“The state doesn’t own your children,” Rand Paul says at 2 mins 5 seconds in the video below. “Parents own the children….” Does that description of children as being owned bother you as much as it does me? I’ve been pondering it since I caught it on the radio a couple of weeks ago.
I do not own my children. I guide them, love them, care for them, teach them, and provide for them. I do not own them. They love me, listen to me, get frustrated by me, depend on me, and trust me, but they do not own me either.
The things that I own, my possessions, are for me to treat as I wish. I can choose to treasure them, hoard them, repurpose them, and discard them. My house, my books, my dishes, and my photographs – these are things that I own. There is no such degree of choice when it comes to children. I am duty-bound to do for them what is in their best interest, not mine.
I’ve never thought of children as property. However, the realization that there are people who do think of their children in those terms helps explain some of the previously inexplicable parenting I’ve witnessed.
I believe that a better way to conceive of parenthood is as a managerial arrangement, something akin to the property manager who took care of the house I owned when I moved away and rented it out. I am entrusted with the care of these people on behalf of the larger world they are preparing to join. Parents are the stewards of humanity’s future, and the responsibility is a huge one, filled with joy, but certainly not intended to benefit the parent.
What is the metaphor that you use to make sense of parenting?
I’ve reacted to the California measles outbreak and recent discussions of parental approaches to vaccination as I usually do. I don’t get into debates. I recognize that parents who choose to vaccinate and those who do not will rarely be able to convince each other of the validity of their positions. If someone believes that getting a vaccine is more risky than skipping it, hearing arguments to the contrary from me will make no difference. My daughters get all their vaccinations because I have lived in Bangladesh, the country where smallpox was last seen two years before my birth. I’ve met smallpox survivors and seen how bad whooping cough and measles can be. I’ve looked into the risks posed by vaccinations and deemed them to be rare or minor enough that I am unconcerned. I’ve also nursed one of my fully vaccinated children through whooping cough, and been thankful that her life was never at risk due to the partial protection achieved by the vaccine, despite the lack of herd immunity presented by the children in our community. I know that there are those who take my J’s bout of pertussis as proof that vaccines are worthless. Let’s just agree to disagree.