I’ve noticed a troubling trend lately. It seems over the past decade that more and more parents have begun to step away from caring for their children. Has that been your experience? I’ve seen evidence in the many families I speak each month. Generally, they are single parents — fathers and mothers alike — who are raising their children alone. I know that isn’t easy.
I also see it in the number of grandparents who are giving up retirement out of necessity; choosing instead to take responsibility for the care of their grandchildren. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 2.4 million grandparents raising grandchildren in the U.S. Ten years later, I suspect that figure has climbed substantially.
And I see it reflected in the growing number of teenagers who are trying to find their way in life, attached (if they’re lucky enough) to aunties or friends of the family because their parents have moved on, checked out. Years ago, parents placed unwanted children in homes for adoption. Now, they simply walk away.
I find this trend both troubling and perplexing. What does it say about us as a society if parents can shirk one of the most important tasks we assume as adults? Has accountability become an old-fashioned notion? Children don’t ask to be born into this world. Does we have the right to slip off the yoke of parenthood when we begin to realize this wasn’t what we signed on for, in hopes someone else will assume our duties?
Why are parents leaving it up to grandparents, schoolteachers, coaches, or friends to help their children learn the life lessons they need to make good choices? That was once the parent’s domain. But more and more, that seems to be up for grabs.
I find this perplexing because now, more than ever, couples have an abundance of contraceptive choices. As women, we can choose whether or not we want to become pregnant. We can even choose not to become a parent at all, or to wait on that life-altering decision indefinitely. Isn’t that a better choice than having a child you eventually opt out of raising? Yes, I know. Life isn’t that cut and dried. Situations change, relationships fail. But children must weather our decisions. I think parents often overlook the fallout.
Perhaps the key is education. Parenting education that starts when a couple becomes pregnant. People need a wake-up call that clearly states raising a child is a life-long commitment, not a part-time, do-it-when-you-feel-like proposition. What we know about parenting is often limited by what we’ve grown up around; it’s limited by what our parents did or — failed to do — to correct and encourage our moral values.
So parents need a guiding hand to help them learn what makes children tick. After all, we want to raise a child so that he or she can grow up to become a strong, capable adult.
That’s why I applaud programs like the Regional Intervention Program. In our story this month, writer Kelley Barnett reports on how this counseling service functions, helping parents cope by teaching them how to better manage their young children. In creating an early intervention system, the likelihood is good that participants in this program can nip in the bud behaviors that might cause further problems down the road. It’s not all about correcting bad children. It’s about understanding family dynamics, improving communication skills, and zeroing in on what each child needs from us to succeed.
We all know that raising children can be tough, exhausting work. While there’s plenty of pride and joy, each phase of childhood also presents new challenges. We quickly discover how each child is different. That’s why programs like RIP are so vital. As parents, it’s imperative we learn new skills that can help us down the road of childhood.
We all make choices. What I think needs to happen is that we must consider what impact those choices have on our children. Once they’re here, it’s up to us to provide the best guidance and care that we can.
Not just today, but always.