Chapter 3

The family

The responsibilities of each of the couple show that marriage naturally goes beyond itself to the family. Not every marriage results in children, of course, and there is nothing wrong with entering a marriage where you happen to know that there can't be children--for instance, marriages between older people are perfectly legitimate morally. Sexual activity is still moral and consistent between them even if no children result, as we saw in Chapter 4 of Section 2 of the fifth part 5.2.4.

But in the normal course of events, it will be young people who marry, and their sexual intercourse will result in children. This now creates a society in a more proper sense of the term: a group of people cooperating for a common goal, with authority and all the rest of it.

Since children need to be raised to the point where they can function reasonably as adults, we can then say the following:

Conclusion 19: The common goal of the family is to provide the conditions for the children's development into full human beings.

These "conditions" are the ones we listed above: the physical, emotional, intellectual, and economic conditions for their development into a position where they can exercise their genetic potential as fully as they choose. The idea is not that they are to be forced to be everything that they are capable of being, or that the parents have a determining say in what they will be doing as adults (because that would deny that they are self-determining), but that while they are children, they are to be given (and forced to accept) all that they will need so that they will not be prevented from choosing whatever life they are genetically capable of because of lack of proper preparation. The choice comes after childhood, not within it.

Conclusion 20: The transition from childhood to adulthood comes at the point where civil society starts considering what the person is expected to do for the cooperative benefit of all.

That is, childhood is the condition in life in which a person's own development is all that he is concerned with, and he is the recipient of the conditions for developing himself. Adulthood occurs when people start expecting him to do the cooperative acts required of the members of civil society, and it becomes irrelevant to the people around him whether this advances his own development or not. Adulthood, then, is the period in life when civil responsibility begins. The child is not held accountable for what he does (his parents are); the adult is accountable for his own actions.

Now if the family's goal is to make adults out of its children, then we can say this:

Conclusion 21: The family ceases to exist as a society when the last child reaches adulthood.

It of course may exist as a community long after that; but even this sometimes breaks up as the children go to live somewhere else and lose contact with the other members of the family. But even if adult children are living at home, once they reach adulthood they are no longer under the authority of their parents as parents; they now would have some sort of contractual arrangement with them (however informally it might be stated) giving the rules for living in the house and what they are expected to do to live there, as well as the limits the parents have over meddling in their private lives.

It is important to distinguish the family as a society from the family as a community; because the confusion between the two can make some of the parties think that expectations are orders and that failure to conform to expectations is disobedience and flouting of authority.

The reason the family is a society and not a community is that children don't know enough to be able to make rational choices about their own development toward adulthood, and so will make disastrous choices if they are allowed to do so. Hence, they must be under threat to do the things that they need to do in order to reach adulthood when they will finally be able to choose for themselves.

And it is obvious that, since the parents jointly caused the children to begin to exist, each parent is responsible for what the child becomes, insofar as the adulthood of the child is due to the way he was raised. If you put this together with what was said in the preceding paragraph, the following conclusion emerges:

Conclusion 22: The biological parents by nature have joint authority over their children.

Once again, this authority can be taken away from them only under the conditions of the Double Effect: that the rearing of the child would be significantly worse (i.e. that significant damage would be done him) under the authority of his biological parents than under someone who was not responsible by nature for his being brought into the world.

If custody of the child is taken away from one or both parents by civil society, then these parents are not, of course, any longer responsible for what he becomes. But that does not make them not his parents, having a right to respect from him on the grounds of bringing him into existence, though not now on the grounds of being in authority over him.

The authority of the parents over the child is joint authority, not a divided authority, because each parent is fully responsible for there being a child, since each could have prevented there being one by choosing not to have sex (or by doing something to prevent conception).

In connection with this, the fact that in our country a woman may legally have an abortion the husband cannot legally prevent is a serious violation of the husband's right to rear and protect his children, which is an inalienable right which follows from his moral obligation to rear and protect children he causes to begin to exist. I might also point out that if the woman usurps absolute rights over the child while he is a fetus, even the "right" to kill him, then this usurpation takes away the legitimacy of her claim that the father support the child. In that case, the father is looked on simply as a condition for the woman to exercise her sexuality, over which she has complete control--which means that she and she alone has control over the consequences. You can't have it both ways; either the father is a real cause of the child, in which case, he has rights over the child because he has responsibilities, or the woman has all the causality, and the man was just a means for her choosing what she was going to do with her sexuality, and the man has no responsibility for any consequences she chooses to attach to it.

But this is, of course, nonsense. In fact, each causes the child to exist, and so each has responsibility over the child, and therefore the right to discharge that responsibility.

Since each parent is responsible for every aspect of the child's life, physical, emotional, intellectual, and economic, then the authority over the child's development cannot be divided, and is joint in all areas of the child's life. What this amounts to is the following:

Conclusion 23: Neither parent may morally countermand any order of the other parent, unless that order violates some right of the child.

That is, if one parent commands the child to do something that the other parent does not think is the right to thing do, the other parent may not tell the child not to do it, unless he knows that the act is positively detrimental to the child. If he did, he would be undermining the authority of the other parent; each parent must confirm what the other parent ordered, and tell the child he must do what he was commanded.

If the child says, "But you told me yesterday I didn't have to do this," the answer must be something like, "That was yesterday. Your mother told you to do it, and so you have to do it." This sort of thing is not detrimental to the child's development because (a) one of the things he must learn is that foolish orders from legitimate authority must still be obeyed, as we saw in the preceding chapter, (b) that people have different ways of looking at the world, and even if they disagree, they can recognize that the other way of seeing things is legitimate, and finally (c) orders must be obeyed in the last analysis because they are orders, not because they are the most rational or best thing to do.

This is especially important because of the following characteristic of parental authority: Since parents have authority in terms of the common goal of the society, which is the development of the children to full adulthood, it follows that

Conclusion 24: Parents exceed their authority when their commands to a child have nothing to do with the child's development into an adult.

That is, when the command is not for the benefit of the child, the parent has exceeded his authority in issuing it. Children are not labor-saving devices or slaves that the parents have produced to make their own burden lighter. In the family, the parents exist for the children, and the children exist for themselves, not the family. Again, this is no economic relationship, but a cooperative one; but the children are the beneficiaries of the cooperation, not the parents.

Now this does not imply that parents can't assign chores to the children which do not in themselves advance the children toward adulthood, since, as I said just above, one of the most important things a child has to learn is the fact that commands to an adult are not directed at his own self-development; and further, the child must be weaned away from looking upon himself as the center of the universe and everyone else as his slave. For this very reason, parents must give children orders that they clearly see are not going to advance them anywhere. After the first couple of times, any child realizes that he has learned all he needs to know about taking out garbage; and he wants to pass on to greater things. Therefore, the fact that he must take out the garbage every week teaches him the important lesson that there are things a person must do for others whether they benefit him personally or not.

This lesson is so hard to learn that some parents shirk it, on the grounds that getting the child to do things he doesn't want to do is much less trouble than doing them yourself--which is generally speaking true. But for the child's sake it must be taught; and so what I was saying above that all commands must be for the child's development in practice does apply even to the commands that seem superficially to be the very opposite.

Now this does not mean that commands should seem arbitrary to the child; he should realize that there is reason behind them, though not a reason, necessarily, that has anything to do with his own advantage. That is, the explanation of the reason behind taking out the garbage should not be, "We are trying to improve your education for living in the adult world," but "You're a part of this family too; and you're expected to do your share in helping it function." And when he says, "Why should I?" the answer should be, "Because you have to, that's all."

And if a child disobeys, he must be punished. It should be made clear to him that disobedience will be followed by punishment, which can be removed if the circumstances warrant, but which will ordinarily happen. Note here that a child expects parents to be angry with him if he disobeys; and so the parent has to walk the delicate line between terrorizing him by a display of anger and terrifying him with that sadistic kind of coldness which says with absolute calm, "Now Johnny, you didn't take out the garbage, and so tonight you don't get your dessert. You know that happens."

Is spanking legitimate punishment? Depending on the child, it can be, as long, of course, as it causes only pain and does no physical damage. Spanking on the buttocks is safest perhaps, because the child is most protected there against injury. It must be remembered that a child lacks experience, and his parent inflicting physical pain on him will seem at first as if his whole world is coming apart. That is, the effect of the spanking will be--at the beginning, at least--vastly out of proportion to the actual pain inflicted.

On the other hand, spanking as opposed to deprivation can teach the child that pain is not the end of the world, and that the parents love him even if they inflict pain on him, insofar as, once it is over, they act as if, having paid his penalty, he is now reinstated fully in their good graces. It is also educational in a positive sense for the child to learn that he can stand a certain amount of pain. It is very difficult to make any generalizations here, because children are so very different. I was just saying above that spanking is not to be ruled out because of some sentimental idea of child abuse, because other forms of punishment that inflict no pain at all (locking in a dark closet comes to mind) can be, depending on the child, much worse. One must follow what is the duty of any authority: to find the least severe punishment that will motivate obedience. My father, for instance, never hit me; it was enough that he would say to me in a quiet voice of barely controlled rage, "If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about!" to make my tears dry up on the spot.

As to whether obedience should be rewarded or disobedience punished, it is better to punish disobedience for several reasons. First of all, when you reward an act, you create an incentive that that act be done and nothing else; and this restricts the practical freedom of the person. When what you want to do by your commands (and this is most of them) is to set limits on the child's behavior, then rewarding him for the best conduct doesn't leave him any room to maneuver within what would be acceptable.

Secondly, a reward that keeps being given (because the behavior in question keeps being repeated) very soon is looked at as owing to the person because of his nature, not because of his actions. This also happens with animals. I have trained my dog to want a biscuit in the morning, because several times I gave her one as a treat, and now she simply expects it. The result is that withdrawing the reward when the person did not obey is seen as a punishment by the disobedient person anyway. So you don't really escape punishing a person by offering rewards.

Finally, sanctions in society are going to be punishments, and it is necessary to get people used to the fact that if they don't do what they are told when they are adults, they will suffer for it; and when they do do what they are told, this will simply be accepted as the normal state of affairs. It would be disastrous to bring up a child to think that every time he does something that others expect of him, he is going to get some special recognition for his marvelous act. The real situation is what Jesus said, "When you have done all you have been commanded, then say that you are a useless slave."

One of the interesting things about parental authority is that, since they have it because of the common goal of developing the children toward adulthood, it follows that

Conclusion 25: Parental authority diminishes gradually as the child grows older and more experienced, until it finally ceases altogether at adulthood.

In the beginning, parental authority extends over every phase of the child's life. Quite soon, however, as the child becomes able to handle, say, his toys for himself, the parents lose the right to tell him how he must play with them (aside from commanding him not to destroy them or use them immorally); they lose the right to dictate details of his relations with other children, other than seeing to it that nothing morally wrong is going on; and so on. As the child progresses in his education, the parent's authority over what he must study to prepare himself for adulthood grows less and less; and by the time he is in college, they have lost their right to determine his major field of study and what career he is to prepare for. A child in college is still a child, insofar as he is still developing toward his full potential, and is being helped toward this by the people around him. But he is all but an adult, and is certainly capable of deciding what he wants to do with his life as rationally as he will be when he graduates. A child in college, in other words, is in a difficult position; he is mentally an adult, living the life still of a child who is not yet responsible. Parents have a difficult time here also, because for practical purposes they have no real authority over him any more, but they are still paying the bills.

Just as there is authority in the family, so there are rights. First of all, these are the rights of parents:

They have a right against their children to be obeyed, which includes the right to punish disobedience. This right diminishes, as I said, as the children grow up.

Secondly, they have a right all during their lives to be respected by their children, because they in fact caused them to exist. They have this right to respect, not because they are wise and saintly, but because the child owes his life to them, and they have given him uncompensated service which he cannot possibly repay (and which, in general, they don't want him to repay). In this sense, parents have a right to be loved by their children, whether they are lovable or not.

Children don't have to like their parents (though this is, of course, desirable); but they must love them, in the sense of accepting them for what they are and not evaluating them, and holding them in respect as authors of their existence. There is nothing more devastating for a parent than to find that his adult child contemns him; no one should ever be put to that torture, no matter how much he might he might have done to "earn" contempt. One of the most seriously wrong things an adult child can do to his parents is to hold them in contempt. I might note that the commandment by YHWH not to do this is next after his commandments dealing with himself.

Thirdly, parents have the right to live their own lives insofar as this does not interfere with the children's development. Certainly, after the children have grown to adulthood, they have no business telling their parents how they are to live. Unfortunately, this right is currently being exercised to the detriment of children nowadays. At the time I originally wrote this, my daughter worked in a day-care center and loved the children; and she saw more of them than either of their parents did. But (a) she did not have authority over them, except as delegated by the parents, and so couldn't direct their lives as they should be directed; and (b) if she had been transferred, they would have been under the care of someone else. Since day-care work is so badly paid, there is a tremendous turnover; and so sending your child to the center is nothing at all like having a nanny to care for him. The child is not helped by this environment; and the only reason it can be allowed is when the Double Effect applies and the damage to the child would be greater without it. Not the "damage" to the parent who might have to give up a rising career. The parents in the family exist for the child, not the other way round.

But this does not mean that the parents cease to be persons. When no damage is done to the child, the parents have their own lives to live. If Junior doesn't like the fact that mommy and daddy are going to the symphony tonight and starts crying when Deborah the baby-sitter comes in, then Junior has to learn that mommy and daddy are not his slaves. I once left my year-old son in the hospital where he had some childhood disease. As I walked out the door, he was screaming and carrying on; but as it happened, the corridor had a window that looked back into the room, and as I passed it, I saw him look at the door, realize I wasn't coming back, stop crying and settle down with his pacifier for a nap. Kids are nothing if not manipulative.

Fourthly, parents have a right against their children to be supported in their old age, if they cannot support themselves. The parents gave uncompensated service to the children when the children were young. The children have to return that service if the parents need it. Note that this does not mean that if the parents aren't living up to the standards the children think "proper," and are satisfied with this life style, the children have any right to interfere in their lives and force their attentions on the unwilling parents. It can be a delicate task giving often cantankerous parents the help they need without trying to dictate their lives for them.

Fifthly, parents have rights against those outside the family not to be interfered with in bringing up their children according to their own consciences. They are the ones responsible for their children, and so it is their consciences which must determine the direction the children's lives are to take, and no one else's.

Civil society can step in and force the parents to do certain things only using the Double Effect, when what the parents are doing is positively deleterious to the development of the children. If parents refuse to educate their children, then the society can force them to give them at least the minimum of education to be able to function as adults; and in so doing, it must supply the means by which the children can be educated without harming the parents financially.

But this can be said in this regard:

Conclusion 26: Civil society cannot morally set up roadblocks in the way of parents' educating children according to the parents' conscience.

That is, if the parents think that the children must be given religious and not secular education, then (supposing that the religious education meets the minimum standards for functioning as adults), the civil society has no right to hide behind something like "separation of church and state" and force the parents to send the children to secular schools by making it financially impossible or difficult to send them to religious schools. Vouchers for education leaving parents free to send their children to the schools their consciences demand are a moral necessity in society.

A lot is said nowadays about the rights of children; and they do have them. But they don't have the right to dictate to their parents how they should be brought up. These are the rights they do have:

First, children have the right against everyone not to be physically, emotionally, or intellectually damaged. These are the basic human rights that everyone has. Children have the right, for instance, not to be subjects of pornographic pictures, even if no physical harm is done to them. Robert Mapplethorpe, who has appeared several times in these pages, photographed some children (with the consent of their parents) displaying their genitals. Even if this is art, it is a crime, because it is using children to do what they couldn't give informed consent to, and which as adults they would be morally obliged to refuse to do. This is not to say that photographing an infant naked in his bath, say, is morally wrong, when the picture cannot be construed to be in any sense sexually provocative.

Children also have the right against their parents to the means necessary to grow into adulthood; and this, as I have said several times, includes the physical, emotional, intellectual, and economic means. They have a right only to the minimum necessary to be able to function as adults in society; what is beyond this cannot be demanded, even from their parents. If parents cannot supply this minimum, the children have the right against civil society.

Thirdly, children have the right to be respected as persons, and not treated as objects or slaves. They are not the equals of their parents, of course, and need not--in fact must not--be treated as such; but they are self-determining beings, and when they do favors for their parents (as opposed to merely carrying out orders), they have a right to be thanked by their parents. If parents demand politeness from their children, they should realize that they have an obligation to show politeness to them.

Fourthly, children have a right to have their view of things heard by their parents. They do not have the right to be "listened to" in the sense that their view should prevail or be taken equal account of; but they do have information about their lives that their parents wouldn't be aware of unless they told them; and so they have the right to make this known to their parents.

Fifthly, children have, especially as they grow older, an increasing right to privacy against their parents. This right is based, as I said, upon a person's practical inability to inform any other person about everything dealing with himself; and therefore, information which is not relevant to the other's performing his duty need not be revealed. At the beginning, since parents must direct children in absolutely everything, the parents have a right to know everything about the child; but as time goes on and the parents' authority lessens, their right to know about the child lessens also, and they must leave areas that don't any longer fall under their jurisdiction (such as details of school or play life) to the privacy of the child, letting him know that he can reveal anything he wants and that they will listen with interest and respect, but that he need not reveal it and they will not think he is keeping secrets from them.

This is another difficult area (if there are any in child rearing that are not difficult), because parents have the obligation to see to it that children are not getting into trouble. Children have to trust their parents, or they will hide things from them; but in order to trust them, they must be allowed not to reveal everything to them, proving to themselves that the parents trust them. A child who thinks his parents are spying on him because they expect him to go astray as soon as he is out of eyesight is in serious danger of living up to their expectations.

But beyond this, this treatment of the family would become a book on child rearing, not on philosophy; and so let us leave the subject here.