The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the “baby on board” placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter. A toddler is almost as precious as a baby, but a teenager less so, and by the time that baby turns fifty, it seems that nobody cares much anymore if someone crashes into her car. You don’t see a lot of vehicles with placards that read, “Middle-aged accountant on board.”
Another sign of the parenthood religion is that it has become totally unacceptable in our culture to say anything bad about our children, let alone admit that we don’t like them all of the time. We are allowed to say bad things about our spouses, our parents, our aunts and uncles, but try saying, “My kid doesn’t have a lot of friends because she’s not a super likable person,” and see how fast you get dropped from the PTA.
When people choose to have children, they play a lottery. Children have the same range of positive and negative characteristics as adults, and the personalities of some children are poorly matched with those of their parents. Nature has protected children against such a circumstance by endowing them with irresistible cuteness early on, and by ensuring that parents bond with children sufficiently strongly that our cave-dwelling ancestors didn’t push their offspring out in a snowbank when they misbehaved. Much as parents love their children and have their best interests at heart, however, they don’t always like them. That guy at the office who everyone thinks is a jerk was a kid once upon a time, and there’s a pretty good chance that his parents also noticed that he could be a jerk. They just weren’t allowed to say so.