On the relationship between a parent and a child

I made a similar point in a video a few weeks ago, but I want to reiterate and expand upon it for two reasons. One, this is so prevalent in most (possibly all?) societies, and two, it’s extremely toxic and harmful.

Consider the relationship between a human and their biological child. Many people would agree that this child should be extra respectful and subservient to their parent, to a point that would seem deeply questionable if you were to propose this relationship between any two other humans. In some ways, and to an extent, there are some valid reasons for this.

At a certain age, a child is not able to make informed decisions for themselves. For example, a 6 year old’s opinion on what to have for dinner shouldn’t matter as much as their parent’s opinion. But if this is the rationale, then naturally it should stop applying at a certain age. Many countries start granting people ‘adulthood rights’ from the ages of around 16-21. I’ve always thought these ages were fairly arbitrary, but let’s take 21 for sake of argument. At 21 years of age, a child’s opinion on most topics should matter as much as their parent’s, because they are both independent, sentient adults.

If a person is legally and morally recognised as being able to make their own choices about alcohol, property ownership, sexual relations and everything in between, then it surely doesn’t make sense anymore for their views on things like preferences and moral values to be valued less than the views of their parents, in both the eyes of their parents and society. Of course there will still be some exceptions on opinions about factual matters where the parent might be more informed, but by the age of 21, there will naturally be some factual matters that the child is more informed on. Their view on those matters should get more weighting than their parents. But typically, they don’t.

Some common excuses used by parents to extend this subservient relationship longer than it could be reasonably argued that it should include ‘but I own the house you live in’, ‘but I pay the bills’, ‘but you’ve had a good life’, ‘but I raised you’. In what way are any of these things relevant to the way in which one should treat another living, sentient human? None of these provide any justification for mistreating another human.

To take the antinatalist approach, no child asked their parent to be born. In most cases, two humans made the decision to bring another human in to existence. When they make this decision, they should surely be responsible for their wellbeing. Anything less than a good life, within reason of the parent’s control, is wrong. And so the above examples aren’t justifications for anything, because they are the bare minimum for what should be expected of a parent.

Can you imagine this justification being used in any other scenario? For example, ‘it’s ok that I treat my spouse less than perfect in some cases, because I own the house they live in and gave them a good life’. The fact that a human happens to be the biological child of someone stops being relevant at the legal adult age, and possibly earlier (or maybe later), since I don’t trust governments to have coincidentally all arrived at roughly the best age for this.

So what’s the ideal outcome? People should be seen as being on the same level as their parents once they reach a certain age in almost all aspects. Parents should not see themselves as somehow higher, more deserving of respect or anything else from their child than the reverse. It makes no sense for a child to respect their parent more than the parent respects their child.

We live in a society where people think that one should respect their parents beyond how much they respect other adults of the same age. Many justifications for this are similar to those I’ve mentioned above. But as I also said above, these are the bare minimum for how children should be treated by their parents anyway, so why should it be seen as making someone more worthy of respect?

To go back to the point about children not asking to be born – (granted my view might deviate a little here from some other antinatalists, as I’m glad that I was born and exist, however, this isn’t relevant to the point I’m about to make) Having a child without their consent and expecting them to be subservient to you for even 21 years, let alone their whole lives, is deeply ethically questionable. You are creating a power situation that ultimately benefits you. It may benefit the child as well, but it may not, and in general I don’t think you can justifiably set up a power relationship that benefits you with any other human just because it might benefit the other individual.

Let’s start seeing children as their own independent sentient entity that is worthy of just as much respect and wellbeing as their parents are.

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