A few weeks ago I posted an article "The Parental Pinch Gets Tighter", which discussed the problem of trying to litigate childhood independence and children's unsupervised activity.
This week another similar article, "Kids' Solo Playtime Unleashes 'Free-Range' Parenting Debate" appeared on the NPR website;
Christine James-Brown, president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, says while some investigations will inevitably prove a waste in the end, that doesn't mean agencies should forgo them ...Communities today may be made up of strangers, but James-Brown says they still have a stake in how kids are raised and a role to play in keeping them safe. She hopes all the media scrutiny gets more people thinking about what that role should be.The basic idea is that we, as America, find ourselves caught between multiple goals. We are caught between the ideal of perfect parenting and the need to let children take calculated risks. We are caught between the judgment when something goes wrong and protecting the sacred sanctity of parental rights within the nuclear family ideal. How are we to choose?
Do we choose to harass well meaning parents making choices geared toward their individual families in the interest of catching cases of actual neglect, or do we allow for more leniency, knowing that it is going to put some children at risk for physical harm and neglect? It isn't an easy choice, and there is no right answer.
There is one solution that is always my answer to this debate and is the same as Christine James-Brown's: we need to band together as a community. We need to start trusting our neighbors. We need to stop sheltering our children from everything and give society a stake in how kids are raised, and a role protecting them. We need businesses to invest in their workers and their families.
Just like childhood independence, trust is something that needs to grow over time. It can't grow if we don't take the time to invest. It is finding that time to invest in the people around us that is increasingly difficult in today's workplace economy; we have longer work hours in the office in addition to 24/7 accessibility with cell phones and email. We work longer (not harder) in a society that is Overworked and Underemployed, and that makes it hard to have time for anything else.
All these issues, all these parenting debates, all the pointing fingers, are all stemming from the same problem: they are interconnected with and inseparably joined to the economic sector and the current work/family balance in our country (or lack thereof). We can't put the time into the people in our communities when there is no time to give.
The fact is that we, as Americans, don't have time. We are starving for quality time. We don't have time to invest in family meals, instead relying on fast food and convenience meals. We don't have the time to build up our social networks which provide insulation against struggle. We don't have time to just enjoy our families. We barely have time to invest in quality family time, especially in a dual-income household. Instead we are on the hamster wheel of the American economy, working ourselves to death, but not actually getting anywhere.
Our workforce is not driven by concerns for individual people's lives and this is something that ultimately will affect all people, whether or not they have children. The system does not support workers with elder care responsibilities any more than they support parents of young children.
Until we change our economic system to become more worker friendly, or until we embrace Valuing Families, we will be forever debating the intricacies of parenting. It all boils down to, who do the young a of a society belong to? Do they belong to the family? The community? Or both?
And lest childless individuals wipe their brow and say, "not my problem," let me remind you that it is. Even if you never have children, you may have parents, a spouse or another family member who might become ill, or they could become ill themselves. Severe illness is as much at the heart of this debate as parenting. (Not to mention, the alarming boom in dating websites that have exploded in the last decade which are clearly driven by the fact that even unmarried workers find it hard to carve out time for a social life.)
Believe it or not, taking responsibility for children in our communities promotes the belief at a grassroots level that families and individuals, or in other words people are important. Ultimately, they are more important than the monetary bottom line.
So, take the time to contact your local representatives and other government agencies, let them know that it is time to start Valuing Families.