05.20.19 | Children...Why?

The decision to parent back in the Eisenhower days was largely the default condition, reflecting the country's post-WWII swagger and industrial strength balance sheet. The world was made safe for . . . . breeding. Thus arose the demographic bulge -- the Boomer Generation --  which moved through time, in that visually compelling phrase, like a "pig in a python." Those excessively domestic fifties gave rise to what some labeled the "cult of the child," denounced by one literary critic at the time as "this most maudlin of primitivisms."

That generation's later and consequent obsession with being and staying young then intersected with the Pill in the sixties to offer permanently deferred adulthood. For many, parenthood represented an intrusion of responsibility, of potential disappointment and, ultimately, of mortality. This hardened in the seventies into challenging the very convention of the American family. Feminists put forth the National Organization for Non-Parents ("None is fun"), devoted to the ideology of non-propagation.

Our Member Monday discussion will move beyond any doctrinal attitude towards children -- whether it's the unabashed boosterism of the fifties or the cynical self-absorption of the me-generations -- to ask what is the responsible stance on the subject given today's realities. It's rather curious how little the topic is actively and directly confronted given the profound policy implications. 

There is, for example, the looming environmental cost -- having one less child dwarfs any other single thing one can do to reduce climate impact (MM 10/8/18). Maybe we need to take a hard look at religion's role within the context of furthered demand on the nation's finite resources. At the state level the U.S. does not endorse any sort of population "stabilization" or "control", leaving the "ideal" family size to be determined by the desires of the couples. Fair enough, but now we're back to the Tragedy of the Commons (MM 6/11/18). Who or what determines responsible behaviour at the individual level?

All kinds of aversions to and adorations of children occur simultaneously now. As such, almost no one can have a rational discussion on the subject as the choice to have a child is essentially an irrational act -- it obeys a self-punishing logic like salmon thrashing upriver to spawn, an impulse encoded in the race's will to go on. Or, perhaps, it's really the will on the part of the self to go on -- the ultimate narcissistic impulse for immortality.

One of the items we touched on in our discussion of the college entrance cheating scandal (MM 1/14/19) was the manic drive (and dollars and deceit) on the part of the parent(s) to game the system for the child's admission to Venerable U. There are two ways of seeing that: first, as the genuine (though misguided) desire to act in the child's best interest; or, second, as the parent's need to achieve glory-by-proxy. The difference between the two comes down to the purity of the intention as reflected in these most beautiful words on the subject of children (and parenting):         

"Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

"You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls.

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

On Children (The Prophet) by Kahlil Gibran

Steve SmithComment