[Written January, 2007.]
To get a driver’s license you must be able to see well, pay money, pass a written road test, and perform skilled driving under pressure – and the world agrees that this is appropriate. To get a therapist’s license you have to go through years of dedicated, stressful, and often annoying education, training, and supervised work – and the world agrees that this too is appropriate. Yet to become a parent, the most intense and holy of duties known to humankind, you only have to know how to do one thing: have sex. And you don’t even have to know how do it well.
Something is clearly wrong with our world. For that reason, I present a (very idealized) model for correction: a license to procreate. Although obtaining this license would not guarantee that a person would be a great parent, just as the world is full of terrible drivers with spotless records and quack therapists with flawless credentials, it sure won’t make things worse for children! (And just for the record, I myself would fail to qualify for licensure.)
I break down the categories for licensure as follows:
1) Applicants must demonstrate involvement in a committed, stable, two-parent relationship. Children deserve two parents who love each other and are committed to each other. To prove their readiness for licensure, applicants must:
- Be married for a minimum of three years.
- Engage in successful weekly couple’s therapy for a minimum of two years, in which they demonstrate love and support for each other.
- Demonstrate understanding and respect for each other’s differences and patterns.
- Demonstrate effective problem-solving skills.
- Demonstrate no domestic violence.
- For at least one year before marriage live together harmoniously in a community where their relationship can be observed by more mature others.
- Practice extended periods of celibacy to strengthen their non-sexual relationship.
- Have no extramarital affairs.
2) Applicants must demonstrate emotional health. No child deserves to be raised by a dysfunctional, troubled, or disturbed parent. To prove their readiness for licensure, applicants must:
- Have, as adults, been in twice-weekly individual psychotherapy for a minimum of three years. [This assumes the therapy is excellent, which, of course, is contrary to the facts of reality!]
- Be able to function successfully without taking any psychotropic medications.
- Be able to sleep successfully without taking any sleeping medications.
- Demonstrate complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol for three years prior to licensure. My slogan here: “No parenting under the influence.”
- Demonstrate an ability to maintain stable and mature relationships with friends.
- Demonstrate a lack of severe emotional pathology.
- Demonstrate an ability to successfully parent oneself – that is, to engage in healthy self-care.
- Demonstrate a healthy understanding of and respect for one’s own and others’ boundaries.
- Demonstrate an ability to work through one’s personal problems in a productive and growth-oriented way.
- Write an emotional autobiography of one’s own childhood and family history.
- Show a joy for living.
3) Applicants must demonstrate good physical health. People in good health are far more ready to make the long-term commitment to being there for their child. Sick, dying, or dead parents do the opposite, setting in the child’s psyche an early and powerful template for abandonment. To prove their readiness for licensure, applicants must:
- Show a clean bill of health from a medical doctor.
- Demonstrate a lack of obesity.
- Demonstrate a lack of genetic diseases that could be passed on to offspring.
- Not smoke cigarettes.
- Practice good dental health and hygiene.
- Demonstrate healthy eating patterns and nutritional awareness.
- Pass a test demonstrating sufficient understanding of health, medicine, and disease prevention.
4) Applicants must be over the age of twenty-five and under the age of forty. It is highly unlikely that anyone under twenty-five, even in the best of circumstances, has sufficient maturity and life experience to be a good parent. After all, many car rental companies won’t even rent to someone under twenty-five. I chose an upper age of forty because of the increased likelihood of genetic disorders (both from mothers because of their older eggs and father because of mutated sperm) and because of the decreased ability of older parents to be actively involved in children’s lives.
5) Applicants must successfully complete a two-year, ninety-hour-a-week child-rearing internship with others’ children. This simulation of parenthood may be the most important category of all. I am shocked by the number of people who had little or no interest in children – much less ability to relate to them – before becoming parents themselves. Such people have no right to take on the sacred role of parenting, and part of the purpose of this internship is to either bring them quickly up to speed or weed them out. To prove their readiness for licensure, applicants must:
- Demonstrate passion, joy, and competence working with and relating to others’ babies, toddlers, pre-school age children, elementary school-age children, and teenagers.
- Live in the home of various families with children and demonstrate proficiency and leadership in all aspects of child-rearing.
- Be able to change diapers, put children to bed, feed babies and youngsters, help in problem-solving, assist in homework, assuage emotional pain, dry tears, engage in games, and play make-believe.
- Demonstrate flexibility, stability, and creativity in their work and play with children.
- Receive and grow from the feedback they receive from the children for whom they work.
- Receive excellent ratings from the children, parents, and external observers.
- Cry when the internship is over because they loved it so much!
6) Applicants must demonstrate an ability to earn a living. Adults know how to hold down a job, and children need to be raised by adults. People who live off the system or off their spouses or off their own parents show that they have not yet learned how to parent themselves effectively. Although it is wonderful if parents with young children do not work, and get to spend optimal amounts of time with their offspring, people who want to raise children need prior experience participating in society. To prove their readiness for licensure, applicants must:
- Show they have worked a full-time job for at least two years.
- Show an ability to interact successfully with authority figures and coworkers.
7) Applicants must demonstrate financial stability. Birds pick partners who preen themselves well, collect food successfully, can defend a territory, and can build a nice nest that won’t fall apart in the first windstorm. Why not the same for members of our species, who have brains on the order of a thousand times bigger? To prove their readiness for licensure, applicants must:
- Show a lack of debting for five years straight.
- Pay their bills on time.
- Show a successful maintenance of a well-managed bank account.
- Show an ability to manage a budget appropriately.
- Demonstrate an ability to live below one’s means.
8) Applicants must complete a college degree. Educated parents open the doors of opportunity for their children. No one wants an uneducated therapist tinkering with his mind, an uneducated doctor probing around his body, an uneducated architect building his home, or an uneducated teacher guiding his learning, so if all other things were equal, what child in his right mind would choose an uneducated parent? To level the playing field, however, I propose diverting each country’s military budget into free, top-notch education for all, pre-school through graduate school.