Here's a subject for debate. I had an email exchange with someone who had written an editorial for the Inquirer about marriage equality for the LGBT community. He waxed poetical on marriage and our relationships to our ancestors:
Denying children biological ties creates all sorts of identity problems (including sexual identity problems)…
Marriage also transcends the individual by placing him in a social web that involves responsibilities to parents, grandparents, children, etc. He finds his identity and is linked to generations and even to history.…
...the overriding concept of marriage is that a man and woman give of themselves (and their particularities), temper their individual wants, in order to become something that is larger than the sum of the two. Marriage is greater than the sum of its parts.…
For their optimum development and well-being, children do best when they are raised by their married mother and father. Every deviation from that ideal reduces outcomes for children.
So, from the perspective of children, we should make marriage more subserviant [sp] to their needs, not the desires and whims of adults.
Now, a buddy from my letter-writing group Rapid Response pointed out that marriage was not always centred around children, in fact, the post-World War II generation that gave birth to the baby boomers was the first generation in history that had the leisure time, the material goods and the physical safety that permitted them to concentrate so heavily on the psychological needs of their children.
Of course past generations paid attention to their children, Henry VIIII wanted a male heir to take over England after he passed away, but so long as the child was male and physically capable, Henry would have been content. Elizabeth I was a capable heir, but keep in mind that her childhood was a bewildering and chaotic one, with her mother executed when she wasn't yet three years old and a succession of stepmothers following. Of course, as a female, she wasn't expected to take over the kingdom, but everyone knew that, as she was of royal blood, she might very well do so. The idea that marriage in those days was centred around children, even royal children who might one day inherit the kingdom, was clearly not applicable. Were English marriages centred around children during the days of the “dark, satanic mills” or when the “Little Match Girl” perished in the snow? Obviously not.
Now, is it a good thing for children to know their grandparents? Sure, I guess so. I knew my great-grandmother on my father's side. “Great-Grammy” passed away when I was less than five years old. I liked her, but didn't really know her. My paternal grandfather passed away before my birth. Everything I heard about him was good. My paternal grandmother lived until my maturity. On my mother's side, both of my grandparents lived until then. My mother had a twin sister and they had a brother. I never met the brother and everything I heard about him was bad. His ex-wife had booted him out, he came back, his kids got tired of him really quickly and he moved out again. My sisters and I got along fine with the ex-wife and kids.
Did I miss either my paternal grandfather or my uncle on my mother's side? Not really. I certainly don't remember wanting to know more or inquiring about either of them. I certainly never got the impression that any of my uncle's bad traits were destined to be passed on to me. I don't remember feeling better because my grandfather was such a fine fellow. It just never occurred to me to look at myself as the product of my ancestors and their traits.
So here's my question. With people becoming orphans through wars and accidents and poor health, with children getting adopted and in many cases, never being able to get in touch with their birth parent(s), with parents immigrating and leaving grand-parents behind in the “old country,” with mothers having conceived their children via rape and thus not having any reason to ever care who the father was, with mothers being promiscuous and thus not even knowing who the father might be, is knowing one's social context a “nice to have” sort of thing or is it an urgent necessity that a child is lost without?