A Parenting Movement

Article excerpt

We have uncovered an undeclared war against parents that has been going on for at least thirty years. Parents have been undermined and demoralized on a variety of fronts. Governmental policy has actually undermined families, both by making it more difficult for them to obtain familyoriented housing, and by encouraging a market-oriented approach to health care embodied in the "managed care" system. Further, because of the growing power of capital, people are now required to spend a much larger part of their day in work than in family life, decreasing the amount of time that parents have to spend with their children. The average worker spends 163 hours more per year than he or she used to a few decades ago, while earning power has gone down. The average income for parents has gone down 3 percent since 1989. Wages of (non-supervisory) male production workers alone have gone down 25 percent since 1973. Thirty-two percent of men working full time cannot keep a family of four above the poverty line. This decrease in earning power has played a role in pushing more women into the work force, not for fulfillment, but to meet basic family material needs. There are very few households in which one income can keep the family afloat.

It's hard to find a historical period in which both parents were working these kinds of hours-because even when one parent used to work twelve hours a day, the other parent was at home to provide some parenting. There are seven million home-alone kids between the ages of seven and ten, many of them learning to become predators or becoming victims on the streets. Many children aren't being looked after in the most simple way. But even parents who earn enough money to provide childcare often don't have the time or energy to give children the personal contact that they need. This is a tragedy for the child and also for the nation, because children in this circumstance often doesn't develop a sense of being cared for and hence don't develop a sense of how to care for others.

This analysis doesn't mean that we want to return to family patterns that are oppressive to women. The Ozzie and Harriet family was undergirded by governmental policies (like the G.I. Bill) that restricted women's role in the market. Instead, we want egalitarian forms of parenting that recapture the solidity of the past without the ugliness of the past-without its authoritarianism and patriarchal practices. We want to acknowledge the great hunger that growing numbers of men are feeling for expanded opportunities for parenting.

This hunger is given expression in movements like the Promise Keepers and the Nation of Islam, whose success may have more to do with their ability to articulate these kinds of longings than with the xenophobic elements that they also articulate. Our research on these movements corresponds with themes that have been raised in Michael Lerner's book, The Politics of Meaning, and that were recently rearticulated in TIKKUN's March/April issue in R. Marie Griffith's article on evangelical women. Many men in these movements are trying very hard to connect in a deeper way with their families, often accepting feminist ideas about the importance of men taking responsibility for family chores and caring. We heard some of these men evincing a real need to be better husbands and better fathers. We need to affirm these desires even as we hold at arm's length the xenophobic dimension of these organizations; we need to recognize that these are real human beings. Too often, some of us on the Left are simply not open to the lived experience of people and to the tensions they are wrestling with in their everyday lives. In fact, these people are dealing with problems that may be pushing them in ways that raise progressive possibilities, even though today they find expression for their concerns in movements that are associated with more reactionary ideas.

We are aware that the Right often uses "family" to mean deference to patriarchal authority, and this has given many people on the Left a certain wariness about the notion of being "pro-family. …