Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Safety Dance

Lawmakers in Nebraska recently amended a safe haven law that allowed parents to drop their children off at designated “safe hospitals” or police stations, avoiding punishment for criminal abandonment. This type of law exists in all US states to reduce the cases of infanticide among parents who kill or dump their newborns. What made the Nebraska law unique prior to the recent amendment was the absence of an age stipulation thus allowing parents to leave a child of any age under 18 without retribution. Much to the surprise of lawmakers, teenagers started flooding the safe-haven hospitals as parents from Nebraska and states far beyond used a law meant to save infants to save themselves from their out of control children. People pointing fingers at who is responsible for the needs of these children; laying blame on everyone from government, for providing little to no support to parents in need, to the parents themselves for not taking personal responsibility to care for or control their offspring. Social advocates are crying out for more mental health benefits and protestors are claiming these parents are lazy and gave up too easily on their responsibilities. Through it all no one is asking the question; why did these parents have children they couldn’t care for in the first place?

I feel sorry for the parents who felt they had no other choice but to leave their children with authorities. I don’t feel sorry because they should receive more support from their state or local governments or because they reached the end of their rope; I feel sorry because these parents probably never realized that having children was optional. How many of these parents did not receive proper education on practicing birth control? How many of these parents were ill-equipped financially, emotionally, socially, or physically to have and raise children? How many family members, churches, communities, and news outlets are guilty of preaching the benefits of having children without providing the fair and balanced reporting of all the challenges and drawbacks?

People assume that everyone can and should have children without thinking of the consequences of those assumptions. How is giving up a child, or teenager, you cannot support any more socially and ethically irresponsible then suppressing the reality that raising children is not all fun and games? Rarely do people assess a person or couple and formulate the opinion that they should not have children. On the contrary society perpetuates the belief that all people should become parents. As any childfree person can attest to there is a huge amount of pressure from friends, family, strangers, and the media to conform to social norms and have children regardless of capacity to care for and raise those children. Parents who utilized the Nebraska Safe Haven law could have conceivably been on the receiving end of “bingoes,” insults heard by the childfree, before creating these children they ultimately couldn’t handle. Is someone guilty of convincing them to go against their instinct with arguments like “it’s different when they are your own,” “it just comes naturally,” or “everyone has kids, it’s just what you do.” Even more common, did they just not even stop and consider that having children might not be right for them?

The children surrendered to Nebraska authorities serve as reminders that there are some people that parenting does not come naturally to, that sometimes it isn’t “different when they are your own,” and some people are not fulfilled by their children. People have the right to understand all that raising children entails; go in with open eyes or don’t go in at all. It is socially irresponsible to pretend that parenting is easy, to canonize families who have more children then they can raise or afford, or to promote the myth of the perfect family. Not every child is born “perfect,” not everyone women is healthy enough to bear children, and not every person has the support network necessary to raise a healthy and happy child. Am I advocating policies that allow parents to “throw in the towel” when the going gets tough? No, I am advocating we all take responsibility in promoting a country where people fully understand the pros and cons of having children and have the ability and support to choose the path most appropriate for them. It is not the responsibility of the state, the country, or the taxpayer to take care of people’s children, but it is the responsibility of each of us to openly and honestly discuss parental responsibilities for people who are not yet parents and support those who choose a childfree life.


Claire said...

VERY well-written! I've thought for a while now that people need to be educated on this subject. It's amazing to me how many people don't realize that not having children is actually an option. Perhaps if more attention was given to this subject (rather than just calling us child-haters or feeling sorry for us), we'd hear less "Now, I love my kids, but if I had it to do over again..."

Nursedude said...

The Nebraska law was well meaning, but poorly written, and it was taken advantage of-there were some people who came from a LONG ways away to dump their kids in the Cornhusker State. Sad to think of all of these throw away kids...

As the saying goes, we can't pick our parents, can we?