Children Are Not Possessions

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Categories Attitude, Mommy Issues, Other people, Parenting

“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?

We do not own our children.

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.

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

7 thoughts on “Children Are Not Possessions”

  1. Well said! It makes me feel a lot more calm in my harried days to reframe things as, “I am watching over them for a time.” They will always be my daughters, but only insofar as I give them the comfort and love to decide to continue a relationship with me as they mature into adults.

  2. That’s crazy to think someone ‘owns’ children. I hope he meant it another way and it just came out wrong!

    I see myself as a coach to my kids. I guide them and have rules and values I impart, but in the end, they’re their own players.

    I also vaccinated my kids and I don’t jump onto debates. But I do feel bad for those whose kids can’t get vaccinated (too young, they have cancer, etc.) because I feel like they’re the ones at most risk when others don’t vaccinate. But like you said, people are pretty set in their ways. It’s rare for someone to convince someone else to change.

  3. Yeah… I don’t think I’ve ever seen my children as possessions. That’s kind of weird. I understand that they are MY children (and not someone else’s) and that they are therefore my responsibility, and not the state, or the church, or the government, or your neighbor’s. I will ultimately be held accountable for them and certain choices (to a certain age). But, I can’t control them, or force them to do anything, or at least I shouldn’t be! THey are individuals who I am blessed to have as my own children, who I love, and when you love someone, you treat them better than some mere possession that you own, no matter how prized it may be.

  4. I find the idea terribly offensive (along with virtually everything Rand Pau.l says…but then I’m probably not supposed to talk politics here???). 😉

    There’s an Indian proverb that says, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children.” I certainly think of my children as my greatest gift, but they were not literally “given” to me. We belong to each other, as a family, and as a world.

  5. I like the term caregiver. I am here to give my child care. Make sure his needs are met and show his the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, but never as a possession. (plus he is too strong willed to ever accept being told what to do). He is only two, but I am constantly on the look out for small things he can take control of in his own life. Whether it be choosing his own bedtime story or choosing milk or juice to go with a meal. I can already see his independence starting to shine through and he always feels so special when he can make his own choices.

  6. Children do belong to their parents. Make no mistake.

    As for the smallpox vaccine, the very last case of smallpox that involved a death was in the UK in a fully vaccinated person, Janet Parker in 1977; she passed the disease to her mother before she died. The case in Bangladesh was variola major in a little girl in 1975 – that little girl is still alive today and has four children.

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