I’ve seen a few sites churning over this story of a couple of foolish parents who are trying to raise a genderless baby so that he/she/it/they can make his/her/its/their own decision on the subject whenever he/she/it/they wants to. The problems with the notion of being “genderless” and the reduction of male/female to plumbing differences which allegedly have absolutely nothing to do with anything at all! have been well covered elsewhere.
What has been overshadowed by the parents’ foolish perspective on gender, however, is their very rejection of the vocation of parent. They describe their indecision as “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation.” This kind of “parenting” typically arises out of some form of relativism. We are told that there is not any way people are supposed to be; we only think there is because we were raised with a myriad of rules and traditions imposed on us by our culture. Parents in general are often resented for having been too limiting by keeping their children from the things they really wanted. Now that mankind is more enlightened, we can just get rid of this cumbersome baggage and grow to be whatever glorious beings we want to be. From such a perspective, refraining from providing their child with rules and guidance is preemptively freeing them–they would grow up without any baggage to discard.
The problem with this is that human beings are not content to make decisions as such. We want to make decisions that are good, informed, wise, etc. Despite their efforts to the contrary, even these parents realize this on some level. For example, they recognized the need for “good parenting skills” which could presumably be somehow distinguished from poor parenting skills. Good, poor, informed, wise, and all the rest have something in common–they imply conformity. Far from being detrimental to human free will, conformity is necessary for its fulfillment. As G.K. Chesterton put it in Orthodoxy, “You can praise an action by saying that it is calculated to bring pleasure or pain, to discover truth or to save the soul. But you cannot praise an action because it shows will; for to say that is merely to say that it is an action. By this praise of will, you cannot really choose one course as better than another. And yet, choosing one course as better than another is the very definition of the will you are praising.”
Part of being a parent is giving children opportunities to conform to things that are good. This experience provides the very basis of their ability to make good decisions. Parents who do not give their children rules, culture, and tradition–even for issues which are not moral absolutes–are impoverishing them. Parental decisions become the basis for the decisions of their offspring. If a child grows into an ability to consistently make good decisions, it is most likely because they observed and obediently experienced their parents’ decisions. If they know how to love their neighbors at all, it is because their parents told them to say please/thank you, to share, to not bully them or harm them, etc–because their parents gave them rules. Too many parents are so afraid of rules stunting their child’s growth that they provide no basis for them to grow at all.
There is no avoiding having a sense of how people are supposed to be. Once you scratch the surface, you are bound to find of this hidden even in the most relativistic babble. Do they throw their child out of the house because there are an infinite number of ways to acquire food & shelter, and they want to let him make his own decision on how? Do they let the child defecate anywhere she pleases rather than confining her to the cultural hegemony of toilets? There are some decisions that children are simply unequipped to make well without guidance from their parents.
And whether they want it to or not, that guidance does come. What fools to think that they are giving absolutely no emotional reaction when they take their children to choose their own clothes. Do they really think their own flesh and blood is so incapable or relating to them or so uninterested in what they think? Are they really so disinterested that they don’t care what their child, who they love, does? On the contrary, I think it very likely both that they emote their pride when their children conform to their ideology and that the children seek out more of their parents’ approval–just like any other child. In the end, they are still telling their children how to be; they are merely deciding to be absentminded about it at best, and passive-aggressive at worst.