Making Your Kids' Lives Better Makes Other Kids' Lives Worse (So You Should Stop It)

mom and kidsA pair of philosophers have found a completely new way to make parents feel guilty about how they're raising kids. Instead of the usual guilt over what you might have failed to do for your own children, Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse say you should be feeling guilty for giving your kid a "loving family" when other kids don't have one.


Say what now?

According to Swift and Brighouse, parents who strive to provide the best for their children are creating an uneven playing field for those with less capable mothers and fathers. It’s fundamentally unfair. And you should feel guilty about that. According to Swift, “If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field."

The uneven playing field Swift and Brighouse ponder isn’t limited to issues like private school, which the pair would like to see banned (though how that would solve the bigger issue, the achievement gap between wealthy and poor school districts, isn’t addressed; won’t the influx of formerly private school families actually make the divide worse, not better?). They also point out that every night, when you read to your child, some other child somewhere is not being read to. Your child is on the path to a better future. They are unfairly pulling ahead in the Race of Life. Shouldn’t somebody be doing something about that?

According to Swift, "We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families -- and that our theory defends -- will confer unfair advantage."

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I confess, when I first read the article, especially the interviewee’s name, I assumed it was a tongue-in-cheek update of that other Swift’s famous essay, “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public” … by eating them. But as I did my research, I realized the modern-day Swift is no social satirist. He’s written rather serious books on the ethics of parent/child relationships.

And he's not actually saying don't love your kids, noting, "I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally."

As far as I’m concerned, parenting comes with enough guilt about what you're not doing for your own child. Now you should be feeling guilty about what other parents aren't doing?

I refuse to feel that way.

Because guilt is only a worthwhile emotion when it drives you to do something productive to fix the situation. And, in this case, there is nothing you can do.

We're not talking about physical abuse where you can step in or contact the authorities. We are talking about parents not reading to a child or sending them to an inferior school or feeding them foods you might not think adequate for their neurological development. That may be your opinion. It may even be backed up by the expert de jour (hey, remember when experts said kids need lots of direct sunshine, processed foods, and formula to grow up big, strong, and healthy? Expert opinions change.) None of that matters. You still have no right to tell anyone how they should be raising their children, much less force them to change their ways. That's out of your control.

The single thing that is in your control is how you raise your own children. And, under these circumstances, the only way you could possibly level the theoretical playing field is by parenting your children in a way you feel is wrong, just because someone else is doing it that way. Talk about a perverse keeping up (down?) with the Joneses! Essentially, to truly level the field, we'd have to base parenting decisions on the bad choices of other parents for the good of society.

And that's just nuts.

You can go ahead and feel sorry for those poor, underprivileged children (just remember, odds are, someone out there is feeling sorry for your kids because they think you're raising them completely wrong), but don't bother feeling guilty.

It adds needless stress to your own parenting. Plus, it takes away precious time from your children filling you in on what you're doing wrong and why you should be stressing out about that, instead.


Image via © BraunS/iStock

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