Yesterday I again saw one of the bumper stickers that just incenses me. It read "Children are a gift from God". It likely exists with good intentions but we should be well aware already of the vast chasm that separates intention from effect. What may seem innocuous on the surface has a dangerous undertone revealed once the phrase is disabused.
My ire was raised not so much by the false premise espoused that bearing a child is not simply the biological fulfillment of the purpose of life but rather the implication about the significance of having a child. I do not believe that a child is a gift. I also think it is improper to offer an animal as a gift.
I don't embrace the phrase "giving up a child for adoption". More accurately the responsibility of the child is being transferred -- she will be transferring her child rearing obligation through adoption. Adoption involves a great many laws, some of which I have helped write, which protect the interest of the child and also recognize the substantial obligation that one undertakes when adopting a child. There are numerous safeguards in place that attempt to ensure that a competent and committed person undertakes the responsibility of child rearing.
A gift is something gratuitous, for nothing. There is no obligation on the receiving party. In law it is the transfer of property without expectation of compensation or remuneration.
As applied in a religious context gift has been interpreted as a God or deity bestowing knowledge, such as upon the Apostles. It has also been applied in the sacrificial sense as an offering to the Gods or a deity. The term may be preceded by a qualifier such as Easter or Christmas when it is an offering from person to person. Implicit in the term is that the offering is taken without obligation.
I have long admonished parents not to give animals as gifts and have reserved my greatest condemnation for those who have chastised or punished the child for failing to care for the animal. The conflict that parents create in the mind of a child does harm to the child. To say take this [gift] to play with as you will and you have no responsibility for it and then say you are a morally corrupt person because you let this animal die can dissever the bonds of trust between parent and child. It also imposes a negative self-view on the child who perceives his existence as bad not the omission of care because no care was expectation is implicit in gift.
Calling a child a gift from God and other phrases invoking a third party are used to placate the failings or shortfalls of the person espousing such a claim. This type of statement is used to absolve one's self of responsibility -- I didn't earn this, I didn't request this, it was bestowed upon me. When I fail to act properly -- abusing or neglecting the child -- I can comfort myself by saying that I didn't conceive this child and accept the implicit terms, it was a gift. That is the danger in promoting this view of children. It becomes a subconscious attitude. Consciously we can conceive of the awesome responsibility and the near endless stream of tasks that are commensurate with childbirth. This type of message, however, delivers to our subconscious the message that we are not to be faulted, held accountable if we fail in child-rearing.
Gift comes without obligation, duty or responsibility. Having a child though does not come without obligation, duty or responsibility. The term blessing may be more aptly applied in this sense as it can be defined as a beneficent gift from God or nature.
I have received numerous gifts throughout my life. Sometimes I played with it for a day, then discarded it. Sometimes it was treasured and cared for with reverence. Other times it was "regifted". In some cases it was so out of character for me that I simply tossed it in the trash. As for children though, they are NOT A GIFT.
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