One parent or five?
Most couples who marry, even today, probably intend to have one or two children at least. Marriage and the baby carriage (as family scholar Brad Wilcox likes to pair them) have always gone together. But this is not what is meant by the new catch-phrase “intentional parenthood”.
A report out today (golly, there are another half dozen more sitting in my in-box) from the Institute for American Values’ Commission on Parenthood’s Future, surveys the variety of parenthood set-ups that have emerged in the era of reproductive technology and same-sex coupling. One Parent Or Five tracks them around the world. They range from single mothers by choice (intentional motherhood, different from the “I got pregnant by accident” variety) to “families of choice” where as many as five adults claim aspects of the parental function.
Gone is the two-in-one-flesh man and wife and their natural offspring -- i.e. the family founded on biological as well as spiritual bonds -- and in its place is the concept of “functional parenthood”, based on who actually cares for the child. This is a distribution of roles, by the way, that is designed to suit the adults, regardless of how good it is for the children.
Author of the report, Elizabeth Marquardt, observes:
More recently, intentional parenthood has been elevated as a good by family diversity leaders who have long fought to make their case for the equal value of all family structures, despite the reality of messy divorces, stressed-out remarriages, and unplanned births to struggling single moms. Drawing upon longstanding ideas about the value of planned pregnancy embedded in public discussion on contraceptive and abortion rights, family diversity advocates now discover among lesbians and gays using artificial reproductive technologies a realm of peace and order, intention and planning—where no child can fall into that dreaded category of personhood: the accident. You can study the full range of “families” in the report. I haven’t had time to myself yet but it will certainly be fascinating to see all these experiments gathered in one place; shocking and sad as well, because, for all the boasting about the “wantedness” of the children, the wanting is extremely egocentric and takes little thought for the needs of the children themselves. As Marquardt discovered in her earlier study of young adults conceived through sperm donation, merely being wanted does not, on the whole, make for happier children.
So what does the study show? Does being explicitly planned—being most definitely wanted—spell terrific child outcomes, or at least better outcomes than for babies conceived in other ways? Actually, no. Quite the opposite. The donor offspring, those who are without a doubt the most uniformly wanted group at the outset, are, as a group, faring the worst. Compared to those who were adopted, they are hurting more and are more confused. They feel more isolated from their families. And compared to those raised by their biological parents, they suffer more often from addiction, delinquency, and depression.
Family structure is important too. And the idea that some adult/s who “wanted” you at the same time deprived you of a father, or mother, deliberately, outrages some of the victims. It is simply not the same as losing a father through bereavement, or even through “accidental” single motherhood or divorce. It is worse than all those. It is a direct attack on a child’s rights.
The main point is this: the value of intentional parenthood is not a settled question, but rather a hotly contested one. Do children do fine with one parent, or 58 three, or five? Do young people mourn the absence of their biological mothers and fathers in their lives? Can three-person units be as stable as admittedly already-fragile two-person units? Is there something special about trying to keep the man and woman who make the baby together, for the sake of the baby and each other, in what we call marriage? Are children commodities we commission to appease adult desires, or are they vulnerable creatures with individual human dignity, whose needs must come first? In today’s global family debate, these are the questions on the table. Nothing less than the well-being of this and future generations of children is at stake.
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