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Women *and* Children, Children *and* Charity
Reflections on effective altruism and parenthood
Two pieces of housekeeping: I got to write a piece for Deseret on how to respond to AI which can do things better than you can. My advice was to embrace amateurism.
Today, “amateur” tends to mean “someone who isn’t good enough at something to be paid for it,” but its root is in the Latin amare, which means “to love.” An amateur works on a skill because she loves something about how grappling with the problem changes her.
Second, I was part of the de Nicola Center panel on “Building a Civilization of Love” over the weekend of the March for Life. The event was part of their “Women and Children First” project and they asked us each to identify a key obstacle to living up to that promise. (My remarks start at 14:04)
I talked about the lack of trust in the medical profession—how can people believe a promise to protect women and children when doctors let women die when there’s no child in the balance. I highlighted the work of the Sisters of Life, the Minnesota Prison Doula Project, and a program to pair Black doulas with Black mothers, sponsored by Parents as Teachers in St. Louis. (I learned about that last project from Erica L. Green’s reporting).
A little belatedly, I wanted to share some highlights from your conversation in response to my post on Effective Altruism. Caitrin summed up the central question well:
I'm interested in a more personal version of the question about balancing giving near and far: what we give our children (in both resources and time/energy) and what we extend to other people's children. We are primarily responsible for our own children; in theory, and hopefully in practice, the daily acts of caretaking form us to be more selfless, and yet it would be selfish to ONLY devote ourselves to them. (Think nepotism, etc.) How can we turn this particular kind of selflessness outward to others too, and where does the balance lie? Because in the end, both energy and resources are finite, and it is for this reason that some radical practitioners of EA (I'm thinking of the intro to Strangers Drowning) forgo having children themselves so they can give more to others.
Mary Ellen spoke about her own family’s experience of inviting need in:
Our family runs a Catholic worker shelter and, while we own our own house, we spend a lot of time there... Theoretically time not given directly to children's sports or PTA. Our kids, now 6, 10, 13 have grown up celebrating kids’ birthdays they don’t know well, running the snow cone machine at carnivals, taking out and putting away chairs for large meals. As they get older, many people comment on how capable they are, how they notice the needs of the lonely and how they socialize well with adults. My youngest, especially, is incredibly comfortable in racially diverse situations. So i wonder if this has to be a zero sum game, or if there are ways of giving that actually give more to our kids? Is it a choice between camp for them or camp for others? We take homeless families to camp with us and our kids have a great time. Is there a gospel paradox here that, by giving more to others, we actually form better children? I appreciate Peter Singer but I wouldn't want to co parent Christian children with him.
Mary’s Catholic Worker house is currently hiring for their fellowship program. Here’s the blurb she sent me:
Lydia's House is a Catholic Worker house of Hospitality in Cincinnati Ohio. We're currently recruiting women of faith to live out a calling of service through our Dorothy Day Fellowship Program. Fellows do work for the community including birth accompaniment, benefits navigation, transportation, deep listening, meal planning and preparation, and child enrichment, thus living out the corporal works of mercy in a setting of encounter and solidarity with families experiencing homelessness. Fellows are offered a monthly living stipend, health insurance, housing in community, opportunities for prayer and spiritual companionship, mentoring in the work of hospitality and social service, and space and funding to continue education. To learn more and apply, visit https://stlydiashouse.org/fellowshipprogram/
I love that line from Eve: “Real communities are made of the duties you accept toward the people you wouldn’t have chosen to live with.” We’ve had a big blizzard here in the Twin Cities, and it’s a beautiful thing how neighbors have helped neighbors. I almost cried coming back from the hospital with the kiddo when I saw our neighbor across the alley had plowed out our garage!
That sense of community is also why I’ve always wanted to move back here. I think it’s very hard to disentangle great family policy (including tons of playgrounds, good schools, a penchant for long term thinking) and a thriving civic society (highest voter turnout, tons of democratic associations) from a strong ever present sense of genuine love for your neighbor. And vice versa!
I think this suggests a nice answer about how charity and children fit together. If you want to teach children charity, you can’t have all your care channeled through distant, abstracted causes. It’s too far away from their experience for them to learn from or participate in.
We do much of our money giving through GiveWell-recommended charities, but what our daughter knows about is pulling up diaper boxes from the basement to distribute to moms served by our local Gabriel Network.
She knows about helping me prepare food in the evening and going in the car with Alexi to drop it off the next day at the house of a neighbor who recently had a baby.
We want to be aware enough and exposed enough to need in our local community that a child can learn to give, and we can make sure giving is an active practice for us adults, not just “set and forget it” recurring donations.