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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 1995 Issue #32 

WHAT DO YOU THINK? 

SOCIETY AND PARENTING

Tom Bratter's piece in this issue (Those Darn Parents: Fact or Fiction?) to me just adds another piece to the puzzle of why there are so many kids with behavior problems. 

Conventional wisdom has been to blame the parents, and talk about a society that doesn't care about its children. 

I don't think it's so much that society doesn't care about children. It's more that society doesn't care much about parents and, in many ways has been undermining and punishing those very people who are most vital to a child growing up to be a mature adult. Successful Parenting needs parents who are confident in their role. A confused, uncertain or frightened parent is unable to give a child the solid direction he/she vitally needs. 

As a father of four, and having spent most of my life working with adolescents in one way or another, I think conventional wisdom might even be inadvertently contributing to the problem. 

The following are a few examples that suggest a societal hostility against parents. 

Freud, tremendously influential in establishing the general orientation of mental health professionals, taught that parents should be excluded from the healing process. His statement in Tom Bratter's essay tends to see families and parents as obstacles, not resources. I still see the reflections of this attitude in my dealings with many hospitals, treatment centers, schools and counselors. (You screwed the kid up - just give us the kid, don't interfere and we'll fix him/her.) This attitude still exists, though not as prevalent as before. 

Medical Doctors routinely excluded fathers from the delivery room until the seventies, and some still do. (Despite my request, I was specifically excluded from the birth of my first child in 1969, and felt that the Doctor would have preferred to exclude the mother also if a way to do that could have been worked out.) This seems to be a clear statement that they felt the Doctor's contribution to the birth was more important than the father's. Hospital dynamics were considered more important than family dynamics. 

When I had small children in the seventies, it was easier to find an apartment that allowed pets than one that allowed children. I suspect this still might be true in some cities. 

The tax penalty for parents has been well debated in the last few months. What this means is that when a person takes on the responsibility of a child, not only does that person have to feed more mouths, but with fewer after tax dollars than a person without children. 

The zero population growth proponents, and many environmentalists, believe overpopulation is the number one problem facing the world and the environment. This means choosing to have a child is not necessarily contributing to the future, but in their view could be contributing to disaster. 

School board meetings are possibly the most boring events on earth, in my experience as a teacher and parent. In my experience, the parent's usual expected role is to learn what has been decided and to endorse it. At the very least, don't make waves. Yet when parents refuse to subject themselves to being talked down to, that is pointed to as evidence that parents don't care or don't understand. 

Children's rights have a solid footing in most or all of our state's legal codes. It has left intact the parent's responsibility, but curbed the parent's authority. This sometimes results in a situation where a parent is blamed for not finding help for a child in trouble, but any action the parent could take might be illegal without the child's permission 

Molestation charges against a parent can ruin a parent's reputation before any facts are known. It is not all that uncommon for angry ex-spouses, manipulative children and even neighbors to bring accusations of molestation against a parent. This abuses the system by using it against innocent and responsible parents, with little chance of the accuser suffering any negative consequences. 

The existence and size of the A How To Parent@ industry contains the message that parents don't know what they are doing without expert help. When a parent accepts that proper parenting is done by following some expert's theory, they are often also accepting that their own natural instincts and abilities are not enough. 

A few decades back it was the practice of some businesses to give a hiring preference to family bread-winners. The reasons for this were not only that parents were more likely to be stable and responsible workers with a bigger investment in doing well in that company, but that it would contribute to the community and the future by helping parents to be better able to care for their children. However, the US Department of Labor determined that policy was discriminatory because most workers at the time were men. The practice of giving hiring preference to bread-winners was prohibited, with the result that one more element of supporting healthy families was eliminated. 

In my opinion, simply blaming parents often misses the mark. It is society that has forgotten what children need, -- strong, confident and capable parents. When society returns to actively supporting responsible parents and parenting, it is my view that society will have fewer self- destructive and out-of-control children to deal with. 

What Do You Think?  

-LON  

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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