It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Interview Question, Fifth and Final: Parenting License?

5. Some people say that people should have to obtain a License To Parent before they are allowed to bring a child into the world. The implication is, some kind accreditation is necessary to do the job right. You’ve worked with lots of untrained mommies and daddies. Are children at risk or otherwise held back by parental ignorance?

“Are children at risk or held back by parental ignorance?” If the ignorance is profound, yes. Most of us, however, trained or untrained, know to feed our children when they’re hungry, hug them often, and not to lock them in closets and hit them with sticks.

Are they at risk or held back if the ignorance is just garden-variety inexperience? No.

The idea of licensing parents is not new, of course, and there’s something to be said for the idea that we have to have a license to drive a car or own a pet, but not for something as life-altering as raising a child.

However, there is a right and a wrong way to drive a car. The rules for driving safely are clear and readily taught. A test can determine with reasonable accuracy whether or not a person is safe on the roads.

Pet licensing is more a public health/administrative issue than anything else – pets are licensed so they can be returned to their owners should they get lost, so there’s a mechanism to monitor that they’re all getting their legally-mandated innoculations, that sort of thing. We have birth certificates and innoculation records for our children which accomplish the same things.

My question has always been: who would dole out the parenting licenses? Who would determine the curriculum? What would make it onto the curriculum?

These things are so culturally-based. Moreover, they shift over the years. Parenting is just as influenced by trends and fads as anything else, and, fads as we all know, are mostly ephemeral dross. Pretty and appealing at the moment, perhaps, but with little lasting value.

Here’s only one of many, many examples: We believe that it’s vital that children be bathed in language, that communication be facilitated as soon as possible, that parents ease a child into language learning by interaction, simplified speech, repetition, and talk, talk, talk. Did you know that not all cultures believe this? That some cultures speak to their children as they would to adults? That at least one doesn’t speak directly to them at all until the child begins to speak? (In this latter culture, mind you, the children are always with adults or other children, so they hear language constantly. They are just not spoken to very much. Language is not cut up into bite-sized chunks for them.) And yet in all these cultures, the children learn to speak, speak well and fluently?

See my point? We believe you must speak to your children to encourage language acquisition; we believe this is a total and complete given. But it’s not. There is astonishingly little that can be unequivocably identified as “good” or “bad”, or “strong and effective” or “weak and handicapping”. It’s just not so clear-cut.

Who, then, would have the right and the authority to say “You may have a child and you may not.”? On the basis of what skill set and knowledge? Would physical health be a factor? Could a handicapped person be refused a license? Or a person whose family history makes them more likely to die before the task of raising the child was finished?

What would you do about accidental pregnancies to unlicensed parents – scoop the kid at birth to give to a more “qualified” parent?

Although it’s undeniably good to be prepared for parenting, I believe a license is at best of questionable value, and at worse, actively detrimental to parents and families. How does one prepare for parenting, then? Hang out with kids. Babysit. Volunteer at a daycare or a day camp. Just get yourself a little face-time with some children.

And you’ll do just fine. Even without a license.

October 29, 2007 Posted by | memes and quizzes, parenting | 12 Comments