Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Answer this Question

Here is a news story about a New Jersey mother who apparently took her young child into a tanning salon and allowed her to tan. While it remains to be seen if the alleged act actually occurred (judging from the looks of the mom, my guess is it did), it brings up a question which has never been answered to my satisfaction. Why isn't childbearing regulated?  Why is no license required for people to have children? 

I am not a person who thinks everything should be regulated, but let's be real.  We require people to get licenses to drive cars and get married. We require tanning salon operators to get licenses.  I think becoming a parent is at least as important as those things, especially considering the damage that is caused when people who have no business having children have them. 

Why is it that I had to get a license to get married and even had to have a special blood test, yet Joe Blow who is an abusive alcoholic with anger management issues, a criminal record and the farthest thing from daddy material, can bring as many children into the world as he pleases and screw them up royally? 

Why is childbearing treated as a right instead of a privilege when the act affects the well-being of others and can pose a hazard to society, not to mention be a drain on society?

Why is it that the people who are the least suited to parenthood are the ones spawning the most?

Can anyone answer these questions?  If so, you will get a gold star and be named Childfreedom Commenter of the Week.


melissa said...

"Why isn't child rearing regulated?"

Sheesh, hubby and I ask ourselves that all the time. It makes no sense that you don't need a license, or to take a test or even to take classes to be a parent.

Francois Tremblay said...

You might be interested in this:

Where Daniel Mackler makes a list of criteria he would use to license procreation. I think he's spot-on on most things, including this. Of course as an antinatalist, I don't believe anyone should have children, but I would readily accept this licensing system as a fair substitute.

Allie said...

I agree with what you said, but there's really no way (that I can think of anyway) to do it. I mean, how do you stop people from having kids? Sadly enough, people are going to keep spitting them out, be it planned or not.

Amira said...

You needed a licence and blood test to marry? That is you think the blood test had some pronatalism/expectation that you'll have children behind it?

alifewithoutkids said...

Because getting pregnant is so easy to do, that even the dumbest people can manage it. If only there was a way to make it more complicated.
I completely agree that it's time people needed a license to have children. I don't think it's a right, especially not when there are over 7 billion people in the world, and 1/3 of them don't have access to clean drinking water.

Temujin said...

Maybe I'm just callous, but I don't get what the big deal is here. I don't understand why this could ever be national news. The kid had a sunburn, which may have happened from playing outside or being in the tanning salon.

Heck, my first reaction is that the kid wasn't bothering anyone by tanning. No childfree people were annoyed in the making of this film. I tend to think kids ought to be allowed to tan themselves to a crisp as long as they do it quietly. A kid getting sunburned in private sounds better to me than getting sunburned by screeching up and down my street.

Am I just a curmudgeon for thinking this?

As for licensing parenthood, we already do stuff like that when it comes to adopting kids or being a foster parent. The foster system clearly needs some better safeguards, but it's not a totally foreign concept.

When you adopt a baby from China, you have to show the Chinese government that you're healthy. You may not even be allowed to adopt a Chinese baby if you're obese. Pretty strict stuff.

claudia said...

"Why is it that the people who are the least suited to parenthood are the ones spawning the most?"

I wonder that too- but sadly, I have no answer.

Z said...

Hey, I can answer that. I'm an attorney and I remember learning about it in Constitutional law. We have a right to choose our family. It's a fundamental right extended to us via the constitution. They determined that in a supreme court case where they said prohibiting blacks from marrying whites was illegal. "We have a fundamental right to chose our family." It extends into how many kids you want, who you want to marry. That's why some people feel banning gay marriage is unconstitutional- because we have a fundamental right to chose our family. Anyway, it's basically a constitutional right to have children. Now the government can take them away if you are a shitty parent, there is case law that says the safety of a child is more important that one's constitutional right to have children. But it in essence, to prohibit someone from not having children is taking a away a fundamental right. Anyway, I totally agree with you- I just know the court feels differently. Drivers' licenses, tanning licenses are privileges where having children is a fundamental right.

shell said...

Oh my god - this is what I wondered for decades. Why isn't there a test you have to pass to be a parent? Having taught elementary school for 27 years I saw so many parents who were no more fit to raise children than they were to fly to the moon.

Freelance Feminist said...

You know what's interesting...One day I was reading a website from an adoption agency (purely out of curiosity) and one phrase they used was "adopting a child is not a right."

This was after they had explained in detail all the qualifications potential parents need to have.

I totally agree with them, that adopting a child is not a right. It's interesting that this same belief has not been ingrained in our own culture regarding biological children.

What we need, more than laws, is a change in our way of thinking. We need people to adopt different beliefs about the right to bear children.

Instead of people asking the childless/childfree "why don't you have kids?" they should instead be looking at people clearly unsuited for parenting and say "why did they have kids?" and express this thought more openly than they currently express it.

If our culture started treating parenthood as an option, not an obligation, we'd develop a certain "checklist" of criteria that parents need to have.

If we started treating parents and childfree equally instead of glorifying one and shaming the other, people would no longer feel that they MUST, at any cost, have children.

If we stopped believing that marriage + children = success, people would believe that they're still OK if they don't have kids.

I absolutely believe that certain people should not have kids, but I don't think a law is the most effective way to do that. Laws are often seen as the enemy, even when placed for our own protection. People will always find ways around them. And laws will not change ways of thinking. Adding a regulation to childbearing is yet another way to shame people who don't have kids and label them as unsuccessful.

There is no law out there that says "Each family shall have two children spaced three years apart from each other" but if you look around, that's what 90% of the families out there are doing. Why? Because we have all somehow collectively agreed that that is the best model for a family.

If we could all somehow collectively agree that not having kids is OK, that only a few people were meant to be parents and other people were meant to do other things, that having kids does not make you successful and not having them does not make you a loser, people would start making better decisions for themselves.

What we need is a shift in our way of thinking. And your blog is helping us do just that.

LZD said...

Long time reader, first time poster. Clearly there are too many people unsuited for parenthood who are having kids anyway. But it's also clear that government regulation via a licensing scheme wouldn't work - because of having kids/sex is easy (alifewithoutkids), because of constitutional protections (see Z), because no one wants more bureaucracy... I think the answer is two-fold:
1. Make birth control easily accessible and affordable, to anyone, including teens. Make it free for goodness sake.
2. Have honest and realistic sex education in schools. Instead of trying to influence teens through shame and fear, teach them strategies for dealing with their sexuality in a healthy and responsible way. Empower people to make good decisions for their future. As long as the dialogue around sex is limited to fear-mongering and judgement, you are going to get people who have sex anyway, because sex is fun, and are unprepared for the consequences. My long-winded two cents.

Syn said...

I've been an avid reader of your blog for quite some time, but this will be my first comment. I'm in the minority here, but I'm going to disagree to an extent. I am avidly pro-choice. That means respecting everyone's choice, whether it's different from mine or not. I've seen plenty of people who probably should never have had children. Hell, I know people who shouldn't, but that doesn't give me or the government the right to tell them they can't. I wish there were a way to regulate it better. Say, that people shouldn't have more children than they can provide both time and resources for. But even that is a slippery slope. It sounds rather classist typing it out, actually. We would be smashing flat all kinds of rights just trying. Freedom of religion, right to choose your family (as one commenter already said), etc. There are plenty of things the government has no business relegating, and such a personal decision as whether or not to have children, I believe, is one of them. Say the opposite were true, and we were in a population decline. If people started demanding childfree folk have kids to save the human race, we'd all be pretty angry, I think. But it's just my two-cents. Thanks for your wonderful blog. It's thought-provoking and has saved me from feeling alone quite often.

kangamasf said...

*shivers* The mother looks like a victim of a fire with her tan!

Nutley Police is funny. It must tempt people to draw a line across the upper part of "l" in Nutley.

Valerie said...

I am also an attorney and I think the biggest problem with regulating who can and cannot have kids is that at every point in the process, someone is making a judgment call for someone else based on their own personal beliefs of what makes a fit parent. I agree that I wish there were minimal standards, but I think it would be hard to get everyone to agree on what the minimal standards are, unfortunately.

shell said...

I disagree with Syn-"Say the opposite were true, and we were in a population decline. If people started demanding childfree folk have kids to save the human race, we'd all be pretty angry." DEMANDING people have children is not the same thing as restricting them from having them. It would be imposing a huge BURDEN on them emotionally and financially. That doesn't happen if people are restricted from having them,

I say make it financially attractive for people NOT to have children. PAY each woman of childbearing age a certain amount of money each year she does NOT reproduce. It the end, it would be cheaper than paying for welfare and jails and mental hospitals for all the poor screwed up people who get born to horrible parents.

Francois Tremblay said...

I see no reason to respect people's choice to start new human lives. As someone else pointed out, there is no right to procreate. There can be no right to do something that creates harm.

Anna said...

I agree that it would take away freedom but I don't believe people should have the freedom to do something without regulation when it infringes on the freedoms of others. What about the right of the child NOT to be born to an unfit parent? Since when should the right of a parent to satisfy their ego outweigh the right of the child? Yes everyone should be able to choose their family... oh except the unborn child, they don't ask to be born into an abusive household. In fact no child asks to be born. It's pretty selfish to bring a child into this world without considering what the world will be like for them to grow up in.

Almost Alright said...

I understand the sentiment expressed, but want to point out that it also echoes the rational behind the very real and tragic history of eugenics in this country.

It's this kind of thinking which has lead to forced sterilizations of poor women, women of color and other women who have been perceived as "unfit" for motherhood.

Parenthood is a right because it's more important and more fundamental to our humanity than the ability to drive. That means the government can't force anyone to not procreate any more than it can force people to procreate (which is of course part of the debate about abortion rights).

I understand the point as a flip remark, but what's behind it is a painful history which many women still deal with today.

I think we should all remember that Childfreedom is about choice, whether you agree with it or not, and that door swings both ways.

Temujin said...

I just had a huge revelation about parenting and respect for parents.

If our society really, truly, honestly treated parenthood as a choice, and if most parents could give thoughtful reasons for choosing to reproduce, then parents would have no need to complain about any lack of respect for parents. If the vast majority of pregnancies were planned instead of ONLY HALF, then a lot of the complaining by childfree people would evaporate. In that case, far fewer parents would be able to dodge their responsibilities. There would be a lot less regret about becoming a parent, and a lot fewer people feeling trapped in their parenting roles. They wouldn’t get to hide behind the illusion of “unselfishness” because their kid was an “accident.”

Francois Tremblay said...

"Parenthood is a right because it's more important and more fundamental to our humanity than the ability to drive."

No it's not. I have no idea what would make anyone say such a bizarre thing. Having children is not necessary for any biological or social function.

"I understand the point as a flip remark,"

For me, anyway, it's dead serious. I assume the author of this blog is too.

Almost Alright said...

Francois Tremblay - you caught me in a hastily written remark. I didn't mean that parenthood is fundamental to our humanity. I should have been clearer that our right to choose parenthood or not is fundamental to our humanity - bodily autonomy I think is roundly understood to be a basic human right. That said, I actually wrote that parenthood is MORE fundamental to our humanity than driving, which even if that's not what I meant to say - I think is fair to say is still actually true.

Francois Tremblay said...

No, I don't think bodily autonomy is a "basic human right," insofar as you seem to understand it as including the "right" to create harm. Your rights end where those of others begin.

Ultimately this little exchange we're engaged in is based on methodological individualism, which I think is flawed, but even if we restrict ourselves to individual rights and ignore social autonomy, your premise is flawed.

Stephanie said...

Since I work in a prison and see the men who procreate without thinking twice about it and never see/talk to their kids again I ask myself this question I have no idea why we haven't done this yet.

Kate said...

Should parenting be a privelidge instead of a right? I dont think so. In theory, it sounds good, but in reality I think it would be a disaster.

First of all, this is giving the government way to much power. You just know if the government were in charge of choosing who gets to be parents and who doesn't they would fuck it up royally.

Secondly, how would a society ensure that those deemed unfit to parent remain infertile? Will the government force women to take pills, get hormone shots, get operations or wear chastity belts?

Thirdly, if this were to happen, I fear that it would be more of a war against women than anything else. Since it is women who bear the children, you can bet that any parenting regulation program would focus more on women than men.

Lastly, how exactly would the government determine who was fit or unfit? By whose standards would potential childbearers be judged? And how would those making the decision know if this person were fit or unfit? Would they use invasive methods of delving into peoples private lives?

Like i said earlier, it makes logical sense to regulate parenting, yes - but to put it into practice would be a nightmare.

Here is how I believe society could change in order to better prevent shitty parents:
1) Make birth control and abortions free and easily accessible
2)Remove the stigma around abortion
3)Stop promoting parenting as the one and only meaningful thing that women should do.
4)Start promoting the childfree lifestyle as a healthy, attractive option.

Alot of people have kids because they accidentally got knocked up and feel that getting an abortion is "wrong". Or they felt that having kids was something they were supposed to do, even if they didnt really want to. If we remove all the social pressures around having kids and the stigma of not having kids, then i think way less people would have them.

So to answer your question about why stupid people are the ones breeding, I think it is because those are the people who lap up all that "abortion is wrong" bullshit and buy into the pronatal brainwashing. Lets make it easier for them to start making the right choices.

Francois Tremblay said...

If you can prove that procreation is a right, then do so. Otherwise, you're starting from a false assumption.

"Secondly, how would a society ensure that those deemed unfit to parent remain infertile? Will the government force women to take pills, get hormone shots, get operations or wear chastity belts?"

There is no need for any of this. As in China, one could demand abortions from women who decide to have children without the permission to do so.

However, in my opinion, this does not go far enough: the men should be punished as well for their role in procreation. I would be in favor of forced vasectomies for those men who repeatedly refuse to follow the rules.

"Thirdly, if this were to happen, I fear that it would be more of a war against women than anything else. Since it is women who bear the children, you can bet that any parenting regulation program would focus more on women than men."

By and large, it is men (and men's desire for PIV) that causes unwanted pregnancies, not women. You are looking at the process from its very last part (pregnancy), which is something we're indoctrinated to do by the patriarchy because they don't want you to realize men's responsibility.

"Lastly, how exactly would the government determine who was fit or unfit?"

I gave one such set of criteria, in a link.

"Here is how I believe society could change in order to better prevent shitty parents:
1) Make birth control and abortions free and easily accessible
2)Remove the stigma around abortion
3)Stop promoting parenting as the one and only meaningful thing that women should do.
4)Start promoting the childfree lifestyle as a healthy, attractive option."

Yes to all of this! But you still need a failsafe for those who still have children irresponsibly.

Francois Tremblay said...

And once again I repeat: there cannot be a right to procreate, because there is no such thing as a right that hurts other people. That's called privilege, not a right.

If you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no amount of bad parenting or negligent parenting can affect the children subjected to it, then you might have a case. Otherwise, forget it.

Happily CF said...

The question of regulation is interesting.

However, this story bothered me because I believe authorities to be focusing on this woman because she's clearly crazy, and clearly an easy target. What about parents who bring kids to the beach and don't put on sunscreen, and let them get serious burns? My parents used to do that, and I don't think they were neglectful parents committing criminal acts. Do the authorities take action against upper-middle class parents who let their kids get bad sunburns out on their sailboats? YES, this woman may have bad judgment in other areas, but that remains to be seen. They need to take action against this one instance, and in this instance, I just don't see why it's such a big deal.

Happily CF said...

I agree with a number of posters. I don't know that I would call procreation a "right," as much as it is simply an "unavoidable physical reality." Obviously most people can choose NOT to procreate, but on the whole, there is no way to regulate it. It just is and will be. It WILL happen short of locking people up, forcing surgeries, or forcing people to take hormones. Look at what happens in China with the government merely regulating how many children people can have, and giving preference to boys. The problem, as Kate described, is that there is no body out there who deserves the power to regulate such a thing, or can do so with no corruption whatsoever. It is an extremely slippery slope. Bureaucrazy (typo, but I like it) is too large as it is. And, how would you punish "violators?" Fine people who can't afford it? Take away the kids? Lock them up? This would all burden society even more.

Francois Tremblay said...

Vasectomies and forced abortions.

Artemis said...

Forcing an abortion and vasectomies in people can cause a huge damage to many people´s mind. For abortions, for example, it is as bad as seeing a beloved one being killed in front of you, while you can not do anything to defend. Vasectomies are a bit traumatizing too, since many, many men still thinks it will cause some damage in their sexual relationships. It would also mean causing pain and suffering, maybe people would even kill themselves because of that. I agree with some other post who said the government should make it easier to protect pregnancy and give abortions (which that way would be a choice, so not much of a harm), also making population more conscious about parenthood/childbirth and promote childfreedom as much valid and fulfilling.

Francois Tremblay said...

Actually, it is a common belief that abortions are psychologically damaging, but that's not true. According to a Danish study done on 350,000 women (Induced First-Trimester Abortion and Risk of Mental Disorder, NEJM 2011), women who give birth are tremendously more at risk of psychiatric problems (72% rise in cases) than woman who get abortions (4% rise in cases).

Artemis said...

If it is a forced abortion, of someone who wants to have a kid, it does cause damage. It is also high the amount of women who wants a baby, finally get pregnant but ended up loosing the child. My intention was nor talk about abortions that women choose to have, those are almost a no problem issue.

Francois Tremblay said...

Since you bring no evidence to the table, I looked for some and only found one study. It seems to somewhat contradict your claim:

"The short-term emotional reactions to miscarriage appear to be larger and more powerful than those to induced abortion. In the long term, however, women who had induced abortion reported significantly more avoidance of thoughts and feelings related to the event than women who had a miscarriage."