“The very nature of current American daily life — fast-paced and frequently changing — causes the failure to recognize and to meet the most important needs of our children.” — Joseph Rosner, “Myths of Child Rearing.”
On New Year’s Day we welcomed a new great-granddaughter into our family. Looking at that sweet, innocent newborn renewed my child advocacy campaign. That and the onset of a new year that has a great chance of ending up more tortuous than 2016 aroused my fears about the future of the children in our culture.
I have long had a soft spot in my heart for the plight of children. These days, especially, it is evident that a great many get short shrift because: 1). Their parents are overscheduled; 2). Their parents are ignorant of (or indifferent to) some important needs of babies and young children; 3). Too much is expected of them too soon at home and at school.
With the help of some of my favorite authors who truly understand the dilemma of children in our culture, I am writing today of priorities. It is obvious that there are a lot of things that parents needed to learn before they had children — things that our culture apparently doesn’t take seriously. Most important is that children are extremely precious — precious enough for parents to be willing to sacrifice or delay some of their personal desires — including having children before they are ready. As Diane Ehrensaft wrote in “Spoiling Childhood”: “We are so absorbed in our own inner world and ambition that we generate an unhealthy trade-off between personal fulfillment and family well-being. The children pay by getting short-changed on the intensive time required to create a home and raise children optimally.”
They are not ready for parenting if their top priority is to do what they want to do when they want to do it in spite of their children’s needs. They may go to the gym to workout or have their hair and/or nails colored even when they have little time for the family. If they have to have every new electronic gadget that comes along or the latest fashion as they run up high credit card bills that demand longer hours of employment, the family suffers.
“The material standards of living many of us enjoy and all of us aspire to are higher than they have ever been, but in achieving them, society has undercut the lifestyles that all caring relationships, including parenting, used to depend. Our present lifestyle has no obvious place in it for children: no easy way for adults to function simultaneously as respected economically solvent individuals and as caring parents.” — Penelope Leach, “Are We Shortchanging Our Children?”
C. Kent Hayes, author of “Why Good Parents Have Bad Kids” offers: “The truth is that kids can’t bond with a moving target. They can’t become attached to someone who is not there or only occasionally there. Parents who are preoccupied with their jobs, themselves or their problems are not available to their children.”
Young parents are often victims of our culture that does not adequately value our children — except as potential consumers. If we did, it wouldn’t be so difficult for so many parents to find quality day care arrangements or other caretakers they can afford. We would encourage more mothers to be at home with their babies and toddlers more of the time. The minimum wage would be increased. Maternity and paternity leave would equal that of other developed nations. We would value our children enough to help them grow up with an appreciation of the responsibility of parenting and model for them the importance of being able to delay gratification for the benefit of the family.
We would insist that our education hierarchy would get its head out of the sand and provide appropriate education for all children — not just the college bound. We would insist that the schools provide comprehensive sex, family life and parenting education. We would promote birth control. We’d demand that corporate interests stop producing and advertising products for children that compromise their health. We’d slow down enough to take stock of how our modern culture negatively impacts our progeny.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote in “When the Bough Breaks”: “Thousands and thousands of children have been left to fend for themselves in a society that is increasingly inhospitable to children. … Saving our kids is not just the compassionate thing to do and the moral thing to do. … Doing right by our kids builds up our competitive strength and knits together the raveled sleeve of this society, but it also produces a kinder and gentler nation.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 850 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is email@example.com.