Child Rearing (who is responsible?)

By Will Baker

 

There has been much discussion recently about the responsibilities involved in child rearing. I am referring not only to the responsibility of the parent to the child, but also of the parent to the community. In the wake of the Littleton Massacre some are quick to argue that government should attempt to become statutorily involved in the issue. In fact, I understand that legislation is being considered which will hold parents liable, in certain circumstances, for the violent actions of their children.

I understand that when the police searched his home, one of the Littleton shooters had firearms and explosives in plain view in his bedroom. In light of this, many wonder whether appropriate parenting was taking place in that household. It seems to me that, when the question involved is as complicated as this one is, judgements should not be made too swiftly. Yet, one thing is clear: the quality of one’s parenting probably has societal implications.

I spent part of this past Sunday morning doing what I often do, watching the televised talking heads display their prowess in punditry. On one of these programs a gentleman bemoaned the fact that the government, through the tax code, economically penalizes married folks. His argument was that, by changing the tax code, incentives could be created which would make it economically attractive to  be married. This gentleman passionately asserted that if there were more successful marriages, children would be less violent and our society would be a better place in which to live. He then provided an anecdotal example of an older, "empty nester" couple who divorced but continued to live together. All to "beat" the tax code.

The discussion on another program attempted to address the same set of problems by utilizing a different approach. The consensus of this panel was that, for a variety of reasons, women were choosing to modify their traditional parenting roles. Boiled down, the reasons cited were variations on the themes of economics, and a woman’s right to choose between homemaking and a career path. A member of this panel argued that marriage is no longer taken seriously, and that this is a major contributing factor to violence in the community. He came armed with the statistics to bear this out. The group also felt strongly that national, tax paid child-care should be offered, and that the creation of a federal "Home Maker’s Pension" should be considered.

All of this made me think. It seems to me that, when raising a child, a parent has an obligation to do his or her very best. However, I must admit that I have really never asked myself if  this responsibility extends to one’s community. Parents clearly have a responsibility to the child, but do they have a responsibility to the community also? Let us examine this. Society bestows its thanks and praise upon the parents of our heroes. I suppose that this is done in recognition of the role that the parent played in the good that was done by their daughter or son. Can we therefore presume that the opposite is true? And what of the parents that did the very best they could do; yet still raised an ax murderer.

To be fair, there is some truth in what the gentleman was saying concerning the so called "marriage penalty." However I find it a stretch to assert that changing the tax code will meaningfully increase society’s marriage rate. Not that changing the tax code is a bad idea. I believe that the government should do all that it can do, short of legislating morality, to support the institution of marriage. Perhaps marriage vows in general should be changed:" …in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer…depending upon the tax code. I do."

The discussion regarding women’s issues struck a chord with me. I believe that we probably should not look fondly back to the nuclear family of the fifties as our model. Some argue that society’s problems regarding youth violence has at its origins the women’s movement. The simplified argument goes something like this: When women stayed in the home and spent more time with the kids, society was statistically less violent. This is true. However, women had no choice in the matter. The women’s movement was all about redressing oppression, an evil in itself. Given the benefit of the perspective of time, I believe that had society celebrated, rather than taken for granted the traditional role of women in the home, the women’s movement would not have caused the pendulum to swing as it did.

We have created a real dilemma for ourselves. In the forties, to support our nation’s war effort we begged women to enter the work force, which they did, and now out of economic necessity many remain in it. Society wronged women by treating them as chattel and they responded by seeking justice. I am sure the move towards equality feels good to them, as does working in the work place, where their work is seemingly valued higher than at home. However old habits die hard. Generally speaking, women are still looked upon as the responsible party when it comes to running the home and caring for the children, and many must now work outside the home as well.

But the fact remains, based on every indicator, communities with more married couples are statistically better of, way better off, than communities with large populations of single parent households. Along the same lines, statistically speaking, children with two parents generally do better in life than children with one. As parents, we are choosing to spend less time with our children and more time in the workplace. Some criticize this decision as selfish, while others say it is the only way that they can provide their children with things like a college education. We look to the government to provide help and guidance on the matter, yet we value the right to individual privacy as it relates to child rearing. This is a complex dynamic.

I have reached the conclusion that as parents, we have a responsibility to our children and to the society in which we live, to be the very best parents that we can be. For example, on a basic level this means making a commitment to be present. There are many fathers, and some mothers, who are simply not physically or emotionally involved in the lives of their children. But a corollary of my conclusion is that society must also take responsibility for the parents and the children. The challenges confronting parents are complex. With so many moving parts that are outside the control of the parent, it is folly for society to look solely to the parents for a resolution of these issues. It has been my experience that the complexity of a problem is often indicative of the complexity of the corresponding solution. If in this case, this holds true, there is room for all of us to work together towards a solution.

 

(Essay Collection)