What do we owe society?

I keep hearing how women can’t just stay home and look after their kids, let alone home school – because society can’t afford that all women stay home for the 10-20 years that would take. I’ve also recently heard that we as resourceful parents owe it to society to send our intelligent and well adjusted kids to school, for the sake of the less fortunate kids.

I can’t help but think that there must be some cognitive dissonance going on with the people who keep saying these things. Because they seem to be the same people who think that women’s liberation was something that women made happen, for the sake of women – and not something that powerful forces in society made happen because it would be nice to have a larger work force. If women’s liberation happened for the sake of women – shouldn’t women be allowed to choose whether they wanted to be stay at home moms, or have a full time job, or a part time job or what ever they them selves wanted? And if we really have experienced the incredible leaps in efficiency and productivity that we are constantly told, how come “we” can’t afford for women to look after their own children – something human kind has been doing throughout the world since the dawn of time. Something we could afford in the west only one or two generations ago. What exactly is it that would crumble if we “let” women choose to do this? I don’t get it.

And I should send my kids to a school system that I think is bad for them – irrespective of what I think of it, for the sake of other kids, whom I think would also be better of in another system? Or – preferably – outside any system. I should thus grossly ignore what I think are the needs of my child, to support a system I do not agree with, for the sake of some other kids… In what world would I want to support a society that puts such demands on me and my children?

All through school I heard that I – as a strong, intelligent kid, from at good family background should be quiet in class, to let the less fortunate learn what I already knew. I should not answer questions but let the other kids get a chance – but if I then dared to not participate I was told that I wasted my intelligence. When I dared do 10th grade instead of skipping it (like 90% of kids do in Denmark) was told that I was wasting my time, in spite of the fact that it was the best year of my life in school – to me the it felt more like I wasted my time in 11th grade, when most of the curricula was repeated, and 11th grade I was not allowed to skip. When I took a leap year off to go work in Greenland – as a substitute teacher in a school in a very pressed social area – I was told again that I was wasting my life, and my talent. I owed it to society to get an education, to get out and be productive as fast as possible. And when I spent some of my time as a student in university doing student politics, sitting on the student/teacher administration board, being on the advisory board for the technical educations to the secretary of education – again I was wasting my time – I owed it to society to go out an be productive.

So I graduated I got a good job – I was paying my due – paying back what I owed. Then I had the fortunate misfortune of getting a sick child. And society did not help me. I had to fight every step of the way to get to a doctor who could diagnose him. I was labeled fussy many times by many doctors – but in the end I was referred to the best there was in the area (Type 1 allergies), mostly because the other doctors got so sick of me – and he did indeed find that my son suffers from Type 1 allergies toward milk, eggs, tree nuts and peanuts – all four carries the risk of anaphylaxis, the first 3 on a trace level. He has carried an EPI-pen in his back-pack ever since. When I came down with stress during this ordeal I was told that I should be grateful to society for paying my sick leave and later paying for me to stay home with my son, so that I could look after him at night while he would scratch himself to blood while he did not sleep.

Now I hear that I should send him to public school because I and my husband are rescourceful and he would contribute to the education of lesser fortunate kids. That I am anti-social for pulling him out. And I owe society – who gave me this expensive education – to work, otherwise will they have wasted money on me – regardless of the fact that my parents happily paid highest marginal taxes in the world for years, knowing that it would pay their kids and many less fortunate kids through university.

I had a good long think about what I owed to society in the years after my son got sick. Having held a limb child  in my arms on more than one occasion put my whole life and all my values in perspective. What did I want? What did I owe my child? What would be meaningful at the end of the day, if this horrible disease should have the most horrible possible outcome? And I came to the conclusion that I most of all owe my child to be as responsible as I possibly could for his well being. The only thing that made sense to me was to be with him. Even though I no longer live in fear, I still find this deeply meaningful.

I and his father has this responsibility, to him and his sister – no one else. We owe this responsibility to them before any one else, our responsibility to each other is a distant second – we did after all choose each other, they have not chosen us, they have not chosen to be born. We chose that and thus we bear sole responsibility. My responsibility towards society, if there are any – I decided – came in way way way behind my responsibility to my children and my husband.

What does this mean? Well it means that if I find that staying at home with my children for as long as I think is good for them, then that is what I should do. Regardless of the impact this has on society. If I think that school is bad for kids, then I owe nobody to send my kids to school, because my responsibility is first and foremost towards my kids. If I think that a vaccine might be harmful to my child, then I owe him or her not to give it or postpone it or what ever I decide will be best for my child – regardless of how that might impact “herd immunity”. In every single part of my life, I owe my responsibility to myself, my children, my husband, my family first. I am absolutely willing to help others, but I have no responsibility to sacrifice my life or the life of my children for society. I further believe that if every body would take full responsibility for their lives and the lives of their children – regardless of how they ultimately choose to live their life – then “society” as a whole, would be a lot better off.

And – one might add – a society that would disregard this, and force me against my strongest convictions about what is healthy for kids or not, might not be a society that I would wish to help uphold.






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