At the heart of the abortion debate and the Hobby Lobby contraception debate lies the follow concept: body ownership. Other factors weigh into the discussion, but the question of “What right have you to tell me what to do with my body?” pops up with great frequency. Since all adults once filled elementary schools as children, we could reasonably pose a clarifying question: “Has it always been your body?” An article on CNN.com from 2012 answers that question unequivocally: the child owns her body. I’ve read it several times, and thought about how I am raising my own children. I’ve wondered what my real philosophy is and whether my statements match my beliefs.
I tell my kids what to eat and how much. I send my pubescent sons to the shower, telling them how to wash what so that no one has to smell it. The savages cover their keisters when I tell them their pants are too low and change clothes when company arrives. When they were younger, I chastised them for public urination and playground nudity. Due to my teachings, they don’t touch people in certain zones and know to a high degree of certainty that no one should touch them in those same zones. They cut their hair when I tell them, brush their teeth on my schedule, and stay active so their physiques do not expand beyond what I consider to be healthy. I require them to greet people politely, including certain rituals such as handshaking and (in some countries) air kisses.
So I own those physiques, no? After all, my wife D.W. and I exert a tremendous amount of control over them, right?
Some basic principles would help us, I believe.
1. All things belong to God and have their existence rooted in Him, in one form or another. We call Him the Creator and rightfully so. He made us all by Himself, through Himself, and for Himself. ‘Nuff said.
2. The Bible clearly shows a pattern of divine behavior that gives humanity certain rights of near-ownership of things that ultimately belong to God; land, nations, property, etc.
3. More specifically, God gives to parents the responsibility for raising, caring, and nurturing children, handing over to their stewarding something (someone, really) that belongs to Him.
4. Parents must be good stewards, in every possible sense, of that which God has placed before them temporarily. Even so, stewards own nothing and are not monarchs to rule by whim.
Therefore, let’s evaluate my previous list to see whether my actions reflect what I claim as an underlying philosophy:
Food: Yes, controlling food intake is an act of stewardship provided I use my control to teach them moderation, self-control, and nutrition. Children will not learn it otherwise.
Hygiene: Teaching a 13-year old boy about body odor and the need to control it falls squarely within my responsibility to train them to become socially active members of humanity. Other requirements fit girls better, but the point remains valid. As well, hygiene has an element of preventative self-care, warding off certain illnesses. Children, due to a lack of knowledge, will not learn these lessons if parents do not teach them.
Clothing: Modesty not only helps us fit into society, it also plays a part in sexuality. Wearing appropriate clothing – or even wearing clothes at all – helps them understand the exclusive stewardship of their bodies that they will someday assume. Without a wider perspective of the matter, children would wear whatever they wanted without concern for these realities.
Contact: Physical contact is social, both casually and sexually. Teaching them that some contact (greetings) are subject to social pressures while other (touching private body parts) are not trains them to hold the two realms distinct and to differentiate between that which is merely cultural and that which is moral. Judgment and wisdom are lacking in the immature and parents must stand in the gap until children are prepared.
Do I own my children’s bodies? In an absolute sense, no, I do not. However, my wife and I are exclusive stewards of their bodies; said a different way, we are regents ruling over their corporeal kingdoms until they mature enough to assume the throne. We possess both the right and the responsibility to determine what benefits their bodies for their own sake, not for our own. No steward or regent manages the kingdom for his own good, but for the good of the one who shall assume control in the near future.
How my kids dress, look, care for themselves all fall to us to decide. Who they touch and how is something we determine.
And what of those cited in the article, those who might claim that our attempts at controlling stewardship sets a dangerous course? Their motives – protecting their children against molestation – are sound and pure. Even so, if we take the notion applied in a limited sense on CNN.com and apply it more generally, we can perceive certain societal trends already in place. Children have their own private phones that parents refuse to peruse. Clothing choices remain off-limits for concerned moms and dads. Affection – already within the child’s bailiwick in regards to Uncle Abner – remains outside the parents’ realm of influence when hormones and significant others arrive on the scene.
We are stewards – as I said, near-owners – of these pre-mature humans for their sake and benefit; not to raise up carbon copies of ourselves, but to assist them in arriving at adulthood safe, pure, and wise.