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.