Wednesday, February 23, 2011

License and Registration Please

If you're ever pulled over by the police while driving, what is one of the first things they'll ask you when they get to your window? "License and registration, please." Of course sometimes depending on their mood they may or may not even say please. A drivers license, that little business card size heavy laminated document, serves as proof from the government that you have legally been tested and passed the test in order to drive.

But it's not just drivers licenses that we must obtain in this country in order to be able to do certain activities. We have lots of different licenses. There are marriage licenses that you need in order to get married. Licenses to own a business. A license for selling real estate and in order to cut and style a person's hair. In order to hunt or fish in the state you reside you must obtain a license. A lot of states require licenses to renovate your home. Certain fields of employment require licenses such as doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, and pilots.

It's obvious we live in a world which requires licenses. If a license is required and you do not have one you cannot legally perform that activity. By doing so you would be breaking the laws that govern this country. However, we are free to do many things without having to obtain a license to do so. One of those things, as strange as it may seem, is to have children. That's right, having children does not require a test or proof of competency by our government. Hence the reason we often see people in public places and wonder to ourselves, "how in the heck were they allowed to become a parent?"

The answer is simple...they procreated. You see, our government does not require a license to procreate. Having children and the practice of rearing them is apparently not thought to be quite as important as cutting someone's hair or renovating one's house, things the government deems much more important.

What exactly is the point of licensing then, you may be wondering, if something as important as parenting does not require such a document? The answer is twofold really, the first being that licensing allows the government to make money and regulate certain activities that otherwise might not have any oversight. How else would you offset the costs of the DMV unless you pay for your driver's license? So in actuality, yes, you are paying to stand in those long lines at the DMV. That makes it even more maddening thinking about it, doesn't it?

The second reason for licensing is it is a way for the government to make sure that people are competent enough to perform whatever activity it is they are seeking the license for. Just as we would hate to board a plane whose pilot has barely even flown, we would also have a real problem with getting our hair cut by someone who mows lawns for a living. Licensing allows people to properly be trained and tested before being allowed to perform the activities for the safety and satisfaction of the rest of us.

So again the question falls back to why a person might be allowed to be a parent without first obtaining a license because believe it or not I read a recent article where there were quite a few people who thought it should be a requirement. It really seems like a no brainer. Parenting is probably the single most important activity in this world (not that everyone who is a parent thinks of it this way), and yet anyone can do it without obtaining any training or testing of competency, hence the reason for MTV's show, Teen Mom. It makes no sense. Alas, I'm here to tell you that it does make sense...perfect sense in fact, and here's why: because no amount of testing or training can properly prepare a person to be a parent.

Really. Nothing could ever truly prepare a person for parenthood. Even if there was some sort of training seminar or three-day workshop you could attend (you know the kind I'm talking about, the kind that serve coffee, juice, and danishes in the morning), chances are good that you would end up with a child that defied all the training you received and you'd find yourself back at square one.

Driving, in reality, is quite easy. It makes sense once you've been taught. Even the dumbest people in this world can learn to drive safely - brake means stop, gas means go, drive on the right side of the street, stop at red lights and stop signs, etc. It's pretty straightforward when you consider that all cars have gas pedals, brakes, steering wheels, and so forth. They all drive pretty much the same way. They all work on the same basic principles. But even the smartest people in the world couldn't learn how to be a good parent before actually becoming one because children aren't simple like that. There's no basic model.

There is nothing basic about it. You think children come with manuals? I wish. God knew the only manual parents would need is patience and love and a lot of it, and that is something that can't be taught except in the school of hard knocks. That's right, taught by reality...from living it. You learn to be a parent by parenting. You can't teach someone what it's like to be thrown-up on, or the art of having a blown out diaper on your favorite shirt. It can't teach you the hundreds of ways that children can stain your carpet or upholstery because children are constantly discovering new ways in which to do it. Humans have been evolving for ages, and children have been coming up with novel ways to test their parents' parenting skills for just as long...or maybe longer.

Every child is different and therefore every interaction with each child is different. Take tantrums, for example. Tantrums and children are like fingerprints and snowflakes...there are no two alike. Each are as unique and individual as the child. You may think you have seen enough grocery store tantrums in your life to know how to handle them...that is, until you actually have kids and your own child busts one out that is so different, so horrible, and so loud that you can only stand in disbelief and shock that this small person throwing themselves around on the ground and contorting herself in ways that you've never even imagined could possibly have been spawned by you. How's a license going to help you in that situation?

I just can't see how any amount of parenting classes or testing could have prepared me for the long nights of teething, instructed me on taking late night drives in a car to help them fall asleep, prepared me for how to comfort them after their first fall, or first heart ache. How could a license possibly help me to love my child unconditionally? How will it help me to raising them to be honest? To be friendly? To work hard? To dream big and follow those dreams? The answer is wouldn't.

Even if you could train potential parents, at what point would you feel they were ready? What would the test be to determine that they were qualified? Would we send them home with a watermelon for a week and see if they bring it back unbroken and named something normal? If that was the case, half of Hollywood wouldn't fail the test. I mean, have you heard some if the names they have for their children? Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter Apple (isn't that a fruit?), Courteney Cox's daughter CoCo (isn't that the monkey from the Cocoa Krispies box?), and Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof (as if one bad name wasn't bad enough, why not make it two?).

The truth is that government bureaucrats want nothing to do with licensing parents because many of them are parents themselves and understand the impossibility of it all. The only people who really think it's a good idea for parents to have licenses are those people who don't actually have children. As a parent I welcome classes, books, articles and advice from others on how to be a good parent. But I take it all with a grain of salt because every child is so different, so unique, and so special that there is no one correct way of raising them. It's unfortunate that there are some really bad parents out there. But I just can't see how a license would help someone like that. A license could never teach someone patience, love, or empathy. The only way to learn those powerful lessons is by jumping in and getting a little bit dirty.

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Life is just too funny to be taken so seriously