Shouting into the Storm Rantings, ramblings, observations and musings from the insipid to the sublime

Friday, August 16, 2002 :::
I was going to write a fluff piece today. Really, I was. Maybe something about baseball, or the inherent insipidness of the dating scene. Perhaps just a list of random observations.

But, oh no. No such luck would befall me this Friday evening. And so you, Faithful Reader, must pay the consequences.

Here in the office I was privy to a conversation that condemned the Modern Parent. Today's children lack discipline, focus, attention. Today's parent doesn't really care about their child, all they do is plop them in front of the television and forget about them. Gifts are showered up on the child instead of true affection. All of these were stated as cold, hard facts.

And I don't, in general, disagree. What I take umbrage with is the intention behind these. The statements were being tossed about as if the Modern Parent is a cold, heartless, selfish individual. Kind of like Ann Coulter (for those keeping score at home, that would be my third Ann Coulter dig in the past few weeks. It's just too easy.)

I calmly jumped in, pointing out that many families have both spouses working, and working late hours. They can't provide the ideal amount of hours with a child, as it simply isn't economically feasible. I was just about to go into my usual progressive tirade about how the minimum wage of today has less buying power than it did 20 years ago. That housing costs have skyrocketed out of control. That instead of building affordable houses for the average worker, we spent the 90s building McMansions and Luxury Executive condos. However, before I could get a good head of steam going, the following was stated, cut and dry, black and white:

"If people can not afford to have children, they shouldn't."

I opened my mouth. Then I closed it, and walked away. After all, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

There are actually two types of people being attacked in the above discussion - 20 and 30 something's that are well educated and are living comfortably, and those that fall under the economic radar. A general defense of both groups - parenting is more difficult now than ever before. There are more distractions, more outside forces, more influences. 20 years ago, parents didn't have to worry about Gap Kids advertising on Yahoo's front page. They didn't have market focus groups trying to find the weak link in the familial armor. There is also one thing that many of today's parents do not have to start with - previous experiences with a stable nuclear family.
A majority come from broken homes, their parents divorced when they were still in grade school. Weekends spent being shipped between homes, father's trying to buy their child's affection because he only sees the boy for 96 hours a month. The parents squabbling over custody rights, pick up times, talking poorly about their former spouses to the child. In all of this mess, a child is watching and learning how people interact, and how they interact with their parents. And now that they have that family, they don't have that previous experience to call upon.

Thank you, Baby Boomers, for another great contribution to American society.

As for those in the lower economic brackets, the battle is much simpler - survival. For those who want a first-hand look at what some families need to do to keep food in their stomach and a roof over their head I recommend Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Just to keep their heads close to the surface, many need to hold down multiple jobs. A morning shift as a house worker at the hotel. Pick up Johnny from school, and maybe a night job at the supermarket. Let's assume 12 hours of work a day, 6 days a week. Let's assume a $6/hr minimum wage(federal minimum wage was only $5.15 an hour in 1997), that works out to a whopping $302/week. In a pinch, can a family live on this? I suppose if they have to, yes. Yet, it doesn't leave much time to be a parent, does it? I don't think many of those who like to point and berate these people could handle this grind day in and day out, and still come home and make sure little Johnny did his homework, and is keeping up at school and not sitting in front of the television waiting for mom to come home.

Final point - are today's parents really all that worse than their predecessors? Today's boomers were brought up under the guidance of the proverbial Leave It To Beaver family type. What did that bring us? The 60s and it's social upheavals, complete with political and racial rioting. It brought us disco, cocaine, record divorce rates, "Greed is Good" and Ronald Reagan. Those boomers brought up a generation of children disenfranchised with the political system, gave us grunge, raves, body piercings and Bill Clinton. While there are numerous short-comings so far in the Modern Parent, it is still waaaay to early to pass final judgment.

Regardless, the issue is far too complex to sum up in a wag of the finger a disapproving look, and a blanket condemnation of today's parents. Just as long as they keep their snotty little kids out of my way, that is.

::: posted by Chris at 7:07 PM

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Rantings, ramblings, observations and musings from the insipid to the sublime

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