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What are we going to do with the kids? Society seems to value kids, yet we aren’t doing much to help raise them well. It’s clear the efforts to make divorce harder for those couples with minor children isn’t going to work and who knows if making marriage harder would work either.

But maybe it isn’t about marriage at all. Maybe it’s about creating the best society in which to raise kids. And maybe we’re not doing that right.

The New York Times highlighted some interesting parenting arrangements with its recent article, Making a Child, Minus the Couple. Gays and lesbians have been creating parenting partnerships for years, but recently, numerous social networks have sprung up to match prospective parent to prospective parent, hetero and/or gay — a decidedly odd twist to online dating sites. Dating and love don’t factor into it at all, nor does sex. It’s all about those people who want to have a baby and want someone — anyone — to help them raise that baby.

But, where’s the love, you might be wondering? As some people have noted, trying to raise kids in a relationship based on love is problematic. After all, love comes and goes.   License to parent

Is love between the parents even essential? Maybe not.

“Certainly, from a research standpoint, I don’t think having a romantic relationship is necessary to have a good co-parenting relationship. Research shows that if parents can have a warm, cooperative, co-parenting relationship, then that’s going to be positive for the child’s development,” says Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, an associate professor in the Ohio State University department of human sciences.

Of course, most of us don’t think of raising a baby from a “research standpoint.”

Others laud how parenting partnerships get people to focus on the realities of child-rearing early, way before junior is born. As Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Equality Council, notes:

That level of thoughtfulness really benefits kids — these are people who have thought about how do I want to raise a child, whom do I want to raise a child with — that can only be good for children. We should all think that hard about how we are going to have our kids and what we’re going to do once they’re in the world. If everybody gave that kind of thought to having children, we’d probably have better outcomes.

Maybe we should legislate that kind of thoughtfulness. But more on that shortly.

It’s clear that as a society we’re becoming much more accepting of different ways in which to raise kids. Some 40 percent of first babies born today are to single moms, many of whom are cohabiting. And fewer people say having children is a “very important reason to get married,” a recent Pew study indicates.

So, do we even need to be married to have kids? No, according to Judith Stacey, sociology professor at New York University and author of Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China. Marriage “is not a universal, necessary, or intrinsically superior institution for sustaining children and families,” she says.

In fact, Stacey says “our needs for both eros and domesticity are at often at odds.” Binding parenting to marriage makes a child’s well-being too vulnerable to “Cupid’s antics.”

Instead, she advocates that:

A democratic society should encourage dignity, respect, and success for all of the honest, consensual, and responsible modes of living, loving, and caretaking to its citizens diverse. The state should be trying to ensure that citizens can freely enter and sustain supportive relationships and freely exit abusive ones. It has a legitimate interest in promoting responsible, committed care and protection for  children and other dependents.

I don’t disagree with that, but that doesn’t answer an essential question: who should become parents — everyone, or only those who can prove themselves able to fully take on the responsibilities, regardless if they’re married, single, divorced, gay, straight or polyamorous?

Many have joked about the idea that people who want to have kids should be licensed — is that a bad idea? We can’t marry without applying for a license; we can’t hunt, fish, scuba dive, drive, fly, run a business or walk dogs other than our own without getting a license. Shouldn’t we get a license to parent, too?

What would be so wrong about insisting individuals who want to raise children — whether they’re single, married, living together, in a civil union or whatever; straight or gay; and whether the child is biological or adopted — take parenting classes, outline a parenting plan, and have to prove him/herself financial responsible before he/she could apply for a parenting license and pop out a baby?

Without a doubt, it should be an individual license, not a couples’ license; people make bad partner decisions all the time — why should the kids suffer for that? But if two people who each have a license want to have a baby together, more power to them. The state could encourage that relationship by giving additional incentives for each year that partnership remains together.

Of course, this is not a new idea; people have been talking about licensing parents for 30-plus years. So why don’t we have licensing yet? As they say, it’s complicated.

I’m sure many people would object to any more intrusion into such a private matter. And while the decision to have a baby is indeed private, society pays a huge, huge cost for crappy parenting — everything from crime to abuse to addictions to obesity and related health problems to the poorly educated and unemployable. Why aren’t we holding parents accountable for their bad behaviors?

And, of course, the state already deals with some forms of bad parenting, neglect and child abuse. But even the American Academy of Pediatricians argues that we should be doing more. The state should:

encourage and support individuals who want to care for children, presume that any couple or individual is capable of adequate child-rearing, and ensure that all adults who are raising children (whether married or not) have the material resources and support necessary to be good parents. Such a policy would (1) set a reasonable minimal threshold for state recognition, (2) be vigilant in identifying cases falling below this threshold, and then (3) either assist or disqualify underperforming arrangements. It would also, appropriately, decouple arguments about legitimate and illegitimate types of relationships from arguments about what is best for children.

  • What do you think we should do to better support children’s needs?
  • Would requiring education and a license create better parents?
  • Do the parents of a child need to be romantic partners?


6 Responses to “Should we license parents?”

  1. omgkat says:

    Should we license parents?

    Of course we have! Marriage IS the license to family/parenting (or was), until society associates marriage with love and interchanged the two.

    ” “our needs for both eros and domesticity are at often at odds.” Binding parenting to marriage makes a child’s well-being too vulnerable to “Cupid’s antics.””

    It is binding *love* (eros) to marriage that makes a child’s well being vulnerable to Cupid’s antics.

    Marriage was traditionally not about love, but about pooling resources and creating family. We all know that no couple needs legal permission or license to love each other and commit to each other to the day they die.

    What you’re saying is this, you don’t need marriage to have kids and raise a family, but perhaps indeed a license should be required?

    Marriage *is* the license that we made people go through hell to get because it was meant for familyhood… but we instead gave it too freely to too many people who believe that it somehow formalizes passionate love.

    Clean up the institution of marriage. Give lovebirds a certificate and a lavish party if they want to celebrate love like a graduation achievement. Give marriage it’s original intended purpose.

    • Sue says:

      Here, here, omgkat. There is no need for government to subsidize love and “personal happiness” that comes at the expense of others. People will do that without any encouragement. However, given the current de facto definition of “marriage,” perhaps there should be a disclosure or agreement tacked onto the marriage license, maybe something like, “In the event your spouse sandbags you with deceit, infidelity and divorce — keeping in mind that under no-fault divorce laws, s/he can do this at any time, no matter how many years of your life you have invested and no matter what your role in child development was — do you agree to share equally any offspring that come from this union, not only with the ex-spouse but the one s/he cheated with, and to force your children to travel back and forth between domiciles, with all the inconvenience and disruption that brings? Do you agree to be locked into living near the ex so that you can share the children, even though that costs you “personal happiness” at the same time that s/he is collecting his/hers? Do you honestly think you can do all of this with a smile on your face and no negative words whatsoever about your *&#!! ex-partner? If you believe that people should make a good-faith effort to keep their promises, even when the going gets rough, will you be able to stifle the urge to model that view to your children? In other words, do you support the modern-day definition of marriage that flies in the face of the very vows you are getting ready to take? If so, you have society’s permission to wed and bear young. If not, please forget this union and go join some Religious Right organization because you are obviously too stodgy to get married in the 21st century.”

      Would that someone had put that on my marriage license 22 years ago.

  2. Lauren says:

    Since minorities, you know – cause of years of prejudice and racism, are more likely to be poor and educated because of lack of educational funding and discrimination in the workforce and society, they’re children won’t fare much better. It’s not fair for you to pinpoint everything wrong with bad parenting on them – and dare I say, perpetuates and air of racism itself. Overindulgence from privilege can be just as detrimental to a child’s psyche (plus, he’ll be a total asshole and oblivious to any problems others face, such as those of a poor child).

    Once something is done to level the playing field between minorities and whites, then we can talk about licenses. Growing up in a mostly impoverished neighborhood, I know loads more empathetic and generous people from there than I do from “better” backgrounds.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Thanks for your comment, Lauren — I think. For the record, I didn’t say anything about minorities, nor should that be implied. Bad parenting occurs across the board — rich, poor, white, black, educated, uneducated, etc.

  3. Bob O'Connor says:

    It seems that with the world’s overpopulation and the increasing lifespans both responsible for climate change, poverty, illegal immigration, pension and health care financing and much more–we might give the children who are to be born a chance to fulfill their potentials and live happy and fruitful lives. Too many of the planet’s infants don’t have such a chance. Millions are sold into slavery and prostitution. Were these “wanted” children?

    A solution might be, heaven forbid, to license parents to have children when they can show that they are capable of loving, are mentally stable, are financially able, and are of sufficient age

    I would also suggest the web site of Dr. Jack Westman, M.D. a child psychiatrist and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Westman wrote the book “Licensing Parents” in which he describes a number of problems with children born to incapable parents. A major conclusion is that girls under 20 should not be allowed to have children. This book is very powerful.

    Another approach is more general. Dr. Hugh LaFollette, a philosophy professor of ethics wrote the primary essay on the subject. His approach is more general than as Dr. Westman’s. But he makes a very strong case for licensing parents.(www.hughlafollette.com/papers/lic-par.htm)

    The popular free ebook series “In Search of Utopia” (http://andgulliverreturns.info) addresses two major problems of our modern society–overpopulation and licensing parents so that children have a better chance to develop as healthy, happy and productive. Many suggestions are found throughout the books. Licensing could be as simple as requiring that parents be a certain age, like 16, 18 or 25. Or it might require several hours of lessons on basic parenting skills and the needs of children. But it could require much more to increase the chances that the child would be loved and cared for properly and not be mistreated, tortured or killed.

    I know that priests and business people want more souls and consumers to be born. And politicians in democratic republics are too smart to deal with preventing problems, especially when the obvious solutions run counter to traditions or scriptural interpretations.

    Just thought you might consider a program or two in these areas. Realistically I am quite sure nothing will be done in these areas. We just have to wait until the effects of warming and water loss wipe out billions. But then people are psychological and not logical, so expecting real solutions to our primary problems may be in itself illogical. But maybe we should at least open the book of options.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Thanks so much for pointing out these books to me; I hadn’t done a lot of research on it but I will most definitely look at your suggestions. Like you, I can’t imagine we’ll ever seen licenses (nor am I convinced that they would be a good thing), but it is an interesting thought. Thanks for sharing!

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