(In 1943 Abraham Maslow gave us his psychological theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. His theory, simply stated, posits that humans inherently seek higher and higher levels of needs, starting with the basic physiological and ending with self-actualization. One needs to meet each “lower” need in order to seek the next level (one needs food and shelter before seeking the security of employment and morality before trying to attain love, etc). Somehow I suspect Mr. Maslow was not a parent, otherwise he would have re-thought his infamous hierarchy.

Parenting brings you closest to your base needs. Living in a forest eating grubs while living in a cave for protection from predators is nothing compared to months of sleep deprivation, nearly drowning in spit-up, and your child’s discovery of the word “no”. The underpinnings of intelligence, experience and confidence that you had as a pre-parent adult is kicked out from underneath you and you often become a babbling, confused, disturbed individual. From the moment you bring home your new mewling little human, you must begin to re-attain your basic physiological needs:

– The need to distinguish between day and night again

– The need to remember that your spouse is the person you married and not a hazy stranger who has come to kidnap your child in the middle of the night

– The need to take a shower more than once a week or at least splash yourself with some kind of perfume or essential oil

Once these needs are met, you can move onto:

Spelunking, sky-diving and race-car driving have nothing on the dangers of parenting. Bruise-for-bruise and flu-for-flu parenting has got to be the most danger prone profession. Protecting yourself from the minefield of tending to your young is a priority. Here are the basic needs to make your way through this level:

– The need to clear your head with little chunks of sleep so you are coherent enough to distinguish the coffee table from the air around it and to stop the layer of black-and-blue marks that you are developing around your shins

– The need to find the perfect formula of vitamin C, herbal remedies and Tabasco sauce to stave off any little cold germ that is breeding and hovering in an invisible cone around your child

– The ability to remember that your finger is not a carrot while chopping vegetables

Once you have gone at least a month without using a band-aid nor visiting a medical doctor or emergency room, you can move onto:

Isn’t this exactly why you had children in the first place? Is that why? Actually I don’t remember. Anyway, it is certainly a great benefit, and increasing your family’s size certainly does increase the potential for love and belonging. But this can also bring up a new set of needs:

– The need to do “more” with your spouse than exchange sleepy grunts while handing your baby over to each other.

– That’s it there is no other need

Once you’ve had sex – I mean – met this level of need you can jump to:

As pre-parent adults, you often think you’ve got your life pretty well figured out. You’re livin’ large and you are wired. Then your little tyke enters your world and you become quite small and unplugged. Here is what you need to grow a bit and re-plug in:

– The need to buy new clothes to replace the ones that are stained and worn out at the knees

– The need to seek good chiropractic work to repair the twisted and bent muscles in your back (from lifting your increasingly weighty child and letting them swing from your arms and neck)

– The need to come up with a good, serious list of comebacks to all of the parents who find it their business to give you the evil-eye or make comments on your parenting-style (bonus points if you make them cry)

Once you have reconstructed your esteem, you can finally move onto the final level:

Maslow held out that human-beings are driven to reach this level. I believe that parents stumble and crawl here. This level is not about needs but more about the attributes you hold once you find yourself here. Oddly enough, it seems that this level is reached when one has stopped parenting Ð when your children are grown-up and out of the home. Ironic, huh? Anyway, you are finally here. Here is what self-actualized parents really look like:

– They have relatively smooth facial features (no grocery bags under their eyes)

– They are clear-eyed and alert (no stunned look like a deer in headlights)

– They are able to remember what they had for dinner the night before

– They say, quite unbelievably, that they can’t wait to become grandparents