Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Parenting for Base Pairs

After going over the tests we had to pass to become parents, a study came to mind, of course :-) (1). It looked at only heterosexual couples. 41 procreated by ivf (in vitro fertilization), 45 by AI (artificial insemination), 55 by adoption, and 43 by normal procreation.

Not only did they find that non-biological parents parented up to the standards of biological parents, they found that the quality of parenting in such families was higher than average. When observed and questioned with standardized tests, the parents were found to be more affectionate and more involved in their children’s lives. They concluded: "Findings suggest that genetic ties are less important for family functioning than a strong desire for parenthood", and "the quality of parenting in families where mother and father had gone through great lengths to become parents was superior to that shown by mothers and fathers who had achieved parenthood in the usual way".

Now, this may strike many as common sense. But, once, when I mentioned this study, I was told, in a hysterical font ;-), “So what are you saying? We should take children from their biological parents and give them to more motivated parents?!” This was a person promoting the “Ideal Family” argument against gay unions (as gone over in too much detail here, here, and here). His argument was that parents parent best for biological children and that’s why he believed a man and woman with their biological children is the ideal family. By showing him evidence that biology wasn’t the key to parenting, he wrongly assumed I meant to do to others what he meant to do to us. Fortunately, I'm not as keen on legally harming other's families as “non-ideal” as he was ;-).

This study absolutely does not show a biological connection to a child somehow makes a parent a worse parent. That would be a highly ridiculous conclusion. What this does show though is that there is not a detectable deficiency in the parenting of non-biological parents. Furthermore, it shows there are positive effects in all the trials a couple must go through if they need help becoming parents.

The reason for these results should be clear. With each additional test, more and more high risk couples are weeded out in the process that otherwise would do so if in fertile unions. Taking out those with a criminal record alone helps a lot, I’m sure, but add on everything else. The teenager who has a one night stand and ends up surprised to be a daddy, for example, has far worse odds of doing it well.

Now, of course, most fertile couples have the capacity to past all these tests, and they are every bit as ideal ;-). Even those who could not pass may be among the most skilled parents, and children who were not planned may be among the most fortunate in family. I’d simply not want government involved in family through something like a procreation license; that would not only be unethical by my measure but it would be government self destruction. Nevertheless, when you need help, and/or there’s a child in another’s custody, already there and looking for a home, you will and should be judged. Those individuals who come to your aid have rights too and they will reasonably have requirements, an effect of which is shown in the above mentioned research.

Simply, the nature of human parenting is not that focused on genetics, and thank goodness we’re not all slaves to Darwin. If you’re a biological parent, think about it. If you discovered tomorrow you’re child was somehow not genetically “yours”, would it lessen your love one bit? If I can extrapolate from our experience, for near all parents--adoptive, traditional, gay, straight, whatever--when you see the person who you know will be your child for the very first time, none of that is on your mind. You, in fact, feel you became their parent even before they took in their first breath, before you ever knew they existed. That was your purpose all along and it was tied to that particular person; genetics or no.

What is on your mind is your future with that individual, your responsibility to them, the pure joy of being a parent, and the choice you’re making to be bound to that particular child. Even if a child is your biological offspring, you’ll not be forced into being dad, papa, mom, or mama by the most important meanings of those words. You only get such titles if you earn them, work for them, and you must choose to either take on that enormous task, or to simply be a stranger who may have donated genetic material and maybe a monthly check of support.

It’s the person who deeply wants a particular child, and has invested their life into having and raising that child with their health and happiness above his own, it’s that person who will be more likely to parent them best; that person is the ideal parent for that child. There are no other parents who can be brought to tears in gratitude by the wonderings of their little minds. No one else remotely knows them in the same detail. No one else comforted, cajoled, taught, fed, dressed, rocked, and ran them to the emergency room (as I did yesterday! No worries; just a trip resulting in a split chin and, eventually, as I assured Alan, a cool scar he can show his friends).

Plainly, while there is biology needed to form and gestate a fetus, there is no substitute for the personal choice to become a child’s parent. And there is no privilege greater in our lives than having that ability to make that choice, regardless of biology, regardless of orientation.

1. S. Golombok, R. Cook, A. Bish, C. Murray, Child Development, Families Created by the New Reproductive Technologies: Quality of Parenting and Social and Emotional Development of the Children, 66, 285-298 (1995).


Marmoreal said...

"It’s the person who deeply wants a particular child, and has invested their life into having and raising that child with their health and happiness above his own, it’s that person who will be more likely to parent them best; that person is the ideal parent for that child."

Working for an agency that is often faced with removing children from parents who have forgotten or never learned what you stated above, I tremendously appreciate your comment. On a personal note, the man biologically responsible for my birth, who continues to be married to my Mother and continues to attend church every Sunday as he did throughout my upbringing, long ago lost the privilege to be called my father by the way he treated me and his continued refusal to take any actions that might reconcile the situation. Both professionally and personally, I am deeply grateful for those people, regardless of their particular family composition, who are willing to put their children's needs before their own wants. Thank you for being an example of this.

Scot said...

Thank you very much Marmoreal.

I'm sorry your father wasn't what he should have been. It's such a tragedy when that happens, and I'm sure it's tough to be in the line of work you are in for what you've probably seen in ruined families... Glad though someone does it.