Birth of a child – or when you expand from an individual into a duovidual

Posted on January 16 2012 by frank

I haven’t updated this blog for a while because I was fully absorbed in one of the greatest miracles of my own personal life: The birth of my first child! To keep up with the philosophical intentions of this blog I will resist the temptation to proclaim to everyone how wonderful event this was, how the child is the cutest ever and how great it is to be a father! Instead I will use this opportunity to reflect the deep-going changes in identity and worldview that this event gives rise to.

In west we have an atomized view of the individual: I am separated from all the others. I ought to be faithful to what is inside of me, to my unique personality. In the end of the day it is my own responsibility to make myself happy, to look for my own interests and make sure I am living the life I want to live. Accordingly, I should be primarily interested in the maximization of my own personal happiness only.

"The so-called Western view of the individual" is about "an independent, self-contained, autonomous entity" - Markus & Kitayama

Having a child challenges all this. The little fellow is not just another person who I can use to increase my own happiness. In terms of identity and motivation he is quite much inseparable from myself. My interests and the baby’s interests is the same; what is good for him is what is good for me; what I want is that the baby feels good. My happiness is embedded in him, his fortunes and misfortunes influence my mood at least as strongly as my own fortunes and misfortunes.

So we can say that I have deeply transformed through becoming a father. Or more accurately, what is ‘I’ has expanded. The individual I was before no longer exists: I have become a duovidual. The newborn has become part of my identity, part of what I see as myself.

There is nothing mystical or unusual in this. When the sense of belongingness in some social relationship becomes deep enough it makes better sense to think of the relationship as the functional unit of what it means to be myself. In fact, a historical look reveals that most of our history we human beings have been so deeply embedded in our social relationships that it has made better sense to talk about “an interdependent view of the self” instead of the modern “independent view of the self.” In fact, the word individual as referring to a person didn’t exist before the 18th century.

We humans are social animals, deeply embedded in and defined by our close social relationships. Nothing brings this fact more at home for a western individual than having a child. A child is born, the individual is dead: Long live the duovidual!

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3 responses to “Birth of a child – or when you expand from an individual into a duovidual”

  1. Bua says:

    Hey Mikko! Congratulations! He’s so cute.
    I can guess that you will get a male baby. hahahaha.
    You didn’t write to me as I ask you to write to me if your child was born. 😛
    Happy to see your child face. It’s a coincident that I just check my FB which I use with my students.
    And I don’t know why I would like to check your blog if you have more article written in English. Wow so I got a bit news. 😀 From the picture, how old is he? how many weeks?

  2. Oana says:

    Hello Frank,

    I am happy to see a father’s confession about the change in the inner life after the birth of his first child . Congratulations for your son! He must be about one year old by now. I wish him a happy life!

    Your story brings a new insight into the baby-father relationship. In general, they say that fathers start to relate more to their babies after the first two years of the baby’s life.

    Many years ago, a work colleague asked me why do people have babies. In his opinion, getting children puts us into a vegetative state, in which our sole purpose is to serve the little ones. I was so shocked with his question that I blurted out something about our instinctive need of procreation.

    What reply would you have given him?

  3. frank says:

    Thanks for your comment Oana!

    Regarding your question, my answer would be that your colleague has quite a wrong view of what parenthood is about. It is not so that our sole purpose would be to serve the little ones. Naturally, that becomes part of our purpose – and will take part of our time -, but one’s other purposes remain. In a sense, our purpose in life expands and becomes wider and more other-oriented. This is why parenthood is usually experienced as such a meaningful thing.

    But from an outsider-point-of-view it can look like one is making sacrifices and devoting less time to oneself. But it is no sacrifice for me to spend time with my son. What the onlooker doesn’t see is the change in inner preferences an individual experiences when he becomes a duovidual.

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