Parents Need to Plan…to Be Parents

It used to be that people planned for such important things as marriage, child-bearing, child-rearing, finances, and living arrangements.  Now it seems that these important milestones and responsibilities are quite secondary to impulsive behavior and immediate gratification.  I have been stunned at the growing number of callers who marry without consideration for religion, finances, extended family problems, lifestyle, goals, and even personality differences.

For example, it flabbergasts me to get so many calls from young women complaining about their overbearing mothers-in-law, then admitting that the young couple is living with his mother because they don’t have the wherewithal to take care of themselves.  So, they’re living as a married couple, but also as dependent children in his Mommy’s home, and the wife wonders why she doesn’t have the power at home?

It’s also unbelievable to me that so many couples will marry before either one of them is in the position to support a family, yet they start making babies and then the fights begin — over not having enough money or time to have any freedom, fun or opportunities.

It is not surprising, however, when women call to complain that their bosses are cutting back on maternity leave.  That’s because we’ve become a culture that makes everyone else responsible for our choices.  Maternity leave pay generally comes in the form of six to eight weeks of disability pay, and such payments have been cut back due to economical issues.  According the non-profit Families and Work Institute, only 16% of employers offer full pay for childbirth leave, down from 27% in 1998.  The average maximum length of job-guaranteed leaves for new mothers dropped from 16.1 weeks a decade ago to 15.2 weeks.

The Wall Street Journal’s “Work and Family” column (6/11/08) admits that “This comes despite research showing attentive nurturing has particular developmental power in a baby’s first year, and that longer leaves can ease postpartum depression in some mothers.”  Boy, was I ever glad to see that truth in print.  But when we are grousing about employers extending maternity leave by weeks, whose responsibility is it to maintain at least one full year of hands-on mothering?  The government?  Corporations?  I think not.  The first five years before kindergarten, and not just the first year after birth, are crucial in the emotional, social, and psychological development of children.

Children are not pets, only needing attentive care in case of danger, or who are just fed at one end and cleaned at the other.  Every day, their brains grow and develop, and each day, they experience life and feelings.  Each day offers significant opportunities for a loving and educational interaction with a parent who ought to be experiencing it with them, and supporting them in their explorations.

What is the solution?  Better planning.  I have often suggested that people live on one salary, putting the other in savings and/or conservative investments before they start building a family.  I have suggested that they research areas where they wish to establish their family lives and roots, and make sure they are affordable. 

The point is that when you become parents, you must shift the focus from individual gratification (through career) to group gratification (through family).