Thursday, April 1, 2010

Parenthood - To Do or To Be?

Is parenthood a matter of what you do or a matter of what you are? If being a mom or a dad is an active verb, then parenting can be reduced to a skill set, and one is a parent whenever the skill set is accessed. As soon as the kids are gone, accoding to this mode of thinking, I no longer have to worry about being Dad. I can just be Kurt.

Although it might not be put that way, the attitude seems frightfully common, and I strongly believe that it’s a bunch of bunk. Parenthood is a state of being. If you have children, you are a parent. You can drop your babies off with a hired caregiver and drive away, but that doesn’t change your state as a parent. Becoming a parent carries with it an ontological changes not unlike the kind of change associated with vocations to priesthood or married life, albeit in the natural order rather than sacramentally.

My wife has a friend who provides childcare out of her home. She related that a mother had recently called her and asked if she could drop her children off for the afternoon. “I need a break from being a mom,” she explained. This thinking is wrong because even after she drops the kids, she’s still a mom, and to act otherwise is a betrayal of her responsibilities. I understand the difficulties. She can say that the kids are driving her batty, and she needs an afternoon of peace to regroup, but she can no more pretend to not be a mom than she can pretend to not be a wife. That is to say, she can pretend, but it will only be pretend, and it will not be without consequences.

There are at least two reasons this is so, both of which are subjective. The first is internal to the individual (i.e., how he or she sees himself or herself), the second is external to the individual (i.e., how other, especially the children, see the individual). The first involves, potentially, the weakening of the moral imperatives of parenthood. The second revolves around the dilution of parental moral authority.

I’ll leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks.

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