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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Parenthood Redux

I want to end my guest-blogging stint where I started—by looking at the changing social and legal construction of parenthood.  The California “multiple parents” legislation I wrote about in my first post passed the state Assembly two days ago.  (It now returns to the state Senate for a full vote).  Opponents of the bill ignored the fact that this law only applies where people have acted as a child's parents and where it is in the child's best interests to grant them parental status.  They also expressed concern that this would lead to “parent by committee,”  raising the specter of communal parenting, even (gasp!) communism, which partially underlies the Supreme Court’s grant of strong individual parental rights in Meyer v. Nebraska.  In making the "too many chefs" argument against expanding parenthood, however, they overlook the fact that too often children lack any caring adult who is legally empowered to parent them.  In fact the legislation arose out of just such a  case where a child was placed in foster care because neither of her legally recognized parents could care for her. 

This week, the debate over multiple parents was matched in intensity by renewed discussion over parenting roles, and their gendered nature.  In case you missed it, a biology professor opined in the New York Times that advances in assisted reproductive technology had rendered men no longer essential to humankind's survival.  His provocative yet, to me, somewhat tongue-in-cheek post ignited a veritable firestorm of outrage and vitriol from online commenters.  (As online commenters do so well.  I exclude almost all of you from that  group, although someone did call me a "sexist pig" for my earlier post outlining the potential ethical issues raised by male-only divorce firms).  The critics do, however, reveal some interesting thoughts about parenting roles.  To take just one example: "dads work to provide for their kids, read to them, help with homework, play catch, go camping, teach responsibility, give them a sense of values, protect them from dangers in society, help them toughen up and face adulthood." 

This list is shorter (and more outdoorsy) than a list of the things my father did as a parent, and far shorter still than my husband's list.  Yet the division of parenting roles and tasks in my household is still somewhat gendered, I think not as a result of any capability differences or misogynist malevolence, but rather to habit and societal norms.  I suspect this is the case in many households.  For a thoughtful, and completely unvitriolic (if that's a word) scholarly discussion of these issues, see Darren Rosenblum's recent piece Unsex Mothering and some responses to it.  (To list a couple, here's one from Glenn Cohen and one from Kimberly Mutcherson). 

In closing, I hope I will be forgiven for indulging in that parental cliche of proudly quoting my own child.  I was recently talking with my eight-year-old son about the debates over same sex marriage and parenthood.  (Full disclosure--his favorite uncle is gay and married, and his best friend has two male parents, so he is perhaps a little biased).  While I was talking about California's Proposition 8 and bans on adoption in certain states, he interrrupted me.  With a confused look on his face, he said "I just don't get it.  Who cares if a kid has two dads or two moms?  It's not a big deal."  Out of the mouths of babes...

Posted by Cynthia Godsoe on August 30, 2012 at 04:09 PM | Permalink


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A few years ago I did research on polyamorous activists in the Bay Area, who, while supportive of the same-sex marriage debate, were not invested in bringing about group marriage, for various instrumental, political and cultural reasons. But here's a practical development that would be incredibly helpful to poly families with children, and I applaud the CA legislature for bringing it about.

Posted by: Hadar Aviram | Sep 1, 2012 12:14:39 PM

Sounds like you have a pretty awesome kid . . . .

Posted by: SparkleMotion | Aug 31, 2012 10:45:10 AM

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