Not too many years ago, it seemed that there was a common understanding about parenting. Parents offered shelter, food, clothes and nurturing. Parents disciplined children as they saw fit, including corporal punishment at times. Parents guided their children along a path that would end up in their children doing a little better than them and to otherwise lead a lawful and productive life.
Not only did parents have a common understanding of their role, most youth also had a common understanding of their roles. Get an education, employment, marriage, children and a yearly vacation just like mom and dad.
Back in the day fathers were not terribly involved; a man of my Dad’s generation who changed diapers and bathed the babies would have been seen as very odd. Father’s primary roles were as the bread winner and the disciplinarian. Now fathers are involved in all aspects of childcare and in most households the work would not get done as so many mothers work outside the home.
Most parents no longer employ corporal punishment but instead reason with their children when disputes or difficulties arise.
Years ago, the traditional family was reinforced in the media and popular culture. The Walton’s, the Wonder Years and Happy Days were a few examples of the strengths of television shows with mom and dad squarely at the head of the family structure.
Today, few mainstream televisions shows or popular movies do much to support the traditional view of the family. So many examples of shows exist that undermine family unity, family values and family stability that it would be difficult to choose one, though many contemporary reality shows come to mind.
The media has helped to redefine youthful aspiration and what success is. Many young people today might feel very successful if a video they did went viral or they were on a reality show. These aspirations are a titanic departure from a success definition twenty or more years ago. While there is much light in the modern definition of family, there is also much darkness in my estimation.
The media has redefined broken homes as normal, maybe this development is good as children or adults should not be punished or stigmatized for such developments. These messages may be part of a larger phenomenon where the issue of permanency is being challenged.
Many children have seen parents lose their jobs; lose their pensions or health insurance. As we continue to experience high divorce rates and job losses, children may be learning that the loyalties that existed in marriage or between employer and employee are only temporary. These factors may contribute to an ever expanding philosophy of I am going to get mine and I don’t really care what happens to you.
In a culture where winning at all costs is the dominant theme, there are too many losers and to many outsiders. As parents work more hours for less pay, as is the pattern now, children are more and more being left to their own devices. Technological devices very often are filling the void.
As children experience the world more and more at a technological distance, they further remove themselves from their parents, people who did not and cannot experience this dramatic change in the way humans communicate.
In addition, the essential nature of families has changed. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that for the first time in American history, married couples are in the minority at 49%. Clearly, we are a culture that is in transition, possibly on a level that may be unprecedented.
While the style of parenting has changed, the environment in which parents must act as parents has changed as well. Many of these influences create uncertainty. Financial questions abound, will there be a job to stabilize the home. Will there be enough money for extracurricular events and later attending college?
At the same time, many parents are wondering if they will ever retire as retirement accounts are at the mercy of the stock market and the long dark shadows cast over social security are getting darker and longer.
Still, with all the changes and uncertainty, one certainty remains. Give your time and affection to your children talk to them peacefully and reasonably and you will have done as many parents have done across time, done the best that they could for their children.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at Hurlburt@wildblue.net.