The Radical Notion that Children are People

Have you seen this article? It’s about a woman in Australia, Jayne Cornwill, who, after having three sons, travelled to the United States and paid $50,000 to guarantee that her next baby would be a girl through sex-selective in-vitro fertilization.

Now, there are a lot of sad and scary things in that story. Simcha Fischer did a really great job addressing them last week.  First, I hope Ms. Cornwill’s sons don’t know how disappointed she was in them; especially her third son, whom she considered aborting after finding out he was male. For another thing,  there is the tragic loss of the tiny babies that were discarded as medical waste during the selective IVF process. And frankly, I don’t even understand how this woman gets through the day since her happiness seems to depend so much on things going according to her own plan—my  own plans rarely last more than ten minutes before falling apart.

But today Dwija over at House Unseen wrote this fantastic little post about how our children are not about US all the time, and I wish I could send it to this poor woman. Dweeja is right: children are people, too! They are individuals, fully as human and important as we are, and they do not exist solely for the sake of their parents. They are not just our little helpers, they are not only our little mini-me brigade, and even when they ARE doing us good and teaching us how to be better people, that is not the whole “why” of their existence.

As Dwija put it, “After all these years it has finally occurred to me that God gave these kids to each other as siblings just as much as he gave them to me as children.  I am for them as their primary educator and caregiver, sure.  But they are not always for me.  Sometimes they are for each other.  Sometimes they are for their friends.  Sometimes what’s happening is a growth in their relationship with God.”

She’s right.

We parents are entrusted with raising and teaching our children, but ultimately, we are only their stewards. They exist with their own inherent goodness, and their roles in the world will be much grander and more complicated than we can foresee. They are their own persons, even when they are “our” children. We do not get to fence them in, to make them all about us–and we do not get to decide on their identities or their personalities.

Jayne Cornwill seems to believe that children are just another commodity that can be chosen off a shelf—do I want the blue one or the pink one? The tall one or the short one?—instead of precious individuals, to whom God has given an identity and a destiny all their own.

This is one of the most troubling aspects of language like “reproductive freedom” and “choice”—because the truth is, we DON’T really have a choice in who our children are. They are not supposed to be “just what I wanted!” Their dignity as people doesn’t depend on our wants or hopes or dreams. We can help mold them and care for them and teach them good habits, but a lot of their identity is just who they ARE—the personality and temperament that God gave them. We do not get a vote. We do not get a choice.

The choice we do have, is simply to accept our children for who they are, and to love them as hard as we can.