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Do You Need Kids to be Fulfilled?

Age Fotostock

Any student of Psychology 101 learned Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which purports to rank what humans need to be happy. Physical needs like food form the base, safety, love and esteem the middle, and self-actualization, or the fulfillment of one’s full potential, at the apex. Now, a group of psychologists have rebuilt the pyramid, and a new calling greater than fulfilling your potential sits at the top: Parenting.

Yes, according to the paper published by psychologists in Perspectives on Psychological Science, parenting is now the highest form of need that humans can fulfill. In Psychology Today, Douglas Kenrick, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, summarized the study and indicated that the evolutionary need for humans to reproduce is the basis of the new pyramid. Therefore, the new pyramid's needs also cover attracting and retaining and mate as precursors to parenting.

Lisa Belkin wrote an essay on the new pyramid this past weekend in The New York Times, and explored two key debates that can arise from this. One, she says, is that not everyone wants to, or can, become a parent. This differs vastly from what Kenrick said in his article: "All living organisms, including you and I, inherited a set of motivational mechanisms that inspired us to reproduce." I agree with Belkin -- not everyone wants to be a parent, and some physically can't. Does this mean they will never be fulfilled? And what about parents who divorce? Or single parents? Their mate acquisition and retention needs may be unfulfilled, but they can still be great parents (hello, Mama's Boy!)

The other debate that Belkin explores in her essay is that parenting today being the ultimate form of fulfillment glorifies it out of proportion. Parenting, writes Belkin, is raising children, and then making yourself unnecessary by teaching them to fare in the world on their own. Now, parents coddle children well into the 20s, and throw all their resources into giving a child everything they could possibly need or want -- making them "better prepared for college but less prepared for life." Putting parenting at the top of the new pyramid only reinforces this idea, that parents must give themselves over entirely to, well, parenting.

Right now, as a childless twentysomething (who knows more than her fair share about potty-training and breastfeeding thanks to this job, and has tremendous respect for what a big, big job being a parent is), I think it's hard to see parenting as the only way to be fulfilled. Even those who are parents are not just parents -- there's still a person there, with their own individual hopes and goals. If your hope and goal is to be a parent, then you're fulfilled (I believe parenting is a form of self-actualization). But, as I've seen from our Parenting editors and readers, you can be a parent and still have your own self. Maybe being a parent has brought out your better self, but I think the choice to cultivate that is still a part of realizing your personal needs.

Readers, do you think parenting is the ultimate way to fulfill your full potential?