Friday, February 06, 2009

Values and parenthood

Amy at MojoMom posted a piece today about the mother of the octuplets that got me thinking. Amy quipped that the mother was "a one woman Mommy-War": so clever. How true! She is really bringing out the worst in people's reactions to her 6 previous kids and now 8 new babies (all without the benefit of marriage, partner, employment, etc.).

Amy's piece got me thinking about the issue of values. Part of the problem with the conversation in the U.S. about childbearing and contraception and abortion is that there are plenty of rights, but no values. If you want to have a child: you can. If you want to terminate a pregnancy: you can. If you want to have lots of children (even if you cannot support them): you can. There is no law stopping you. If you want to have lots of abortions: you can. There is no law stopping you.

Oddly, the only time parenthood is ever evaluated or questioned is in the case of adoption. Then, you actually have to go through a review process to see if you are fit to become a parent. But if you are doing it the "natural" way, you can just go for it. No rules apply. Strange, isn't it, when you look at it that way?

So back to values. The problem with a pluralistic society like ours is that there is no one right way of thinking. Some in our country think it's great to have large families. Others think smaller is better. Some in our country think there's nothing wrong with teens having babies, married or unmarried, and others think otherwise. Some believe in contraception; others are against it. Some believe in abortion; others believe in abortion in certain situations only; others are against it. The problem is, you cannot legislate these sorts of things. There are cultural norms, religious norms, social norms that inform people's decisions about sex and childbearing. There are public health programs that try to encourage people to behave in healthier ways. But there aren't rules per se. In China, there are rules, and look what happened with that.

So we don't want rules. But maybe we want to have a conversation that goes something like this: there is a value to having children that a family (whatever the composition of the family might be) can provide for. There is a value to waiting until a person is ready (whatever that means) to be a parent. Sometimes there is a value to waiting to have a child by using contraception or abortion. And sometimes there is a value to NOT having a child. Laws can only go so far. You cannot legislate reasonable behavior. That takes something else. What the something else is: we still have to figure out.

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