Parents, Children, and Morality

Children don't need to prove themselves in order to be worthy of being cared for

Posted May 20, 2014

Parents’ responsibilities to their children are obligatory. Only under extreme circumstances can they legitimately be set aside. A parent doesn’t choose to take care of a child in the same way that a person chooses a friend or chooses to be honest.

The requirement to take care of children is so overwhelming as to be almost beyond question, beyond thought, beyond choice. Parents who don’t fulfill these duties are rightly condemned. Parents are morally accountable to provide for their children’s welfare.

Biology provides the instinct for children’s care. Some parents have biological faults—a mother refuses to offer her breast, turns away in depression, or abandons the child to the elements. Under normal conditions, though, infants are cared for. They needn’t do anything in order to get fed and cleaned and cuddled. Children don’t need to prove themselves in order to be worthy of being cared for.

Most mothers find their children adorable. A parent’s attentiveness issues naturally from feelings of empathy, perhaps strongest in the mother, but also present in other adults who react to the faces, cries, and laughter of infants. Attachment and bonding is necessary for the proper growth of the child, so it isn’t surprising that these impulses lie deep within and are found in most parents. Something is amiss with a parent who refuses to care for the child, who turns away from a needy infant to engage in a personal indulgence.

Occasionally, something goes wrong biologically, where tragically infant/adult bonding doesn’t take hold. The morally reprehensible situation, though, is when parents choose to be neglectful or hurtful and place their own desires ahead of their children’s needs.

An infant’s brain chemistry is affected by the care it receives. A flood of life-enhancing chemicals is released with touching, holding and stroking. Tenderness comes as a soothing voice, a lullaby. A gene that helps regulate stress is released in an infant’s brain when it receives empathic responses. Similar chemicals are released in the brain of the caregiver, providing pleasure in the nurturing behavior.

Child and caregiver are engaged in a mutually pleasurable bond. Happiness and morality couldn’t be closer than they are in parent-child relations.