Parenting is Responsibility Without Power

Raising children is an intrinsically difficult and uncertain job in ways that science can't really address. For most of us parents there is literally nothing more important than the well-being of our children. There are not many things we could imagine giving our lives for, but we could give our lives for them. And, in a less melodramatic way, of course, we do give our lives for them. For fifteen or twenty years our everyday energy, our individual liberty, our income, our attention, our concern are all devoted to our children. There is nothing else in human experience to match it.

And yet all this seriousness and commitment, this moral purpose, is combined with a deep, even necessary, lack of control. A British prime minister once intoned that the press wanted "power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages." Perhaps it's fitting that the prerogative of the mother is the opposite of the prerogative of the harlot: we parents have responsibility without power. Mothers and fathers are at the mercy of innumerable accidents—accidents about the random genetic mix of temperament and ability, accidents about how that mix interacts with our own temperaments and abilities, accidents about what our lives happen to be like in the few years that constitute a childhood, accidents about what the rest of the world has to offer our children.

There is also a deeper sense in which we have less control than responsibility. The whole point of the enterprise, after all, is to end up creating an autonomous agent, a person who can leave us, who can choose to make grave mistakes and decide to be thoroughly miserable. It's like falling utterly, madly. deeply in love and yet knowing that in twenty years the object of your affections will leave you for other lovers and, in fact, that your job is to make your beloved leave you for other lovers. The very best outcome is that our children will end up as decent, independent adults who will regard us with bemused and tolerant affection; for them to continue to treat us with the passionate attachment of infancy would be pathological. Almost every hard decision of child-rearing, each tiny step--Should I let her cross the street? Can he walk to school yet? Should I look in her dresser drawer?—is about how to give up control, not how to increase it; how to cede power, not how to gain it.


The parent's job is to be completely responsible for the child, but ultimately raise them to be completely autonomous, rendering the parent powerless over them.

Folksonomies: parenting childhood raising children

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Parenting (0.977091): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
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 The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Gopnik , Meltzoff , Kuhl (2001-01-01), The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind, Harper Paperbacks, Retrieved on 2011-07-06
Folksonomies: education parenting pregnancy babies children infancy