Rebecca Roache, senior lecturer in philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London writes, “The wish to be biologically related to one’s children, like the wish to associate only within one’s racial group, can have harmful effects.”
Similarly, Dr Ezio Di Nucci of the University of Copenhagen writes, “A preference towards children one is biologically related to is morally illegitimate” and that the tendency to prefer one’s own children is a “moral vice.” He says this is so because “in the context of parental love, biological considerations are normatively irrelevant.”
Despite these declarations from academics in ivory towers, almost all parents from all across the globe display a “passionate determination…to protect and prefer their own children.” Does this mean that all families of the earth are infected with a kind of “systemic familial racism?” That seems to be the growing sentiment, though it is usually couched in less alarming language.
But the almost universal preference for one’s own children is not a disease, a disorder, a symptom of inequality, or a sign of racism. Most people call it something else — love. And most people believe it is a good thing. In fact, the love of mothers and fathers has historically been the standard against which all other love is measured.
Is it surprising that when we go to a piano recital, we’re most anxious to hear our own child play? Is it shocking that when we go to a high school football game, we hope the coach calls our kid off the bench to give it his best shot? No, these are not signs of systemic racism or inequality. These are the very things that bind the world together. They are the things that provide almost every person on earth with their very own cheering section and support system.
But why should it matter? Should it matter which child or which parent belongs to whom? Aren’t we supposed to love everyone? Aren’t we supposed to love everyone as ourselves? Isn’t that the grand goal? Yes. But that’s a tall order, and it takes a very long time to learn. Learning to love works better in small, cohesive sets of people who belong to each other. The small sets of people we get to practice loving are our families. In time, when we come to realize that everyone in the world is literally part of our vast, interconnected family, we love everyone better because we learned to love some people in our micro-families first.
When a child is orphaned or separated from her parents for other reasons, a just society works to remedy that situation in a way that is in the best interest of the child. Adoption—while rarely seamless—often offers a child the wonderful opportunity of living in a family where she is claimed and loved, following the pattern established by biological belonging and stewardship.
Since the days of Plato, philosophers of many stripes have argued that parents are nothing special and that non-parents could raise children better than their own flesh and blood. In the 1970s, author Shulamith Firestone wrote, “A mother who undergoes a nine-month pregnancy is likely to feel that the product of all that pain and discomfort ‘belongs’ to her…But we want to destroy this possessiveness.”
In 2017, anti-marriage advocate and radical feminist Merav Michaeli said that the stewardship of fathers over their children caused “ongoing hurt in children” and proposed that biological relationships not be recognized by the state but rather the state should endorse child custody agreements wherein “[a] child can have more than two parents; they don’t necessarily have to be his biological parents or her biological parents.”
Further, in 2019 feminist Sophie Lewis said we must “explode notions of hereditary parentage” and work for the widespread “defeat of kinship.” She also declared that “Infants don’t belong to anyone, ever,” which flatly denies the validity of family bonds.
Those who wish to abolish or denounce the bonds of mothers and father because they foster possessiveness or racism of some variety are grossly misguided. They underestimate the power of familial belonging, the supremacy of sacrificial serving, and the anatomical design of humans which demands them both.
The long, arduous dedication required in helping a small, incapable person become a big, capable person is a key component for growing love. And loving that which belongs to you is not wicked. It is good.
A place of connection, not competition
Conception and birth connect us to each other inescapably by forging what we have come to call family relationships. If this were not the case, and life were set up more like the classic novel Lord of the Flies where people are essentially airdropped into a community instead of being birthed into specific families in a community, there would be no discernible connections between people. Socialist utopists call this “equality.” What it brings is cutthroat chaos. It brings rivalries or alliances. Starting life from a place of neutrality or opposition rather than connection is more likely to result in enmity, animosity, hatred, and death.
Fortunately, either by a stroke of luck or by the design of God, family relationships launch people from a place of connection rather than competition.
The physical links between parents and children ensure that everyone starts from a place of connected belonging and specific placement, which secures for them the best possible potential for surviving and for experiencing love. Hatred or indifference are still possible, but inherent belonging accomplished by the formation of families tips the scales in favor of love.
So is loving your own child a racist, “moral vice?” Well, if a new mother cared no more for her newborn babe than for the baby in the next room, the world—and the babies in it—would be in a world of hurt. In fact, I submit such a world could not last one generation. Family love is not racism. It is the very foundation of civilization.