Children are gifts, not projects

A few nights back, I had the pleasure of attending a Brownstone Supper Club presentation by Sheila Matthews-Gallo, the founder of AbleChild, an organisation that fights against the widespread practice of plying our children — mostly boys — with psychotropic drugs in the name of helping them overcome supposed behavioural problems and achieving better academic results. 

In her talk, she explained how teachers, working with counsellors who have bought into the Pharma-generated campaign to medicalise student behaviours that are seen loosely as “non-compliant” or simply challenging for teachers, effectively coerce parents into turning their children into long-term users of personality-changing drugs at very tender ages, with all that that implies in terms of distorting or losing access to the unique sensorial abilities with which each child is born and that are, in many ways the forge of their unique way of perceiving, and hence acting in, the world. 

She also spoke of the many apparent links between these drugs and seriously violent behaviour in a significant minority of those who take them, and how the government, working hand-in-hand with Pharma, has gone to great lengths to suppress any information that might allow analysts to determine once and for all if there is, in fact, a causal relationship between the consumption of these lucrative pharmaceuticals and the violent actions of the children that take them. 

She closed by sharing the details of a number of the legal and bureaucratic battles she and her fellow mama-bears had waged, encouraging us all to be vigilant against the many forms of pro-drug coercion that are now effectively baked into the institutional lives of our schools. 

As I drove home from the gathering my thoughts were in a swirl. On one hand, I felt both energised and grateful that there are brave and principled people like Sheila working to protect the dignity and autonomy of our young. And I was once again reminded of the callousness before the preciousness of life, especially young life, of so many supposedly enlightened people in our culture. 

At the same time, however, I couldn’t help asking myself — as I have always insisted on doing when fellow citizens try to turn the problem of illicit narcotics in our culture mostly into a discussion of foreign drug producers and smugglers rather than our own enthusiasm for what they are selling — why so many of us cede so easily to the ministrations of educational and medical “authorities” who seem to have a skin-deep and essentially authoritarian understanding of the marvellous and at times difficult process of helping our children emerge into something approximating a happy and productive adulthood. 

Could it be that we are more in line with their control-oriented, problem-reaction-solution approach to complex human problems than we like to admit? 


I had my first child in graduate school. When the news came that I’d be a father, I was 30, in a relatively new relationship, living on a $700-a-month TA stipend, and had no money, I mean zero, in the bank. To say I was anxious is an understatement. 

In times of stress, I often find myself recurring to epigrams to keep my spirits up. But, as I looked out on my new reality, I could find none to comfort me. 

That is, until one of the kinder members of my department, a crusty Galician who had grown up in Cuba and studied with Fidel Castro, stopped me in the hall one day and said, “Tom, sabes lo que dicen en España? Los bebés nacen con una barra de pan debajo del brazo”.  (“Tom, do you know what they say in Spain? All babies are born with a loaf of bread under their arms”). 

As the time of birth came closer, my brother, someone not usually given to philosophising or moral pronouncements, provided me with another pearl: “Your first job as a parent is to enjoy your children.”

Believe it or not, these two sayings completely changed my attitude toward the event that was about to unfold in my life, and indeed, my entire understanding of what it means to be a father. 

Each in their own way, my two elders were telling me (or were they reminding me?) that my children were only partially my children; that is, that they would be delivered to me with a vital force and a destiny all of their own, and that consequently, my job was not necessarily to mould them, but rather to try and understand and acknowledge their inherent gifts and inclinations, and to find ways to help them live in peace and productivity (however defined) in keeping with those attributes. 

Thanks to my repeated meditations on these two simple aphorisms, I came to presume the basic existential fitness of the children sent to me by nature, and that they, through their own close observations of the world, would learn the arts of survival, and if lucky, gain a healthy dose of inner contentment. 

Fundamental loss

I may be wrong, but it seems that it is precisely the opposite presumption on the part of many parents — that their children are delivered to the world without the essential ability to do an inventory of their own gifts and think about how best to use them to adapt to changing circumstances — that enables the campaigns of drugging that Sheila Matthews-Gallo and others are so valiantly fighting against. 

How did we get to this place where so many parents distrust the existential competence of their children to the point that they are willing to have them drugged, and thus made numb to essential elements of their being before they even have the opportunity to truly engage in the process of self-discovery and adaptation that lies at the heart of becoming a mature person? 

I doubt that it is because our children suddenly became less gifted and able than those in the past.


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Rather, I think that it has a lot more to do with how we parents have chosen, or have been coached, to view and react to the world around us. 

Secularity, of the type that now predominates in our culture, has brought many advances to the world and freed many people from the well-documented history of abuses by clerical powers and their political accomplices. 

But when, as a mindset, it comes to the point of effectively ruling out the possibility that there might be a set of supernatural forces behind or beyond the immediate physical and perceptual realities of our day-to-day lives, then we lose something very important: a belief in the inherent dignity of every person. 

Within Western culture, the idea of human dignity is inextricably linked to the concept of imago Dei; that is, the belief that we humans are all in some way individual reflections of a pre-existing force whose vast and protean nature transcends our limited ability to fully comprehend it. This being the case, it follows that we should naturally adopt a posture of reverence and humility — as opposed to control and manipulation — before its supposed human avatars in our midst. 

This idea, which was articulated in clearly religious terms by Thomas Aquinas and others in the high Middle Ages, was defended in somewhat more secular-sounding language by Kant in the 18th century when he said:

“In the realm of purpose, everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price can also be replaced by something else as an equivalent; what, on the other hand, is elevated above all prices, with no equivalent, has a dignity.”

While admitting that human beings constantly instrumentalise themselves and others in the pursuit of pragmatic ends, he suggests that their worth cannot be reduced to the mere sum of such pursuits without a corresponding loss of their dignity, the thing that is believed to raise human beings above the rest of creation.


In a recent book, the German-Korean philosopher Byung Chul Han speaks in a similar vein when he criticises what he calls our “performance-driven society”, which he argues has robbed us of a sense of “inactivity that is not an incapability, not a refusal, not just the absence of activity, but a capacity in itself,” one with “a logic of its own, its own language, temporality, architecture, magnificence — even its own magic.”

He sees time for reflection and creativity outside the parameters of the processes we engage in to eat and gain shelter as the key to remaining human. “Without moments of pause or hesitation, acting deteriorates into blind action and reaction. Without calm, a new barbarism emerges. Silence deepens conversations. Without stillness, there is no music — just sound and noise. Play is the essence of beauty. When life follows the rule of stimulus-response and goal-action, it atrophies into pure survival: naked biological life.” 

Could it be precisely our frenzied devotion to “stimulus-response and goal-action” — born of a generalised failure to “stop, look, and listen” to the inherent magnificence and capableness of most of our children — that has made us amenable to the siren song of Big Pharma and its often semi-conscious emissaries in our schools? 

Could it be that if we were to take a bit more time to reflect on the inherent resourcefulness of our offspring as children of God, we might worry a little less about ensuring that they become cogs in our culture’s clearly sputtering machine of material “success” and thus be less inclined to cede before the “Drug him or else he’ll never be a success” entreaties of ostensibly well-meaning authorities? 

It would seem that these are, at the very least, questions worth pondering.

Do you agree with this analysis of modern-day parenting? Discuss below.

Thomas Harrington, Senior Brownstone Scholar and Brownstone Fellow, is Professor Emeritus of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, where he taught for 24 years. His research is on Iberian movements of national identity and contemporary Catalan culture. His essays are published at Words in The Pursuit of Light.

This article has been republished with permission from the Brownstone Institute.

Image credit: Pexels


Showing 6 reactions

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  • Michael Cook
    followed this page 2024-06-19 16:36:01 +1000
  • David Page
    commented 2024-06-18 09:22:50 +1000
    Paul, after our first child we considered adoption. We thought we would have no more, however hard we tried. Attempting adoption was like following Alice down the rabbit hole. It seemed as if those people we had to deal with were against finding homes for these children. We were financially stable and in a loving marriage. But we were a mixed race couple. The woman we had to deal with was dead set against marriages like ours. She was black. She said the only child she would consider would have to have a white father and a black mother, and it was clear that even in that case she would make it difficult. We eventually gave up. We could have given a child a stable home and a bright future. Too bad.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-06-18 09:11:51 +1000
    Both a blessing and a challenge. I was born to raise children. And because of my unfortunate childhood (I’m not complaining. I had a great time.) I considered my own parents to be a cautionary tale. It worked out quite well.
  • mrscracker
    Thank you so much for this article. I really liked the Spanish saying about children arriving with a loaf of bread. Very true.
    When my children were in grade school drugs like Ritalin were prescribed both to the “non-compliant” restless boys who couldn’t sit still in class & high achieving compliant girls whose parents’ ambition was for them to be even higher achieving. One of my daughters complained that her friend’s parents got their daughter Ritalin to help her be more successful in school so why wouldn’t I do the same thing for her?
    Prescription drugs were passed around on the school bus. It was really out of hand.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-06-17 17:51:03 +1000
    I would like to challenge anyone to provide an unselfish reason to procreate instead of adopt children.

    There are over 140 million orphans waiting to be adopted.
  • Thomas Harrington
    published this page in The Latest 2024-06-17 15:49:21 +1000