kind of crazy, we act against our own best interests), our minds will scramble to FORCE it to make sense. Maybe our mind decides that we didn't actually do it and so we just kind of forget about it, or now we label it "no sense dwelling on the past [because it makes us look bad]," or maybe our mind decides that we did do it but under circumstances we've cleverly reinterpreted. Maybe our mind decides that we did do it, but that it wasn't our fault.
Our mind tells us a story in which the action now fits our view of the world and of ourselves in it---and if it the story doesn't fit, we don't feel comfortable until it does.
A classic example is relationships. How do we explain attraction? Definitely it isn't our genes calling out for reproduction! No, attraction is fate, it is love, it is two people recognizing something special in each other. We aren't attracted to someone's appearance but rather to that person's SELF. The mind tells us a story in which our love-loopy behavior makes sense.
But then the relationship ends, and how can we explain being so wrong? The mind scrambles to fix it. We were deceived. The other person changed. We changed. We were on the rebound. We thought we wanted something it turned out we didn't want. We were never really in love in the first place. Our upbringing messed us up so we make bad choices in a mate. It's not that our minds finally won the arm-wrestling contest with our genes; it's not that our genes had had time to accomplish their goals, and so let us free.
And because humans ARE more complicated than, say, paramecia or butterflies or rabbits, it IS more complicated than just genes. Well...probably it is. We don't really know yet, but it seems safe to assume that when it's common for people to meet and fall in love and marry long after their genes have given up the reproductive goal, or to gladly stay partnered long after there is any chance of reproduction, that there is more than one thing going on here.
But here is the thought I had this morning, which is flooring me: if the mind scrambles to force things to make sense (even if it has to lie to us to do it), and if we feel uncomfortable and weird and keep-lookingish if it doesn't succeed---I wonder if a lot of the struggles we have with parenting are because our minds are trying to force things to make sense. And repeatedly failing, because it's something that doesn't entirely make sense on a personal level, and isn't going to.
What if the only reason to have children is to continue the species---just as it is for rabbits and butterflies and paramecia? But what if our complicated minds can't leave it at that, especially considering how much more of an investment it is for us to reproduce than it is for rabbits/butterflies/paramecia? And what if natural selection favors the humans who are good at coming up with justifications for things that otherwise don't make sense, so that they continue to do what is beneficial for the species even though they have the mental ability to see that it doesn't make sense for them personally? If all those things are the case, what would our minds try to tell us about something as time-consuming and labor-intensive and resource-draining as parenting? What stories would our minds tell us about that?
We already know that baby faces and baby scents and baby cries have evolved to appeal to something ANIMAL in us. We already know about hormones and how they make us panicky and anxious so that we protect the babies who can't protect themselves. We already know that our bodies want sex because our genes want to reproduce. What if there are MORE THINGS TO KNOW---and pretty much all of them are biological, not logical, and our minds are having trouble figuring out how to resolve that? We like to think we are calling more shots than that.
What if the reason we talk about how FULFILLING and IMPORTANT and MEANINGFUL and WORTH IT parenting is (but then feel like terrible parents for not always liking it or wanting to do it) is that our minds MUST find a way to justify something that is not in our personal best interests at all? Our genes want to reproduce, but all they can do is create a craving; the genes must convince the mind that IT wants that TOO.
But it's a fragile construction. Our minds are pretty good at convincing us that our biological urges make sense, but they're also pretty good at seeing flaws in the logic, at sniffing out things that don't quite fit, at giving us an unsettled feeling until everything clicks naturally into place. When we think we're in love with someone unsuitable, we might hear something about it: "Is it a little...weird...that he does that?" We brush it away, but we heard it. It could be the same with parenting: the voice speaks up anxiously and this time it says, "Does this...make SENSE to do this? I don't know that this...WORKS, as a way to 'live,' in the modern, non-animal sense of the word."
But here we are, doing it! It MUST make sense, or we wouldn't have done it! It HAS to make sense: we're already no-turning-back invested. And so our minds quickly build up better construction to repair the doubts: Of COURSE it makes sense! It's fully worth it! We LOVE this! It's the most important work we've ever done! Sure, we don't ALWAYS love it, but that's NORMAL! In the long run, this is important and valuable! And if it doesn't feel that way, we will distract ourselves with new parenting concepts, new parenting methods, anything that seems like it might make everything fall into place and explain to us why we spent a good two decades of a short life doing it.
I wonder if some of us would be happier with a different approach. Instead of driving ourselves crazy trying to force parenting to make sense or feel personally worth it, what if we...DIDN'T do that? What if we shrugged and thought, "Yeah. Well, the species sure does a good job making sure it gets continued, doesn't it! It sure roped ME in! And I don't mind playing my part, now that I don't have much of a choice! Gene continuation is nice, in its way! And this child isn't half bad, in her way!" And then we could try to take from the experience anything enjoyable we could, but without expecting for it to make sense in a cost/benefits sort of way.
The cost of reproducing and parenting is huge. The benefits to us personally are...uncertain. But it could easily be that the benefits to us personally were never the point of any of this.
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