Who Will Raise Our Children?

A recent issue of National Geographic reports findings from scientists who unearthed the remains of a child who had been sacrificed to the gods in an ancient Mayan ritual. Current medical testing allowed them to piece together a chilling picture of the child's last hours on earth. It was horrifying. How could someone do that to a child?

It made me wonder: When future generations look back on late 20th century life in the United States, what conclusions will they make about how we value our children? Will they look at the evidence of the lives our children lead and admire us for our loving care, or will they think our children have been sacrificed for other things? In particular, what judgment will they pass on the widespread practice of children being raised from the most tender age, not by their own mothers and fathers, but by near strangers in day-care centers?

Forty-five percent of children under the age of one are in child care on a regular basis, and nearly 5 million school age kids are without adult supervision for some time during the average week. The life of a typical tike in day-care is not gruesome. Although stories of children not receiving the proper food, drink, and physical attention crop up frequently, the child in day-care will generally receive all the material care he requires. Yet what of his soul? God gives his parents the responsibility to shape it, yet most of the child's waking hours are spent away from his own mother.

While men, too, must live up to their roles as fathers, I believe a more serious problem is the rejection of motherhood as a career, a form of worthwhile and fulfilling work. I can think of many examples of parents who share the roles of provider and caretaker. In many cases, it works. Yet, typically, it isn't fathers who care for children where mothers cannot, but day-care providers.

Even the best-case day-care scenario is less than ideal. Children need the loving and corrective attention that only a mother can provide. And it is not just young children; even teenagers still require very personal care, considering the temptations they often face, like pre-marital sex, drugs, and materialism. After all, “Generation Xers,”—distinguished by their alienation and a lack of a moral framework—were largely shaped by day-care centers, after-school programs, and television.

Too many women have been persuaded that they should “have it all”—a career and a family. As a matter of fact, the profession of motherhood has been devalued to the point that we assume a woman needs employment outside the home to be “fulfilled” as a person. And yet what career could possibly be more critical than that of caring for our own children, shaping their wills, instructing their minds, and giving them all the love and care they deserve from us? As Pope John Paul II said in his homily in Santa Clara, Cuba, “Motherhood is sometimes presented as something backward or as a limitation of a woman's freedom, thus distorting its true nature and dignity.”

Children have a spiritual need to be close to their mothers. They need a level of concern and correction that only someone with a truly vested interest can give. Most mothers sense this, even those who work. A survey taken last year by the Pew Center found that only 41% of mothers who work outside the home felt it was good for their children.

We have come to accept the dual wage—earner family as a matter of course. For many people, it is an unfortunate necessity. The average family pays almost 40% of its income in taxes. Decades of inflation have watered down the purchasing power of money earned. Even so, for some, dual-wage status is not a necessity but a choice. It does take two paychecks to live the lifestyle many expect today—a spacious house in an affluent neighborhood, two cars, and all the toys, clothes, and gadgets imaginable.

Most of our parents got by on one paycheck and humbler dreams. They did not expect to have all the cars, furniture, appliances, clothing, meals out, and vacations they desired within the first few years of marriage. They lived frugally and sacrificed. Mothers worked at home because they knew that raising the children themselves was the right thing to do. Many mothers today would be able to stay home if the couples would make a tough sacrifice and live with less.

Some time in the past 30 years we developed the idea that in order to be good parents we had to give our children every material advantage. In fact in some cases children benefit from being denied what they want. It's not good to grow up thinking, “I will always be able to get everything I desire.” And in truth, nothing is quite as satisfying as receiving something we have worked hard and made sacrifices to acquire.

Yet our children need our time more than any material pleasure. Someday each of us will be held accountable before God for how we have raised them. Is parenting a role we can delegate?

Lisa Royal, a mother of two, lives in Auburn, Ala.