The path to better parents…let’s talk economics!

We are living in some curious times, instead of looking at how the whole system is connected and that when the system is broken in one place if affects the overall system, it’s just easier to assign blame, rather than question the system. I was reading this piece the other day by Thomas Friedman, true teachers are under attack these days, in many ways it’s easier to blame teachers for why the kids are not learning and Friedman makes a great point that we need better parents.
However I have an issue with that, we are living in a world that in my almost 39 years on this rock has changed. Gone are the days that a family could exist off the income of one breadwinner as mine did for a good chunk of my childhood. Gone are the days when even the working class stiffs worked for a boss that understood workers need to parent well, though there are exceptions.
Too many times when we look at why kids are not succeeding regardless of race, no one wants to look at how much modern day socio-economics plays a role. Regular readers know I grew up working class, we never had much cash but my Mom was a stay at home Mom, for a good chunk of my childhood. By and large except for the years my Dad did 2nd and 3rd shift work as a union laborer, he was home by 6pm. Growing up in an assortment of rental places, we always had time to hit the library, my Dad was and continues to be a voracious reader, a love he passed on to me. I remember at 11, we read Gone with the Wind out loud as a family project. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of bad times but we had good ones too. Frankly most of the kids I grew up with were working class but thanks to the magnet schools of the 1980’s in Chicago, we got to go to decent schools that in today’s world are reserved for the elite or at the very least well connected solidly upper middle class folks. The world I grew up in back in the 1970’s and 1980’s doesn’t exist.
Today’s working class family hobbles a living together, many times at dead end service jobs the types of places were employees don’t get a great deal of say over things like hours. If you don’t think that affects a parent’s ability to parent, I don’t know what to tell you. As the economic downturn continues even the middle class is starting to feel this affect as many formerly middle class and barely middle class folks find themselves picking up 2nd and even 3rd jobs to make ends meet. One of the parents at the girl child’s school, an out of work masters’ level educated teacher, just started working evenings at the local Starbucks. I ran into him last night as I decided to overrule my brain and partake in a beverage sure to make my stomach revolt. I could see the shame on his face at the sight of seeing someone he knew at his service job. His wife works days and he works nights now, with two young kids, it means it’s hard to create that quality time that kids need, not impossible but damn hard!
Of course there are always exceptions but when your entire life is focused on keeping a roof over your head and food on the table, it can be hard to be fully present when you are with your kids. Kids are also pretty damn smart and early on tend to have a sense of what’s going on with their parents. By the age of 6, I knew my parents didn’t have much and trust me it affected me.
If we want to create better parents, we need to get back to a world where so many are not just focused on surviving but can actually live life. A world where cobbling together a living is not the norm. We need jobs that offer flexibility for parents, we need school schedules that mesh with modern day work schedules (why is my kid out of school most of this week?) we need jobs that pay people a living wage. There is no shame in a service job; lord knows many years ago, I worked a few in my time. Most of us want our services and want people to provide our services but the people providing the services need to be paid well.
If we are going to say parents need to do more, let’s acknowledge the barriers that we have created that get in the way and then look at tearing those barriers down!

  1. November 22, 2011
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