Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bundles Of...Misery

My sister gave birth to a healthy little baby girl this past weekend. That makes her seventh and our family's 24th grandchild. (All homeschooled.) We're all excited and blessed by the new arrival. Apparently, there are many out there who don't share our joy for parenting.

In fact, according to a recent study published last month in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researcher found parents more miserable than non-parents. The study surveyed 13,000 adults and included both empty nesters and those with children.

Washingtonpost.com has the story. According to some experts the teaching of Dr. Spock is to blame.

Michael Lewis, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry and director of the Institute for the Study of Child Development at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., says that the idea of parenthood as pure joy "was always a bit of a wonderful myth." Over the last 150 years, he said, children have moved from being an economic advantage to an economic burden in the United States. We used to be able to send children to work in the fields; older kids tended to the babies. When not pressed into service, they mostly stayed out of the way.

With the advent of Dr. Spock, the parenting industry, obligatory music and soccer lessons and a colossal marketplace that propels kids to desire and parents to guilt, children have become the center of the household.

Other experts see the culture conspiring to bring us down. Meredith Small, a Cornell University anthropologist and author of "Kids: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Raise Our Children," said,

"Western culture is the worst place to be if you want to be a parent," she says. "If you look at any other culture, people would think that this is nutty."

She said parents have never been as alone as they are in the United States today. In places like India, lots of people sleep in one big house. When the baby wakes up at 2 a.m., six people are available to help. Higher birth rates mean there are older children to take care of the younger ones. Worldwide, she says, 90 percent of child care is done by other children.

Even in many European countries, things are better; working mothers -- and sometimes fathers -- are paid a portion of their salaries to stay home during the first year or more with their young children. Parents get six weeks of vacation and extra time off to take care of sick kids. Good child care is subsidized by the government. College and graduate schools are paid for by the government.

Here, Small said, nuclear families aren't large enough. "Parents are tired, they are overworked, they are extended, they are irritated and they've got nobody to help them."

It interesting that she promotes the European model of government as better idea for the tired parent. That's exactly what I was referring to in my post Separtation Anxiety when I said,

A society that doesn't seek the face of God is bound to seek the hand of the state.

I don't want the state helping me parent my children. Nor should I be forced to pay for someone else's childcare or college. It is not benevolence or compassion to take money from on family to "aid" another family. If I take money from you the courts call it stealing. When the government takes money from me to help you they call it compassion. I guess it helps when you write the rules you play by. But I have to agree with Ms. Small in one area, the United States is so child centered in its parenting that it we do look a little nutty.

Parenting is hard work. No one will deny that. I am thankful that I have a large and growing larger family to help ease the burden. We have made substantial sacrifices in income and lifestyle to be able to stay home. Why should we, on a single income, be forced to pay childcare so that another family can have both parents work? The European economies are suffering under the weight of this increased burden. Germany's unemployment is over 8% and France is near 11%. The European model is not exactly what I want to look to for parenting relief. By way of comparison, Michigan's economy is one of the worst in our country with unemployment at over 7%.

God made the family for a reason. The government will never satisfy our needs the way a family will. The sooner we realize this the better.

What about the elderly?

Patricia at Pollywog Creek reminds us that it's not just children that we need to take care of either. It's the elderly as well. She linked to an interesting post by Al Mohler, "Do Not Cast Me Off in the Time of Old Age". Another study showing that the elderly are increasing but there is no one to help care for them. This was similar to the other study I wrote about in Our Children, Our Future.

China on the other hand has very interesting ways of making sure that you visit and take care of your elderly parents...or else. As G.K. Chesterton said,

When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.

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