Helicopter parenting, abortion, and childlessness: an ounce of prevention too often absent in America.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,”  is one of those tried and true axioms that underscore common sense.  It costs less money to build a sturdy house than it does to rescue a family trapped in a poorly built one that collapses during a storm (see data on this in American Poverty:  Why America’s Treatment of the Poor Undermines Its Authority as a World Power). It costs less to vaccinate your children than it does to treat a life-threatening and highly preventable disease like polio or measles.  It costs less to abstain from smoking than it does to treat smoking-related diseases.

We all know this axiom.  Yet sadly in the United States, common sense is lacking on some of the most important decisions of our lives.  Let’s start with the Pope Francis’ recent comments regarding couples who consciously decide not to have children.  On the 11th February 2015 UK’s The Guardian reported Pope Francis’ remarks, “A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society…. The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”

So deciding not to have children is selfish according to the pope.  But is it really?  In making his universal claim that deciding not to have children is selfish, the pope ignores that there are many very solid reasons for delaying or foregoing childbearing.  Economics is a key consideration.  Children cost money to raise.  This should be obvious and common sense.  Bringing a child into the world is not free — not before birth, not during birth, and not after birth. The physical needs of children must be attended to and provided for by their parents on a daily basis along with their educational, intellectual, and social needs.  Most if not all of this costs money and resources which are not easy to provide even under the best of circumstances.  Calling someone selfish and belittling someone for recognizing this is not only uncalled for, but it punishes those who are most responsible.

I am one of them.  At the time of writing this blog post, I do not have the material resources to properly provide for a child.  Though I think I have the potential to become a good parent someday, I recognize that right now I am not able to properly provide for a child.

To me this is being responsible.  This is me caring about quality of life over the quantity of life.  The pope should not be calling those of us who make the responsible choice selfish; he should be praising us for caring about the quality of life for every child that comes into this world.

Contraception and abortion also feed into this.  The child that is not born is the one that does not need to be provided for.  While in general I do not like abortion, I know that it is not for me to decide for anyone else how that person should live nor do I want anyone else deciding for me what I can or should do.  These are personal choices that touch upon the most intimate part of our lives; in a free society no one intrudes into our private lives unless we are somehow jeopardizing the lives of another (hence I do believe in mandatory vaccination for diseases like polio and measles).  Whether I take a pill or a fellow I am intimate with uses a condom or not is for him and I, not the state, not my neighbours, not some religious group or business to decide.

It is common sense that all pregnancies should be planned for, that all children born should be born with a reasonable expectation of living in a loving family where every need is met and where the child can grow up in safety.  And if this is not possible for an individual or couple at any given time, it is common sense for them to take precautions to prevent the pregnancy without interference or pressure from anyone else.

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One final area of common sense and parenting I see sorely lacking:  “free range” parenting.  Free range parenting is what our hyper-protective society now calls common sense parenting.  For some very bizarre reason we now consider helicopter parenting normal in the United States, that tendency to perpetually treat anyone under the age of 18 as a helpless infant who needs to be wrapped in bubble wrap and never exposed to anything that could potentially cause injury, disease, or danger of any sort.

There are two major problems with helicopter parenting.  Firstly, it creates dependency.  Children never learn to do for themselves because they are never expected to do anything for themselves.  The purpose of childhood is to learn the skills needed to survive as adults from a position of reasonable safety.  A human child is not born running nor does a baby bird come out of the egg flying.  For every living being there is a process of learning.  You learn by doing.  Helicopter parenting destroys this process; children never get to do anything because there is a risk something bad might happen.  Therefore children never learn to do anything.

Story Which brings us to point two:  helicopter parenting destroys competence. If you never experience the discomfort of trial and error, never experience failure or stress, you never learn anything and never learn how to do anything.  The child who is never expected to set the table or clean her room or cook for the family never learns how to do these things for herself at the time when it is easiest to teach these life skills.  When she turns eighteen (legal adulthood in the United States) she enters university and her own home having absolutely no idea how to do the most mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, washing clothing, and managing her time effectively.  She does not know how to study.  She does not know how to fulfill the obligations of the work place.  She does not know how to be self responsible.

She fails.  Only since she is a legal adult, there is no help for her.  Society says “too bad; here are the consequences for your failure.”    Often she knows of only one solution:  move back in with mom and dad where she expects to receive everything she received when she was younger.

She never learns how to survive on her own.

Rather than punishing people for responsible choices, we need to praise them.  We need to praise the couple working two jobs who knows that they cannot provide properly for a child and chooses to not have children.  We need to facilitate use of contraception and respect those who choose to end existing pregnancies for making what is usually a very hard decision.  And we especially need to encourage “free range” parenting, the parenting style that facilitates competence in children by expecting them to do for themselves and giving them the space to learn from experience.

I want to make it clear that there is a line between negligence and free range parenting.  Negligence is not caring.  It is ignoring the child when s/he asks for help or brings a problem to the parent’s attention.  It is making excuses for ignoring the child’s request for help.   Free range parenting is caring so much about the child that the parent lets the child practice independence and develop competence.  Not one expert in anything started out that way.  To me a good parent allows her or his child to work through the learning process.  Experience is the best teacher of all.  Instead of hovering, we need to keep a safe but proper distance that shows we love our children and we care without smothering, without creating dependency.  Good parents let their children do for themselves.  Good parents trust their children and gradually let go as the child matures.  Teach your children properly and there is no reason to hover.

This is what I call common sense.  This is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure.

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