What is parenthood?

One dimension of the debate about what homsexual unions should be called is “What is parenthood?”  What are parents?  What is their function, exactly?  Who are the “best” parents and is there even such a thing?

Family Scholars Blog is having an interesting discussion of that question.  The best contribtution IMO is by Laura Rosenbury, a Law Professor at Washington University in St Louis.  In sum, she says that the question, “What is parenthood?” is the wrong one.   Instead, we should be asking, “What is childhood?”  In other words, what do children need from us, not what do we want to give them.  It’s tought provoking stuff and I encourage you to read it.

My own reaction to Prof. Rosenbury’s piece is…

YES! ABSOLUTELY!   The biggest issue I have with the “new” conversation on marriage is that I do not see anyone in the new conversation speaking for the children. In the rush to help adults get along with each other and see that adults “rights” (i.e., desires) are protected, no one is asking these essential questions that Rosenbury has presented. The fact that there isn’t a ready answer to Diane M’s (one of the commenter’s) question, “What does this mean, practically?” is just evidence of my point. How dare we make changes in the only institution intended to protect the rights of children (and this applies to divorce law as well as homosexual unions) without really giving children’s voices a major seat at the table.

What does this mean practically? I don’t know either. Does it mean that, in divorce cases, children should be assigned an attorney (paid for at their parents’ expense) who represents their needs? Does it mean that there should be a methodological review board made up of people of varying opinions that judge–not the findings–but the strength of the methodology of various studies used by both sides to support their arguments?

I think most honest people on either side of this issue would agree that research and facts are really not driving this debate. Opinion and sentimentality are. I find that fact deeply distrubing because I have a tremendous heart for children. When I was a kid, the big experiment was “new math.” The result of this experiment was that my generation displayed the worst math and science scores ever. The new conversation is just the new math applied to family life and the ones who will pay the price are the children.

Regardless of the side you fall on, we all owe it to children to commit ourselves to asking the hard question, what is genuinely BEST for children. Not, “what can they get by with?” or “what’s good enough?” The question must be, “What is best?” That is what must define the terms of the conversation because children deserve our best. We can make exceptions from there, but the exceptions prove the rule, not the other way around.

We can say, for example, “breast is best” because we know the research supports that. At the same time, we make allowances for bottle feeding,because some kind of nutrition is better than nothing, but we do not say that bottle is best or even as good as breast milk because we know it is not true. In the same way, we ought to be able to say that a two-parent, heterosexual, married family is best for children because all the data shows that is true. We can make exceptions for other family forms because life requires it of us, but we should not be pressured to say or forced to pretend that alternative family forms are as good as traditional, heterosexual married households. It is simply not true and to say otherwise is politics, sentiment and folly, not fact. Our children deserve better than that.

Once we settle the “what is best for children?” question, exceptions can be made from there, but the bar cannot be lowered to meet the exception and it is irresponsible to try.

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.


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