It’s Mother’s Day in the States, India (and, I’m assuming, in a lot of other countries around the world).
It’s also one of the many hundred million Hallmark-manufactured, made-by-conglomerate days celebrated all over the world. In honour of the, um, auspicious occasion, I thought I’d explore why people HAVE children to begin with.
As someone who does not have children, and does not intend to at any point in the distant future, [mostly because I think a child requires a sane, stable parent, neither of which I am] I chose to explore this because I can be objective about it.
I’ve always wondered why people have kids at all. I came up with a few reasons:
1) It’s an accident (married, not married, together, broken up, whatever the status of their relationship may be)
2) They feel like it’s a social obligation – this could be many, many things or a permutation or combination of several, like
a) Reaching a certain age
b) Being with their partner for a certain amount of time
c) Being married for a certain amount of time
d) People that won’t stop chiming in with their tuppence worth
3) They want something in their image – which is also rather connected to wanting to pass on their genetic material, which is more or less a natural biological drive in humans, primates, and most of the animal kingdom.
Now primates and the rest of the animal kingdom, I can understand. But humans are, believe it or not, equipped with more advanced cognitive facilities, ones that enable them to mentally reason out scientific, logical reasons for wanting to have a child, reasons that go beyond not wrapping it before tapping it, or wanting a little munchkin that looks like them.
Here in our happy human world, we have tests for everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. There are tests for college, high school, even PREschool, to drive, for musical proficiency, intelligence, writing, reading, even ones to test your mental and/or physical resilience. They have gun tests for cops, and even civilians who want to own firearms (in most places) so they don’t endanger innocent lives, and they can be traced if they try.
There is, however, no ‘test’ to see if people are fit to be parents. Now obviously that is a bit of whimsy on my part, seeing as nearly everybody who chooses to have a kid possesses one sort of genitals or the other, and it’s not like a third party could control that. Admittedly, that would also be rather big-brother like, and totalitarianism is not something I’ve ever been even remotely fond of.
Still, with people reproducing like rabbits seemingly in the absence of coherent thought, some sort of regulation would be nice. I don’t mean ‘breeding’ kids with what may seem like ‘higher cognitive processes’ or something like that. No, I am not a squat, terrifying, anti-Semitic, tyrannical little despot with a toothbrush moustache who massacres innocents.
I do, however, sort of agree with Friedrich Nietzsche‘s ideal of the Übermensch, an ideal he wrote about in Also Sprach Zarathustra. My view of Der Übermensch, however, is not even remotely racial, but more related to eugenics and culture than anything else.
[Incidentally, those two are related – I read an article in the paper not two days ago that I shall try to link to if I find it.]
Basically, certain cultures affect the genetic makeup of the people that constitute them- the example the article mentioned was that the culture loved milk, so to speak. As they ingested a larger quantity of milk and dairy, their genetic evolution was affected by their cultural evolution, and probably vice-versa. (A quick Google search tells me this is known as the Dual Inheritance Theory, or gene-culture coevolution.)
Eugenics is not really the same, as DIT has to do with natural selection, which is, self-explanatorily, natural, but has similar effects. They are different in that eugenics is a conscious scientific effort to improve the quality of life. So it’s selection all right, just not completely natural.
An aside to those of you who find eugenics interesting – I’d suggest you begin with an extremely interesting documentary I saw on the BBC, on HardTalk – Stephen Sackur interviews Sir Mark Walport, a former Head of Division of Medicine at Imperial, and a eugenicist. For anybody in the UK, you can watch this here. For the rest of you, however, if you didn’t catch it on the telly, the only way to get access to it is to download it, here.
It’s more to do with healthcare-related eugenics, but raises some very pertinent ethical questions that would be relevant either way.
Anyway, back to what I was originally talking about. Children. Like I said, much as I, and millions of others, hate control and interference (and it’s there, notwithstanding), I’ve found myself thinking it would be nice if there were some way to check what kind of people reproduced, and what kind didn’t. While this would, ultimately, affect society, I mean it on a more grassroots, basic level – sure, intelligence would be nice, but in my opinion parents should be able to provide the child a home; by a home, I am not referring exclusively to a solid, sturdy roof over their heads, financial security and an education and discipline (if you, however, believe in corporal punishment, I would like to have an angry, angry word with you), but unconditional love (again, and some might disagree, I don’t think humans are fully capable of unconditional love towards other human beings, maybe the conditions aren’t very visible. That isn’t to say I don’t love people/ am not loved by people who know me inside out. All the good stuff and all the not-so-good stuff).
With unconditional love should come emotional security, and some sort of shelter or haven. The knowledge that no matter how awful the outside world is, how terrifying and absolutely huge and daunting it may be, how full of monsters, there’s still that one place they can take refuge in, the one place they can feel absolutely, completely emotionally secure, and grow up with self-esteem decent enough to help them function and be safe.
In fact, that, to me, takes precedence over most of the other things – except an education, which could help a child absorb all those ideals in SOME form, or, barring that, at least be strong enough mentally and/or intellectually to function in their absence, which might not be the same thing, but can be good enough for human function to proceed normally and be a prosocial member of society. Karl Menninger once said “what’s done to children, they will do to society.”
So education, while of paramount importance all on its own, is a defense mechanism for society. Much like the oxygen masks you find on commercial airliners.
In the event of a drop in emotional security, your education will drop automatically from ceiling panels. Remain in your seat, reach up firmly and pull on the mask to activate the flow of common sense and intellect. Secure the elastic band around your head, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and breathe normally. Secure your own mask before helping children or other passengers.
See how universal stuff like that is?
That is one of the main reasons I place intellect and education higher up on the scale than emotional welfare – the stronger it is, the better a person’s backup mechanism, and the easier it is for them to function in the real outside world, filled with big bad creepies and crawlies, where mum and dad and the nightlight can’t save you from the boogeyman.
So do I wish there were some sort of marker or checkpoint to test WHY parents have their children.
While I haven’t been one (a parent, not a child, which I still am in many, many ways, and do not ever plan to be one), I firmly believe a child should be brought into an environment where it is wanted, loved, and cared for, and not just with toys, and as they grow up, expensive cars and everything money can buy. A child shouldn’t be brought into the world just so you can continue your ‘family name’ – something that happens in so many societies that believe in trying desparately, no matter how many other children they have, to have a son.
It may seem like a cheesy, corny, overdone one, but the parent:child : : potter:pot (no, not cannabis) analogy is true. A child is an impressionable, tiny, clayey little sponge that soaks up whatever is around it and is shaped by it, too. Whether you think you’re displaying them or not, your reasons for having a kid, if they are selfish, will ultimately show up subconsciously. (That isn’t me talking, but every psychologist, ever. Attitudes, even if they are not overtly displayed, manifest themselves subconsciously anyway.)
I am a strong, strong advocate of adoption. I’m sure there are biological parents who love and want their children just as much, and I’m aware of the fact that many people (not all of them, as I personally know exceptions to this rule) look to adoption as a last resort, only if normal conception, IVF and surrogacy have all failed, or they do not have access to them.
With adoption, though, I think there’s this sort of longing or want to actually take care of a child, rather than just pass on genetic material (proving my point that humans are capable of differentiating between the two), and that actual desire to want a child for the child and not just for oneself, or like a glorified bipedal pet,makes a world of difference.
There may be no ‘right’ way to bring up a child (barring the obvious: keeping it away from drugs, drink, out of danger, stuff like that), but loving it and just being there certainly is the best way to start.
The desire to take care of something and the ability to love it no matter what, is what makes a parent; not just fully functional gonads and genitals.
For those of you who have ever watched M*A*S*H, I agree with Colonel Potter:
Having babies is fun, but babies grow up into people.
I’d like to end this post with TWO songs instead of my usual one. Both of them by the same man, both beautiful, but both about very, very different perspectives. If you haven’t heard them, please, listen to both.