I want you to take a moment and put yourself in a scenario that will tell you a lot about your thought processes and inner priorities regarding individual well being versus group well being.
You are married with three children. Your family is your highest priority. Your life is comfortable. You earn more than $100,000 per year, or double the median American family, while your spouse stays home to run the household and raise the kids. As your most precious asset, you spend considerable time, energy, and resources nurturing a wonderful environment for your family. You take regularly scheduled vacations together, attend every sports game, school play, and parent/teacher event, read to the kids every night, sit down to the family table every breakfast and for dinner at least four nights per week, and have established savings accounts for each child so that when they reach adulthood, they will be able to enter life without debt, well-educated, and a great foundation upon which to build.
Then, a fourth child is born or adopted. Your joy quickly turns to anguish as it becomes clear there is some sort of permanent damage to the child. Perhaps the new child displays emotionally violent and destructive behavior. Perhaps he or she is severely mentally handicapped and would require tens of thousands of dollars in annual care plus a significant portion of the hours each day. Regardless of the particular cause or malady, the presence of this child results, without question, in several significant family dynamic shifts, including:
- Most of your and your spouse’s attention will be focused on the fourth child, coming at the expense of the other three
- Most of your family’s excess financial resources will be devoted to the care of the fourth child, coming at the expense of the other three. This includes significantly reduced college savings.
- Your ability to travel on family vacations, go out to family dinner-and-movie nights, drop everything and go out for miniature golf at the last minute, et cetera, will be effectively destroyed
The question: Would you consider putting the child up for adoption, relinquishing your parental responsibilities and rights, for the sake of the other three children?
You Should Know Your Preference For Group Well-Being Versus Individual Well-Being In Various Situations
Some people will answer affirmatively. Others will decry the fact the question is even posed, often with scathing invectives at the mere mention of the possibility.
[mainbodyad]Where do you fall? To put the question another way: Is your highest priority the good of the most family members and the family as a whole, or the needs of the one problem child?
Make no mistake, doing nothing and supporting the problem child is a choice. We talk a lot about confronting opportunity costs and accepting it open-eyed, fully informed so that you arrange your life and make the most out of the effective 477,700 hours you’ve been given before death. If you choose to keep the child, you should take out a sheet of paper and write something along the lines:
I am choosing to allow [insert child’s name here] to remain part of the core, nuclear family. I understand that doing this comes at a significant opportunity cost. Namely, the price which I, and the others, must pay includes:
- Reduced time nurturing relationships with [insert child #1 name], [insert child #2 name], and [insert child #3 name]
- Reduced flexibility for travel, entertainment, and career
- Reduced, or even depleted, college savings for [insert child #1 name], [insert child #2 name], and [insert child #3 name]
- Drastic increases in the level of stress, frustration, and inter-personal conflict resulting as an outgrowth of those factors between the existing family members
You often see this behavior with parents of drug addicts who will spend the family’s resources trying to get one child sober or clean, while simultaneously underinvesting in all of the other children emotionally and financially. Their needs are ignored or given only lip service as your time, money, energy, and focus are diverted to constantly addressing the disruptive behavior of the problem child. The reason is simple: Many people suffer from a mental model called omission bias. In short, omission bias is a visceral tendency to see harmful actions as more wicked than harmful inactions that lead to the exact same outcome. Not everyone suffers from omission bias and, with ethics training or study, can become immune to its harmful effects.
Where do your loyalties lie? Knowing this is important. When there are no win/win situations, do you save the group or do you fight for the individual?