Comment Rescue: The Question of Interchangeability



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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80 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    (as always, if you hate the picture or the title, let me know and we’ll find a better one or the other or both)Report

  2. “If a father can’t be a mother, does it (or does it not?) follow that a kid who grows up with two fathers gets a tough shake, or at least misses something, compared to a kid who grows up with a mother and a father does? Again, I don’t think it really does (though I’m not sure why exactly)”

    I agree with what Zic said about the two parents thing, but, perhaps in answer to Mr. Drew’s qualification: perhaps being the child of two loving parents but not having a mother is similar to being the child of two loving parents but not having a brother or being the child of two loving parents and not having a sister.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      It’s probably best for a child to be surrounded by people who love him or her, from all different walks of life. Men who are stereotypically men, Men who aren’t, Women who are stereotypically women, Women who aren’t. People their own age who are different whether that mean different colors, different cultures, or just… well… kinda different.

      Let them see that there’s more than one way to do things.

      The realization that so-and-so doesn’t talk “funny” but talks the way that people from Minnesota talk and if *YOU* went to Minnesota, people would think that *YOU* were talking “funny” is a big one.

      The world is big and there’s room for all kinds of different ways of tackling pretty much anything, including personhood itself.

      And the more grownups in the child’s life to provide confusing examples, the better.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        [NB Really this comment deserves a rich set of citations and I am too lazy and preoccupied with other things to go find them. Mea culpa, my friends.]

        This is one of the few such questions on which Jay and I agree very deeply.

        In response to the original post (er, comment rescue), what I was going to say is that the deepest flaw in the cultural conversations I’ve seen about this lies with the model which assumes that the nuclear family (one or two parents, and one or more kids) as the main determinant of either happy childhoods or later happiness/success of the children. For many children this is the case; but for many other children (child-me included), other adults, particularly kin adults, are, individually, as, or nearly as, important as either parent… and collectively, far outweigh the importance of parents alone.

        I think any effective study of how kids are influenced by their upbringing needs to compare not just facts of parentage or official guardianship, but also facts of adult kin involvement in the kids’ lives, and other adult involvement (teachers, family friends, longterm daycare providers, etc.) – whether that involvement is good or bad, for many families it matters a great deal; and the assumption that it doesn’t is grounded in an abstracted (and to me unappealing) 50s ideal of what a family is, and who a child knows.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          You are very correct Maribou, kids do best with not only 2 parents but a loving extended family. Sometimes both parents need a break are overwhelmed so aunts, uncles, grandparents can all jump in and also offer a zillion bits of love, fun, etc. Cousins are some of the best and first playmates for kids. I’ve worked with families for years and the ones that do best have helpful extended families. I rarely see a family do well with one parent and no extended family.

          When i was a family therapist my most excellent supervisor used to focus on the phrase “good enough parent.” We didn’t need to make the parents we worked with the best parent ever, we needed to give them the skills to be good enough. Just loving enough, just protective enough, just caring enough. That is what kids need, they don’t need the absolute best of everything. They needs the basics done competently and they will be fine.Report

        • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

          Since I am a single parent, both of my parents (my mom especially) have been heavily involved in my son’s life. There have been periods of time that we have lived with them, and my mom has taken care of him after school and during school vacations, etc. He is probably as close to them as he is to me.

          Both of my parents are able to provide different experiences than I can, and I believe he benefits from that. He also sees his mom and her husband every other weekend, which provides yet another lifestyle. All of those factors definitely contribute to the person he is, and I think he is better for all of it.

          Really, that 50s nuclear ideal seems to be something of a blip in the idea of what a family should be. Larger extended families seem to be much more common throughout history, if I am not mistaken, and I am not sure if a stable two-parent home has been the majority situation for very long.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            For almost all of history and still in most places now it is far more common for extended family to be involved in child rearing. It is really since the 50’s weird vision of the nuclear family as the pinnacle that you mention that we have had this idea.Report

          • Avatar Matty says:

            Is there not some speculation that humans actually evolved to live past reproductive age because of the benefits to children of support from grandparents?Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          My son will likely never know his grandparents (2 are dead, 1 is evil/psychotic, & the last is plain uninterested).

          But he already has a network of great aunts & great uncles & second cousins & Godless parents & close friends (with children his age).

          His “family” will be quite the diverse collection.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:


    There was a subtle but very important shift in your framing of the topic. The title of my post was that “fathers aren’t mothers.” In your comment, you discuss how “fathers can’t be mothers”.

    To me, it comes down to how we define things. As I understand and used the terms, father and mother are gendered terms that refer to the sex of the parent: a mother is a female parent and a father is a male parent. Anything beyond that, to me, is harkening to traditional gender roles… or a gender role of any kind.

    If we say that a mother is one who is nurturing and gentle and emotionally vulnerable with the child and a father is one who is rugged and takes risks and challenges the child… well, I’d reject that… but if that is how we are going to define the terms, then a man can be a mother and a woman can be father. But I think that is backwards. I think that is take the traditional characteristics of mothers and fathers and working those into the definition.

    My intent was not to limit what a father (or mother) can do, but instead to empower them. No matter what the male parent does, be it nurture or strap a faux boob to his chest a la Bobby DeNiro in “Meet the Fockers”, he is still the father.

    Now, I think zic nicely addresses how this relates to SSM, but I’ll offer my own response (which will very much overlap with hers).

    Suppose we say it is ideal for a child to get A, B, C, D…X, Y, and Z from his parents. And let’s say that traditionally, women tended to offer A-M and men tended to offer N-Z. As a result, it would seem that a heterosexual couple would be the ideal for children and that any other arrangement would be inferior to that. But that is ONLY if you accept that men are limited to offering N-Z and women to A-M. And I reject that! And I also reject the notion that all heterosexual couples are automatically going to offer A-Z. You may get a mom who lacks G, H, I, and J, and a dad who’s missing O and S and W and Y. But we do not scrutinize heterosexual couples in the same way we scrutinize same sex couples. When two men raise a baby, we wonder, “Who will nurture it???” But we don’t wonder that about heterosexual couples, even though I’ve seen many pairings in which neither is nurturing. But this is the result of making assumptions based on traditional gender roles.

    I’ll concede that there are a handful of parent offerings that might be gender specific. Men can’t breastfeed. I imagine a woman talking to a teenage boy about erections and masturbation might not be as effective as a man; likewise with a man talking to a teenage girl about menstruation and breast development. But even the best parent is going to have gaps. And, fortunately, there are ways to compensate for these gaps.

    Russell recently wrote a post about his child’s interest in sports, something he nor his partner share. Is this because they are gay? Who knows… who cares. The fact is, neither one of them is particularly sporty, an affliction shared by opposite and same-sex couples alike. So Russell reached out to us, his friends who might be better inclined towards sports, on how to proceed. Just like straight parents do!

    So, in a nutshell, I don’t think same sex couples are necessarily lacking in a way that opposite sex couples are. Is it possible that there is a greater frequency of certain gaps emerging when the two parenting styling/offerings are laid over each other? I guess. But when you factor in that gay couples by design MUST actively seek out being parents, something that is not true of opposite sex couples, than you are already starting from a baseline of people who necessarily sought out and wanted children and, presumably, will love and cherish them. Which I’m confident mitigates whatever small risk their might be for non-complimentary parent roles.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:


      I definitely agree that in terms of parental offerings, there’s just about nothing that a man can’t offer that a woman can or vice versa. The assignments of those roles, as you say, is almost fully related to traditional associations and nothing necessary about who does them.

      What I was wondering about was not so much whether the slate of functions can be performed. I was always sure they could be. I really was wondering about “having a mother” and “having a father” as defined just in the way you define them: just having a parent who is a man and a parent who is a woman. I had to think about whether that matters, and I decided that it doesn’t. But I had to think about it. That was really the point of my comment.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I applaud you for thinking about it. Hell, I actively argue that it is important that children have men as teachers. How I align that with my feeling that it isn’t important that children have men (or women) as parents… hmmm…Report

    • Avatar Drew says:

      This hits on a lot of my questions about Michael’s comment/OP–what inherent benefit is there to a “mother” or a “father”? What does a mother provide inherently that cannot be provided by a father?Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I’m realizing I went way further in the first paragraph than I meant to, even allowing for the fact that I immediately say the idea I was considering didn’t actually hold. I never for a second considered whether a kid who has two devoted parents neither of whom happens to be a woman gets a “rough shake” in the way a kid who grows up without a mother due to having just one parent does. As I later go on to say, all I wondered was whether there was something at the margin that kid might miss compared to having a parent of each sex, even if it were of minute significance compared to the hugely important fact of having two loving parents. And, as I say, I don’t think even that’s true.

    I think the best response to this (and it occurred to me after I agreed to the comment rescue) is just the familiar, sound principle that families come in every shape and size, and we shouldn’t privilege one composition over another. I totally agree with that. The kids are all right.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    First, two loving, healthy, stable parents are best. They model loving, healthy relationships, with all its components, including compromise, anger management, the joy of sharing. Just seeing a healthy relationship as a child seems like it would teach the child so much of value for his or her own adult life.

    Second, and I really want to stress this one, having lived it myself as a child and seen it in friends raising children alone: Relief. Children require non-stop attention; particularly when they’re young, the care-giving includes their sleeping hours. One of the greatest benefits to a partner is someone to shoulder the responsibility and provide some downtime on a consistant basis. It’s caring for the caregivers, and it makes a huge difference. I greatly admire the burden I see single parents shoulder; but the exhaustion of it often contributes to a kind of overload that can make even simple decisions seem out of reach.

    The next obvious thing, then, is that it’s probably better to be a single parent if the other parent is abusive and dysfunctional. If the partnership means one partner shoulders the burden of both the children and must protect them from the other partner, it increases the caregiver’s load substantially. I’ve watched women in abusive relationships shoulder this; seen them, for instance, read the signs of building stress and actually provoke outbursts so that the force of anger will fall on them in a more controlled fashion, instead of randomly bursting out at the children. So a single parent would be more optimal then a married couple where one partner is abusive.Report

  6. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Well, there’s always the social science that might help answer the question.

    In general, it shows that children of divorce do worst. Children who always were with single parents aren’t so great either.

    Children who spend their whole childhood with two parents do much better, and that’s true even if both parents are men or both are women.

    But things are quite tricky here, because many same-sex parenting arrangements are the products of an earlier heterosexual divorce. Not all of them are adoptions from birth, not by a long shot.

    There is an enormous diversity of family situations, and that diversity matters. Generally and unfortunately it tends to drive the debate in fairly dishonest directions — as when “pro-family” groups cite the single-parenting studies to say that two gay parents can’t be as good. (This happens all the time, and people point out that it’s dishonest, and nobody seems to care. They always get away with it.)

    And anyway, the real question lies elsewhere. We shouldn’t be trying to give marriage only to the already-most-fortunate. If that were true, we should first deny marriage to the poor, whose parenting outcomes are uniformly much worse.

    Nobody thinks this is a good idea. That’s in part because marriage is a help in raising children, whether you’re gay or straight. Are gay couples actually worse than straight couples? Let’s grant it for the sake of argument. Then give us marriage, so we’re not quite as bad. If we even are.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      I’m not sure how we’d go about measuring Good or Bad in terms of how children turn out. I’m not saying single parenthood isn’t a problem: overwhelmingly, prisoners incarcerated for five years or more come from broken families.

      This Nuclear Family concept is pretty much nonsense, in my book. It arose from the settler mentality: far from any extended family structure or generational village/neighbourhood situation, where any adult could give a child a word of warning or a well-deserved cuff for his infractions of The Rules, the Nuclear Family was all there was. It just doesn’t work out in practice: children need more than parents.

      I believe every child needs about six people who know and care about them at any one time. Maybe it’s that uncle or aunt, someone friendly and loving, someone to encourage but not be the Bad Cop in any given situation. Grandma and Grandpa, who love their grandchild to distraction — and consternation — of the parents. Maybe it’s a beloved teacher, we’ve all got one of those in our lives, the person who saw something wonderful in us and shaped the rest of our lives thereby. Neighbours, people at church (now there’s a socialising influence many children don’t get these days), a camp counselor, the older kid who sorta takes a younger child under his wing, all sorts of people can shape a child’s life.

      The Nuclear Family is an anomaly in human history and sociology. Some folks scoffed at Hillary Clinton saying “It takes a village to raise a child” but most children were raised in villages.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        I believe every child needs about six people who know and care about them at any one time.

        Is five okay? What if the kid only has four- does that mean they’re already floating up crap creek without a paddle?

        If your point is, “It takes a village …”, then I totally agree with you. But I’m unconvinced that strictly quantifying how many people reside in that village is either elucidating or useful.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Absolutely. I think I alluded to most of these points, especially the notion that, whatever might or might not be “optimal,” the addition of marriage into so many situations where it would otherwise not be from allowing SSM makes doing so a step that will make things hugely better off The kinds of effects I had in mind wouldn’t ever, at least I assumed, be so great as to show up in life outcomes research. I was just thinking terms of possible vague & mild psychic effects that might be slightly negative. But I tend to think that any effects that there might be aren’t likely to be more negative than positive, and we already know there are all kinds of differences in upbringing that that affect kids in all kinds of ways that we don’t view as bad or good – it’s just families are different. This is like that. I just had to think about it.Report

    • Avatar ktward says:

      In general, [social science] shows that children of divorce do worst. Children who always were with single parents aren’t so great either.

      Huh. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a devout libertarian such as yourself, Jason, choosing to cite Social Science as authoritative. Seems a little too convenient. Just saying.

      Anyhoo. Since we already know statistically that roughly 50%ish of marriages end in divorce, what is it exactly that you’re saying about a huge demographic block of our nation’s kids? They’re by default fucked because they come from a “broken” home? Lordy, I’ve been listening to that preachy spiel from the Right ever since I was a kid of a “broken” home, 40+ years ago.

      The reason kids with married parents fare better is because there are both serious logistical and economic advantages to a two-parent household. Crikey, any parent can recognize that bottom line.

      But where economics are not a mitigating factor, for whatever reasons, what children require are folks who are engaged and attentive role models. Daughters require father figures every bit as much as sons do. And vice versa. I mean, it’s great if a girl’s father figure is, in fact, her father, but it does not have to be so in terms of her healthy development.

      It doesn’t matter one whit whether a daughter’s parents are two dudes or a son’s parents are two gals. Two loving, supportive parents in the home make life easier for the kids. Period. After that, what they need healthy, engaged and caring gender-specific role models, which Do Not have to be their parents.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        I think, Jason, you’re saying that a two-parent home–whether hetero or gay–is, statistically, a better bet for kids than a single-parent home. And for the reasons stated in my previous comment, I toally agree with you.

        Where I don’t agree with you is your implication that kids of single-parent homes are, by default, screwed. Just by suggesting that, in one fell swoop you unintentionally doom all kids of single-parent homes. Like I said, the number of parents contributing to the kid’s economic needs is a huge factor, I simply wanted to underscore that role modeling plays an equally mitigating factor and doesn’t actually have a lot of correlation to the number of parents in the home. Good news for the multitude of kids from single-parent homes, no?Report

        • I’m not saying at all that divorce should be prohibited.

          If you thought that, you were wrong. There’s one demographic we can’t study so easily, and those are the kids whose parents really should have divorced but didn’t. They may very well do worse than single-parent children of a divorced marriage.

          There are also some remarkable studies that have shown that when a state enacts no-fault divorce, the suicide rate among married women plummets.

          But hey, citing social science to support my views — in this case, supporting no-fault divorce — is just to conveeeeinent for you.


          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            There’s one demographic we can’t study so easily, and those are the kids whose parents really should have divorced but didn’t.

            Agreed about that.

            I tend to think that if there isn’t a commitment to something external to individual desires, then forcing a marriage to continue is counterproductive for both parties as well as the kids. But if each partner in a marriage places the interests of the kids above their own (which happens!), then preserving a marriage can be good for the kids, if not for the adults.

            But if the parents are already inclined to value the kids’ interests above their own, then they would make that choice without external compulsion.

            Raising kids is tricky, no doubt. All too often, it seems to me, people who are emotional children end up playing the role of being emotional adults.Report

          • Avatar ktward says:

            I’m not saying at all that divorce should be prohibited.

            Holy cow, I didn’t think you were. Not at all!
            I scoured my comment trying to find the spot where you might make that leap — miscommunications happen all the time — honest to god I can’t find it. I mean, in the main libertarians are not about prohibiting stuff. Even some bad stuff. Amirite?

            No, my takeaway of your OP followed an entirely different tack. If I did a bad job of communicating that, my sincere apologies.

            I was making two points:

            A. Libertarians citing social science as authoritative is, I dunno, kind of like Glenn Beck citing Daily Kos as authoritative.

            That said, I do recognize that conservative ideologues are bringing specific bias into an already controversial field of science (e.g. Mark Regnerus), but AFAIK libertarians remain largely skeptical of the field. Do I have that wrong? I mean, are y’all widely embracing the field as legit science now? Or are you using it as a convenience to make an already pre-determined point? Obviously I suspect the latter or I wouldn’t have commented.

            B. Familial dystopia is complicated. In fact, it’s largely impossible to strictly define beyond, “Abuse is always bad.” Nevertheless, the over-arching factor that works against kids is economic, not the number of parents in the home. In other words, it’s way easier to compensate for having only one parent in the home (via role modeling support from one’s community support) than it is to compensate for economic distress.

            Meanwhile, you state, “There’s one demographic we can’t study so easily, and those are the kids whose parents really should have divorced but didn’t.”

            This also strikes me as a bizarre thing for a libertarian to say. Crikey, even as a liberal I can’t imagine the usefulness of such a study.

            I mean, who is it that gets to set the standards for which parents should divorce for “the kids’ sake” and which shouldn’t? Unless you’re suggesting that the State should be obligated to pick up the logistical and economic slack for these particular kids, what would be the usefulness of such a study? State Child and Family Services are notoriously under-staffed and under-funded to care for the kids who are already all too obviously in serious familial distress. Abuse abounds in the foster care system.

            Heh. I’m left thinking that, on this particular topic anyway, I’m more of a libertarian than you are, Jason. Go figure. 🙂Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Holy cow, I didn’t think you were [suggesting we abolish no-fault divorce]. Not at all!

              Oh good. That’s a relief. I spend a lot of time reading social conservatives, and they do cite this type of research to argue against no-fault divorce. They are wrong for doing so, but the research remains interesting.

              My bringing it up — combined with the fact that, from your vantage point, I’m quite possibly just another wingnut — means that I just possibly need to clear up that point. Glad that’s taken care of.

              A. Libertarians citing social science as authoritative is, I dunno, kind of like Glenn Beck citing Daily Kos as authoritative.

              I disagree. I think plenty of social science supports libertarian conclusions. And if social science says we’re wrong about some point or other, then we need to figure out why. Which could be many different things, of course, and not always “well, the libertarians are just wrong here.”

              Or are you using [social sciences] as a convenience to make an already pre-determined point?

              I don’t know. Is it “convenient” — and thus worthy of contempt — when scary, not-to-be-trusted social science (which apparently I’m supposed to hate, for some reason) says that the Drug War isn’t working?

              I mean, that’s convenient as all hell for me ideologically. So I should disagree with social science… just because? I’m confused.

              Sometimes convenient and right coincide. But it would be convenient for me to say so, wouldn’t it?

              Put another way: Why do you insist that whatever I believe must be against evidence? I know that you think the balance of evidence runs in favor of the progressives, but to criticize me for resorting to evidence is just really… weird.

              I mean, who is it that gets to set the standards for which parents should divorce for “the kids’ sake” and which shouldn’t?

              I would think this is a question whose answer can’t easily be determined before the fact. Particularly not by a third party. And that’s why the parents should decide rather than the state.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I quoted a Wallace Stevens poem the other day. Is that okay?Report

  7. Avatar DBrown says:

    As a single Dad raising a daughter, I disagree that two parents are always needed (but yes, I do agree it is preferred.) My daughter has been a model child/teen, obtaining perfect grades and has always exhibited wonderful behavior. She has attended an Ivy League school in order to take advanced math courses while still in high school and will be going to MIT (she is a math and physics prodigy.) Optimal parenting is often what one makes of it.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Can you describe your support network for raising this wonderful daughter?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Yes, I’d love to hear about that network.

        I’d also like to hear about how you cared for yourself; this matters mightily in raising children alone.

        You, too, BlaiseP., you’ve obviously got an important support network and methods of sustaining yourself as you parented alone.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky says:

    There is one thing a father can’t do, and that’s be female. It’s vitally important to children to see a woman being respected by a man. If a boy doesn’t see that, he’s likely to grow up to treat women badly. If a girl doesn’t see it, she’ll be more likely to think of herself as only good for one thing. It seems to be important at different times: a younger boy attaches to the father role-model earlier in life, but the girl needs to see the healthy male/female interaction in her early teens.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      It’s vitally important to children to see a woman being respected by a man. If a boy doesn’t see that, he’s likely to grow up to treat women badly. If a girl doesn’t see it, she’ll be more likely to think of herself as only good for one thing.

      The absence of mistreatment, combined with emphasis on respect for all people achieves the same goal, Pinky. But if there is a heterosexual relationship, yes, having the woman treated with respect is essential. An abusive relationship between the parents is probably worse the single parenting by a long shot.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        “The absence of mistreatment, combined with emphasis on respect for all people achieves the same goal, Pinky.”

        I don’t think it does. Personal experience tells me it doesn’t, and I don’t know of any research that supports your position. Male-female respect is a very tricky thing – especially as all of our advertising and a good chunk of our brains tell us to use people for sex – and proper behaviour has got to be modelled.Report

        • Avatar ktward says:

          … proper behaviour has got to be modelled.


          Critical to this discussion, proper behavior does not necessarily have to modeled by a parent. Healthy modeling by adults otherwise engaged in the child’s life is not only enough, it’s enough to turn even a self-destructive kid’s trajectory around in spite of inadequate parenting.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Well, sure — but that opens the door to what it means to be female and how men ought to respect women. Every relationship is as unique as the people involved. Look, it doesn’t matter what sort of relationship it is: work, friendship, love relationship, family — once respect is gone, the relationship is dead. Oh, it might go on standing there like some dead tree — and it might stand for a longlong time, but it’s dead nonetheless.

      It’s awfully useful, in every such case where we plug in the source and target of respect, that we can interchange them with equal validity. It’s vitally important to see men respected by women, too.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        “It’s vitally important to see men respected by women, too.”

        Again, developmentally, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The male showing respect to the female seems to be the biggie.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          The topic at hand is the Question of Interchangeability. I contend respect is a two-way proposition. No respectful relationship was a one-way proposition, where one party did all the respecting and the other didn’t.

          I grow a bit weary of all this skim-milk talk about how Men Don’t Respect Women. It is certainly true: many men don’t respect women. But if Interchangeability is the gist of the conversation, I would observe many abused women don’t have any self-respect. Can’t have any respect for anyone else without a firm grounding in self-respect. There they are, poor wretched creatures, weeping and screaming and bleeding as their abusive menfolk are hauled away, “Oh but I love him! What will my children do without a father?”

          Yes, that’s a problem, ma’am. The problem would be substantially worse if it was you being hauled away on a gurney in a body bag. That’s where all this ends, ma’am, inevitably. Happens with terrible frequency. See how your children will do without a mother.

          Respect is earned. You don’t just deserve respect, beyond the courtesy we’d afford a complete stranger. Most bad relationships go on far too long: once the respect is gone, the partners can’t even treat each other as well as they would complete strangers.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          I might add, though it was covered logically, now I’ll put it out explicitly: abusive men who don’t respect women have no self-respect. Somewhere along the line, every abuser lost his own self-respect. Perhaps it was when he was abused, himself, told he was a worthless human being and he came to believe it.

          People with self-respect don’t tolerate abusers. Which isn’t to say every relationship hasn’t had its stormy moments where one or both or all N parties to the relationship vent their feelings. Everyone’s entitled to say “I feel [insert emotion here]” without fear of reprisal.

          Abuse is different. I used to tell my kids “At turns, I’ve contemplating whacking you for this or that. I have certainly been angry enough at you to do it. But all that would do is tell you Hitting People is an appropriate response to anger. I suppose, at turns, you’ve been horribly angry with me, too. Don’t swallow anger. Have enough self-respect to not believe the terrible things people say about you. If you can’t respect yourself, nobody else will either.”Report

  9. Avatar Roger says:

    If two gay parents was proven beyond all doubt to lead to worse statistical outcomes for kids, would any of us argue this is a reason to outlaw gay marriage? Why?

    If two heterosexual parents were proven to lead to slightly worse statistical outcomes for the kids, would anyone argue against heterosexual marriage? Why not?

    If we got incontrovertible statistical proof that native American parents were less effective at raising kids, would we have a right or obligation to interfere with their marriages?

    There are gender differences and these do have effects on kids. There are also quality differences within the genders that have even more extreme effects.

    I guess what I am thinking is that the way Judge Walker framed the issue is lacking. It isn’t about kids being materially harmed. It is about statistical differences in how much improvement the parents provide. And this issue, above a certain level (abuse or abandonment) is none of anyone else’s damn business.Report

    • Avatar Lyle says:

      Actually this comes to the nub of the question, is marriage about children or about the two adults? If you make it about the 2 adults then SSM and indeed brothers and sisters getting married (SSM or otherwise) would be ok, since the rules are designed to eliminate the effects of inbreeding. All of the opponents of SSM talk as if marriage is primarily about the children, all be it that many non SSM marriages don’t result in children.
      But that fundamental question is never really discussed, who is marriage about?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        And who gets to determine or deem what it is about.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          How about “the people getting married”?Report

          • Avatar Lyle says:

            I think that has to be the answer. If a hetro couple dont
            want children for whatever reason, and marriage is about
            children should they be allowed to marry. If you carry the argument in
            favor of marriage being about children, to its limit on the slippery s
            slope basis, you get that they should not be able to marry.Report

  10. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    dauntless commenter Michael Drew

    I think it’s high time that fella gets daunted! Who’s in?Report

  11. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    Mr. Drew’s reservations, his sense of something wrong with the picture, points to a gap in the discussion which is also the source of highly volatile emotional content. One result is two sides talking past each other, seemingly incomprehensible to each other, prone to attributing the worst conceivable motives to the adversary, and best conceivable to themselves.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Here’s part of the problem, as I see it. For the sake of argument, let’s agree that it *MIGHT* be best (for fsvo “best”) for the kid to be raised with a Mommy and a Daddy. Mommy can do Mommy stuff and Daddy can do Daddy stuff and, all things considered, everything ought to be covered.

      There might be a handful of kids out there for whom this is not the case but let’s say that they’re outliers.

      For the sake of argument, let’s say that this is true.

      The problem comes when this little factoid is used to argue that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to adopt/get married. “It’s not ideal.”

      Well, there are a lot of people here who have dear loved ones who have adopted beautiful children and who, until recently, were not allowed to marry (and, indeed, some who still aren’t).

      As such, when a lot of us see the argument “it’s not ideal”, they immediately get ready to argue about gay marriage and gay adoption.

      Add too that the fact that many of us were raised in situations that weren’t ideal situations (parents who died too young, parents who divorced) and many others of us were raised in situations that were, to outside appearances, ideal but, to inside appearances, pretty effed up and we look at our dear loved ones here and wonder where the voices were when we were growing up…

      For my part, my mother was asked what secret sin she must have had in her life to cause her husband to be struck down so young. Just to pick an example.

      As such, when I hear people complain about non-ideal parenting situations, I hear the voice of people who are just complaining about things being non-ideal and who never did a damn thing to help someone like me.

      Our loved ones here? They’re adopting kids. They are taking kids who might have had screwed up childhoods and providing them with, all things considered, not bad ones. I’ve been privy to a conversation or two and read (and heard) discussions between the parents and the kids and, you know what? They’re conversations that dads have with kids.

      So if we stipulate that Mommy and Daddy ideal raising is 100 points, and single parenting as the result of death is 80ish points, single parenting as the result of amicable divorce is 85ish points, as the result of hostile divorce worth around 75ish points, and various other parenting arrangements worth between 20ish and 80ish, when someone points out that Same Sex Adoptive Parents (or, I suppose, biological parents who have new relationships now) cannot achieve anything higher than 97 points because they can’t possibly hit “ideal”, I’ve got two emotional responses:

      1) It was attitudes like that that told my mother that her husband’s death was her fault
      2) It was attitudes like that that fought against gay adoption and gay marriage

      Perhaps you’d argue neither point. That’s good on you, if you wouldn’t.

      But those are the undertones that I hear when I hear this argument. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that I am not alone in hearing similar undertones.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        What follows isn’t disagreement, but you’ve written something important, here.

        Why should we stipulate to any such rules? Every child is a mystery to his parents. Children don’t come with manuals. Furthermore, nobody emerges from childhood unscathed. Every child is toddling around in a dangerous, wrong-sized world, full of interesting things and horrible ways to be hurt. And all that yelling! I’m convinced most of the reason we don’t remember infancy is because it was so painful.

        It’s like Bill Cosby used to say, It was because of my father that from the ages of seven to fifteen, I thought that my name was Jesus Christ and my brother, Russell, thought that his name was Dammit. “Dammit, will you stop all that noise?” And, “Jesus Christ, sit down!” One day, I’m out playing in the rain, and my father yelled, “Dammit will you get back in here!” I said, “Dad, I’m Jesus Christ!”

        Children are utterly reliant upon the adults in their lives. It seems infants are hard-wired to give affection. They also tune up their screams to the most annoying frequency for the adults who care for him. Some kids are just more difficult than others, I swear, it’s more than just the things that happened to a kid. Part of me wants to reach out to you and console you for the loss of your Dad, even now. When I lost my Dad, I realised that part of me was gone forever. It was like an amputation.

        Children need caring adults in their lives. I’m not sure how we’d measure the Perfect World of a Man and a Woman as opposed to any other two adults who cared for that child. Children adapt. Parents adapt, too. There’s no scoring this round. Every attempt to do so ends in sadness and a sense of failure. What does the combination of a man and a woman bring to the table for us to declare it’s an ideal? The genetics of it, perhaps? I’m not sure it works that way but I can’t say it doesn’t. Once the child enters the world, like any other sufficiently evolved animal, children imprint on the adults who care for them — and vice versa.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I considered writing a paragraph or two about how a kid raised by these “ideal” parents might hate it while being raised by those “ideal” parents might be awesome. (And vice-versa!)

          You’ve got a bookish kid over here being raised by parents who love sports. Bookish parents over there fumbling their way through football/baseball/basketball jargon.

          Perhaps ESTP parents raising INFJ children. Or vice-versa! There are going to be problems, there is going to be friction, and the parents will ask themselves, after the lights are out, “why doesn’t my child care about these wonderful things that I’m trying to share?”

          And yet when we hear of such things, we shrug. “Dude, I’m sorry that your kid doesn’t want to watch the U of M game with you.”

          We don’t ask whether the child would be better off with differently suited parents. It never freaking OCCURS to us to even *CONSIDER* that.

          But when we hear of two dudes wanting to raise a child, suddenly we ask questions and, sometimes, even make statements.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Heh. This.

            I was the wrong kid for my parents to raise. Just wrong. My uncles and aunts thought I was great. Other people’s families thought I was great, or at least sorta-normal. With my parents, I might as well have been born with horns on my head and cloven feet.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

              Right, Jaybird, and you provide in yourself an example of how difficult it is for anyone to approach this topic “objectively.”

              It seems, at least initially, to go against the very concept of same sex marriage, so appears to beg the question, to argue for the primacy of the biologically determined bonds between parents and children. At the same time, since no one is urging that children be taken from biological parents except in cases of substantial negligence or other problem, and since no one except perhaps at the fringes of discussion argues against a general societal preference or default assumption in favor of keeping children with their biological parents, the matter seems irrelevant to the public policy or civil and legal question of the status of Same Sex Couples and their children. It is socially and politically dangerous to take this line of thought even a step further, however, including for the typical reasons you indicate. Conservatives will find themselves sooner or later “going there anyway,” and will do so in a language that will appear naive and rigid as well as insensitive, somewhat regardless of their conscious intentions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                In the face of so few folks actually achieving “primacy”, I’m okay with 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th best. Well, maybe “okay” isn’t the best word. “I don’t feel like I have any ground to stand upon when it comes to saying that we shouldn’t allow this or that.”

                What ground do you have to stand upon?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                That’s not really accurate, Jaybird. Everybody as far as I know is without exception is connected biologically to their (as we started to say I believe just a couple decades ago) “birth parents.” So, to be a bit clearer, the current state of discussion seems to require a kind of double-think or active repression of the obvious: On the one hand, we still accept the general birth-parent default assumption or preference, and no one seeks to disturb it and also stays politically significant. On the other hand, we are asked, for the very best reasons, to refrain from too explicitly attaching a value to that preference. I’m not sure what kind of ground I need to claim in order to make these observations. What bearing they might have on “allowing this or that,” in other words on particular political or legal matters, is another subject.

                Anyway, thanks for fixing the post title. Take that, ktward and switters!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I was connected to mine, but one died.

                I don’t want to say that it effed up the rest of my life, but part of me wonders what I’d be like if I had a “normal” childhood rather than a different one.

                That said, I was the kid who read books about dragons and wizards in the room whilst Dad watched football. (I made comments like “it says 2 minutes but it doesn’t mean 2 minutes.”)

                If you’d like to point out to me that my life would have been better had my father not died, I’d like to nod my head in agreement but then point out that we are here and here we are.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Why would you suppose I might like to point such a thing out to you? If my life had been better my life might have been better, too, but probably not. Probably if my life had been better, it would have been a lot worse.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I see musing about whether that’d be a better option in front of me to be much more flattering to you personally than the possibility of you musing about two dudes publically but refusing to muse about it in front of someone who had a less than ideal parenting situation himself.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                I don’t get that, Jaybird. Where was I “musing about two dudes,” and how did it have anything to do with the last part? Maybe I’d understand better if you break the thought into separate sentences.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                You know, when we’re discussing “the gap”.

                The gap between 100 point parenting and 97 point parenting that we stipulated earlier.

                I’d hate to think that you’d look at the 3 point gap and cluck your tongue at all of those folks who are politely ignoring it without also doing what you could to cluck your tongue at the 15, 20, 25+ point gaps out there.

                I mean, surely we agree that beams are bigger than motes.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                The “gap” to which I was referring was to the gap in the discussion, and that’s just a metaphor. You could call it a void with multiple dimensions. You could call it actively repressed but possibly highly influential motivation.

                The gap you’re describing would be a different gap, or idea of a gap – and I never stipulated to it. I wouldn’t attach a number to “ideality of family life” for purposes of abstract comparison, as though the theoretical differences are all of the same type and tend to matter in precisely the same ways in all relevant contexts or in some imaginary final most important context.

                I don’t think of myself as much of a tongue-clucker in general, really, except when it comes to spelling errors in post titles and such. Cluck not lest you be clucked, I say, and don’t go around with a tongue on your shoulder – though maybe that’s partly out of my own self-interest, since I neither come from a realized “nuclear ideal,” nor have realized or ever much sought to realize one for myself in my own life.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The issue is one where many of us have seen this “sense that something is wrong with the picture” used in service of awful things.

                “You’re not a real family anymore.”
                “You must have some secret sin.”

                So when we see someone clear their throat and talk about whether there’s not something wrong with the picture there is a lot of stuff being dredged up and a lot of things that are, kinda, true.

                There *IS* something wrong with the picture. But you know what? That’s okay.

                Have you seen the movie Lilo and Stitch? You should. It’s a Disney movie from about a decade ago that didn’t do half as well as it should have… anyway, it’s about a broken family that is trying to get by. The culmination of the film comes when Stitch explains:

                This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.

                As such, I get huffy when people look like they’re going to go from “something is wrong with this picture” to “therefore it’s not still good.”

                When people clear their throats and talk about how something is wrong with this picture, I think about my family and how it is little and broken but it is still good.

                Yeah, still good.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Jaybird, you’re continually personalizing an observation of the discussion by one-sidedly indicting it as an indictably one-sided indictment of possible subjects of the discussion. I’m very happy for Stitch. I’m personally envious of many members of many families that would rate lower than my own far-less-than-ideal-one on your 100-pt scale, but how I feel about my family, your family, or Stitch’s family has nothing to do with the the wrongness of the picture, which isn’t a picture of anybody’s family, but a picture of a public discussion of things that can’t be discussed publicly. That’s a logical difficulty and a sign of unfinished business and potentially of danger whether or not you’re happy, on balance, with the direction the politics seem to have taken.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                To the extent that the personal is the political, personalizing the discussion when the fear is that something will be taken away from me (from us) because it doesn’t meet your standards is something that you are going to have to deal with.

                You will not be able to talk your way into a different discussion except only temporarily and, when the discussion starts up again, you will have to deal with the exact same thing.

                The choice that you have before you is to acknowledge that and fight to get to the temporarily different discussion each time *OR* to feign surprise that, once again, people are assuming that you’re going to sneer down your nose at their little broken kludgy families.

                That’s just the way it is.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                “Feign surprise”? Why would I feign surprise or have any interest in feigning surprise when I began with the proposition of exactly that problem – people taking it personally, and that being “just the way it is,” and having to “deal with the exact same thing” over and over? You seem to think you’re disagreeing with me when you’re just repeating, and evidencing, my argument, which was offered as an interpretation of Mr. Drew’s concerns as he originally stated them, and which you considered significant enough to “rescue.” Apparently you thought there was something there worth discussing, whether or not it might be taken as an excuse to “sneer” at someone’s “little broken kludgy families,” but maybe assuming you wanted to discuss something you presented for discussion was unjustified.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, with that out of the way, the problem with this particular case is that it presents similarly to the last dozen “hey, there’s something wrong with this picture” issues that we, as a society, had to put up with.

                It resulted in social stigma for such things as “having a husband die too young”. Why? Because it was different.

                Divorce had stigma. Why? Because it was different. (Well, until it was common.)

                And so, once again, we see people say that there is something wrong with this picture.

                Indeed, laws were passed and Constitutions were amended in order to prevent this picture from being taken in the first place!

                If all we want to do is point out how, yes, there *IS* something wrong with this picture well… great. I’m delighted that you have the where to stand to point that out. Or the where to stand to point out that other people might have the where to stand to point that out IN THEORY.

                But perhaps we could explore what the best of intentions might be from the other side… the best I’ve got is “I have this compulsion to point out that when someone in a picture is ugly, I say something to the effect of ‘that’s an ugly dude!’ and that’s just how it is.”

                Surely that’s a limitation on my part. Could you explain to me what motivations other folks might have to point out that pictures like the picture of my family have something wrong with them?

                My general assumption is that that is followed by “And therefore something must be done!”

                Explain to me what I am missing here that, if I understood, I’d be able to respond differently.

                Fill the gap.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Don’t have time today to “fill the gap” for you, Jaybird, or even to map it or sketch a possible map. I will say that I find it reductive to reduce the general reaction to death of a spouse and parent, or failure of a marriage, to some implicitly irrational sense of “difference” and application of a “stigma.” There may be some of both, especially of stigma in the latter case in some social contexts, if a lot less now in most of the U.S. than once upon a time, but are we supposed to be completely in-“different” to such events? How can someone offer respect or condolences or aid without implicitly acknowledging a reason to do so?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Are we supposed to be indifferent? Well, it depends on how you mean the term.

                The changes due to death/divorce, for example, had a particular starting point and then, WHAM, lifequake. “I’m sorry you had a lifequake” seems to be an acceptable thing to say.

                So when you look at, say, a bunch of family pictures and 1978 looks like a normal family– Mom, Dad, two kids, and 1979 has the dad looking sickly, and 1980 has the dad looking moon-faced from Chemo/Radiation, and 1981 has just three people in it, you can say “there’s something wrong with this picture” because you know that something happened.

                If you look at, say, a bunch of family pictures and 1978 looks like a normal family– Mom and Dad sitting together, kids on their laps, and 1979 has Mom, kid, kid, Dad, and 1980 is missing, and 1981 has Mom, kid, kid (and another book has Dad, kid, kid), you can say “there’s something wrong with this picture” because, once again, you know that a lifequake happened.

                The problem with Dad, Dad, kid, kid pictures comes when you’re comparing it to 1978… “There’s something wrong with this picture.”

                My argument is that you might want to look at 1977, and 1976, and 1975 and see that the kids were apart, alone, in orphanages, unadopted. The addition of the dads and the addition of the kids resulted in a 1978 picture that might look different from the other 1978 pictures but what’s wrong with it is cultural expectation given the other 1978 pictures.

                And that’s without getting into looking at a nice family picture from 1978 with the implication being “there’s nothing wrong with this picture”… and then hearing that, oh, one of the parents drank a lot (a lot a lot) and the other liked to beat the kids with extension cords.

                The “there’s something wrong with this picture” intuition isn’t necessarily grounded on wrong ways of thinking about things, but the hidden implication of “there is something wrong here” is “and that something wrong could, in theory, be made right”.

                If you’re not wishing to imply that that something wrong could, in theory, be made right, I’m stuck wondering what the implication of “there’s something wrong with this picture” could possibly be.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Jaybird, I repeat: “There is something wrong with this picture” was a reference to the public discussion, the sense of a contradiction, expressed by Mr. Drew in relation to the possible problem of fathers trying but failing to be “real” mothers, and necessary implications regarding any claim that, other things being equal, there was no meaningful difference between same sex parenting and opposite sex parenting regarding the welfare of affected children. Check my original comment on this sub-thread:

                Not that I think you’re completely off, Jaybird, when you point to the other kind of “wrong picture.” The Drew question seems to point to a more complex inquiry whose difficulties are easier to show than its value to the people or the state, and clearly demonstrable value to the people or the state may not be the only justification for pursuing an inquiry, but Drew’s argument does in turn seem to reinforce or revive a prejudice, or idea of a reasonable prejudice, against SSM, and, by extension, against other “less-than-ideal” family arrangements. Or, put another way, the picture – of the discussion – seems to suggest that we continue to treat the prejudice as valid in some ways and in some areas, or that we might have good reason to do so, even while we pursue public policy and a public discussion on terms that presume it isn’t or shouldn’t be.

                So you’re also right that the bigger picture that I was referring to does include that other picture, and that idea of its simple wrongness that bothers you, but the discussion of pictures vs statements vs different types of wrongness gets confusing. It could also be that whatever valid question there might be on fathers as mothers in re SSM has not yet been rigorously enough stated. Taken on its own terms, the maternal inadequacies of well-meaning menfolk may not be in itself a very important problem. The harm, if any, might be relatively small on average, especially compared to the benefits of the SSM household, for affected children. (One area that I imagine the issue might come up, and potentially loom very large, is in custody disputes – e.g., whether to award joint or sole custody to a same sex couple when others with a more “traditional” claim argue against it. It’s easy to think up a wide range of predicaments, and I’m a bit surprised that there haven’t been higher profile cases of this type brought to public attention, but maybe I just missed the story or stories. That’s very possible for two reasons: 1), the issue has no direct relevance to my life; 2), I had enough experience of an ugly, painful, and traumatically damaging custody case to prefer to avoid the subject.)

                If the contradiction in the broad public discussion remains unresolved, it would hardly be the first time. We have been dealing with such contradictions since forever. You might even argue – I have – that the American system is characterized by foundational contradiction, that we hold these contradictions to be self-evident. Therefore, the existence of a “problem” does not necessarily indicate the requirement or even the possibility of a solution (or of a single solution or resolution). So one reason that an authentically American conservative response to SSM might be, in short, “so what?” is that conservatives in general and American conservatives especially don’t or shouldn’t assume that the perfect regime is attainable, or always to be sought, if ever. Why should we expect a political-social institution for millions or hundreds of millions of people in vastly varying circumstances to conform to some single, never actually clearly stated marriage ideal?

                In the meantime, the assumption that all problems can be “made right” as in “perfectly right” and “completely ideal” without trade-offs is arguably a completely alien assumption in America, and possibly a bad assumption most other places as well.Report

  12. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    (Also: “interchangability” is not considered interchangeable with “interchangeability”: The former is considered incorrect and violates rules for softening of the “g.” In other words, the post title contains a misspelling or typo… Please fix it, as it works my nerves, and feel free to delete this comment afterward.)Report

    • Avatar ktward says:

      Works your nerves?

      Dude. No one who blogs gives a shit, and if a spelling or grammatical error bugs you that much then you probably just haven’t blogged long enough. As an English major, I totally feel your pain. Really. But let it go. No one cares but you.Report

    • Avatar switters says:

      Initially, I was having a hard time ignoring the mistake too. You, however, have provided me a reason to embrace it. CheersReport