Families, Careers and Selfishness

We live in strange times, don’t we? We can watch TV on our phones, get halfway around the world in 24 hours and order takeaways from the comfort of our sofas. Perhaps most surreal of all, new possibilities in life are emerging besides getting married and having children.

Back in the olden days (ie. 60 or 70 years ago), things were a lot more clear-cut. If you were a bloke, you left school at 16 to work at a firm run by your father or one of his friends, and earned a bit of a crust that way. Then when you found a girl you liked enough, you’d have enough money to afford to marry and have a few kids. If you were the girl, you’d stay at home, doing odd jobs around the house and looking after the children when they showed up. It was just the way the world worked.

Now, however, things are a little less defined. You’ve got people staying in higher education for longer, and perhaps taking qualifications at later ages, with a view to securing the best jobs possible. Some of these people are holding down quite demanding jobs, too. And a number of them have never been married or had children; their jobs appear to be the main feature of their lives.

In spite of this, the traditional ideal of ‘family’ living is still deeply rooted in our society. People (especially women) who choose to pursue a career instead of settling down and bearing kids are often viewed as ‘selfish’. Even those who have children but take less time off work than usual are looked upon with suspicion.

I can see why this is the case. The image of a parent and child still represents the most sincere kind of love and loyalty, and with good reason. I was lucky to have been raised by two parents who went the extra mile for me and my brother, and continue to do so. That this idea is still upheld by our society is understandable.

But even so, is it really accurate to say that taking on paid employment instead of starting a family is ‘selfish’?

I guess it all depends on what our motives are for taking on employment. If it’s just so that we can earn more cash for ourselves, then yes, it’s fair to question that. Money isn’t a bad thing in itself, but if ever we find ourselves putting it ahead of our loved ones, then we’ve got a problem on our hands.

That said, most jobs exist to serve other people in some way. If you’re a plumber, you’re serving the public by ensuring they can access water. If you’re a doctor, you’re serving the public by keeping their health in check. If you’re a journalist, you’re serving the public by giving them a (hopefully) accurate account of what’s going on. You get the picture.

So if someone were to forgo traditional roles as spouse and parent so that they can offer better service in their field of work, then I wouldn’t necessarily consider that selfish.

Of course, it’s not that one can’t work efficiently and have a family at the same time. But for those who don’t feel that they can balance employment and family life, such as those whose jobs involve a lot of travelling, I applaud them for their honesty. They’re trying to do the best they can for their clients, and that to me is anything but selfish.

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