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Parents: Missing in Action!

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Parents: Missing in Action!

In today’s fast-paced and self-focused society, fathers and mothers are unwittingly abandoning their children.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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In late October 2013, a mother left her newborn girl in the underbrush of a park in West Midlands, Birmingham, England. A man walking his German shepherd discovered the still alive, day-old infant wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag, struggling to survive.

Public outrage and media pressure helped police find the baby’s mother. She was arrested on charges of child abandonment two months later.

Fear and desperation can lead a parent to do the unthinkable: walk away and leave a baby to die alone in the elements. It is a terrible tragedy and to all who are parents, horrifying. The only solace is that such news stories are rare and often, when a child is abandoned, media outlets follow the story until justice is served.

But what about other forms of child abandonment? Ones that are much more widespread, yet receive little media attention? They too can inflict damage that can last for generations.

Where are the stories about the father who leaves his son sitting in front of a violent video game for hours on end, or a mother who drops her toddlers off at a day care center for 10 hours per day, six days per week? Where is the public outrage and demand for justice when a teenager, left to her own devices while both parents are working, finds comfort among equally wayward peers and alcohol?

In modern society, the family unit faces attacks from every side, with practically no defense. Perhaps the fiercest attack comes from within the household itself: lack of proper parenting.

For varying reasons, many children are growing up without the guidance they need to become productive members of society. Parents—most of whom do not realize it—are handicapping their children and sending them into this world ill-prepared and unbalanced.

Broken Marriages

One of the most obvious forms of abandonment is a broken home. Numerous studies show that children of divorce suffer lifelong issues associated with a family’s dissolution. On average, children who go through divorce experience “more conduct problems, more symptoms of psychological maladjustment, lower academic achievement, more social difficulties, poorer self-concepts [and] more problematic relationships with both mothers and fathers” (Institute for Children, Youth, and Families).

Consider the following statistics:

  • 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.
  • 50 percent of all children in the U.S. will witness the breakup of a parent’s marriage.
  • 28 percent of children of divorced parents will live below the poverty line.

Although the divorce rate has declined slightly, the numbers may be a reflection of the fact that fewer people are getting married!

Many parents who have divorced have one thing in common: at their marriage ceremonies, they vowed that they would stay together until “death do us part.” Over time, they had children. Some may have done it for the right reasons, while others may have used a child’s birth as a way to solve a marital problem.

In general, most couples do not realize the work that parenting entails and are surprised that having children actually increases the pressure on the marriage.

Before a couple has children, they should first build a solid foundation for their marriage. The booklet You Can Build a Happy Marriage, describes what a marriage should look like.

Children should not be expected to solve marital problems. On the contrary, a marriage is supposed to provide a safe and loving environment for children. Husbands and wives must recognize that only they can solve their marital discord by addressing its true cause. If problems are not addressed, the marriage will falter permanently and the children will be torn between two parents whom they deeply love.

Divorce is a tragic result that no one wants or expects. When it happens, the couple and all who are close to them are hurt to one degree or another. But often, people do not stop and consider the short- and long-term effects that their actions have on the children involved.

According to psychologist Carl Pickhardt in a December 2011 article in Psychology Today, “For the young child, divorce shakes trust in dependency on parents who now behave in an extremely undependable way. They surgically divide the family unit into two different households between which the child must learn to transit back and forth, for a while creating unfamiliarity, instability, and insecurity, never being able to be with one parent without having to be apart from the other.”

When parents are not willing and able to work out their differences, it is the children who suffer the most—split between two homes.

The end result? Children are dealt a “bad hand” for the rest of their lives because of the wrong choices their parents made before and during their marriage. Through no fault of their own, these children face a fractured family relationship, without the benefit of both mother and father working together in a stable, two-parent home.

Out-of-wedlock Births

Then there are those children who are born to single parents. Both parents are needed to properly nurture and guide children through society’s deadly minefield. But the backbone of the family unit—marriage—has been declining over the decades, according to a recent Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends report.

“Marriage continues to lose market share among Americans to other arrangements, such as cohabitation or living alone. According to census data…barely half of adults ages 18 and older are married—51% in 2010, compared with 72% in 1960. This decline is especially notable for young adults: 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds were married in 2010, compared with 59% in 1960.”

In 2011, 40.7 percent of babies were born to unmarried women, compared to only 3.8 percent in 1940. From the beginning, these children enter a world in which they will not experience a healthy two-parent home and all the benefits that it affords.

According to The Future of Children Princeton-Brookings, many single parents “find it difficult to function effectively as parents. Compared with continuously married parents, they are less emotionally supportive of their children, have fewer rules, dispense harsher discipline, are more inconsistent in dispensing discipline, provide less supervision, and engage in more conflict with their children.”

As of 2013, 45 percent of children of single-mother households lived in poverty. The collaboration between Princeton University and the Brookings Institution attributed “limited financial resources” as the reason children of single parents struggle academically and emotionally compared to their peers who benefit from a two-parent household.

“Many studies link inept parenting by resident single parents with a variety of negative outcomes among children, including poor academic achievement, emotional problems, conduct problems, low self-esteem, and problems forming and maintaining social relationships…”

Yet children who come from two-parent households can still suffer the effects of abandonment.

Careers vs. Childrearing

While many parents work hard to reach the pinnacle of their careers, the same intense effort is often not put into rearing their children. They are so exhausted from a hard day at work that they just want to come home and mentally shut down. Some halfheartedly ask the standard question, “How was school?” but then quickly turn to read the newspaper or watch their favorite television program. What they are really expressing to their children is that they have fallen a few rungs on their priority list.

Though the ideal is for a mother to be at home to rear her own children, in today’s economy, this is not always possible. Mothers often return to work shortly after giving birth.

Yet a mother’s career is not the only one that affects the children. Many fathers, in pursuing personal advancement on the job—climbing the corporate ladder—work too many hours. They allow their jobs to swallow their lives—to become their lives. Arriving home after a long day at work, they do not have the energy or the ability to spend quality time with their children.

Fathers “…feel like they’ve made some serious compromises too, though of a different sort. They feel like they don’t see their kids enough. ‘In our studies, it’s the men, by a long shot, who have more work-life conflict than women,’ says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. ‘They don’t want to be stick figures in their children’s lives’” (The New York Times).

For some families, there is a very real need for two incomes. Many are just trying to make ends meet. Yet parents need to weigh the differences between wants and needs to ensure the right priorities. How many expenses (wardrobe, second vehicle, etc.) can be cut by eliminating the need for two incomes?

Consider. Where does the extra money really go? How often do you go out for dinner? When was the last time you walked into a thrift shop? Do you actively look for ways to cut costs?

Those in Western society, in particular, have been given so much and now expect to “have it all.” They do not understand that many around the world do not have even a fraction of what is taken for granted in the United States and Britain, among other prosperous nations.

As a parent, you must be sure to differentiate this. Do not just claim to have no choice but to work. Be sure to explore all your options so that you do not automatically relegate the responsibility of rearing your children to others.

Turning to Day Care

According to a 2012 fact sheet produced by Child Care Aware of America, “Nearly 11 million children under age 5 in the United States are in some type of child care arrangement every week.” At such a young age, children are being reared by virtual strangers in everything from small in-home care facilities to large chain operations, rather than being reared at home.

In the book The Broken Hearth, William J. Bennett wrote, “The writer Karl Zinsmeister puts it this way, and I agree, ‘A child and a parent are bound eternally…A day-care worker is doing a job.’” How true. The differences between the care and guidance a parent can give and what a child care worker can give are vast!

Of course, the quality of child care varies, but even the very best day care center cannot compare to the love, care and concern that nurturing parents have for their children.

Even at very young ages—1, 2, 3 months old!—parents may decide to send their children to day care. Some choose to forfeit childrearing so that they can achieve “success” in their careers. Often, parents who seek successful careers are ultimately unable to parent properly because all the success or money in the world cannot buy good parenting skills.

As children get older and move beyond the day care stage, parents seem to work even more. Often, children are left alone for a few hours each day after school. Without correct parental supervision, they fall into trouble—they watch inappropriate television shows; they get involved in premarital sex, drug and alcohol use, and other dangerous and damaging misconduct.

Yet the abandonment of children does not end here. Even with both parents having a proper focus on their careers, there are other dangers that can usurp the roles of fathers and mothers.

Technology as Babysitter

The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, in an article titled, “Keep out: TV, DVD and computers rule,” plainly states the effect of technology on parenting today:

“Technology is destroying traditional family life as young adolescents increasingly spend more time in their bedrooms playing computer games, surfing the Internet or watching television, videos and DVDs, a study…claims.

“Whereas the living room used to be the hub of the home, now more and more 11- to 14-year-olds prefer to be alone in their technology-filled bedrooms, communicating with friends via mobile phone texting or e-mail.

“And, as Britons become more obsessed with technology, the strong sense of family is likely to diminish further, says the consumer report from Mintel.”

In effect, even with both parents in the home together under one roof, children are still not being parented.

Due to all the stresses of today’s fast-paced lifestyle, parents often turn to television to help keep their children occupied. In an effort to have some quiet time or keep them busy, parents essentially are handing their children over to Hollywood screenwriters, computer programmers, etc.—people who become the children’s most dedicated mentors!

Bloomberg Businessweek reported on a 2013 study released by Common Sense Media, which noted that television is still the reigning king of technology for young children: “In total, 58 percent of children watch TV at least once a day, while only 17 percent of children use a mobile device daily. One-third of children have a TV in their room; the most common reason is that it lets adults watch what they want elsewhere in the house.”

On the surface, this simply seems to give parents “a break.” But many do not stop to consider all the long-term effects of watching too much television or playing too many video games. Studies show that there are many adverse effects of overusing these mediums.

Of course, there are certain computer games that are designed to help in a child’s education. But the majority of the time spent in front of the television or playing video games is not educational. Most parents would freely admit this.

As children grow up, programs or games have to be more tantalizing to keep their attention. So the video game and television industries further push the envelope to provide “more action.” The end result is that children and teenagers are constantly exposed to sex, violence, corruption, crime and the like.

This all begins when the TV or computer is used as a babysitter. Why do parents ultimately resort to this? Why do so many children find themselves growing up in front of television and computer screens?

The answer: It takes work to be a parent! It is a full-time job that requires substantial, ongoing effort. Parents today seemingly have no time for their children! Without correct priorities, they do not make the time to teach!

Gone are the days when families would spend time talking about the day’s events at the dinner table. Gone are the times when children would read book after book, or explore the outdoors to learn about the world around them. Now, their minds are drained by technology, and parents willingly give up their responsibilities to teach their children how to live, how to think and how to become productive, successful adults.

Starting Where You Are

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is a serious commitment to rear a child into adulthood. Newborns do not emerge from the womb knowing everything they need to know to be productive members of society. They must be taught. From his first words to his valedictorian speech, and everything in between, it is a child’s parents who are most responsible for his development and growth.

Think. What you do today will affect your child throughout his lifetime, and those effects will last for generations to come.

A diligent mother consistently nurtures, teaches and disciplines her children. A good father faithfully supports, protects and directs his children. They both put the needs of their children ahead of their own. Parenting is a way of life.

Parents must reassess their priorities. When you got married and decided to have children, you made the choice—whether you consciously realized it or not—to give them some kind of upbringing. You brought them into this world, and properly rearing them is your responsibility. All the physical possessions you gain in your life, the riches and the material things, are not permanent. But your children will live on, and they, in turn, will have their own children, who will have children, and so on. The parenting decisions you make will affect generations to come.

Determine to start where you are and do all that is within your power to teach your children everything they need to know to become successful, happy adults. Just as traditional values have disappeared, so have the values based on biblical principles. Be resolute in living a life of giving—of outgoing concern for others—and in particular for your children.

Make it a goal to never abandon your child in any way!

To learn more about childrearing, including how to help your children build character, develop their talents, and learn to be productive members of society, read our free book titled Train Your Children God’s Way.

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