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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Planning on a Family? The Real Choice

Ooh. The "C" word. Bet you're thinking about abortion, right? Unfortunately, the concept of parental choice usually gets essentialized down into the most extreme manifestation- the "Hail Mary Pass" if you will, of reproductive control.

It' shouldn't.

Focusing on abortion misses the much larger point. As long as society continues to promulgate the unrealistic (and in my opinion, dangerous) message that all people were designed to be parents, the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is fairly meaningless. Let me explain.

The mainstream messages circulated in society today have a few things in common. First, they presume EVERYONE, sooner or later, will become a parent. It is treated as a "right of passage" most adults will participate in. Secondly, it is presumed that parenthood is a natural, totally "instinctual" function of all humans, and all people are equally equipped to be parents. Thirdly, it is presumed that there are intrinsic, tangible awards to parenthood. The only problem with all of this is-- none of it is true.

Lie #1- Everyone will become a parent at some point, unless something is "wrong" with them. You only need to look to the booming infertility business to see this one in action. They sell people (mostly women) on the notion that a "biological clock" in their body is impatiently ticking away, waiting for them to fulfil their destiny by having a child. They convince people that not having children is a sign of disorder, and promise to "fix" them by allowing them to conceive or carry. And what about not wanting kids? Well, that's just self-centeredness.

The Truth We Need To Be Telling People: Obviously, infertility has been around for a long time. You see it in every organism that reproduces sexually. Actually, it is very natural to have a certain percentage of the population that is unable to reproduce. Having a child is not any one's "destiny" per se, and beyond the basic urge to reproduce (read: have sex), there seems to be precious little evidence for a truly "biological" clock. The desire to have children seems to be as much a learned, societal expectation as anything else. And the self-centeredness critique? Why is it wrong for a person to put their own considerations first when making a decision as momentous as to be or not to be a parent?

Lie #2- Parenthood is totally instinctual, and all people are equally equipped to be parents. Anyone can be good parent if they try hard enough.

The Truth We Need To Be Telling People: Wrong! Having sex is instinctual, parenthood is not. Certain parental functions may be influenced by instinct, but again, in all sexually reproducing organisms, we see a wide variance as to how individuals carry out that task, and many fail to do so at all. People are no exception to that rule. Some people seem to have a strong "instinctual" response to parenting; others do not. Some choose to devote themselves to parenting; some do not. Some seem to be well equipped to handle the difficulties of raising a child; others are not so well equipped. The bottom line: not everyone is cut out to be a parent.

Lie #3- Being a parent is more rewarding than it is taxing. There are intrinsic rewards to parenthood every parent will realize. The bond between parent and child is immediate (especially for mothers), and you will feel "blessed" by your child's presence.

The Truth We Need To Be Telling People: Being a parent is very hard. It will kick your butt, and good! Often, there will seem to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Having a kid will radically alter your life, and usually, not for the better, especially in the beginning. The rewards are often fleeting, and the amount of work you will put into being a good parent is awesome. You may feel an instant bond with your child, and then again, you may not. Having a child will impact your other relationships, and will quite possibly put strain on them. Being a good parent requires putting your child first, so other things, like professional goals, and leisure time activities will also take a backseat as well. Some parent-child relationships will always be rocky. Some children are just not very lovable. Even good parents sometimes will have troubled children.

These are the lies we tell ourselves about parents and parenthood. They are replicated endlessly across the full spectrum of our societal discourse on the subject of procreation. It is not good for would-be parents to have these lies as the basis of their procreative decision making process, and it is terrible for would-be children as well. Every child should be a wanted child-- wanted by well-informed parents, for the right reasons. As long as we frame "choice" as a stop-gap measure until people fulfil their "destiny" by "planning" their family- the right number of kids at the right time with the right person- instead of opening it up to the more fundamental choice of whether to plan for a family at all- "wanted" will remain a relative term.

So, while I am a steadfast champion of the right to birth control in all of its forms, including abortion, I truly believe people who are worried about issues of women's rights, children's rights, and even population control and sustainability need to take the message to the street about why, in fact, everyone doesn't need to become a parent to be a fulfilled, happy person (and how having a kid may actually be counterproductive in that regard), and how some people are just not designed to be parents- and why that isn't so bad.

I believe it is a much better strategy to define the playing field in terms that support true reproductive freedom from the start, rather than always defaulting to that longshot pass we call abortion, which leaves the supporters of true choice just one fumble away from loosing the whole game.

2 comments:

Christina said...

I totally agree with everything you said, as a parent of two children. A married parent of two children. Many times, I feel like the single parent of 3 children and the big hairy one is unruly and does not take direction well.

GreenSmile said...

Yep, lies, all damn lies!

You also have to wonder at the mentality of our maker if he puts infertile reproductice organs in the same body with brains that are desperate to have kids and puts hair-triggered baby shooters in the same body with a brain that is stuck permanently in "girls just wanna have fun" gear.

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