Who's Fit to Be a Parent?

By Mukti Jain Campion | Go to book overview

Part II

Parents on the edge

In Part I we learned a little more about what criteria for fit parents emerge from the assessment procedures of professionals, but the societal values underlying these criteria appeared confused and conflicting. There seems to be a growing feeling that professionals, and therefore the parents they assess, are being made to dance to a frenzy of different tunes played by a hidden orchestra.

To try and understand the music and who is playing it, it has become clear that we cannot just ask 'what is a fit parent?' and get a complete answer. So I have decided to examine who is considered unfit and attempt to extrapolate from that. I will look in turn at some of those groups that have traditionally been deemed unfit but whose numbers are growing and who are challenging traditional notions of family. What are the underlying social values that they are seen to be contravening and what do these tell us about the value expectations of all parents?

As before, I wanted to begin with a historical perspective-to see what basis there might have been for the labelling of certain groups as unfit for parenthood. I found that in the past there has been no shortage of opinions as to who should be stopped from becoming a parent.


UNFIT TO PARENT-FOR THE SAKE OF THE NATION

The biological basis for selecting who is fit to be a parent has long been promoted in cultures throughout the world. In Plato's Republic, the rulers determined who could have children. They were particularly keen that the offspring of the depraved or those imperfect in any way should be removed and allowed to die. Many traditional cultures today discourage the marriage of those who are of questionable moral or physical perfection. The underlying belief has been that undesirable characteristics will be passed on from one generation to the next, 'polluting' the community.

Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species is well known for his theory of the biological evolution of plants and animals whereby those best adapted to their contemporaneous environment continued and those least suited died out. What is less well known is how he extrapolated from this to encourage a particular theory of social evolution. In The Descent of Man (1871) he argued:

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Who's Fit to Be a Parent?
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Parents on Trial 5
  • 1 - The State Versus Parents 7
  • 2 - Other People's Children 38
  • 3 - Parents Apart 63
  • 4 - Playing God 96
  • 5 - Key Themes from Part I 117
  • Part II - Parents on the Edge 129
  • 6 - Disabled Parents 133
  • 7 - Mentally Handicapped Parents 151
  • 8 - Drug Addicted Mothers 168
  • 9 - Gay Parents 177
  • 10 - Teenage Mothers 189
  • 11 - Older Mothers 197
  • 12 - Single Mothers 205
  • 13 - Lone Fathers 217
  • 14 - Working Mothers 225
  • 15 - Black Parents 239
  • 16 - Key Themes from Part II 261
  • Part III - The Job Description 269
  • 17 - The Ideal Model and the Actual Model of Fit Parenting 271
  • 18 - Implications of the Actual Model of Fit Parenting to Assessment 281
  • 19 - Looking Forward 300
  • Bibliography 303
  • Index 309
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