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Do parents ever really “own” a child?


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Without peeking at a dictionary or consulting a learned friend, I'm going to guess that disowning a child is different than giving a child up for adoption. The latter can be done reasonably, I think, when a parent realizes she is severely limited in the ability to provide safety and care to her child. The former, disowning, seems to mean a cut-off of relationship. We may wish to do that in times of stress, fatigue or fear. But a child is always and forever your child.

That said, I have trouble with our Western notions of owning children in the first place. We are inextricably connected, called to steward them, teach, nourish and guard them. But owning them? Nah. Too capitalist sounding for me.

Because in the end the calling of a parent is to give the child away to the child's own dreams and adventures. We love them and hopefully give them solid ground for their formative years but then they are meant to go. To be sent. Perhaps not geographically. Maybe they keep living down the hall. But we parents do not own or control the futures of our children. This is both a great blessing and a terribly hard thing to learn.

Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews believes in the sensus lusus, or playful spirit. Liturgy, worship and faithful practice are at their best when accompanied with a wink, she says.




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Eric Ohrtman

I spent the final three semesters and the intervening summer of my undergraduate education as a research assistant for my academic advisor. He was researching religious conversion/religious identity toward the eventual publication of his own memoirs of being raised a Conservative Jewish son of Holocaust survivors, having converted to Christianity and become a Lutheran pastor, and returning in his 50’s to Judaism. It was the task of his “research team” (myself and Dr. John Anderson whose book ‘Jacob: The Divine Trickster’ I would recommend without reservation) to provide anecdotal support for his analytical research. We interviewed 50 religious converts from South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota, defining convert as one who moved from one faith to another, not one who moved from one denomination to another. Without pulling that paper out of basement storage I can’t recall the exact figure, but I believe it was 8-10 who experienced complete discontinuation of relationship with some portion of their family and an addition 12-15 who had experienced/were experiencing a period of estrangement. Two stuck out. Both were highly successful academics who had become Christian as adults. The first, a Lakota man, described the secret relationships that he maintained with portions of his family who sought his assistance for any number of reasons. His value seemingly, had become his relative affluence, education, and ability to navigate urban culture. He had become a shameful, but necessary tool. The second, my advisor, described the total disowning he had experienced. In his words, “I am dead to my parents. I haven’t even talked to my parents in 32 years. They’ve never met their grandchildren and I don’t even know if they are aware of their existence.” The only way he had any knowledge of his family was through a brother and thanks to the advent of cellphones. In both cases, though, what struck was the quiet heartbreak of each of these outwardly “capable, competent, strong” men. Each, after 30 plus years of estrangement, sat in silent tears in front of two zit-faced undergrads. Their pain was real. It was present. And, there was no end in sight.

Pearce Fujiura

I am uncomfortable with blaming the “West”. Somethings are certainly a product of Western cultural norms, such as popular attitudes regarding gender, sexuality, property, capitalism, and democracy. These concepts are often distinctly “western” in our cultural view. However, I do not think the idea of child ownership and consequent dis-ownership is at all a “Western” idea. I do not think that cultures popularly thought of as “western” such as the European nations hold the monopoly or even the name rights to child ownership. If anything it’s roots are global. This a small semantic argument that likely detracts from the whole spirit of the question. But for some reason it strikes me as remarkable and inaccurate that the concept of disowning a child be credited as a “western notion”. Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Nigerian, Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Japanese, Taiwanese, and countless other cultures across the world have a rich history of “disowning” and excommunicating children for breaking some perceived cultural rule. For once Europeans and Anglo-Saxon North Americans are not to blame for a negative social phenomenon. They get a bad rap (and in some cases deservedly so) but it just feels wrong blaming them for this.

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