Who can contemplate a newborn infant unmoved by its helplessness? Few living things are as vulnerable; none for anywhere near as long. Far beyond infancy, into childhood and adolescence, human beings are, if not utterly at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control, at least impressionable to a frightening degree. Who and what the parents are don’t by any means absolutely define the child. But parents are, so to speak, the shaping mold into which the child is poured. How many are worthy of the influence they wield?

None. Only perfection would confer that level of worthiness. Given the limitless human potential for failure, error, frustration and — sometimes even among fundamentally good people — evil, it’s a wonder our offspring turn out no worse than they do. Soaring child-abuse statistics suggest their vulnerability is increasing. In 2010 child consultation centers nationwide handled more than 50,000 emergency cases, 354 of which led to arrests on abuse charges — a 5.7 percent increase over the preceding year and a 1.2-fold rise in five years.

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