Tuesday, July 17, 2007


There is a post at The Gray Sheep about circumcision that got me to thinking about my role as a soon-to-be parent. The author of that post shares a similar sentiment with me: what kinds of decisions am I morally supported in making for my children before they are able to make decisions on their own? Beyond decisions related to their survival.

On the one hand, here is an empty canvas for my wife and me to use everything we've learned to create something we want. This is how it works with parents and kids - it's what defines parenthood and makes it special. We'll take him to Church, teach him primary songs, and read the scriptures together. This is our responsibility, no?

On the other hand, one of those things that I've learned is that agency and individual responsibility is the purpose of our life here, for better and for worse. And whereas I'm comfortable straying from this idea on issues that are important (to me) like the gospel, I don't know where I stand on other - more arbitrary - decisions. Like what toys he'll play with, or what sports he'll play.

Or whether he should be circumcised.


At 7/18/2007 12:58:00 PM,

I wrote a paper once about a similar issue. It was about intersex individuals (born with both male and female sexual organs). Usually parents are asked to chose which set of sexual organs to remove soon after the child's birth. This was seen as the best option so that the child can grow up and feel as normal as possible, many parents dont' even tell their kids about it. There is a big movement in the intersex community to get people to stop having the surgery done on their kids and let them decide when they are older if they want to have it and which sex they want to live as. Often parents choose a sex and the kid lives their whole life feeling like they are in the wrong body leading to serious mental health issues.

Imagine having to make that decision. Foreskin doesn't seem like as big of a deal next to that.

At 7/18/2007 02:44:00 PM,

Chris - Wow! Way to freak out a future dad.

You're correct that this decision is much less arbitrary (it seems) than the decision to circumcise.

The intersex debate is very interesting to me as a Mormon. The Proclamation on the Family clearly states that gender is an "essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." The Proclamation is also clear that all human beings are created in the image of God. So what is to be said of an intersexed child?

Maybe genitalia isn't the defining characteristic of maleness or femaleness (better reconfigure those sonogram machines).

Or maybe they're physical anomalies, but their spirits have unambiguous genitalia. In that case - the parent's decision carries more weight. It's kind of weird to think about going through this life as a male, but spend the rest of eternity as a female (I can't say that my wife wouldn't freak out a little bit). Of course, this isn't solved (necessarily) by letting the child make his/her own choice on the matter.

I can understand the rationale for letting a child make this choice, though, and I would try my darndest to mitigate any teasing they might receive. However, I'm not sure I know when the appropriate time or age is to have that discussion with them is. Eight seems premature. Twelve doesn't seem better (looking back, I'm glad that nothing I did at 12 so definitively changed the course of my life). But waiting until the child is 17, 22, or later seems like a long time.

Chris - from your research, is there any sense among the intersex community when the appropriate time is for that decision?

At 7/18/2007 04:40:00 PM,

“Having kids is great, you can teach them to hate the things you hate."
-Homer Simpson

At 7/18/2007 04:59:00 PM,

I promise that, very soon, you're kid will let you know when he wants something other than what you have chosen for him. It may be the first word he learns ("no!"). Then the routine becomes overriding the child's exercise of agency, and the problem becomes teaching the importance of agency without allowing full use of it.

Before I became a parent, I would often struggle with such philosophical elements of parental theory. Since I became a parent, I have spent more time dodging fluids and inducing laughter out of my son with ridiculous displays of song and dance. Try not to worry. You can't screw up too badly.

At 7/18/2007 05:42:00 PM,

I didn't come across anything that tried to set a specific age. Most of what I saw was focused on stopping the decision from being made by the parents at birth. Usually I just saw vague "let them decide when they'are ready" statements.




<< Home