Well, we have survived another Mother’s Day. But what is the holiday really all about, besides an excuse to sell chocolates, flowers, greeting cards and a bit of guilt? Why should we “celebrate” motherhood, when motherhood itself is under attack, or at least, undergoing some kind of cultural renovation?
The term “mother” is a natural concept: a mother is the female parent, the woman who gave birth to a child. This word, “mother,” is perfectly intelligible to the whole human race. If we ask, “who is this child’s mother?” the natural answer is, “the woman who gave birth to the child.”
When the mother cannot take care of the child for some reason, Western society has created adoption as a way of helping the child. When a child is adopted, the child receives a new set of parents who have complete parental rights. We don’t let the biological mother keep some rights, and pass out some rights to the adoptive parents. Western law has traditionally done its best to replicate biological parenthood as closely as possible.
In addition to identifying a particular woman as a child’s mother, the law excludes all other women. The nice lady next door, your second grade teacher, no matter how dear they may be, these women are not your mother. The law recognizes one woman, and excludes all others, as mother of the child.
WHY EXCLUSIVE PARENTAL RIGHTS MAKE SENSE
As a woman who has given birth to a child, who has been an adoptive mother, and who has been a foster mother, I think I know what I’m talking about here. It really wouldn’t have been good for our son for us to share parental rights with his birth mother in Romania. And we actually did kind of share parental rights with the birth parents and the social workers when we were foster parents. The birth parents did not have custody of their children, but they still had the right to see their children.
We had to take care of the kids on a daily basis, even though we didn’t have parental rights. We got to listen to parents second-guessing our parenting decisions, even parents who were making supervised phone calls from jail. It was a big deal for me to obtain temporary rights to make education decisions. The social workers had the final say so about health care and other things, even though the social workers didn’t have day to day contact with the children. Sharing parental rights is a mess really, something to be done only in dire circumstances, not something to be made normal or routine.
ADULT DESIRES COMPETING WITH A CHILD’S NEEDS
But the legal system is changing the very idea of motherhood, at the urging of the Sex Law Radicals. This is only in part due to the desires for same sex couples to have children. A whole variety of people would like parental rights, without making commitments to the child’s other natural parent. So motherhood and fatherhood must be redefined to accommodate these adult desires.
Motherhood need not be an exclusive status, they say. The Sex Radicals who authored Beyond Same Sex Marriage believe that “Committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner,” and “Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households” are just as worthy of public recognition and support as any other households.
Children can have multiple parents, with different sets of rights and responsibilities toward them. Listen to law professor Melanie Jacobs, for instance, in the abstract to her article, Why Just Two? Disaggregating Traditional Parental Rights and Responsibilities to Recognize Multiple Parents:
“At present, the establishment of legal parentage entails all of the responsibilities of parentage, such as financial and medical support, and all of the benefits, such as the right to custody and visitation. By delinking and disaggregating all of these rights and responsibilities, more than two individuals may hold the designation of “legal parent” yet each can make different contributions. I suggest that disaggregating parentage should allow for recognition of all the relevant adults in a child’s life, yet not grant equal parental rights to all individuals, unless specifically agreed upon.”
Just like the foster kids. Great idea, professor.
EVERY CHILD A FOSTER CHILD?
By the time the Sex Law Radicals are done redefining marriage and parenthood, every child will be a foster child, attached to adults by the sufferance of the state. Biological parents need not have any particular status relative to other adults who may be hanging around. And the adults who actually do the work of parenting may or may not be able to become the exclusive parents, since the function of excluding people from parental status will be irretrievably blurred.
Of course, recognizing the unique status of the woman who gave us birth does not dishonor the many other women whom we celebrate on Mother’s Day. This holiday is first and foremost one of gratitude to the women who have nurtured us in a multitude of ways. People honor their aunts and grandmothers, their big sisters and their godmothers, their stepmothers and their special friends.
We choose whom we honor, based on what they have done for us. Mother’s Day is a celebration of feminine nurturing, in all its forms. This is why it is quite possible for Mother’s Day to have meaning, even if your mother is no longer living, even if you yourself have no children.
But we decide whom to honor, from our own perspective as adults. Allowing the government to disaggregate parenthood is not a service to children, or to human liberty. The government is trying to redefine parenthood, at the urging of the Sex Law Radicals. I don’t believe anyone is going to be happy with the outcome, with the possible exception of the governmental officials who will come to make their livings from redefining and regulating other people’s lives. The decent thing to do is to leave motherhood alone.