Parental Responsibility Simplified

[Blogger's note: If you haven't read the previous post, you're probably not going to have any idea what the fuck I'm talking about, so you may want to click that link.]


If you are a human being, you are a mammal.

One of the characteristics of mammals is that they (mostly) give birth to smaller, fairly defenseless, DNA-modified versions of themselves that must be cared for, fed, and protected by their parent(s) for a period of time. (Don't go all "Oh, she's heartless and detached about children!" on me at this point -- we have a lot of ground to cover, and I've actually parented three children in my life.)

In the case of human offspring, there is Phase 1 --the Entirely-Defenseless period -- this lasts one - two years (the actual time-period is fluid for each new human). During this Phase, I believe that providing all of the "List #1: Survival" needs for human offspring is the responsibility of the parents of the offspring. (Yes, I said "parent-s").

(I want to acknowledge at this point that I believe that humans are probably "hard-wired" to reproduce. However, I don't think that reproduction necessarily belongs on List #1 from my last post, given the fact that the reproductive systems of humans shut down pretty quickly if List #1 needs are not fully addressed.)

If you are a parent, I believe that, during Phase 1, protecting and nurturing that entirely defenseless child is the secondary duty of both parents (primary duty being: Attending to List #1 for yourselves first: making sure that you eat, maintain survivable body temp, and eliminate - cuz if you're both dead, baby ain't gonna stand a chance).

In my belief system, if you made a human child --specifically -- if you contributed either the egg or sperm that made the child, you have a mammalian responsibility to protect and nurture your offspring.

In some human cultures, you can, by various forms of agreement (tacit or written) sign away both your mammalian rights and responsibilities for any offspring you create -- most human cultures have extensive agreements about fostering, adopting, and rearing children -- but until/unless you actively participate in such agreements, I believe that you still have purely mammalian rights/responsibilities for your offspring.

(Now, before you go all . . . . . "But what about Teh Lionz!? Male lionz don't stick around to protect and nurture their offspring!" -- Wake up. Snap out of it. You're not a lion, OK?)

After the entirely-defenseless period for humans (Phase 1), there is the mostly-defenseless period (Phase 2).

During Phase 2, offspring is now able to:

  1. Put things in own mouth,
  2. Coordinate eye/hand enough to open cabinet under kitchen sink, locate deadly chemicals and put in own mouth,
  3. Ambulate well enough to explore surroundings and locate all available precipices from which is it is possible to fall to one's death.
However -- during Phase 2, offspring is generally NOT: Big enough to fight off predators, strong enough to build shelter during snowstorm/hurricane, or tall enough to reach apples on tree.

I believe that, during Phase 2, the parents of the human child are responsible for protection, food- and shelter-sharing, and providing as much training and information as the child is able to assimilate about how to fight off predators, create/obtain shelter, and get apples off a tree even if you are too short to reach them (just in case the parents both croak before the mostly-defenseless offspring enters Phase 3 -- keep reading).

Phase 3 -- The "Big-Enough/Strong-Enough But Not Yet Truly Adult" period (aka pre-adolescence), where children, naturally enough, spend a lot of time experimenting with fighting off predators (engaging the "Bubbas" or "Heathers" at school), creating their own shelters (sign posted on offspring's bedroom door: "_____'s Room. Keep Out"), and getting their own apples off the tree (sometimes this means shoplifting bags of Lay's potato chips at Subway . . . . . please don't ask how I know this --*sigh*).

During this Phase, I believe that the major parental obligation/responsibility is to teach children about how to do all of these things without getting killed/incarcerated.

Then there is Phase 4 -- when the "child" becomes capable of making other children.

Actually, "Phase 4" is not a stage of childhood at all.

That's right -- Sorry Folks! -- When your offspring reach Phase 4, you are no longer actually necessary as protector/nurturer/trainer anymore -- in aboriginal cultures, once a girl begins her menses, or a boy begins to grow a beard, they are initiated into adulthood, and the "training" duties pass to the community, which collectively teaches the new adult how to be an adult within that particular culture. (Just because western culture fucks this up entirely by attempting to keep young adults as "children" until they are 18/21/[fill-in-an-arbitrary-age here] doesn't mean that the little mammal that you gave eggs/semen to help create doesn't realize exactly what power they possess as a newly-minted possible-progenitor of future generations.)

So, how does this relate to my previous post on Equal Relationship?

In my belief-system, even though you are individually responsible for your own survival (List 1) and thrival (List 2) -- once you make a child, you and the other DNA-donor (whether they have donated egg or sperm) have now entered your first truly "joint" venture-- a human being which is your mutual responsibility -- at least until it reaches Phase 4.

Once again, you can swap areas of responsibility (like: "You go out and find some apples while I stay here and keep the kid from being killed or accidentally killing itself" [insert your own "falling down the stairs/getting into the wrong cabinet" story here]) -- but in essence, I believe that, for humans, the overall protection and nurturing of offspring is a joint responsibility of both the DNA donors unless negotiated otherwise by mutual agreement.

I believe that a lot of the diversity that is demonstrated in various human cultures in terms of gender roles is probably a result of enculturated agreements about this "responsibility-swap" as regards child-rearing (in addition to cultural belief-systems about pregnancy and nursing).

I want to be very clear that I am speaking from my own experience in one culture -- specifically, the United States of America version of "western culture" -- and I am completely aware that my conclusions are biased by that culture, and also by regionalization within that culture.

That said, let's start with pregnancy.

When I was growing up, pregnancy seemed to exist in a completely schizophrenic state -- it was both "Blessed Event" and "Dire Disease".

On the one hand, anyone who didn't have children was assumed to be either slightly weird or pitiable (as in the hushed whisper: "They can't have children, you know." "Oh, that's so sad!") "Raising A Family" was touted as the be-all and end-all of human existence, and was constantly misrepresented glorified by "Leave It to Beaver", "Father Knows Best", and "Ozzie and Harriet".

On the other hand, women were supposed to "hide" the fact that they were pregnant for as long as possible with blousy maternity-wear, and once they were really "showing", they were supposed to stay out of sight as much as possible. You could not use the word "pregnant" or "pregnancy" on television. ("I Love Lucy" used the word "expecting", and Lucy's on-screen pregnancy was only the second ever hinted at on TV. All this, in a "family-happy" society -- weird, huh?)

Child-birth was an event that was to be handled strictly by doctors, in a hospital, usually under anesthetic. It was a procedure.

The only pregnant woman that I remember actually seeing "up close and personal" prior to 1967 or so (age 11 for me) was my aunt, even though my daily life was packed with families who had, on average, at least 4 children (I was the youngest of four, so I never saw my mother pregnant). A pregnant woman was, in effect, regarded as being "ill".

Times have changed since then, in the culture I inhabit (Thank God!). However, I was raised by people for whom these assumptions ("You must have children, but you must not actually acknowledge the "icky" process of having children.") were un-questioned "What Is So"s.

To deny that I absorbed part of these taboos and attitudes would be completely ridiculous (even if my reaction to them was to reject most of them out-of-hand).

But I digress.

My point is this: I think that there actually is a sort of "responsibility-swap" in pregnancy that is governed by Nature -- a man and a woman swap DNA equally in the act of conception, but the woman serves as the incubator for the actual body of the child (in most cases).

During pregnancy, depending on how everything goes, the mother-to-be may be partially or wholly unable to do some of the things on List #1 and/or List #2, while the father-to-be is generally not hindered in these activities by virtue of the pregnancy. The mother-to-be incurs impacts on her physical health and well-being that the father-to-be does not share.

If the woman chooses to nurse the child to weaning, physical impacts may continue for months or years (depending on whose theory of nursing you choose to follow). If the child is living primarily on mother's milk for the first part of its life, there is the proximity-to-milk issue that has to be addressed, which may also hinder the mother's ability to take care of all of her List #1 and 2 responsibilities -- there are also nutritional and energetic concerns that arise when you are literally feeding another being through your own body's processing system (I could include some particular anecdotes here, but I won't unless you ask about it in comments).

During this time, from a "pass-your-DNA-along" hard-wired perspective, it's clearly an advantage to the father to make sure that both mother and baby stay alive. He will probably end up picking up some of the slack on mom's "lists" (both #1 and #2, but certainly #1), if he wants his progeny to survive and his partner to be around for further progeny-making/child-rearing and/or the various joys of relating to that particular partner.

That's the swap that Nature imposes on our male/female reproducing system.

However, it's my hypothesis that this swap mostly has to do with List #1 - Survival, and that since List #2 is a randomly-shifting array of optionals that may be profoundly shaped by our social/racial/class/religious, etc. backgrounds and/or our current circumstances, we're probably going to be way better off if we negotiate List #2 separately.

Case in point: When the baby arrives, ever notice how everything but List #1 seems to fly out the window? I have watched, time and again, parents-to-be awaiting their bundle of joy with wide-eyed idealism, thinking that they are going to be the "perfect parents" and maintain an immaculate house. Ha!

In those first months, new parents usually find that their revulsion for dust-bunnies dwindles to naught as they discover that finding time to eat, take a shit, keep warm/cool, and get some fucking sleep! (Oh yeah -- sleep -- how did I forget about sleep on List #1? -- Duly Noted: Probably need to add "Get Some Fucking Sleep" to List #1), while simultaneously making sure that this tiny, completely defenseless human being also eats, urinates/takes a shit, keeps warm/cool, and sleeps -- constitutes a full time job for two -- and then some.

(Did that last paragraph seem like an endless stream of sub-sentences? Welcome to parenthood.)

The first three months of parenthood is a fantastic tool for figuring out just how "optional" your optional-imperatives really are -- you find that you really can go on living if there is a stinky diaper-pail in your previously febreeze-fresh or incense-saturated abode, that you will not perish if the dishes don't get done, and that you have suddenly developed the ability to say "Hey! I have a swell idea . . . . . fuck off, won't you?!" -- when someone criticizes your housekeeping.

Oh, wait a minute. I think I was trying to express "Parental Responsibility SIMPLIFIED", right?

Suddenly, I realize that I may have to take this in "phases".

OK then.

Phase I -- Entirely Defenseless Human:

Parental Mission (equally shared by sperm and egg donor, unless one of them has signed away their rights/responsibilities):
  1. KEEP BABY ALIVE (and by inference, keep anyone whose breast-milk is keeping the baby alive, and anyone who is supplying food to breast-milk provider alive, and anyone who is providing temperature maintenance/hygienic elimination services to all involved alive).
That's it for the Phase I -- Now doesn't that seem simple?

Oh, don't freak out. I'm not nearly done yet. Stay tuned for Phase 2.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:59 PM  


NameChanged said... October 22, 2007 at 7:40 PM  

I wait with baited breath. My major concern is that I never have been much on housework anyways (and neither is the other DNA donor) and so I fear a quick spiral into squalor.

TheCunningRunt said... October 23, 2007 at 6:43 PM  

I also wait with Bait Breath...

I find it interesting that most of us, me included, have done/will do all of this without being consciously aware of the role of Maslow's Hierarchy in our decision making process, and that those who don't, will pay dearly for it.

Your clarity and cogency always amaze me, gurrrl! It will be fun to see where you're going with all this.

Lambness said... October 23, 2007 at 10:19 PM  

Studies find that babies have one other thing on their List #1: loving contact. And if'n they aren't talked to, for example, they lose their capacity for language after a certain point.

PortlyDyke said... October 23, 2007 at 10:27 PM  

My own personal studies have found that to be true, too, lambness.

In this series, however, I'll start with the basics for parental responsibility -- although I reckon a post or two about what offspring need might not be too far down the 'pike. ;)

GuyFromOhio said... October 24, 2007 at 11:31 AM  

Good stuff, I've been meditating on gender roles (both hardwired and programmed) and what to attempt to teach our offspring. We (SO & I) have really complicated the picture with lots of mutually agreed contracts.

I'm itching to know what inspired this - and with two wanna-be parents circling nearby, I'm also itching to read how it progresses/concludes.

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