The moment I experienced fatherhood, I was quite sure that there is nothing which could measure preparedness for caring for people so small, infuriating, lovable and demanding. What qualifies a person for being a parent? Perhaps nothing, perhaps far too much for a mere mortal. It is hard to say. However, many in our lifestyle-obsessed culture, are now saying what qualifications a parent requires in order to care for their children. Various measurements for parental qualifications are abounding. Measurements, I might add, that are largely based upon prejudice and snobbery.
Hank Stuever, who writes for the Washington Post, provides an example. In his review of “Jon & Kate Plus 8” (TLC's reality show about a couple with eight children), Stuever betrays his own snobbery towards parenting. He writes that the Gosselins “have no purpose other than to eat, sleep, argue, reproduce and grow. Perpetuation of the family gene pool is our only purpose, and all costs (material and emotional) are beside the point.” He goes on to snipe that the the show “rarely takes time to show any activity that would suggest an intellectual or unselfish pursuit. The focus is on structured play, adhering to the schedule, wearing matching outfits, eating matching food. It's like a holiday update letter that never ends, in which the Gosselins are mainly seen consuming resources.” What, we parents would like to know, is selfish about looking after children? One thing parenting does not allow is uniformly selfish actions. Children have a unique ability to demand that one stretches oneself, and even gives up one's ambitions for the gain of another. It is done, not for the perpetuation of the gene pool, but for love.
As far as purpose is concerned. Is it not purposeful to train a child in the way he or she should go? Or would we rather shoe-in our offspring to make up a small enough portion of our daily life so as not to distract us from the main thing in life, whatever that may be?
As my wife will tell you (she has both a Bachelors and a Masters degree), parenting can make you make you forget the academic and replace it with Dr Seuss. However, to say that the mind is lost to consumption of goods and services is to misunderstand the purpose of the intellect. Stuever's own summary of his intellectual pursuits include writing about “empty shopping malls, unpretty streets, teenagers who don't help out the community, low-technology, Kmarts (or anything employing the middle-American "k" -- kamping, kountry, krazy)” In Stuever's scale of priorities for the mind, persuading eight children to eat at the same time—let alone sit still—is something banal and even self indulgent. To any parent (even of one child), the thought of feeding eight, even co-operative children, is on par with many a research paper they were asked to complete in college.
Underlying Stuever's analysis of parenting, especially when it comes to large families, is a lurking snobbery. Parenting large families is for the sub-thinker, the uncritical consumer of all things matching and the waste disposal of gray matter. Stuever believes that Jon and Kate Plus 8 can be an interesting topic, only when he speaks about it. He looks down the end of his nose at parents bundling crying infants into their sliding-door people-carriers and scoffs at the misappropriation of brainpower. He picks up his sleek new lap top (he is not a consumer, he will tell you, but an artist who needs good ink), and takes aim at anyone lower on his imagined ladder.
Whatever your personal opinion of Jon and Kate, parents need not be discouraged for they fulfill a purpose beyond themselves. One found in the heart of the one who gives us children. Children, according to the bible, are a heritage from God himself (Psalm 127:3). They are the model on which we approach God to enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:1-3), and a joy to those who bear them (John 16:21). Being a parent is not a misappropriation of intellect, but a joy for the mind.
Stuever, Hank. "Back for More." Washington Post Monday May 2009, Style sec.: C1+.
Stuever, Hank. Hank Stuever. Aug. 2005. 01 June 2009