Children Have a Right To a Mother and a Father? What Does That Even MEAN?!?


Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

A colleague sent me the following question today.

“I’ve heard Pope Francis and others say that children have a right to a mom and dad, but I don’t know what that means in the concrete. I wouldn’t say, for example, that single parents have a responsibility to search for a spouse, or that the mom in Secondhand Lions was necessarily wrong to have her uncles raise her son. If SSM were ever banned again, should the state be empowered to take children from those households and place them with a mom and dad? I can’t see that. Any thoughts on what this right actually entails? What’s its limit and what accounts for that limit?”

I don’t suggest that the following is the ideal answer, but I hope that my comments can at least shed a little light on what the Church means by this idea.

Single parent households, adoptive and foster households (of which I am part), and even the uncles in Secondhand Lions (whose household, let’s face it, really could have used a woman’s touch) are all doing heroic and wonderful things. But,  we recognize that all these households face certain challenges; namely, the challenge of making up for what the children in those environments lost–their connection to their natural mother and father. These household’s ability to succeed at raising a child who can reach his or her full potential is directly dependent upon their ability to approximate what an intact family is, more naturally, capable of doing.

Gay parents, single parents, foster and adoptive households can do a wonderful job raising children–functionally speaking. Their capacity to be loving environments if not the issue.  The problem is that the best of these households will always have to work harder to give their children what they need compared to the best intact natural family household. 

The natural family represents the norm for what a child needs to potentially function at his or her absolute best and, in every other context EXCEPT gay marriage (where it is actually discriminatory to say so) we recognize that a child who’s relationship with his natural mother and father is impeded or eliminated is suffering from an injustice.

In gay marriage, we are forced to deny the child the right to grieve what, in every other context, the child is actually expected to grieve–the impairment or loss of his or her connection to his natural mother and/or father.

When the Church says the child has a right to a mother and father, that does not mean the Church is ignorant of all the ways natural parents screw up their kids. It also does not mean that other types of households can’t raise good kids.  It certainly doesn’t mean that anyone should swoop in and take kids from those households.  That would be horrible!

What it DOES mean is that we should never say it is just to do anything to anyone–especially a child–that would be unjust to do in any other context.

There is certainly much more that can be said about this, but I hope these comments help clarify things at least a little.