There Are People Who Shouldn’t Be Parents…..

Sorry for the long pause here.  What can I say–life intervenes.   But here I am again with a thought for the day.  (It’s not particularly connected up to the last thread, but I might come back to that one.) 

I went to a breakfast this morning for a wonderful organization called the Center for Children and Youth Justice (CCYJ.)  The highlight of the breakfast for me was they keynote speech by Starcia Ague.   She’s an amazing young woman who has not had an easy life.  (That would be putting it quite mildly.)   As I listened to Ms. Ague it seemed quite obvious to me that some people should not be parents.   Neither her mother nor her father were up to the job.  

Really I don’t suppose it should be in the least surprising that many people aren’t up to being parents.  After all, it is not an easy job.  It requires commitment and discipline over a very long period of time.   People who cannot manage their own lives are not likely candidates to manage the lives of their children.  

Now while being a parent isn’t easy, it’s actually quite easy to become a parent without meaning to.   People engage in intercourse, a pregnancy results and the law says they are parents.   What would make us think this system would work?   We assign a very hard job to people who have not expressed any interest in having that job.  Perhaps the remarkable thing is the number of people who actually rise to the challenge. 

All of this ties into the role of DNA in defining who is the legal parent of a child.   Many people here have advocated using DNA as the defining criteria of legal parenthood.     After listening to Starcia Ague I have to wonder whether it makes sense to do that if our primary concern is the well-being of children.    If we care about the kids, shouldn’t we be using some criteria that relates to their well-being. 

For what it is worth, I want to try to separate this question out from the question of whether a child should know who the DNA came from.  It’s quite possible to accomplish that end and not automatically give those people the rights and responsibilities for the care of the child.    It just doesn’t seem to me that having engaged in intercourse somehow either shows or ensures that you are capable of being a parent to the child. 

Just a little thought for the day.

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13 responses to “There Are People Who Shouldn’t Be Parents…..

  1. being a parent is not a job. it’s a relationship.

    parenting responsibilities are a function of the relationship, not the other way around.

    the “job” can be assigned to someone else, but the relationship still remains.

    • I think I can agree that being a parent is a job, not a relationship. But who gets to have that relationship? And how do we decide?

      I understand that nature, as it were, decides who gets to have the genetic relationship. But I really do not see why we simply assume that the genetic relationship should/does determine who gets to have the legal and/or the social relationship. It’s the underlying assumption that the existence of the genetic relationship should determine the assignment of the other relationships that I want to discuss.

      • We don’t determine who “gets” the relationship. It’s automatic, not assigned. The underlying relationship is there, even if it isn’t the sort of relationship we would have planned for.

        I believe that deep down their is unlikely to be a neutral, non existent relationship with a first degree biological relative. If it isn’t positive, it’s negative, even if in a very subtle, barely detectable way.

        • Ah–I think the first couple of sentences here go to the core of my point–and where there may be disagreement. In my view the parent/child relationship isn’t automatic. Or at least, it doesn’t just come into being absent human rules/agency. I know the genetic relationship does that. But what is the meaning–the legal meaning or the social meaning–of the genetic relationship. My point is that that is decided–formally or informally–by people. It doesn’t just happen. And so it is (in my view) fair to say it is assigned. And if it is assigned, then the question is by what set of rules should we assign it.

          I know the first point is disputed by many readers. Instead they rely on something akin to natural (i.e. not human made) law, which automatically makes those who provide DNA into parents. This is where we part company. (And I’ve got some strong history on my side–we have assigned fatherhood to various people on various bases across many cultures for at least a thousand years.)

          Perhaps we could agree that IF (and I know it’s a big if) parenthood isn’t assigned by nature then there’s an interesting question of how we should assign it? But I know that many people won’t go past the “if.”

          So because this is really right at the heart of the disagreement–I do not accept that who gets the relationship is automatic. I think it is assigned. And I’m interested in how we assign it.

          • See Julie I agree that parenthood is a social institution. But that does not contradict with it being automatic. We do not assign or determine social institutions. We are born into social structure- which evolves over centuries as part of the human response to biological conditions.

            • I suppose to a degree we (as individuals) do not determine or assign social institutions. Be we (as a collective society) do. It isn’t necessarily evolution–there can be conscious social policy. Sometimes law is exactly the vehicle for this.

              Maybe what we disagree about is the degree to which a society can willfully choose to shape/assign these relationships and/or how fast that can happen. I generally see a significant role for human agency here. So, for example, we have changed the law about illegitimacy fairly dramatically in a rather short time. The is partly the result of changes how we think about illegitimate children but the changes in the law also drive social changes. Similarly we have (in a general societal sort of way) rejected the idea that marriage is a permanant commitment by enactment of no-fault divorce laws. Again, partly those laws resulted from social change but partly those laws created (or reified) further change.

              Surely we are faced with a host of questions about parents of children created via ART. We need to choose answers–that’s the process of law-making in this area. And I don’t think it is automatic.

  2. marilynn huff

    I agree with Kisarita with one minor exception:

    scratch where she says “parenting responsibilities” and instead say “parent’s responsibilities” or “responsibilities of parents” . I don’t buy that you become one one by acting like one.

  3. I would disagree slightly with your exception. I believe it is possible to develop a parental relationship. But, it doesn’t occur by default.

  4. “Many people here have advocated using DNA as the defining criteria of legal parenthood.”

    No one advocates that! No one says that we have to force people to be legal parents to their children or pay child sup- oh wait. Well, no one says that biological parents have to be the legal guardians. Marilyn and I say that they should be legally mandated to be identified on the birth certificate, but no one says they have to be the legal parents, that’s ridiculous. There are many circumstances where everyone recognizes that a child should not be raised by its bio-parents and should have different legal parents.

    And I think you read kisarita’s comment wrong. She said:

    being a parent is not a job. it’s a relationship.

    parenting responsibilities are a function of the relationship, not the other way around.

    the “job” can be assigned to someone else, but the relationship still remains.

    In other words, a child and parent might never meet each other or even know who they are, but they are child and parent nevertheless, just as brother and sister are siblings whether they know each other or not. The parenting (and sibling) responsibilities are a function of that pre-existing factual relationship, which can’t be turned off or undone, though it can be ignored or not known, and certainly other people could have assumed them.

    • I actually do think there are people who advocate using DNA as the defining criteria of legal parenthood. But I appreciate your drawing the distinction between having the DNA related people identified and having them be legal parents. (Honestly, I’d be happier if I could agree to that no one advocates automatic legal parentage for those connected by DNA.)

      The latter part of your comment is a bit harder to sort out because it seems to me that the distinction I just commented on (and the one you drew) gets murky. And I’m afraid I started it off on the wrong foot because “relationship” is ambiguous. if you mean that the parent/child or sibling point wrt to genetic relationships, then it is so. I was thinking of social relationships, and of course it isn’t possible to have a social parent without knowing it. It is the social/legal relationships that are (in my view) assigned.

      • Yes, everyone agrees that the social/legal relationships are assigned.

        Could you come up with an example of someone saying that legal parentage should always be assigned to the bio parent? I bet all you’ll find are people taking the side of a bio parent in a custody case, citing the bio ties as paramount, but that doesn’t mean they think bio ties should always dictate legal and social parents (btw, are those ever different? I had put “or” between them, but changed it to “and” because they seem synonymous in our discussion).

        The point is the social relationships of “parent” and “sibling” and “cousin” are genetic relationships. You can have a legal sibling through adoption and a legal parent through adoption, but those names refer to genetic relationships, not jobs. They are the unisex versions of “mother”, “father”,”brother”, “sister” and uh, nephew and niece (is there no sex-specific word for cousin?). The social responsibilities – the “job” – are a function of the biological relationship, and people that assume the job are fulfilling the role and having the social relationship that mimics or is modeled on the biological relationship. And the biological relationship is real, everyone has two parents, a mother and a father, whether they know who they are or not.

  5. shouldnt it be automatic so that it is only taken away if its proven they fail? what scares me Julie is that someone might loose their child when they did nothing wrong. is it ok with you that someone steal someone elses child? their own flesh and blood that is a reproduction of themselves? should’nt they automatically be the parent until it can be proven that they somehow failed?

    • The true parents have a responsibility and an expectation and a duty to raise their own children, and also usually the desire to raise their own children, which is not unrelated to the duty and expectation and responsibility. So yeah, it is automatic and only taken away if they seem to be failing (I don’t think we’d need proof, just reasonable concern for the child’s best interest. I flipped over a show on cable last night showing hidden camera footage of a mother or nanny slamming a baby around like a ragdoll, and thought, why would they set up a hidden camera and just film this, if they suspected the woman harmed the baby why put the baby in that situation to gather proof. I hoped that it was a live feed and the police didn’t wait to burst in and take that child to safety.)

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