Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's a Gift, You're Not Owed Anything

I'm just finished attending a conference by the Association for Research on Mothering, where me and my mother presented regarding the 'war on autism'. I've got a lot more comments to make that are inspired by this conference, but here's one.
Very often, parents of autistic kids talk about feeling 'cheated' out of something by having an autistic child. Here's an example:

"I prayed before I ever had kids that god would give me children that have no mental or social problems. I believe that god ruined him. What if the best my child can do is work as a greeter at Wal-mart, how does one accept your child is doomed, ruined, a waste of human life?"

At ARM, I've been hearing about the concept of matriarchy and the gift economy. A gift economy is based not on exchange, but on gifts and fulfilling needs. And according to the advocates for this model that I've just met, the prototype of the gift economy is a mother raising a child.
And this really clarifies a big problem with statements like the above quote. You are not owed anything by your child. You are giving them a gift, a profound, life-creating gift, with no strings attached. They may give you a gift in return (and I think all children have the potential to give their parents such gifts, if their parents can see it) but you are not owed anything.
My younger brother has a tendency to interpret 'maybe' as a solemn promise (although he seems to be outgrowing this). And that's exactly the mistake that these parents are making, when they feel cheated by a child not being like they expected.
You are not promised a normal child. You are not even promised a child. You are giving the gift of life to your child, with no guarantee as to the results of this gift. Your child could live only a couple of weeks in utero. Your child could grow up normal and then die unexpectedly at 17. Your child could grow up to be a greeter at Walmart rather than the high-powered executive or whatever that you'd hoped for. You must remember that your hopes for your child are just hopes, not guarantees. You have not been promised anything, you have not made a contract with your child, you've given them a gift. And that's what it means to have a child.

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Blogger wrongshoes said...

I really appreciate your thoughts on this.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:48 AM  
Blogger stevethehydra said...

Hmmm. I basically agree with you, but i'm not sure what i think about the idea that a gift economy (which would be my ideal society) is inherently "matriarchal". That sounds a bit gender-essentialist to me...

I will have a more thorough read of those websites tho...

2:59 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

I agree. I think if you replace 'mothering' with 'parenting' it works better.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Maya M said...

Parents are human and, like all humans, they want things.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

Yes, but just because you want something, doesn't mean you're going to get it. Or that you have a *right* to get it. If you get the kind of child you want, you haven't gotten what you deserved, you've just been lucky. If you don't get the kind of child you wanted, you haven't been cheated of anything.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Gonzo said...

I always thought, that these dissapointed parents prove, that there's no such thing as unconditional love, and a lot of the hatred towards Autistics, seems to also come from the fact, that we remind them of this unpleasant truth.

4:55 PM  

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