Monday, May 20, 2013

Parental Affection

Several weeks ago I was driving along next to a woman who reminded me of a certain type of person. She was in her 20s, listening to loud music, driving with a foot in her lap, her blonde hair still wet from her shower. This type of woman usually is a high school graduate but has no serious plans for college. Maybe if her parents are on her case she'll go to community college for a few semesters. She has a service or retail job, being slightly under-qualified for anything more white-collar. She has friends to whom she's fiercely loyal and is more than a little ready to yell at and fight anyone she thinks is disrespectful. She probably smokes, definitely drinks, and engages in serial monogamy. You know the type of girl I mean? The standard modern upper-lower-class American girl.

Then I noticed a kid in the back seat. My first reaction was to feel sorry for this kid and the life he'll have available to him because of his mother's choices. However, I noticed that 1) the kid was in a child safety seat in the back seat, and 2) the mother wasn't smoking with him in the car. And that changed my sympathy. I didn't have to feel sorry for the kid, because his mother cared about him, and no matter how limited his life will be because of her abilities, at least it won't necessarily be an unhappy life.

This made me wonder about how natural or unnatural it is for a parent to care about his child. I remember telling my daughter when she was less than an hour old that I loved her, and part of me thought, "That's weird; you just met her." Nevertheless, I loved her already then.

How did that come about? Well, I loved her mother. And I'd been thinking about her for over nine months, starting from attempting conception. I didn't look at my daughter as a hindrance in my life, which--from an egotistical perspective--she definitely was. Lots of stuff I used to like to do I wouldn't be doing anymore. Lots of money I used to like to have I wouldn't be having anymore.

The egotistical perspective is what makes people write articles like this. It's what makes parents take kids to R-rated movies, send their kids to daycare (I mean "preschool") starting from their 10-week-old birthdays, or abort the babies outright.

I wonder (without wondering enough to actually do any research) if any work has been done on the connection between parental affection and life outcomes. It seems to me that many of the things that make a kid more likely to succeed happen more frequently when the parents are less egotistical and have affection for the kid. And this would mean that a statist approach to child-rearing, where time of bureaucrats and money of government are substituted for time and money of someone emotionally connected to the child, is less effective. Which is actually exactly the opposite of what we hear from the president, who wants more four-year-olds in school. When the well-being of the bureaucrat becomes the concern of the state, child welfare is just a political tool.

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