The Ethics of Parenting
Oct 4, 2019

Reading time 2 min.

When you think of the ethics of parenting, what comes to your mind? Perhaps you never gave much thought to the idea that ethics might be involved in parenting. Often the focus is on a child’s more immediate, daily needs. Developmental milestones are often measured against the current rhetoric of pediatricians and psychologists. An ethic which guides not only a parent’s routine decisions, but also the longer arc of their child’s development is somehow lost in the shuffle, if considered at all.

The average parent cannot be blamed for this. To the public, philosophy and ethics gives an impression of being “high-faluting.” In general, people cannot imagine how philosophy could possible relate, pragmatically speaking, to the benefit of their daily lives, much less to something as human as parenting!

Fortunately, nestled within the feminist philosophy of caring (Nel Nodding) is a well-developed ethic of maternal care (Sara Ruddick), applicable to all parents, male and female. As with any ethic, following through on it in our daily lives requires discipline and thought. In the case of parenting, that discipline and thought extends over a very long period of time, since the duties of a parent continue throughout his or her life.

This ethic of maternal care begins by thinking about what a successful outcome of parenting looks like. What does it consist of? Simply put, according to this ethic, there are three main criteria to judge one’s actions as a parent by if one wants to insure success: “Do my actions help my child to survive? “

“Do they help him to flourish?” and, “Do they enable her to fit in?” The thought and effort in carrying out these three demands, including the inevitable complexities that arise, are large parts of the long-run discipline involved in parenting.

A capacity for attentive love is one more very important component needed for successfully carrying out this ethic. Parents run up against many situations that easily undermine attentive love. Living through one’s child, keeping up with the daily grind, and meeting the child’s on-going needs are a few of the ways this can happen. Once again, it takes discipline, effort, and self-training to stay the course of ethical parenting.

If a person wants to pursue the path of being an ethical parent, where can he/she look for help, when and if needed? If you are in this situation, it would be wise to consult a philosophical counselor, especially one well-versed in the ethics of caring in general, and maternal care, specifically. Philosophical counselors are well trained in the art of ethical reasoning, as well as reasoning directed towards the everyday problems of life. He or she can help you carefully examine your actions with the aim of helping you to evaluate them in relation to the three positive outcomes of ethical parenting – your child’s survival, his or her flourishing, and his/her ability to fit in.

It might not seem obvious how parenting could be conceived of under the rubric of ethics, but once you begin to think of parenting in those terms, whether you are truly parenting your child in an ethical manner can and should become a source of concern and thoughtful consideration. When you practice ethical parenting, you have the assurance you are aiming for the highest good in your duty as a parent. And, your child will benefit because he or she will survive, flourish, and fit in under your care.


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