Raising Kids in the Rat Race

The eighth most common source of depression among the women completing our questionnaire was 'Problems with the Children.' Please keep in mind that the youthful age of the individuals surveyed undoubtedly influenced the lower ranking of this category of difficulties. If the majority of respondents had been the mothers of adolescents instead, this item might have zoomed to the top of the hit parade of problems.

I have written two books specifically for parents and teachers (The New Dare to Discipline and HIDE OR SEEK) both relating to the content of this chapter. Thousands more have been written on the same topic by other authors. Since it is impossible to present an encyclopedic overview of the innumerable problems which confront out children, I will limit discussion to a few aspects of parenthood which are particularly relevant to the role of fatherhood.

The August 1974 issue of "Scientific American" included an important article entitled, "The Origins of Alienation," by Urie Bronfenbrenner. Dr. Bronfenbrenner is, in my opinion, the foremost authority on child development in America today, and his views should be considered carefully. In his article, Dr. Bronfenbrenner discussed the deteriorating status of the American family and the forces which are weakening its cohesiveness. More specifically, he is concerned about the circumstances which are seriously undermining the parental role and depriving children of the leadership and love they must have for survival.

One of those circumstances is widely known as the "rat-race" (which is discussed within the chapter of Fatigue and Time Pressure). Dr. Bronfenbrenner described the problem this way, "The demands of a job that claim meal times, evenings and weekends as well as days; the trips and moves necessary to get ahead or simply to hold one's own; the increasing time spent commuting, entertaining, going out, meeting social and community obligations...all of these produce a situation in which a child often spends more time with a passive babysitter than with a participating parent."(1)

According to Dr. Bronfenbrenner, this rat race is particularly incompatible with fatherly responsibilities, as illustrated by a recent investigation which yielded startling results. A team of researchers wanted to learn how much time middle-class fathers spend playing and interacting with their small children. First, they asked a group of fathers to estimate the time spent with their one-year-old youngsters each day, and received an average reply of fifteen to twenty minutes. To verify these claims, the investigators attached microphones to the shirts of small children for the purpose of recording actual parental verbalization. The results of this study are shocking: The average amount of time spent by these middle-class fathers with their small children was thirty-seven seconds per day! Their direct interaction was limited to 2.7 encounters daily, lasting ten to fifteen seconds each! That, so it seems, represents the contribution of fatherhood for millions of America's children.

Now, I'm certain that many fathers are not represented by the study I've quoted, but who can deny that the rapid pace of our lives interferes with meaningful family relationships? Fathers are working long hours and moonlighting to try to maintain a decent standard of living. When they do come home they are exhausted and have little energy left to invest in their loved ones. And so it is that many wives have the full responsibility for the care of their children. Raising kids is a pretty awesome task, even when the job is handled by a team of two, as intended. It can be downright terrifying when approached as a solitary endeavor. In the first place, parenthood is a guilty affair. No matter how hard one tries, it is impossible to discharge the responsibility perfectly. Children are maddeningly complicated, and no one has all the answers to the myriad of problems that can arise. Furthermore, both the masculine and feminine personalities are needed in modeling of roles for children. Each gender makes its own contribution to the development of little minds, and a mother knows she is not equipped to play both parts. There's no doubt about it, raising children as a "single parent" (whether married or not) is the loneliest job in the world!

How are women coping with this "solitude of the seventies"? Not too well, it would appear. For one thing, the frustrations I have described have apparently turned parenthood into a distasteful responsibility to be avoided. A recent issue of "Esquire" magazine featured a series of articles entitled, "Does America Suddenly Hate Its Kids?" The theme of the publication is interesting to me, for it deals with a social trend that I have also observed. We have come through a period of extreme child-centeredness, where the entire would revolved around the next generation. Mothers in the fifties and early sixties devoted every ounce of their fifties and early sixties devoted every ounce of their energy to raising the best educated, best mannered, best fed, best clothed, and best medicated kids on the block. But the pendulum has swept back, as pendulums do, to the other side of the continuum. Now, said "Esquire," many American women have apparently decided that raising children is an enormous interference and sacrifice. How can a woman do her own thing when she is changing diapers and handling the rest of the routine chores on Nursery Hill? As a result of this radical shift in values and attitudes, our little ones are often resented and rejected--or even hated. I have been witnessing evidence of the same disenchantment with parenthood in my professional experience. One young mother told me in a counseling session, "My kids hang around my ankles and try to take all my time, but I kick 'em off. I tell them, 'You're not going to wreck my life!'"

A gruesome set of statistics seems to validate the hypothesis proposed by "Esquire" magazine. The killing of children under one year of age has been increasing year by year, rising 51 percent from 1957 to 1970. Furthermore, there are now between two and four million cases per year of "battered children" who have been brutally beaten and burned and drowned by the adults in their lives. (One mother cut out her child's eyes with a razor blade!) More than 90 percent of these tragic incidents occur in the children's own homes, which should be a place of safety and love. And as might be expected, the most severe injuries were inflicted by mothers in single parent homes, a fact which reflects the frustration and desperation experienced by some young mothers today.

One of the cornerstone philosophies of the feminist movement asserts that it is impossible for a woman to be fulfilled while staying home and raising children. This view must be meeting widespread approval. As stated earlier, almost half the mothers in this nation are employed outside the home. While this percentage is much higher than a few years ago, the greatest increase in being seen with the mothers of preschool children. One in every three mothers with children under six is employed today. That statistic distresses me more than I can find words to express. Who is at home to care for those impressionable babies? Who is taking Mom's place? Fifty years ago, half the households had at least one adult besides the parents living with the family. Now the figure is only 4 percent. There is no one else at home.

Modern women are struggling to convince themselves that state-sponsored child-care centers offer a convenient substitute for the traditional family concept. It will not work! It hasn't succeeded in the countries where it has been tried. Once more I find myself in agreement with Dr. Bronfenbrenner who wrote:"...with the withdrawal of the social supports for the family to which I alluded above, the position of women and mothers has become more and more isolated. With the breakdown of the community, the neighborhood and the extended family, an increasing responsibility for the care and upbringing of children has fallen on the young mother. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that many young women in America are in revolt. I understand and share their sense of rage, but I fear the consequences of some of the solutions they advocate, which will have the effects of isolating children still further from the kind of care and attention they need."

Book: What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women

By Dr. James Dobson

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