A Puzzle about Parenthood

Here's something I'm mulling over and finding pretty perplexing.  To see the puzzle, you have to go along with me on some claims about the rights of biological parents.  To wit:  biological parents have very strong rights to take on the parenting role with respect to their children. If I give birth to Sally, I get to raise Sally, even if her prospects would be much better with someone else.  For example, if I am a very poor mother, perhaps in Haiti or Ethiopia, and social workers present me with the option of giving up Sally, so she can be raised by affluent parents in America, I am entitled to keep Sally, even if it would be in her best interests to come to America.  Right? Surely yes:  the poor third of the world aren't obligated to give up their children to more affluent people.  The puzzle, then, is this:  assuming I'm entitled, in every sense, to keep baby Sally, possibly contrary to what's in her best interests, why is it that once I'm playing the parental role, I should continually do, to the best of my ability, whatever is in her best interests?  The answer can't be that I must always maximize well being for Sally, because that would mean I should let someone else raise her.  So what's the basis for my obligation to be a good parent--to take care of Sally in the way that best advances her interests? 

Speaking of whether destitute parents are entitled to raise their own children, a fabulously interesting book is The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, by Kathryn Joyce.  If you think the destitute have parental rights (as I do), it's a shock to discover that international adoption agencies don't just find orphans and find homes for them, but sometimes create orphans... or rather, "orphans".  How does that work? The book explains in very rich detail. Topic for a future post!


Wayne said...

I'm not sure if you have an obligation to continually do what is in your child's best interest. At best its a Kantian imperfect duty, since you can't do your duty when you're asleep and such.

But on top of that, it turns out that a lot of research suggests that it doesn't really matter what kind of parenting you have. Parents have a very small impact on the success of their children (outside income level).

I think all parents have basic minimal obligations to their children, that they are fed and their needs met, etc. But beyond that, its all extra-curricular. So really, we don't have an obligation to do the *best* for our child, we simply have an obligation to not actively harm.

Jean Kazez said...

Aha, interesting response! Maybe you're thinking of that very popular book The Nurture Assumption, by...I don't remember whom. Good thing to think about!

Deepak Shetty said...

why is it that once I'm playing the parental role, I should continually do, to the best of my ability, whatever is in her best interests?
I'd think that parents would say that you have to do what is in the best interests of the family. So giving up the child would most likely have a devastating impact on the parents even if the child may have better prospects - but educating(within limitations) the child is in the best interests of the family.