Instapundit, Althouse, McArdle, and other sites touching on a wide range of topics occasionally link to “relationship” sites; that is, women’s sites that have much discussion of sexual dilemmas, relationship advice, gender roles, personal fulfillment, and careers. The commenting level is not high, but the opinion pieces themselves aren’t bad. I sometimes click through to other posts listed in the sidebar. One topic that seems to recur is the complaints that single women have against those married with children, specifically, that they are regarded as not fully adult because they don’t have kids. They counter-accuse that they know lots of irresponsible parents, and mothers become entirely kid-focused, unable to talk about other subjects for long.
It would be tempting to dismiss most of this as over-sensitivity, reading more into stray comments than is intended, but the comments usually do include some young mothers who make broad statements that come pretty close to the complaint, plus a few who are quite open and adamant that single women just don’t know how immature they are, but will “get it” when they grow up and have children themselves.
Let me assure you that men never argue about this when they are alone, but I’ll have a go at it anyway.
Do I have to pull this car over? If you kids don’t stop fighting back there, someone’s asking for a swat on the behind. (Spanking young women? Yeah, I don’t think I’ll pursue that analogy any further.)
The immediate problem is that people quickly personalise generalisations about their groups. For example, whenever characteristics of children raised without fathers is discussed, single moms seem to immediately think You are saying bad things about me and my children. My children are wonderful. I’m a good Mom. I know rotten kids from intact families. Whenever churchgoers, or gays, or Asians, or engineers are discussed as a group, representatives of those groups conclude So that’s what you think of me, eh? If the original speaker is not very careful to note that he is talking about tendencies, possibilities, rough guides, then he deserves whatever flames come back at him.
Yet we all have been present when even exquisite care not to offend is not enough. People either have a chip on their shoulder and want to be offended or they are unable to extricate their emotional alarm-bells from the intellectual part of the discussion.
So. What about the question itself? Does parenting make one into an adult? Or more precisely, Is parenting a necessary part of being fully adult? Well hmm, Jesus wasn’t a parent, unless you want to dart into theological territory of being a parent to the world. So, Paul, then. Paul wasn’t a parent. We can look around and find lots of folks who seem to fully qualify as grownups who never had kids, throughout many ages.
OTOH, all societies until very recently have regarded parenting as the main, if not almost the only, entry into adulthood. It’s not smart to discard the collective cross-cultural wisdom of many generations.
OTOOH, it is not the magical nature of having a kid around the house, but the first-and-last-lines-of-defense aspect that prompts responsibility. It is taking responsibility that defines the adult, and there are other places in life where one has to be responsible. Work is one. Home ownership another. Care of individuals other than children, owning a business, serving in the military – all these provide opportunity to learn or demonstrate adulthood. Parenting is no guarrantee of maturity? Neither are any of the others.
OTOOO…(Too many other hands, so that I would eventually be writing OTOOOOOOH, or OT6OH. Implied sufficient other hands.)
The 24/7 nature of parenting is pretty unusual, however – the others seldom or never have that. You can let down, go be an irresponsible jerk in another state 3 nights a week or two weeks straight, and still be counted responsible. Parenting doesn’t give you that flexibility – that is, unless you find some way to stick your spouse with the 24/7 part, at which point parenting is no more grownupogenic than the others.
This is all fairly obvious, enough that it should not need to be said. Why are we still arguing about it?
I suspect that the emotional issues around feeling underappreciated and devalued drive the continued discussion. What I do is valuable and I don’t get enough credit. True. Welcome to adulthood.