In my morning ritual of browsing the interwebs half mindedly for inspiration and company, I found another article ridiculing the platform “every child deserves a mother and a father.” The fodder for the ridicule? A man murders his wife while all seven of his children are at home. This is clearly proof that the movement is doomed and gay people deserve equal rights, right? Wait, you can’t see that? I thought it was supposed to be obvious.
Let’s break it down. First, the movement attempts to link heterosexual norms with the transcendental rights of children to be protected, loved and given every chance in the world for success. There’s an appeal here to the holiness of children and it’s put in contrast to the self centerednes of adults. Wrapped in this motto is the idea that a lesbian who wants to raise a child with her partner is putting her own sexual desires above the needs of the child because she trades heterosexual partnering from homosexual partnering, thus depriving the child of its right to have a male presence as it grows. When used against homosexual couples seeking equal marriage rights, the every-child movement is ultimately saying that sex is dirty, homosexual sex is dirtier, children are holy, and anyone who would put their own needs above a child’s is a Bad Person.
In my recent post on the mind body connection, I make the claim that the mind cannot operate properly without the body being given appropriate care which includes adequate sleep, nutrition and sex. Regardless of your style of sex or choice of partner, if you are denying yourself sexually, your mind cannot occupy the space of openness and love that children need to grow in health. So in a way, the mother/father movement is also saying that mental health of the adult is not a necessary requirement for them to care for their children. Now we can see the argument begin to break down. On the one hand, a male and female presence are considered necessary on a moral level to raise a child and the underlying reason here is that they contribute to the balanced psychological development of that child. On the other hand, the same psychological underpinnings are ignored when the movement is used to attack same sex couples because it denies the well established link between parental mental health and the health and development of their children.
At this point, I tend to lose my ability to empathize with the warring factions on this mother/father debate. LGBT supporters claim this is all about the heteros versus the homos, and since the homos are the minority and are being discriminated against they get to claim the moral high ground. Since this argument is obviously not about psychology at all (since neither side seems to make well grounded and internally consistent psychological arguments), it breaks down into a shouting match about whose rights are more important, and who is “obviously” more ridiculous for holding to their beliefs. I lose my patience quickly with these types of debates because neither side seems interested in discovering Truth or advancing on the fundamental problem. Here, the fundamental problem is about discrimination, but it is being made to be about children. I believe that if it were about children, both sides would discover that they fall leagues behind the standard for optimal childcare.
Yesterday I finished my service volunteering for the Fukushima-ko Genki Mura Camp, a 100% volunteer based nature camp for child refugees of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Because of their age and small bodies, the levels of radiation still present in their home towns are too high for them to be able to play outside without risking serious long term health problems. They are not even able to play in the grounds at their elementary schools because of the contamination and must spend all day every day inside. If you want to know what pathos is, it’s a nine-year-old child who has never been allowed outside to play. Because we believe that Every Child Deserves to Play Outside, we organize and run this camp twice a year in the warmer months so that these kids can have a respite from the confinement of the remainder of the year. The children at the camp stole my heart as they have done every time I see them.
Because the camp was volunteer based, everyone who helped had their own jobs and their own lives that they had to attend to. Some people could only come for a day, or for a few hours. A handful made it for the whole week. However, the kids never took more than a few seconds to incorporate the newcomers into their games. To them, every adult was a plaything and they were climbing on us, wrestling us, crying on our shoulders, napping in our laps, all within knowing each other for barely a few hours. The first thing that I learned about children from volunteering is that children do not come with a built in emotional slot for mom and dad. Children want to be loved, and need to be loved, and they don’t know yet how to be suspicious of the types of betrayals and let downs that we adults come to anticipate. More importantly, they don’t understand the morality behind a mother and a father caring for them. All they know is that there are people that care for them, they need that care, and when there is a loving adult presence in their life they will latch on and soak up that care for as long as it’s available.
The second thing I learned about children from volunteering is that it doesn’t really matter if you produced them with your own genitals, they are fantastic, beautiful creatures. On the last day we all gathered in a circle to say our goodbyes. Each volunteer stood up and said a few words to the kids about their impressions during the week. There were many wet eyes and most of them were from the grown ups. If only a mother and father can love their child, if the biological connection was what really made the affection between children and their caretakers so strong, then why would we, a group of adults with our own lives and our own families, be so torn to part with some random kids that we’ve known for only a few days? Just like children are capable of taking love and care from strangers, we adults are wired to love and care for children, plain and simple.
At camp this last week, some two dozen children were raised, cared for, educated and inspired by over thirty different adult volunteers. The ages of the volunteers ranged from high school senior to mid-fifties. There were men and women, married and single, straight and… me. I’m neither male nor female. I’m not married and I’m definitely not “straight.” The adults knew most of that. The kids picked up on it immediately and you know? They didn’t care. To them I was just another plaything among the other tall and slow playthings that had come to hang out with them that week. And if i needed any proof that my influence was good for them, all I had to do was watch and listen as they shouted their goodbyes out the bus window on their way back home.
Children are magical and wonderful. They deserve to be loved because they are humans, just like we are. And they are precious to us because in children can we see a reflection of the world as it would be without our judgment and our adulteration. For our sake, we should not debate whether a mother and a father, or two mothers or two fathers, or only one parent is the right set up to raise a child because they are all wrong. The right way to raise a child is to expose it to all the love and all the care that we can find for it in this world, wherever we can find it and for as long as we can provide it, even if we may never see that child again.