Some Short (But Hard) Questions for the New Year

First off, tonight at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year.  L’Shana Tova.   I hope the year is a sweet one for all of you.  

In light of the holiday, I’m going to keep this short.   The active conversation over the last days has led me to reflect on some recurrent questions. 

Are people who are genetically related to their children better parents than those who are not?   If the answer to this question were clear and simple it might matter to my thinking, particularly if we want to generally assign parentage in a way that is beneficial to children. 

But the only thing I’m sure of is that the answer is neither clear nor simple.   In fact, I’m  confident that the answer is “sometimes”–as in some people who are genetically related to their kids are better parents than some people who are not genetically related and some people who are not genetically related to their kids turn out to be better parents than some people who are genetically to their kids.    (I’m assuming here we’d manage to come to a common agreement about what a good parent is.  That’s probably an unrealistic assumption, now that I think of it.)        

Perhaps more importantly, I don’t think we know what makes some people good parents and some people bad parents.   Are the good parents I’ve mentioned above good parents becausethey are genetically related to their child?   Or are they people who are good parents for some other reason, so they’d be good parents whether genetically related or not?    Are they good parents because they are somehow temperamentally suited to be parents?  Are they good parents because they have been taught/learned how to be good parents?  Are they good parents because their material circumstances allow them to be? 

I can’t even begin to think about how to answer questions like this.   But I have to say I am deeply skeptical that are any simple explanations.   Parenting is too complicated a task for me to believe that you would be good or not good some single reason.  

Perhaps part of the appeal of a de facto or functional parent test   (I’ve discussed it a lot on the blog, but that’s one good link) is that it retrospective.  You look back and see who has been a good parent and then you recognize that by according them the legal status of parent.    All de facto parents are good parents, because someone who has been a bad parent would never be recognized as a de facto parent.   

Yet I have to concede that there are reasons why having parental status determined prospectively is more desireable.   It’s difficult and very risky to fully commit to parenting when you don’t know that your status as a parent is secure.  (This is part of why doing second-parent adoptions is so important to so many lesbian families.) 

Enough to make my head spin.  And it is time to go.

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6 responses to “Some Short (But Hard) Questions for the New Year

  1. I hope it’s a sweet year for you too, Julie. Looking forward to more of your great blog.

  2. It’s impossible to answer this question, because we’d have to select out so many factors that are clearly not quantifiable- for example, as emotional maturity of the parent, intelligence, ethics, support systems and many others.

    But I tend to believe that all other things being equal, genetic parents would be better parents.
    I do believe it is more natural to love ones own biological child than someone else’s. I know I do. I love my nephews dearly but not to the extent that I believe I would love my own children. Not because I am a cold hearted emotionally disturbed person, but because I am normal.

    Can love be learned? We humans are the learning animal, so I venture to say yes, non biological parents can acquire love for their child and most do. We can also unlearn our natural tendency to love, and genetic parents sometimes do. But these are not our innate tendencies.

  3. What’s innate? I don’t think we have any natural tendency to love and we’ve all seen genetic parents who don’t love their offspring. Conversely, any adoptive parent will tell you that it is completely possible to love a child who is not related to you genetically; as time goes on, that love also feels and is natural. The fact that some people can only love their own genetic material has always seemed to me a character flaw. I just believe we are wired to do an infinite variety of things and express love in many ways . . . where does gay sex or parenting fall on your continuum of innate or not innate?

  4. Of course we can all love someone who is not related to us. Most of us have experienced falling in love with (hopefully) a non-relative. However, I am doubtful that the love of an adoptive or social parent on average would equate that of a genetic parent. I’ve known several people who have had both natural and adoptive children and they’ve admitted to me that the love is just not the same. This is natural, normal and something that should not be overlooked when gametes are traded willy-nilly!

  5. “I am doubtful that the love of an adoptive or social parent on average would equate that of a genetic parent

    Frankly, that is their problem and shortcoming and they shouldn’t have adopted to begin with. No child deserves this. Seriously, this is why some adoptees are so monumentally screwed up because of people like that who no doubt communicate their “Plan B” disappointment in so many subtle and insidious ways.

    • I’ve just finished some reading on the topic of adoptive parents. It’s a recent sociological study trying to measure the commitment of adoptive parents to their children vs. those of other categories of parents. I’ll discuss this more fully when next I get around to a post (maybe today, maybe tomorrow) but the findings of these researchers at least would appera to dispute the point about the love of those related by adoption vs. those related by genetics. Of course, no one can measure love directly.

      Anyway, stay tuned. I promise more soon.

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