Sign in / Join

What children need

One of the more appealing-sounding arguments in the social conservative arsenal is that children need a mother and a father. This is often trotted out as an argument against same-sex marriage. But is it? I could even agree with this claim.

It seems likely that children benefit from having two nurturing and attentive parents of opposite sexes. But this argument, such as it is, is based on an idealized two-parent family on the model of the 1950s television sitcom “Father Knows Best.” But for many people, changing social and economic circumstances have made that model difficult, if not impossible. Single women bear and rear children, parents divorce. Increasingly both parents work, leaving little time for child-rearing. In recognition of these realities, almost every state allows single-parent adoption. The argument is that having one parent is better than having no parents at all. And nothing prevents two men or two women with a child from living together and rearing a child together.

As gay advocates often point out, children benefit from having two legally married parents who assume legal and financial responsibility for child care and support. But the social conservative argument does cut against several current social phenomena. It sounds more than anything like an argument against single mothers having and rearing children. And what about parents with a deceased partner?

Then too, increasing numbers of parents both work and come home tired at the end of the day. And I’m impressed by the number of single (or divorced or whatever) women who work two jobs to support their family. When do they have time to be an involved and supportive parent? To me, everything would seem to depend on the quality of the parenting. Two parents can divide the responsibilities of parenting. I grew up with two parents and found it supportive and nurturing. Sitting on either side of me, my parents taught me phonics. My parents read to me in the evenings or when I was sick (Don Quixote, King Arthur, Penrod).

We played word games, board games, card games and lawn games together: Clue, Parchesil hearts, Old Maid, Croquet, badminton, Frisbee. My father repeatedly offered to play catch, though I did not respond well to that. Still, the point was clear that he was willing to take the time to do it if I wanted. In defense of single sex parents, and in response to conservative fears that children will learn limited options for adult role behavior, it could be pointed out that most lesbians and gay men have good friends and relatives of the opposite sex (aunts, uncles), and their children doubtless have friends who have opposite-sex parents. Those men and women would constitute substantial role models.

And surely much depends on parents, same-sex or opposite sex, demonstrating affection for each other, so children grow up with the idea that their parents love each other and the homelife is stable and secure. So I wish social conservatives would stress quality of parenting rather than the number or gender of the parents.

Leave a reply