The Philosophical Parent: Wanting an X Kid

More about choosing children...

Alot of children arrive serendipitously, and they are still a joy, and everyone lives happily ever after. Still, there are lots and lots of reasons to believe in family planning, and I think many people do choose to have children. And how they choose is interesting. Some ways of making the choice are better than others, and in particular better for children (or so it seems).

So, more about the baby urge. Lots of helpful comments yesterday...and I thought about my own desire for children some more. If you look closely at the desire for a baby, you might find that it includes desires for a certain sort of possession ("my child"--a very resonant phrase), desires to be pregnant or to impregnate (not sure about the last), to merge (in a certain way!) with someone, etc.

None of those elements of the baby urge concern the nature of the baby. That strikes me as all to the good. It's hazardous to the baby's future when a parent wants a...girl, a boy, an athlete, a partner for the family business, an extra hand on the farm, a musician, a body-part donor to help out their first child. (There's a movie about that last situation coming out soon.)

If you want a baby just to have a baby and (by the way) it would be nice if the kid were an athletic girl, that would be fine. In that case, you are receptive to whatever comes along, but happen to prefer certain things. But it's very hard to tell the difference between a strong preference (I want an X and only an X) and a mild preference (I don't really care, but it would be nice to have a girl).

You'd think you could just introspect and find out how pivotal a particular preference is, but it doesn't seem as if you can. You're only really going to find out how seriously you wanted...a girl...a body-part donor for your first child...an athlete...if you don't get what you wanted. And then it seems the child is worse off for your having had specific desires.

So, when it comes to the baby-urge, the less specificity the better. It's fine to want a red car. Not fine to want a red-headed child. Which strikes me as surprising.


s. wallerstein said...

I agree. Children aren't narcissistic extensions of their parents, and sooner or later, as I said in the other post, are going to take their own road in life. And if they don't take their own road, who are they? What kind of parent would want to be around a child who is his or her clon or who is a kind of robot programmed to have the attitudes and life-style that the parent wanted him or her to have or a clock wound up at birth by a deist divinity called parent? Parents who want to control their children's destiny to the smallest detail do exist, but they generally get a diminished, castrated version of the model
that they pay for.

Faust said...

I don't know about this.

I don't have time to write up a detailed response, but while I think it very obvious that parents shouldn't become "overly attatched" to a particular outcome that their child needs to live up to, it's not obvious that they shouldn't strongly encourage such and such and so and so.

Amos has pointed out that one can treat their child with less than perfect manners and wind up with a well adjusted child, and conversely move heavan and earth for a child and wind up with problems. There may be typical patterns associated with certain kinds of parenting, but my guess is that there is no definitive account of what is best here.

Take Tiger Woods for example. By all accounts his father pushed him HARD from an early age to be a golfer. Now he is arguably the greatest golfer that has ever lived. Now: does TW regret that his father molded him in this way? Can we seriously suggest that this program his father engaged in was bad? I'm not sure that we can make sense of such an assertion.

s. wallerstein said...

Faust: I don't know anything about Tiger Woods. There is a difference between forcing a child into a mold and allowing him to develop his talents. Mozart? The late Michael Jackson? Then again, some parents are better at brainwashing their kids than others or at establishing parental hegemony over their children's worldview. I know more cases like the two that follow:
1. A: born into a family of concert violinists, she was trained as one from an early age. Gave it up. Studied psychology. Gave it up. Studied theater. Gave it up. Married. Gave it up. Now in her late 20's and living with her parents once again, her mother decided that given that there was less competition among cellists, A could study cello. She did. Auditioned everywhere. Failed. Now in her 30's, totally dependent on her mother in economic terms, full of resentment and anger towards her mother, she dedicates her life to an esoteric cult.
P. From the day of her birth, it was decided that like her mother, she would study at the same elite 7 sisters' college as mother did, wear clothes with certain elite brand names, play golf and piano and marry an affluent (they never would say "rich") Jewish lawyer: doctors for some reason were lower on the family pecking order. P didn't go to a seven sister's school, wears nothing but blue jeans, married a working class Jew, hates golf, and neither she nor her mother have ever been able to hold a meaningful conversation since she was around age 12, that is, 50 years ago.

Jean Kazez said...

Maybe TW's father was responding to abilities that he saw in little Tiger. If so, maybe that's fine.

It's another thing to want a certain kind of kid, before you've even conceived. If you want an athlete at that point, you're setting yourself up to find the kid you wind up with a disappointment...because these things just aren't predictable.

Of course, sometimes you get just what you want and things turn out peachy. I'm just talking about risks, not inevitabilities.

Faust said...

Maybe he was responding to Tiger's abilities, but from what I've read he was harcore from day one. Really hardcore. Obviously there was fortuitous synergy there.

My larger point is that the synergy itself is mysterious. My father was driven by his father to become an academic. He resents that a bit and he wanted me to be free to be whatever I want. As it happens I think I might have prefered to be an academic and wouldn't have minded being encouraged more strongly in that direction. These things are very complicated. I don't think there is a way to turn it into a program, and I don't think that it is obviously better to have your kid do "whatever they want" than it is to push them hard in a particular direction. Both can work, there are lots of variables.

The best thing to do is to somehow see some pattern in your kid, some combination of talent and inclination and then encourage it as vigorously as you can. That seems like a good recipie for sucess but if you turn it into a program it's going to produce negative results in some cases.

Any time you turn a child into an IT more than a THOU you are going to have problems.

s. wallerstein said...

Faust: Let me play the devil's advocate. Isn't it better that a child learn for himself what he wants, even if a parent, being older, can see that what the child thinks that he wants isn't what he ultimately will want? Obviously, in terms of success and future income, it's better that a parent point a child towards areas where he can flourish, especially when a child has a distorted idea, as children tend to have, about his strengths and weaknesses. However, I see a special value in a person, in this case, a child, learning for himself who he is and what he wants, learning often through failures and mistakes, a value that outweighs success and income. I can't justify that perception of value on rational grounds, but it's fairly basic for me.

Faust said...

Well I think that it can be seen as a delicate balancing act with it being better to err on the side of allowing the child freedom rather than being overbearing.

But I have deep suspicions about how "free" people are in general and that includes the little people too. I think this Rouseauian notion that deep inside people there is a natural core that just needs to be let out to express itself, or that needs to find its own way is itself vulnerable to a kind of spiritual materialism.

And it's quite the luxury. Many people don't begin with many options, don't get to choose between guitar and piano lessons or ballet and ice skating, and would be well served by being driven to study and train to escape the trajectory that many lower income people tend to be on.

My larger point though is NOT to suggest that we should raise children this way rather than that but to protest the notion that it is ever obvious that one way is better than another. The only way to know in the end is to find the fully formed adult, preferably around the age of 30 and say:

So. How did that all work out for you? Pretty much whatever they say...I think you have to take that as if not the final verdict then pretty important data on the value of whatever method was used to raise them.

s. wallerstein said...

Faust: I'm not a Rousseau fan myself. I agree that there's not a natural core to each being, waiting to express itself. What most people call freedom is to opt for one or another desire that one has internalized from society or one's parents or the media. I agree that not everyone can opt between piano lessons or tennis classes, but poor people, at least those above the level of starvation, have options: perhaps between accepting their poverty, escaping from poverty as an individual solution (either through work or crime), and working towards political solutions to the unjust distribution of wealth.

Acquired Taste said...

At first I was in complete agreement with Jean, and I still am for the traits you describe, but I wonder if there aren't some exceptions.

First, previously you'd suggested that there might be an obligation to pass on fabulous genes. I doubt there is, but if so, then one wouldn't just want a baby but a baby with fabulous genes. Something similar would go child who'd save the world or whatever.

Second, perhaps less controversially, what about some basic moral qualities? Say, I want a baby who will grow up to be a decent human being, or have a good sense of fair play, or something like that.

Third, perhaps more controversially, what about passing on ethnic identities? If these are conceived loosely enough, maybe it isn't problematic. Perhaps we could make it just "continue the family line" and it'd be less controversial.

Fourth, what about desiring to have a child whose not X? Is it different to say, "as long as he doesn't play golf?" rather than "he must play golf?"

Anyway, some thoughts.

Jean Kazez said...

Acquired Taste, Your examples are great. They are forcing me to think again...

I will dig in my heels and say warning lights should be going off for someone whose initial "baby urge" is directed at having a brilliant (great genes) child, or an Irish child (ethnic identity), or even a decent child...

It seems as if such qualified desires don't reflect a really strong appetite for simply being a parent of some child.

And yet, and yet...once children are born, it's not long before parents do start wanting specific things. They work very hard to develop academic success, ethnic identity, decency, etc.(I certainly do.)

And so all your examples get me thinking about all those desires. Who knows, maybe they are unconscious at the outset.

If they're not good at the outset, are they also not good later on?

So...all good food for thought. Thanks very much.