Children have no voice setting public policy. They are legally, physically and emotionally dependent. They cannot vote. They cannot form non-profits, produce surveys or express their preferences. Their rights are severely limited, by the law of the land and by the intimacy of family operations. They live and die as charges of adults they did not choose – much like the old (and firmly rejected) status of women, indentured servants and men without property.
It was once the prerogative of women to be the voice for children in society. “Women and children” were clumped in social policy discussion, with the women – the early feminists – battling for laws to protect children, their development and the stability of their families. Women championed temperance in efforts to protect children, especially children living in poverty, from the devastation of alcoholism. Women championed child labor laws, eliminating the commercial practice of exploiting children for near-slave labor. Women championed charitable and governmental welfare so that mothers and children abandoned by men could survive and live. The chronicle of women’s accomplishments on behalf of children made and shaped U.S. history and fodders a rightful criticism that patriarchal accounts of history are simply prejudiced against the role of women in modern life.
Have women abandoned children?
Why are women so willingly advocating now for rights to terminate unborn children, rights that redefine parenthood to suit adult sexual orientation, rights redefining marriage as an adult-centric relationship, rights giving legal recognition to three or more adults over a single child, and even rights to genetically modify children to suit adult desires – all without a whimper of concern for the impact upon the children? Children have literally no voice in the experimental social policies that are fundamentally altering the natural conditions under which children have been nurtured for centuries. Today, redwood trees and gray wolves have more effective advocacy and protection from invasive changes to their natural environment than children do.
Let me say, first, that it is ludicrous to argue that children do not need a voice – that they are malleable creatures who will grow and thrive in whatever conditions adults thrust upon them. Children, by common sense, have definite needs and they no more “adapt” to changes made without regard to these needs than do redwoods or wolves. Culturally, we all seem to agree (so far) that children should not be the secret sexual objects of coaches or priests – but beyond that, dialogue on social policy issues seems to strategically avoid asking, “What is the impact upon children?” We seem far more interested in what it takes to nurture a sapling or cub than we admit to knowing about how to nurture emotionally healthy human children.
Who will take up the voice of children – those little creatures locked into human configurations they did not choose, increasingly endowed with genetic history that will be hidden from them, expected to adjust their development and affections to an array of adults with legal demands and self-gratifying expectations upon them?
A major source of “voice” for these children is slowly – but steadily – emerging in the memoirs, articles and documentaries presenting to the public the reflections of children who grew up within experimental circumstances. Three examples come immediately to mind: Dawn Stefanowicz’s frank and generous account – Out From Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting; Jennifer Lahl’s interview-based Anonymous Father’s Day; and, most recently, Robert Oscar Lopez’s article “Growing up with Two Moms: The Untold Children’s View.”
Each of these focused, earnest pieces share with anyone willing to listen the reflections of adults who grew up in truly modern circumstances: Ms. Stefanowicz with a sexually active bi-gay father; Ms. Lahl’s interviewees as offspring of purchased or “donated” sperm and undisclosed fathers; Mr. Lopez without male adults of influence. Each of these accounts offer insight into the world of the modern child – through the voice of an adult now developed, focused and readied to share the effects of the social experiment upon them.
These voices arise against the torrent of disapproval adults invested in the experiment can summon. Like the Catholic Bishops and Penn State administration, adult investors in movements like marriage equality or commercial enterprises like reproductive technologies seem trigger ready to invalidate, discredit or denigrate the experience of these real people who suffered real harms as literal guinea pigs. It is a terrible reality that Lopez, for example, could not find a shred of sympathy or validation for being cut off from male influences in his developing years – and what that came to mean in his life as a struggling teen and young adult – until making contact with an academic sociologist who published a widely circulated study about children raised in same-sex family settings (which, that too, the marriage equality investors would discredit and bury.)
These struggling brave voices need help, support and encouragement – just as the victims of clergy and coach abuse needed community validation and encouragement. These are the voices of the new “underdog” – the children abused, neglected, manipulated, lied to and deprived of claim to caring, child-centered environments in which they might have what they need – just like the struggling sapling and the vulnerable gray wolf cub. That these voices seem threatening to policies or products that dominate adult agendas makes them cruelly vulnerable. Like any underdog, they come from a position of no power, subject to social distain and public lynching.
It is a chilling reality, that their voices, the voices of children raised in social experiments, have become the new underdog.