Are parents truly selfless ?

There is an interesting Akbar-Birbal story. Akbar once claims that for a parent nothing is more valuable then their child. Birbal disagrees. Birbal proposes an experiment where a monkey and her baby are put in a water tank. Birbal fills up the tank gradually. As the water reaches to the nose level of the baby, the mother monkey quickly picks up her baby and Akbar smiles smelling his victory. But as Birbal pours more and more water the mother tries to lift the baby higher and higher. Eventually the water starts enterning mother’s nose and the mother then puts the baby under her feet and tries to survive. Birbal wins the argument.

This story is from the period where there was no such thing has human rights live alone animal rights. May be the baby dies or may be Akbar’s soliders put both of them to death or whatever. The point is Birbal’s logic that people value their own life most is what matters.

In the real world

Even though parents are selfless towards their children than anyone else in the world, they are not self-less in the absolute sense. In fact the childhood teaching that parents give to their children such as “parents always wish best for their kids” is not really true.

When parents have only one child they do tend to pay hell lot of attention to that only child. But when parents have more children they always optimize for the welfare of some specific children over others. This means sometimes hurting interest of one child over other.

It is observed that in India, a girl child is often more malnourished, subjected to more household work and given less money to educate herself than the male child. It is extremely common that many times the girl does not even get a share in parent’s inheritance.

When parents have limited money for say higher education they will prefer their son over daughters. In fact if one child is smarter they might prefer to spend more money and attention on the welfare of that child over other.

Children as currency

Why is there so much taboo about inter-caste marriage, love marriages and sex before marriage ?

This question is not just applicable to modern world but we need to ask why we think of these things as bad historically ?

The real reason here is that we are biologically programmed to prefer our children over other people’s children. Contraceptives are modern invention. For thousands of years people did not know if the child they fathered was their own. (Historically speaking it is extremely common for women and men to cheat as a consequence it is estimated that anywhere between 2-5% of children are not of their legal parents and the ratio has actual dropped in modern times).

Virginity thus becomes and important characteristics in marriage. It improves the value of a female in marriage.

But then why hate love marriages ?

Reason is parents use their children to form alliances with other rich and powerful houses. Check the amount of background information people collect in arranged marriages in India. The salary of the groom to his real estate investments everything is calculated. While parent might pretend that they want the best for their children in reality they are optimizing for “family has whole” here sometimes by sacrificing interest of the child.

It is common for poor people to marry their young daughter into a rich house even if the groom is over-aged. This is a clear case of killing their daughter’s welfare for the sake of family.

Using the rhetoric to hide the facts

Why do traditionally we are taught to respect our elders ? Why are we taught to obey our parents without questioning ? Why are we told the stories of Rama and Shravana and others ?

It all ties into this. Parents want to use their children and yet want to make it look like a virtue.

But it is valuable too.

It must be noted that this isn’t bad at all. In fact the families who marry with planning, families where parents carefully optimise their children’s welfare tend to survive better than those where parents probably truly thought of their children as equal.

Human evolution has made us that way because it helped us survive. My attempt here is not to paint parents as bad people at all. On the contrary we owe our survival to them.


Yet, when you might face a moral issue between making your parents happy v/s making your own self happy I think you are way better off picking yourself over your parents.

Also when you see kids questioning adults, being skeptical of adults etc. don’t think of them as spoiled brats on the contrary they might end up achieving lot more than you do in life.

It is not a co-incidence that people like Sambhaji, Samarth Ramdas, Ramana Maharashi, Buddha etc. achieved real greatness v/s mythical greatness of Rama. They all rebeled against their parents. (Of course bozo the clown might have done that too so correlation is not really causation).

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