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15.7.04

Children In Non-Traditional Families

(UPDATE: D'oh! I forgot to include the links the first time.)

David Morrison points out a new line of clothing for children of non-traditional families bearing the slogan "My daddy's name is donor." I shared some of his discomfort at the idea, though for different reasons. I think the slogan points in the wrong direction in terms of what constitutes parenthood. An important step in making non-traditional families legitimate is severing the link between procreation and parenthood. Your real parents are the people who raise you, nurture you, and prepare you to be a functional and independent adult. Whether they had sex or went to the lab 9 months before you were born is of much less importance. So while assigning the name "daddy" (a word much more loaded with affectionate connotation than, say, "father" or "sire") to a man who produced the sperm for you but has had little other involvement in your life seems to emphasize the role of procreation and denigrate the role of post-procreation parenting.

Morrison's main point, though, is an objection to using one's children as billboards for your own causes. I can somewhat agree with that insofar as drawing your kids into your causes is unavoidable, though the "My daddy's name is donor" shirts strike me as no more or less appropriate than the "Deanie Baby" shirts that Howard's followers put on their little ones.

Then again, those who support traditional families are not above doing the same thing. In a recent column in the New Zealand Herald (unfortunately no longer online), a single mother related her dauther's unhappiness with not having a father and used that as a basis for condemning same-sex parenting. Now, I don't know anything about their situation beyond what's in that column, so it may be that this particular child needs something that only a father, rather than a second mother (which she also lacks), can provide. The implication, though -- which surfaces in Morrison's post as well -- is that children just know what constitutes a proper family*. There's no consideration that children are especially attuned to questions of normality and fitting in, particularly when certain ways of not fitting in are stigmatized (as is the case with non-traditional families). The fact that some children are unhappy with their situation tells us nothing about whether the proper course of action is to avoid putting them in that situation, or to help them to accept and even love it (perhaps in part through clothing expressing that pride?), as many children of non-traditional families have.

Morrison goes on to quote a question submitted to the Evolved Moms site in which a lesbian mother asks for advice on circumcizing her son and keeping his genitals clean. She says that she has no aesthetic preference for or against circumcision, because "to me the penis has never exactly been a beautiful thingregardless of which way it looks." Morrison asks "how are you going to convey that you love this kid when you have decided in advance that part of him 'has never exactly been a beautiful thing?'" I imagine, though, that the same comment could be made with regard to many men. To me, "the penis has never exactly been a beautiful thing," and I've got one attached to my own body. But I don't see that opinion interfering with my own hygeine decisions, or those I would make if I had a son.

An anonymous commenter on Morrison's post takes it a step further:
he's going to grow up knowing that the reason he doesn't have a Daddy is because his Mommy doesn't like boys. And since he's a boy...

Here we see a conflation of affection with sexual affection. We slide from "not interested in romantic relationships with men" to "doesn't like men." Since my relationship with my own father was not adversely affected by the fact that he "doesn't like boys" in a romantic sense, I fail to see how this is much of an argument. If anything, it depends on the idea that a boy's sense of self-worth is tied up in the idea that his specifically and uniquely masculine qualities will be vital to raising a child of his own. If that were true -- and it's a pretty grim view of human nature -- then perhaps "it's not necessary that one parent be male" could translate into a negative statement toward boys. (You rarely hear much concern about the reverse situation -- a daughter of a gay male couple doubting her femininity because she thinks mothers are unnecessary.)

*This gets us into the meta-ethical question of inherent conscience -- the idea that deep down inside everyone knows what's right and wrong, and that children innocently express this whereas adults' consciences can be buried under social pressures and selfishness. I'm a proponent of the idea that conscience is largely learned, but I don't have room to defend that idea here.

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