I live in an affluent community. One of the constants in this neighborhood is that, if a family can afford it, the mom retires to take care of the kids. This is true even if the mom’s salary was comparable to the dad’s. Often, this isn’t the mom’s preference; it’s the children’s. Our neighborhood children adore their Dads, but their mother is the pivotal figure in their lives. The formerly working mom in an affluent neighborhood really intends to go back to work, but it’s hard. The children want mom to feed them, they want mom to cuddle them, they want mom to cheer on their after-school sports, and they want mom to make them better when it hurts. They love their dads, but they want their moms.
I know that there are exceptions to what I just wrote. I know two dads who have been their children’s primary caregivers while mom worked, and they’ve both raised spectacular kids in a very happy way. These are successful families no matter how you define what constitutes successful parenting.
Nevertheless, you just can’t get by the mom-thing: Mom carries the baby, gives birth to the baby, feeds the baby, and parents the baby in a different way than even the most loving dad does. The fact that women are different from men (Viva la difference!) brings a different quality to their relationship with their children. The fact that a rich community, one with the luxury of choice, opts for the traditional female parenting model, tells you something about the bond between mother and child. Although intelligent, loving, willing people can come up with different relationships, Mother Nature hardwired moms to be the nurturers.
That’s what I say. The Obama administration, in a brief supporting same-sex marriage that it submitted to the United States Supreme Court, says different:
The Justice Department presented its conclusions about parenthood in rebutting an argument made by proponents of Proposition 8 that the traditional two-parent family, led by both a mother and a father, was the ideal place, determined even by nature itself, to raise a child.
The Obama administration argues this is not true. It argues that children need neither a father nor a mother and that having two fathers or two mothers is just as good as having one of each.
“The [California] Voter Guide arguably offered a distinct but related child-rearing justification for Proposition 8: ‘the best situation for a child is to be raised by a married mother and father,’” said the administration’s brief submitted to the court by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.
“As an initial matter, no sound basis exists for concluding that same-sex couples who have committed to marriage are anything other than fully capable of responsible parenting and child-rearing,” the Department of Justice told the court. “To the contrary, many leading medical, psychological, and social-welfare organizations have issued policy statements opposing restrictions on gay and lesbian parenting based on their conclusion, supported by numerous scientific studies, that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.”
“The weight of the scientific literature strongly supports the view that same-sex parents are just as capable as opposite-sex parents,” says the administration.
To support this argument, one of the documents the administration cites is a “policy statement” by the American Psychological Association. This statement claims that some studies indicate same-sex parents might be “superior” to mother-and-father families, but then concedes there is little actual data on the results of raising children in two-father households.
“Members of gay and lesbian couples with children have been found to divide the work involved in childcare evenly, and to be satisfied with their relationships with their partners,” says this APA policy statement the administration cited to the court. “The results of some studies suggest that lesbian mothers’ and gay fathers’ parenting skills may be superior to those of matched heterosexual parents. There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
“Studies of other aspects of personal development (including personality, self-concept, and conduct) similarly reveal few differences between children of lesbian mothers and children of heterosexual parents,” says the APA policy statement. “However, few data regarding these concerns are available for children of gay fathers.”
The Obama administration further argues that because California law already permits domestic partnerships in which same-sex couples are allowed all the “incidents” of marriage–including the right to adopt children and be foster parents–that Proposition 8 only denies same-sex couples the use of the word “marriage” and does not change the status of child-rearing in the state.
“Moreover, as the court of appeals determined, ‘Proposition 8 had absolutely no effect on the ability of same-sex couples to become parents or the manner in which children are raised in California,’” says the administration. “As explained, California law, both before and after Proposition 8, grants registered domestic partners the same parental rights and benefits accorded to married couples. And Proposition 8 does not alter California’s adoption, fostering, or presumed-parentage laws, which ‘continue to apply equally to same-sex couples.’
“In light of California’s conferral of full rights of parenting and child-rearing on same-sex couples, Proposition 8’s denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry bears no cognizable relation, let alone a substantial one, to any interest in responsible procreation and child-rearing (however defined),” says the administration. “Indeed, because a substantial number of California children are raised in households headed by same-sex couples.”
Children can absolutely survive without mothers. In the pre-modern era, the risks of childbirth saw enormous numbers of children orphaned. Children are resilient. They’ll survive a parents’ death; they’ll survive both parents’ deaths; they’ll survive good foster homes and bad; and they’ll survive in a two-father family, a two-mother family, or a non-traditional family where dad stays home. But to pretend that a stable two-parent home with a loving mother providing a feminine role model and a loving father providing a masculine role model is unnecessary and passe is something that could only happen in a post-post-deconstructionist world, one in which a boy can announce that he is a girl and, voila!, that makes it so.
We 21st century first worlders have an enormous arrogance, one that sees us thinking that we can successfully ignore our biology and human nature as a whole. Just a few examples show how wrong that hubris is. We think that we control the entire earth’s atmosphere, rather than just have the ability to pollute or keep clean our immediate internment; we think that we can control disease, only to see our antibiotics become ineffective, with viruses such as AIDS sneaking past our “civilized” defenses, and traditional scourges such as TB coming back in new and ever more virulent form; we think that we have reached an apex of civility that overrides the cruel animal in us, only to witness unspeakable atrocities in every corner of the world, in every decade of every century; and we think that we can use our superior abilities, not just to constrain biology, but to ignore it entirely.
Please understand that I do not intend to say here that non-traditional households cannot succeed and that they are unable to create a loving, nurturing environment for children. I’m just saying that, if history has taught us anything, it’s that it’s utterly foolish to pretend that Mother Nature doesn’t usually get the last word — making it quite wrong and dangerously foolish to create public policy based upon the pretense that Nature doesn’t exist.