Thursday, June 26, 2014

On the deEvolution of Parenting: Part Two - Kids as commodities

Continuing from where I left off on the deEvolution of Parenting...

In addition to the introduction of birth control (which allowed women to postpone family life, have fewer children, and peruse careers first), author Jennifer Senior highlights two other areas which have sucked the joy out of parenting - The role of the child has changed and the fact that women work outside the home in greater numbers now.  

She says the role of the child has changed.  We have become a society where we are working FOR our children instead of having them work for us.  Our kids today don't provide an economic benefit but rather are very costly to raise, so we 'require' two incomes.  Put another way, we have become we are a society where Moms work outside the home because they need to, and we have fewer kids because we can't economically handle more. 

In a sense, as parents we are trapped because we want to give our children more and more materially, because we see this as the answer to happiness. 

I don't question the reality of what she is saying - we are a society that is working FOR our children.  I take issue with this messed up view of childhood and parenthood.  It just seems like we are looking at childrearing (and work) from a purely economic view.

In my dissertation (which was on the transition to parenthood), one of the things I explored were the reasons for becoming a parent.  Comedian Paul Reiser said many years ago that we become parents just so that someone will be there to push us around when we are old.  It was a joke.  It was funny. 
No where is there any research evidence that in the last 100 years people became parents for economic reasons.  There may have been some economic pay off, but saying that a family in 1920 had 5, 6 or even 12 children because those children would eventually contribute to taking care of the parents is just not grounded in research.  People in the past didn't  become parents so that they could make ends meet or have more hands to work the farm.  They had children because that was the outcome of conjugal love!   

There is so much more to parenthood than economics.  Although not essential to development, parenthood it is the prototypical marker of generatively   Generativity is a critical state of psychosocial development.  To put another way, we have kids, because we are driven to have kids.  It is part of our own internal drive.  And it is good!  Parenthood forces individuals to grapple with ambiguity and reorganization as issues of their own identity are thrust into the spotlight.  That is essential because it prompts growth rather than stagnation.  

But have we become a society where we are working for our children?  That, after all, is one of Senior's main points - that the role of the child has changed because we are working for them rather than having more reciprocal relationships where the kids do some work too. 

I think Senior is complete on target here and it is not healthy.  We are handicapping our children - they can't cook or make a pot of coffee, they don't know how to do laundry, they don't know how to use a hammer or sew on a button.   We are raising children without requiring that they grow up, and in doing so we are creating an entire generation of self-centered, entitled young people who aren't maturing into adulthood.  

Children worked more in the past than they do now and I think that was great.  I am not advocating a return to the pre-child labor laws society of the early 1800's, but rather calling for parents to help equipt their children with skills and responsibilities.  Raise your children to be capable outside of a career.  But you have to be around, and intentional in order to do that. 

Senior points out the third major cultural change that has lead us to focus on our children's 'happiness' as our goal:   Moms working outside of the home.  Or maybe put another way, because we are giving our children so much materially, we feel as though we have to have two incomes to pay for everything.  Moms are working outside the home while their kids spend their summers at costly special interest camps becoming "well rounded" but fairly helpless in real life. 

Before I get to far into this topic let me digress just a little - I have probably angered a few single moms.  I apologize for that.  Being a single mom is unimaginable to me and although I have proof read this piece I am not in your shoes and I don't know where you are coming from.  So I really am not speaking to you at all here.  Sorry to leave you out, but I have zero scholastic base for commenting on single motherhood.  All of my research has been on 'intact' families.  There are also some who really do need to work and their heart breaks every time they leave their babies.   Again, I can't imagine that pain in being forced for economic reasons to leave your calling and work someplace else.   I pray that gets worked out for you sooner rather than later. 

I may have also greatly offended middle and upper middle class working moms (if they are still reading) who think I have totally missed the whole point for why they work.  It isn't all about the money to them.  They work because they WANT to work.  I know that women work in paying jobs for a lot of reasons.  I know that there are scores of women who gain great pleasure from working out side the home, they are not in any source of identity confusion and they take great pains to make sure that their children are supervised by family or friends or caring adults. They love their jobs.  I am not judging you or your intentions.   I know lots of lovely, good, kind, mothers who love their jobs.  You are probably one of them (especially if you are reading a super long, part two, blog post about parenting).  I am simply commenting on the points Senior has made and the reality of the situation in which we as a society are finding ourselves.   Nothing about how moms 'feel' about their careers or their work will change the fact that it is harder to do two jobs than it is to do one job.  You don't get 30 hours in your day just because you love your job.  We all have 24 hours in the day and a certain amount of basic stuff that just has to get done every day.  

As Senior points out, the reality is that (working) moms actually spend more time with their kids now then they did in the 1960's but they feel guilty.  Marital satisfaction is down as is satisfaction in parenting... I think it is because parents recognize the craziness of it all and they see that our children's well being has been compromised by this attempt to give our kids "happiness".    

Our society is now seeking happiness rather than goodness. Collectively that is something to feel guilty about. 

So now while mom and dad are both at work, kids in the middle and upper middle class are working on building their resumes or going to drama camp at $350 a week.  In the lower socioeconomic groups they are running around the local parks and recreation programs often while their mothers stress out about their safety.  Kids are so busy doing 'stuff' , that they often leave the house as young adults not knowing how to cook or wash their own clothes.  They spent all their spare time at SAT prep classes or the YMCA kids care while mom took on extra hours to make it affordable. 

Senior pointed that the number one source of fights in the home are still over domestic chores, which still fall on the shoulders of the mothers even when they work outside the home.  Why don't the kids do it? I don't get that.  If you only have two kids then it is easy to divide up those chores and stay on top of it.  Our oldest two do a fair share of the daily work around the house.   And if you have more kids then you have many hands to make the work light while they contribute to a family, find personal agency, and see their self-worth at an early age.   

The very model of parenthood which Senior presents as being so 'unfun', this economic model, is the problem.    But lets first use her points to find the solution.  
Senior traces the problems back to:

1 - birth control (smaller family size)
2-  attitude that we serve kids (rather than reciprocal relationships)
3-  moms working outside home

If your family is suffering from the cultural plague of happiness seeking she describes, look at reversing any of these three thing (or all three!). 

I think we should approach family life from the place of love.  To many this sounds totally impractical.  Learn about Natural Family Planning and throw out the notion that we can and should only have 2 kids.  Do away with your the birth control (the thing she listed as the first change which brought about the current problem), think of life as something to embrace not manage, and have a larger family. I am not advocating providentialism; I do think that we should be aware of the limits to our resources.  I also I wish we could learn to see the inherit and not just economic value in each child.  Let the mom be a mom-full-time so that her attention is not constantly divided between spouse and children and work.  And when you do THIS, the rest falls into place. Is it still hard? Yes! It really is hard to parent. But it can be rewarding and it is worth putting all your efforts towards because it is so important. 

Parents just want their kids to be happy, but you can't 'give' them happiness.   Making my children happy is not my job as a mother, nor should happiness be my child's goal in life (unless I want to raise a hedonist).  As it wrote in another post,  Joy comes from the Lord and from the love that flows from Him through us.  It is shared love. Share yourself and instruct your children.   Give your children skills-  real life skills - teach then how to sew on a button and load a dishwasher and use a hammer and run a lawn mower.  Don't fight with your husband about the dishes in the sink - the kids should be washing them after every meal.  Answer God's call everyday to serve Him through your service to your spouse and children. Stop working for your children and work for the Lord instead. 
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