TLC and Reality Checks

A lunch conversation brought to mind a few more thoughts about fathers and their importance in the life of a child. As we talked about the roles mothers and fathers, it occurred to me for the umpteenth time that they are indeed different. Mother Nature coded us differently from the “get-go’ and that 23rd pair of chromosomes continues to affect our thinking and behavior throughout our lives.

While there are exceptions to this, women are the nurturers. Men are the fix-it people, the ones who see a problem and want to solve it right away. Women want to make things all better, and men want to tackle the issues head on. This way of thinking even affects the way parents handle issues with their children.

Parents look ahead to the future and feel uncertainty, anxiety, and perhaps even downright fear when they consider their children stepping into it. The world is fraught with danger and peril, and each parent wants to prepare the child for it. Their ways of preparing youngsters for the world of tomorrow is different, however. Mothers are more likely to see the possible dangers and warn the child to be cautious and careful. Fathers, on the other hand, are more likely to tell the child to step up to the plate and be strong.

The different parental approaches remind me of the difference between justice and mercy. Both are good; both have their value. And yet too much of one without the other is potentially harmful for the development of a well-rounded and responsible individual. When our children were small and would wail, “That’s not fair,” I was inclined to commiserate with them and agree that while it isn’t always fair, that was just the way it was. “Sorry, Sweetie,” I’d say. Their father, on the other hand, would often quip, “Who says life is fair???”

Sometimes parents can switch off and take turns between nurturer and tough guy, but a child needs both approaches. He or she needs justice AND mercy. Sometimes she needs a big dose of TLC and sometime she needs a reality check. When my daughter Carrie was a college student, she was having a little too much fun, and her grades were slipping. I gave her some encouraging pep talks and reminded her of the importance of education. Truthfully, I don’t think it fazed her at all. Her father told her that if her grades didn’t improve, the gravy train was over. That got her attention, and she immediately began to turn things around.

Maybe some single parents are able to be both the nurturer and the task master, the one who tries to make things “all better” and the one who encourages the child to “man up” (even with female children). But me? I needed both  mercy and justice when raising children, and I think most households do.

He’s Really There for Us

I have dads on my mind again this morning. Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend? We need to. Any reputable human growth and development text will tell you that adolescents in single-parent households are at higher risk for poor academic performance, delinquency, violent behavior, drinking, and risky sexual behavior.

Even if the father is not in the home, he can be a force for good. It is the quality of his involvement that counts, not his mere presence. We all know fathers who  are hateful, ineffective, and abusive and whose families might be better off if they were to hit the road. I’m not talking about them. I’m referring to the ones who genuinely care about their children but for various reasons don’t actually live with them. If the dad provides financial assistance, fosters a close relationship, and practices authoritative parenting, his children are usually better adjusted than if he were absent.

I recall the moment when I first realized that single parenting was becoming more the norm. A dozen years ago, I had a pretty, petite, pregnant redhead in one of my classes. I was a bit surprised that she was beginning the semester because it’s been my experience that having a newborn usually takes more time and energy than the expectant mom realizes, and more often than not, she ends up withdrawing for that term. Sorry ladies, although there are many exceptions, that’s been my observation, especially if the mother is single.

And that was the case with this young mom. The moment she told me about her “boyfriend,” I thought, “Uh oh,” and  had that sinking feeling that her college career would be cut short. Indeed, I somehow knew that the course of her life was about to be altered in a big way and that unless her circumstances changed, she and her baby would struggle in a myriad of ways.

Little Junior was born, and after a week, there she was back in class. I was delighted and surprised. We talked after class, and she showed me some pictures of the baby. There was a young man smiling and holding the newborn in a couple of the photos, and she proudly told me that he was the baby’s father and her boyfriend.

“He’s really there for us,” she said.

“That’s good to hear, “I replied.

“Yeah, he doesn’t come every single day because he’s busy, you know. But at least every other day he comes over and gives the baby a bottle.”

Again I said, “That’s good.”

Did she finish the semester? No. Her son would be approaching his teens now, and I often wonder about their fate. Does the child’s father offer financial assistance? Does he still “feed” his son? Is the child angry or rebellious? Do they live in poverty? Did she go back to college?

 There have always been single mothers and absentee fathers. I just don’t recall it being so openly flaunted as it is now. I’m amazed at how easily a person can become adjusted to change, even if it’s not good. These days I’m often surprised and thrilled to learn that the couple is married, something that I used to take for granted.

Emma and Her Date

On a scorching day this past July, I walked out of the library in Rincon, GA and heard a sweet little voice saying, “Hey Grandmama!” There she was, my blond, curly haired granddaughter Emma running towards me. She and her father had a daddy/daughter date that day, and they were dining on hamburgers and fries in the park. I looked up and saw Rich, my son-in-law, sitting at a picnic table in the park, and hand-in-hand, Emma and I sauntered over.  I sauntered; Emma skipped.

“Why did you guys decide to come here?” I asked. “Couldn’t you eat your lunch in air conditioned comfort?”

“Well, it was Emma’s time to choose, and she wanted to come here,” Rich replied. Emma climbed back up on the bench next to her dad and took a sip of her drink. I took a long look at my son-in-law, drenched in perspiration, obviously uncomfortable and thought, “That’s love.”

We chatted a few minutes and then I drove off. When I looked back, there they sat, Rich listening to Emma’s prattling, and Emma swinging her legs and happily telling her dad something important (to her).

I remembered this scene and others like it as my husband and I watched Courageous last week, a movie about men with the courage to step up to the plate and fulfill their responsibilities as fathers. Moved by the stories portrayed in the movie, we talked for the umpteenth time about how fortunate we are that our eleven grandchildren are being raised in homes with both mom and dad present, present in more ways than one. When I compare their young lives to that of millions of our nation’s children, my heart hurts.

Seeing the movie and thinking of its title reminded me that I too need to have courage to speak up, to do and say what I perceive to be appropriate in encouraging fathers to take their childrearing responsibility seriously. The children of America need a masculine influence in their homes, a person who can and will love, guide, protect, and provide for them. Yes, I know that mothers are perfectly capable of loving and guiding, but the children fare better with two adults, united in purpose, to raise them.

In the movie, one of the young men who’s part of a gang has been arrested. As he sits in the back seat of the police car waiting to be taken to jail, one of the officers leans into the car and asks, with concern, something like, “What are you doing?” Sad and vulnerable (at least in appearance), the young man simply replies, “Man, I don’t have anybody.” (paraphrase)  That one sentence contains so much truth and so much hurt.

Children without fathers are more likely to drop out of school, join gangs, and get involved with drugs. I know some people reading this want more specific data. They want percentages and statistics. I can find them easily enough, and maybe by the time I write another post about being courageous, I’ll have looked them up.  Or better yet, maybe you can do it.  The stats and facts are easy enough to find. It’s no secret that over 40 percent of children born in South Carolina are born to single mothers. Where are the dads? Where is their courage?

Follow-up to Missing Fathers

As I was cleaning out one of my bookbags yesterday, I came across something I’d clipped from The State newspaper a few months ago. Although I don’t know the exact date of the publication, I know that it was somewhat recent and that the information was borrowed from The Aiken Standard. If anything, the stats mentioned are even worse now…not better. Nothing will get better until people open their hearts and minds and pocketbooks and get involved with this social issue.

According to the newspaper(s), the most recent Kids Count data places SC as as “45th in the nation in the living quality for children…In South Carolina, 31.3 percent of the children live in single parent families and 47.2 percent of children are born to single mothers. It is not shocking from those figures to find that 20.8 percent statewide test not ready for the first grade.”

Will things improve? “With cuts to education budgets as well as those of health and social services, it seems unlikely that South Carolina’s children will fare better in years to come.” Distressing, isn’t it?

What will you do? What will you say? What advice do you have to the state’s parents? To its young people? In the words of Solomon Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Where Have All the Fathers Gone?

What’s happening to our young people? What are you doing to make the world a little better for this lost generation?

As Connie was leaving my house after book club last week, she spotted a picture of Paul and Olivia and paused to look at it. “Love it,” she said.  “Me too,” I replied. I then went on to say that every picture I’ve seen of him and his precious daughter shows him smiling. Plus, he’s usually cradling her lovingly in his arms or kissing her. Connie went on to say, “Well, you know there’s a special bond between a dad and his daughter. I still miss mine every day.”

Connie loved her father. I loved mine too. My daughters love and admire their dad, and my husband’s daughters think he’s the cat’s meow. He is. Why am I going on and on about filial love? Because children need fathers. They need mothers AND fathers providing support, love, guidance, and the sense of security that all children need.

Today 42 percent of children born in SC are born to single mothers, and I just can’t “get it.” I’m not blaming the moms. It takes two to tango, and sometime between conception and birth, the father often decides the prom is over. Or it could be that the mother doesn’t want him around in a steady, committed way. Maybe she thinks she can be both a mother and father, especially if the “baby daddy” helps her financially. This is crazy thinking.

I’ve recently read of unmarried women who want to have children but don’t want a relationship with a man. In fact, it’s fine with them if they never see him. A sperm donor is all that’s required.  On the surface, this sounds “okay,” and I can well understand the desire for fulfillment. Motherhood is not overrated. In fact, it’s downright awesome!

At the same time, I can’t understand why a woman would deliberately bring a child into the world with the knowledge that this precious being will never (in all likelihood) know his father.  To me, it’s a selfish act, especially when one considers all of the unwanted children who are hungry for love. Why not adopt one of them? Does a woman like this sincerely believe that her personality, resources, strength, and love are all that a child needs? She’s wrong. People have a desire to know who they are where they came from.

I have tons of research to back me up on the above…all of it disheartening.  Rather than drag out the statistics this afternoon, however, I’ll just mention an incident that my friend Tilara wrote about. She told a story of three young men who are currently in prison because of armed robbery. None really had paternal influence in their homes, and yet the 19-year-old’s father showed up in court to beg for mercy for his son. The son hadn’t seen his dad since he was 2, and now this young man has a 2-year-old child of his own.

Tilara’s post really touched my heart and spurred me to action. It’s one thing not to say anything for fear of offending someone. It’s another to stand quietly by and watch the missteps of what Tilara has accurately dubbed “the lost generation.” In her words: Tonight when I turn out my light to go to sleep, I am going to pray for these three boys, but I am also going to pray for all of the other boys that find themselves in this lost generation.  Most of all I am going to pray that as a nation, we (everyone) look in the mirror tomorrow morning, and ask ourselves “What role can I play, in making our world a little better for this lost generation.”

What’s happening to our young people? What are you doing to make the world a little better for this lost generation?

A Little Venting

No travelogue tonight Friends. I just have a couple of things on my mind that I feel like sharing before getting ready for book club.

Earlier this week I was reading the newspaper and came across two interesting articles on the same page, and while both had to do with money, the stories were totally different. One was about how more women are getting into the Avon and Tupperware businesses on the side. Why? To make extra money to supplement the family income.  I then saw a short piece about a man who didn’t understand all the hoopla about his bonus. After all, he deserved it, by golly! The thing is, his company has lost BILLIONS, and he got a 75 MILLION dollar bonus. Huh? Here are moms peddling plastic while this guy is raking in millions. I’ve read that the income gap is widening, but this is ridiculous. By the way, I can’t remember the name of his company, but I’m not making this up. Really.

I’m picking up mssc54’s lament about the number of mothers having babies out of wedlock. It’s astounding to realize that 40 percent of America’s babies are born to single mothers. Don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself. I just do not understand this. Call me an old fogey or whatever else you want to throw my way. But before you do,  check out the research on child development, and you’ll learn that study after study confirms that children with two parents in the home fare better in every way: emotionally, socially, psychologically, physically, and financially. Yes, I know there are two-parent homes where abuse and neglect are regular happenings, but still….Don’t take my word for it. The studies are easy to find, and they all say the same thing; babies raised by single mothers (and it’s usually the mom who’s raising the child) are more likely to live in poverty and suffer the consequences (often long-term) that go along with that.

This phenomenon (single mothers), long a concern in psychology and sociology circles, has now captured the attention of the media. A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch part of the evening news, and an interviewer was asking a young single mother WHY. Why did you opt to have this baby out of wedlock and keep him? She said that it (motherhood) was something she purposely sought and that the reason she didn’t want to get married was because she didn’t want to be cumbered with a husband.  She, however, wanted to have a full life, one in which she experienced all sorts of things, including motherhood. The baby was looking at the camera in big-eyed curiosity. I wonder when his daddy-ache will begin or how he’ll react when he begins school and gets asked/teased about his father. But hey, does that really matter as long as his mother feels fulfilled?

Only one more thing. I’m wondering why so many people feel that it’s necessary to take potshots at President Obama. Lately some columnists have been giving him a hard time for having what they perceive to be a condescending attitude towards Americas and perhaps too much of an empathic one with some of the folks he’s been visiting overseas. President Bush got bashed for having too much of an ethnocentric, “we’re #1” attitude. Can any high profile person avoid getting slammed by the cynics?

My next post will be more upbeat. I just had to get this stuff off my chest. Does anyone have any answers to the above???

Nadya’s Babies

I don’t understand Octomom. I really don’t. How in the name of heaven does she think that one person can take care of eight infants and six other children without a job, a home, a husband (or helpmate), or any means of stable support? 

My daughter Carrie has four children ranging in age from three weeks to nearly 5 years old, and she is busy from sunup to sundown…and in-between those times too. She and her husband are excellent, caring parents who take their parenting responsibilities seriously, and both will tell you that it’s hard, hard work. Between food preparation, story time, daily baths, laundry, ball practice, dance lessons, and breastfeeding the newborn, Carrie is s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d to the max. How can Ms. Suleman feed eight at the same time? And while she’s feeding them, who will be taking care of the other six children?

And speaking of feeding the children, how will she manage this with no job? Formula, diapers, wipes, car seats, clothing, bottles, blankets and all of the other paraphernalia that go along with babies are quite expensive. Where will she and the children stay when they leave the hospital? Admittedly, I haven’t kept up with this situation, but the last time I read about it, she was living in one of her mother’s rental homes that was nearing foreclosure. Is this where Ms. Suleman will take the children when they go “home from the hospital?” I shudder to think about their tiny bodies and psyches and what might lie ahead for them.

Back to the money issue, my son-in-law’s insurance didn’t cover all of the doctor and hospital costs, so Rich and Carrie ended up being responsible for $2500.00 out of their own pocket. They’ve been budgeting very carefully and hope to have this obligation behind them this month. Who’s paying for the extended care of the octuplets? I can’t even imagine the staggering cost of their intensive, round-the-clock care. Though I’m ignorant about such things, I’m guessing that the state of California is footing the bill. I’m also thinking that there may be some special needs among the octuplets that will require $$$.

Octomom says she plans to go to graduate school to earn a Master’s degree in counseling. I was incredulous when I heard this. Who in the world will be minding her 14 children while she sits in class? How will she have time to study, conduct research, and write papers? I teach adults, many of whom are young mothers. Believe me when I say that they struggle just to be in class on time. Heck, between ear infections and stomach viruses, sometimes they struggle to attend period. Then, there’s the cost of tuition and books to consider.

Ms. Suleman says she missed having siblings when she was a child. Poor baby. Does she honestly think that these 14 children are going to feel happy, loved, and valued? I can’t see it. I see rivalry, tons of it. Neglect too. Saturday, my 23-month-old granddaughter was lying on her father’s chest enjoying a special moment with her dad who had been gone much of the week. Her four-year-old sister came into the room and began talking to her father, and Emma actually became downright hostile. How dare Brooke talk to “her daddy?”  And this is a family in which there are only four children, all of whom get plenty of TLC from two parents.

In my opinion, these precious children deserve better. There are surely couples who would willingly adopt and provide love, nurturance, and stability to each of them. It’s my hope, no, it’s my prayer, that this young woman will love her babies enough to grant them a better life.