So Who’s a Parent?

2016 | Week of June 6 | #1154

Words matter. The meanings of words matter. Take the word parent, for instance.

The former English teacher in me and my love of words took over on this word recently.  My research revealed some pretty interesting information. Online author Cliff Price, writing for New Oxford Review, sums up very well what I found and what I think in a post from 2006.

Titled “Parent is a Noun, Not a Verb,” the article posits that only over the last, now, 30 years has the word parent become a verb. Historically it has been exclusively a noun. Price writes in defense of using the word properly and insists he is upset by this change from properly using parent only as a noun to now using it as a verb for good reason.

He says, “’Parent’ in English has always been a noun meaning the immediate, biological ancestor; it expresses a relationship based on a natural fact. In the current usage as a verb, however, ‘to parent’ has no such clear meaning. Expressions such as ‘parenting class,’ parenting magazines,’ and ‘how to parent well’ are not instructions in begetting. We can see that though the dictionaries still have it as a noun, ‘parent’ is being used as a vague replacement for ‘child-rearing,’ or ‘raise’ or ‘nurture’ or ‘bring up’ children. The verb ‘parent’ implies ‘the things done by a parent,’ without specifying what those things are or specifying the identity of the person doing them. Further it negates the meaning of parent: a man or woman in an undeniable relationship with a child by reason of a biological fact.[1]

That last sentence is the whole point. Using parent as a verb takes away, destroys, hides the real meaning of parent, which is “a man or woman in an undeniable relationship with a child by reason of a biological fact.”

Now, what is Price’s authority for what the definition of parent is? As a word expert, he’s gone back to the etymology—the history of the word. I’m going to summarize that history for you, but you can check it out online for yourself.  The word goes back to a Latin word or root that means “bring forth, give birth to, produce.” As it progressed it meant “father or mother, ancestor.” All of these express the biological fact, the undeniable relationship.[2]

We are so used to living in a society where people can make up a word or change a word’s meaning that we forget too often that most words are steeped in historical, purposeful, real-life meaning.  That’s certainly true with the word parent. Technically, the only persons who can be parents are those who have “brought forth,” or given birth to a particular child—the man and the woman who both contributed biologically to the child’s existence.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s sweeping decision a year ago to redefine legally the institution of marriage to include two persons of the same sex, we now are having a legal push to redefine legally what parent means.

For over 20 years, New York law has clearly said in that state, a parent is one who is related biologically or through adoption to a child. However, in a New York court last week attorneys challenged this definition of parent, arguing that biology and adoption should have nothing to do with one’s legal standing as a parent.  They assert it’s only fair to same-sex couples to make this change and really it’s in the best interest of children to redefine parent. And after all, legal definitions should reflect reality and new social norms.[3]

This argument flies in the face of all that is right and good for children.  This isn’t about children. This is purely and simply about adult desires. If they really cared about the children, they would stand by the right definition of parent, which declares the biological fact.

Wisconsin’s law mirrors New York’s current law. But there’s no guarantee how long that will last. Unfortunately, with another wave of a judicial magic wand, we very well may see parent meaning anything or anyone someone wants it to mean, regardless of biological facts, or the good of the child, or the real meaning of the word.  Words really do have meanings—and we are well advised to pay attention to those meanings. Being a parent and so-called “parenting” really are different.

For Wisconsin Family Council, this is Julaine Appling reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”



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