Wednesday, 9 March 2011

My Child --the question of ownership in childhood

Had a little rant, talking to a friend yesterday. What is it about the embarrassingly-poorly-written Secret Life of an American Teenager that brings this out in me? storyline involves a 'bad girl' who gets pregnant who, in the ever-so-delicate language the US networks use to avoid alienating a single sponsor (or inflaming a single protester), 'isn't going to keep it.' Her father, a bit of a rowdy himself, suddenly turns all conservative and is determined not to 'let her.' Because she is, as he says, 'my child.'

Dad's argument is solely, 'you are MY child...' with additional invective and raised voice.

Oooh, that makes me cringe. Not the least because the whole time this cryptic conversation is ongoing, they could have been talking about a broken toy or an old chair.

It reminds me a little of an ancient Electric Company piece, where an animated girl walks around her house picking things up saying 'this is my...'

While our children are certainly our responsibility, they are absolutely not our possessions. 

There is some confusion there, the difference between our responsibilities and our possessions. Partly, probably, because historically --legally-- our children were, once, our possessions, chattel, just as were wives. We were at liberty to sell them, and even to kill them. Those days, at least in the Western world, are gone.
In fact, just to clarify, no one belongs to anyone except himself. Or herself. We don't even have proper language to convey this self-ownership. And, sadly, we don't have another pronoun that indicates 'my association to' distinct from 'my ownership of'... which also muddles the issue.

My friend pointed out the distressing knowledge that while we can't control our kids, until they are of legal age, we are financially responsible for whatever they do. Strangely, this has not been the case in Canada until 2011, when a precedent-setting case made its way through BC Supreme Court. I am not alone in being flabbergasted by the fact that this has not always been the case.
BC Surpreme Court
However, this case also does not confer ownership --a great reason for parents to learn, somewhere between their kids' birth and 14 years of age, to influence them in an effective and positive manner... not to exert control.

But back to the cringe-worthy part of that tv show: our children are individual human beings, quite separate from ourselves. They are not 'ours' the way our houseplants, pets or feet are. 
They are their own selves.... 
...that is, they belong to themselves, not us.

Children come as their own people, and remain their own people. I suspect it might be helpful in living a respect-filled family life to remember that we are not controlling or owning them, but stewarding their individual, whole human selves, unto their adulthood. 

We do not possess, we chaperone. 

1 comment:

  1. I've had this type of conversation with people many times over the years. I agree with you wholeheartedly here ... and it makes my blood boil when I see parents treat their offspring like property. Maybe because I hated it so much when my parents made me feel like that, when I had my own kids I refused to treat them that way.

    I also remember something someone said to me a long time before I became a mother, something that was at the time amusing but oh so true in the long run ... "we don't own kids, we rent them." And when you rent something you are under an obligation to take care of it as if it were your own but must at some point return it to their proper owner, in this case: themselves.