Children Open a Gateway

f you have a child or children, I have 1 question:

“If you are at a train crossing with your child and you are stuck on the tracks and only have time to save one of you – who do you choose?”

I have asked this question hundreds of times, and every single time I get the same answer: I would choose my child. Every parent I have ever asked that question to has said they would unconditionally give their life for their child or children.

Now, I have asked that same question, but substituted a husband/wife for their child and I can tell you that rarely has the answer been that they would unconditionally sacrifice their life for the others. In fact, you can substitute just about anyone for your child and the answer is not even close to 100% resolute, like it is for your child. In fact, there is never any hesitation, and the answer is always “take my life.”

I did this same thought experiment with ChatGPT: An AI (Artificial Intelligence) intelligence chatbot that has been developed to mimic a human conversationalist. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises and reject inappropriate requests. ChatGPT is also versatile and can compose music, fairy tales and student essays, answer test questions, write poetry and song lyrics and those are only some of its capabilities.  I asked ChatGPT this question; “If a train was going to kill me and my child and I was only able to save one of us, who should I save?” and this was its answer:

“In general, most parents would likely choose to save their child’s life over their own.  This is because the love and sense of responsibility parents feel towards their child often makes their child’s life more valuable to them than their own”

I think the Artificial Intelligence chatbot gave a pretty typical response to a thought experiment that is, for the most part, clear-cut. And so, I asked ChatGPT this follow-up question; “Why do I value my child’s life over my own?” and this was the response:

Firstly, as a parent, you have a deep emotional attachment to your child. You have brought them into the world, nurtured them, and watched them grow. This bond creates a sense of responsibility and a desire to protect them at all costs.

Secondly, your child is a part of you. They carry your DNA, and you have invested a significant amount of time, energy, and resources in raising them. This sense of connection makes it difficult to imagine life without them, and you may feel that your own life is less valuable than your child’s.

Thirdly, children are inherently vulnerable and depend on their parents for survival. They are not yet equipped to navigate the world on their own and require the protection and support of adults. As a parent, you feel a sense of responsibility to keep your child safe and secure, even if it means sacrificing your own life.

Lastly, there is a natural instinct in humans to protect their offspring. This is true for many species, and it is what drives parents to take risks and make sacrifices for their children.

I think ChatGPT did a good job of explaining those reasons, especially the one about a “natural instinct to protect” because I believe it pinpoints the moment when a parent first acknowledges the feeling that there is someone’s life they value, even over their own. For females I thinks its during pregnancy and for males I think its at childbirth. I believe that a gateway opens for each parent, a gateway that I characterize as “Altruistic” (unconditional or agape). This is easily distinguishable from other love gateways like; romantic, platonic, familial, self or spiritual because it is characterized by a selfless concern and care for others without any expectation of reciprocation. Correspondingly, this Altruistic Gateway can be opened by non-biological connection like adoption that builds strong emotional bonds from a parent’s responsibility and attachment to and shared experiences with their child. The point is that the introduction of a child into a person’s life creates access to a deeper connection with love that is rarely attainable in other ways. 

Here are some illustrations of this gateway at work:

1. Prioritizing your child’s needs: As a parent, you prioritize your child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs over your own.

I grew up in a family, where both my parents expected me and my brother to do better, be better and live a better life than they had. They hoped all those things for both of us and committed to making it happen by sending us to the best schools, being there when we needed them, bailing us out of precarious situations, working very hard to provide financial stability and so on and so on.

2. Time management: Your time and energy are dedicated to caring for your child, which leads to rearranging your schedule and reevaluating your priorities to accommodate your child’s needs.

Any parent that goes out on Saturday night, has 1 too many drinks and gets home past 2:00am knows the pain of waking up at the crack of dawn to a crying infant or an awake child that wants to play. The next 4-5 hours are going to hurt, bad.  And, what about cancelled sports events, nights out, trips and date nights because child duty calls? What about if you are going at this child thing alone?  I can’t imagine how “time-management” is amped way up for single parents.

3. Emotional investment: You become more emotionally invested in your child’s well-being, happiness, and achievements, experiencing a deep sense of empathy and connection with them.

It is hard to explain the visceral feeling you get when your child is really sick or incessantly bullied or perpetually unhappy. You would rather those events happen to you than them. As painful as those experiences are to handle, at the other end of the spectrum your child’s successes, no matter how minor, are more times than not cause for undue celebration. Their first steps and words, out of the crib and into the bed, lost baby teeth, first day of kindergarten, goals in hockey and soccer, hits and homeruns in baseball, catches and touchdowns in football and two or three pointers in basketball, A’s in school, summer jobs, graduations, acceptance to college and graduate school, weddings and birth of children.  These and many more are cause for celebration because as parents we are deeply connected to our children’s trials and tribulations.   

4. Financial considerations: Having a child will impact your financial priorities, as you may need to plan for expenses such as childcare, education, and healthcare.

What do you do when your child’s daycare is more than you make in a week?  You get another job? You stay home? Not sure the answer to this.  My wife had 4 children in her family, but only enough money to send 1 of the 2 girls to dance classes. My close friend had 6 brothers and sisters, and many times, it was one of the parents that went to bed a little hungry each night. I can tell you that having two kids in college absolutely impacts your financial priorities and forces you to make sacrifices.  

5. Personal growth and development: As a parent, you become more focused on your own personal growth and development in order to be a positive role model for your child.

There are many moments throughout a parents life when there is a need for introspection, personal evaluation and change. As parents, we have been indoctrinated by our own parents with a way of thought and behavior as it relates to parenting. Often times we mirror them. I have always felt that the experiences I went through as a child taught me which parenting behaviors I was going to keep and which behaviors I was going to discard. I have tried not to repeat the unhealthy and unproductive parenting patterns I lived through as a child. I believe that, as parents, we are constantly challenging old family patterning and unproductive personal beliefs as it relates to bringing up our children.

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