In the hours before we went into the delivery room, we watched an episode of "Bilti Hafich" (“Irreversible,” Reshet, Channel 2), a series about the experiences of first-time parents. The series is funny, but it also touches on some important subjects. It revolves around one of the phenomena characterizing the cultural worlds of 30-somethings in Tel Aviv and its bourgeoisie satellite neighborhoods. In the months before the birth, all your friends can talk about are the difficulties in store for you. You won't be able to sleep. Or work. Or go out. Or continue being a couple.
An interesting study by Professor Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia and Dr. Jane Twenge of San Diego State University that was published in the United States in 2009 says that marriage and parenthood are being postponed to a later age in the Western world thanks to narcissism. It is not just a personal psychological defect anymore, they claim. Rather, it's a sociological epidemic, characterizing what we could call "Generation N."
Taking stock of the study's conclusions, we can also infer just why, even before the baby is born, the prospect of parenthood is seen as a threat to the self. But just what kind of threat?
Since lifestyle is more important than quality of life in the Western world, we fear the disruption of our comfortable routine. Whether we get drunk often or seldom, whether our jobs are pleasant or exhausting, we must admit that our lives are too good to dare upend their routine.
There is another reason, too, one that appears contradictory but is actually complementary. This had to do with the sanctity of work. While young people are less loyal to a particular workplace, the value of work as a vehicle for self-actualization is increasing. So even those who can afford maternity leave see it as a dangerous recipe for delaying the fulfillment of their aspirations.
This scary pre-birth talk also affects gender equality. Feminism has many positive attributes, but since it is intertwined with the sanctification of work, here's the result: Equality in bearing the burden does not lessen the difficulties of the couple’s female half. It just piles them on both.
The narcissism plague manifests after the birth is over, too. There’s the matter of choosing a name for the baby. An ordinary name, of course, is off-limits. But even a unique name is not enough anymore. We have to find something that shows off the parents’ creativity. In the same context, the old jokes about the Jewish mother who identifies her child as a doctor passed their sell-by date long ago. Now, the baby must acquire a profession that will garner respect for his parents from the first day: a Facebook or Instagram model. Here he is wearing the world’s most beautiful hat; here he is in the overalls we bought on eBay. The comments also match the goal – nobody asks how much the baby cares about the hat; everybody praises the parents’ exceptional taste.
Don’t get me wrong. I've been a father for only five days, and I can't promise I won't do exactly the same. But right now, during the exciting moments that make us appreciate, for the first time – even if just out of fatigue – politicians who promise “a better future,” the lesson to take home here is that the members of the Generation N, as sophisticated and narcissistic as they may be, are wrong about one basic thing. Our aspirations may be high. But no matter how abundant our options or how great our achievements, the most exciting creation is the same routine, the common thing that anyone else can create as well.