“No permanent damage”

The other day, I listened to a Danish radio-show called ‘Manus Manege’. The show was about daycare institutions in Denmark. It discussed the fact that there are less and less adults per child in the institutions, but more importantly, it touched upon the questions of:

  • what early separation from the parents does to a child
  • whether or not institutions will harm a child
  • what attachment is
  • who institutions were really made for (spoiler: the parents – not the kids).

I highly recommend listening to the show (find it here). The guests are Danish psychologists Mette Carendi and Ole Øland Schouenborg, mother of two children Mette Lejel and professor Henrik Zachrisson.

The scientists do not agree. Which is quite interesting. Does early separation harm kids in the long run? The psychologists say YES and claim there is evidence based research to back their answer. The professor says NO, and claims there is evidence based research to back his answer.

No matter what your answer to the question of whether or not early separation will harm our kids in the long run is, the whole discussion is completely deprived of one critical factor.

Which is…

Ethics!

The factor that separates us from other species. Conducts of right and wrong.

Our actions here and now determine our future. If what we are doing now is okay, we wouldn’t have to discuss whether or not it will hurt our children in the long run

It is essential that we first and foremost occupy ourselves with examining whether or not what we are doing in this moment is okay.

Let’s do that then…

Even if we do not harm our kids in the long run when we put them in institutions before they can walk and talk or when we leave them to cry in their beds by themselves…

Even if they will be okay in the long run….

Does that make it okay here and now? In this moment? Why is it even about what will harm us in the future? Why isn’t it about what we are doing to our kids and to ourselves in the present?

Why is it that scientists are invited into radio-shows (important ones, no doubt!) to talk about whether or not we are harming our kids in the long run, by putting them in institutions as babies, but nobody dares talk about the moral implications of our actions here and now?

Is this really what it has come to: Our (inter)actions are morally acceptable as long as we are not permanently damaging each other?

Does the idea of permanent damage not in itself insinuate that we are in fact aware that we are hurting each other in this moment, and we are now trying to determine whether or not to embrace this hurt under the argument that it might pass/not leave permanent damage?

My heartbeat is raising just writing these words, because I know my message is not a popular one. But I have to ask:

Why are we only talking about the future? If it really felt like our actions today were ethically okay, would we even be talking about “permanent damage” to our children?

“It won’t hurt them in the long run”

You see the same argument being used by advocates of sleeptraining – “it won’t hurt them in the long run” (e.g. most recently here). 

But ask yourselves this: would we ever do something to an adult that would cause them emotional distress and accept it because they might not suffer permanently from it?

Would we ever use this criterion for success – “no permanent damage” – when we parent elsewhere? In what other parts of our lives with our kids do we strive just for “no permanent damage”?

We have to want more. And we do – we would never mother or father our kids striving to just cause “no permanent damage”. Which is why institutions give a lot of us stomach- and heartache.

We must ask the hardest questions, because these are the ones that will facilitate the change we need.

Want to read more critical analysis of the argument of “no permanent damage”? Find it here (in Danish).