Intention and Point of View

This links up with the earlier post about intentions.   That’s such a big topic that I have to take it in pieces.   You might want to read that to start, but it’s not crucial for the moment.

There’s another big topic that relates to intention that I want to open up here, and that’s whose point of view you consider.   Here’s what I mean:   It’s popular to want to use a child-centered view when thinking about law and children.  You can see why there’s an impulse to put children at the center.  Typically children are NOT the main actors, but they are the people being acted upon.   And we often think of children as blameless–by which I mean that they are not responsible for whatever legal or social complexity surrounds them.    (Obviously this is particularly true for young children.)

So let’s imagine you looked at things from the child’s point of view and you’re trying to give meaning to the conduct of some adult in the child’s life.   Does intention matter?   

I think it often does not.   Suppose I get up this morning, meaning to take the child to the beach.   I don’t tell the child this, but I have the thought firmly in mind.   Then I don’t follow through and there is no trip to the beach.  Does the fact that I intended to matter, from the child’s point of view?  I don’t see how it does.   There was, in fact, no trip to the beach.   That’s what the child knows.  If the child really wanted to go to the beach, the child is disappointed.   Certainly there is no less disappointment because I had intended to make the trip.     All the child knows (in this version) is what actually happened–no beach trip.

(To be clear, it does matter to me whether I tell the child of my intention to take her/him to the beach.   If I tell the child and then change my mind, I have raised expectations that I have the disappointed.  If anything, this seems to me to be worse for the child.  But I am trying to keep things pretty simple so I want to exclude this from consideration for now.)

Now I recognize that the trip to the beach is trivial in the grand scheme of things.  But is it any different with big things–like intention to be a parent.  Suppose I intend to be a parent to the child–do all those things that parents do, be present and constant and so on.   But then I don’t–I change my mind and don’t do them.   What does my intention matter to the child?  It seems to me it matters not at all.   If the child doesn’t know, then it is (from the child’s point of view) just as if I had no intention at all.

This, it seems to me, is important to think about.   Obviously intention can be very important to those around the child–to those who know if it and rely on it.  But what to make of the fact that from the child’s point of view, intention would seem to lack significance?

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19 responses to “Intention and Point of View

  1. “If the child doesn’t know, then it is (from the child’s point of view) just as if I had no intention at all.” I think this is one of the reasons why many ‘intended parents’ (specifically heterosexuals) don’t tell the child that they are not the biological child of one or both of their legal/social parents. Also one of the reasons why the language surrounding ‘donor’ conception is used (also called ‘the script’ by many in the adult DC community – ie. ‘a nice man helped me make you, but he is not your father he is a ‘sperm donor’, you are so loved and wanted etc.) Often times it’s when the children grow up and become biological parents themselves when they start to challenge this intent/point of view, if not before then (if they are told or discover the truth of their conception by accident). This can be a very difficult coming to terms time in a ‘donor’ conceived persons life when they question, why didn’t my father want to be a part of my life, why did my intended parents think he shouldn’t matter to me, or my siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, ancestry, heritage etc. Intent can matter very much then – with little support or resolution for many.

    • This raises a whole series of really important questions that I have given time to in the past and hope to give time to in the future. There’s a great deal here I agree with. Perhaps most importantly, I think it is crucial that parents (and here I mean those who are functioning as parents–who are actually raising the child/playing the role) be honest with their children. (Long-time readers may recall I’m something of a fanatic on the honesty thing.) I think that what constitutes being honest will vary with age and situation. What you tell a three year old is different from what you tell a ten year old and so on. And I think the obligation of honesty I am thinking about is one owed to the child, not to the rest of the world. But I will discuss this all much more in the future, I’m sure.

      I agree, too, that the disruption caused when a child discovers the truth on their own later in life can be severe. That’s a practical reason for honesty, if nothing else.

      What I’m not sure I agree with is the very first line–whether the nature of intention is part of what leads people to be less than honest. And some of the early development of that point. There are, I think, two points of disagreement. On the first, I’m not sure I’m taking your meaning right. I don’t think the idea that intention may not matter to the child is what leads people to conceal origins from a child. I think what leads them to do that is some combination of shame and insecurity and thinking it isn’t of any consequence.

      Second, the people you posit are both intending parents and de facto or functional parents. What I mean is they are people that have followed through. In some real way I think they are the child’s parents. Certainly they are the child’s functional/social parents. As I think you know, the unmodified “parent” can be a confusing word. I think one can honestly say “I am this child’s parent” without having a genetic connection. You cannot mean “I am this child’s genetic parent” without lying, though. What you say to the very young child is tricky for sure–and that goes back to what it means to be honest.

      Enough for now, but there is much more to consider here.

      • “I think what leads them to do that is some combination of shame and insecurity and thinking it isn’t of any consequence.” Yes, I agree but this can be all attached to the nature of the intention. Intentional separation of the child from one or both of his biological parents, half siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, heritage, ancestry and vital medical information. Especially when there is money involved – and stranger conception. Yes, there is shame and insecurity in that. Yes, there can be/are consequences.

      • If a person without offspring goes around referring to themselves as the parent of the person they are raising they will be misunderstood to mean that the person they are raising is their offspring unless they say otherwise or unless it is blatantly obvious that the person is not their offspring due to physical differences. The primary definition of parent is a person with offspring and the definition does not require that person to do any child rearing or child care activities – they just have to be the physical source of another person to fall under that blanket definition of the word parent. So nobody could say that they were lying when they said they are a parent. They can qualify the statement by saying their children are being raised by other people but it does not change who they are in relation to their own children. If someone is their offspring they are that person’s parent and it would be lying for them to say that they are not that person’s father or mother just because they have not raised them or had them without intending to raise them. It’s insulting to the intellegence of the listener especially if that person is their child being told they are not part of their family. Truer statements would be that they don’t think of themselves as the parent of their children because someone else is raising them. Whenever someone says “I don’t think of X as Y”, it means they know that X is Y but they prefer not to think of it that way and would prefer that other people did not view X as Y either.

        • I’m not going to go into this in any detail at this moment, but this is a place where we disagree (as we have disagreed many times on the blog.) “Parent” and the related ideas around it are complicated. There are lots of different meanings in different contexts. If there’s a scuffle on the playground involving the child I am raising and someone says “is that your kid?” (which I think of as essentially the same as “are you that child’s parent?”) I don’t think they are asking about pedigree. They’re asking about social role/responsibility. And so I should say “yes.” And if I’m in a doctor’s office and they ask “do you have children”, then I do feel like I should tell them “yes, but they are not genetically related to me.”

          More fundamentally, I think we disagree about how important the social/psychological role is. I’m sure we’ll have more extensive discussions in the future.

          • There is a reason every school form since the dawn of time has a signature line for “parent or guardian”. Why isn’t guardian good enough? Why do people want the unmodified title of being someone with offspring if they are raising someone else’s kid?

            • You’ve got several questions here but I’ll pick one to answer. If, in a social situation, I say “I’m her parent” that gives me a certain status. Everyone knows what it means. If instead I say “I’m her guardian” it amounts to saying that I am NOT her parent, and thus, I don’t have that status. I think almost all parents could choose to say “I’m her guardian” but virtually none do. That tells you something. In other words, the title “parent” matters a lot in society in general.

              I would guess that for some schools kids being raised by their parents are seen as in a different category (less at risk?) from kids being raised by their guardians.

        • I agree with you Marilynn. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate to ‘the law’ which is more utilitarian. I also fully disagree with Julie that the social/psychological role of a biological parent (and all connected to them through them) is not of much importance. But these are really more philosophical debates where the law is not of much importance. It’s a principle issue. The ‘law’ really doesn’t dig into the rights/wrongs/reality of any of it – the law is more about how to organize these things in a consistently logical way.

          • It goes back to the question can we legislate how people raise their children. There maybe things that others find you are doing wrong in parenting your child does it mean it should be legislated?

  2. But the law doesn’t care about this.

    • I’m not sure what “this” refers to–the difference between intention and performance? Sometimes the law does care about this–at least in some states. But perhaps more importantly, I suppose my point is that even if the law doesn’t care, it should.

    • “This” means: The law doesn’t care about the potential for feelings of intentional loss of meaningful relationships with half of ones genetic family. There is no way for the law to take this into account.

      • I think the law could take this into account. If those who make law were convinced that the loss you speak of was meaningful enough (or if they were concerned enough about it for whatever reason), then law could be arranged so that access to genetic family (or possibility of access, or at least information) had to be maintained in some way. Washington has taken some steps towards this kind of record keeping and there have certainly been analogous changes around adoption.

        I don’t say this just to quibble with you, but because I think it is important to highlight the difference between the way the law is and the way the law could be. Law is just the product of social debates (or historical accidents). It turns out to be fairly flexible.

  3. Can we legislate how people parent their kids? By that I mean telling them if they are donor conceived. I don’t think we can. Wouldn’t the only solution to legislate how donor conceptions are recorded? But then again it’s not as if you could legislate a woman having a one night stand cheating on her husband or a couple using a donor via natural conception.

    • I think you are right that you cannot really legislate this. But you can influence people. I think it is the case that if you do an adoption in WA, one of the things you must discuss is how you will talk about adoption with your child. I don’t suppose anyone comes and checks up on you, but I bet it influences the choices a lot of people make–partly because it educates them about why this is the best course.

      You can also take steps to ensure that a child will receive the information at a certain age. If you know your child will get information, you might decide you should be the one to provide it.

  4. “If those who make law were convinced that the loss you speak of was meaningful enough…” If they haven’t been convinced yet, I don’t know what more it takes. There are very powerful lobby groups who overpower those of us shouting into the wind. I hope someday things will change. Until then we have dna testing, search/find/support groups, education, principle…

    • I think it does sometimes take a decade or more to get things through the legislature. Rights of adoptees–which are now fairly well established in at least some places–took many years. But I take your point.

  5. the lgbt lobby are much more powerful now riding an immense wave of popularity and as ART is the great equalizer btw gays and straights, don’t look for this to change any time soon.

  6. I believe the intention of a person with no biological relation to the child, would be meaningless to the child, if that person did not actually establish a parental relationship. if they did establish the relationship and hten cut out, its no longer the intention we are talking about but about a change in behavior.

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