Not that long ago, I read an inspiring article written by Steve Olsen and posted over at The Utah Amicus. While I think he failed to support his thesis statement, the piece itself was a wake-up call to families to start taking charge of their affairs and stop depending on strangers to do it all for them. In short, we’re at a point where too many of us outsource core functions of the family and I doubt we even realize it.
To a degree, advanced economies require specialization. I’m content paying someone else to butcher my meat, grow my vegetables and bake my bread. I’m fine with taxes that pay for roads, garbage collection and fire protection. If I had to take care of all of these things myself, I’d be spending all of my time subsisting, a feature of third world countries.
We have to be careful how much we delegate to others, however. It seems that these days, we expect others to take care of far too many things that were once the domain of the family. We send our children to schools expecting them to learn without our help. We send them to church to learn positive morals and good social behavior without reinforcing those values at home. Some families even unnecessarily delegate the basic task of spending time with our children to daycare centers and caretakers.
Where conventional wisdom and best guesses used to be the basis of good parenting, we now buy book after book on how to best raise children. Many of them offer conflicting opinions and leave more questions than answers. By effectively placing the formative years of our children into the hands of self-appointed experts with publishing deals, we’re participating in a mass experiment to see if a particular person’s opinion on child-rearing is the real deal or cleverly marketed quackery. We’re even depending on technical measures to substitute for our own checking. We install Internet filtering software, turn on the parental controls on the cable box and go so far as to plant tracking devices in the cars they drive to make sure they were where they said they were when they said they were. These things can be helpful as supplements, but they are no substitute for checking in on our children. Once they are using an unfiltered PC, an unlocked cable box or a friend’s car, we can’t depend on those tools to do the job for us.
What it all boils down to is personal responsibility. Having a child is far more than a delivery at the hospital; it’s a life-long process of teaching and nurturing. Schools and churches are great educational tools. Daycare and preschool are wonderful ways for children to learn social interaction. Filtering software is almost a requirement to keep a small typo from bombarding us with pornography and other lewd materials. None of these tools, though, mean anything without a parent at the helm directing their usage.
So where are the parents? All too often, they are doing too much with too little time. Some get caught up in the pursuit of material wealth and work too much. Others engage in pursuits of personal fulfillment that consume too much of their time. The vast majority, while engaged in worthwhile pursuits, have lost the ability to prioritize between volunteering for the PTA, church responsibilities and other volunteer efforts.
Those of you who are LDS probably remember the talk given last conference by Elder Oaks about making time for the "best things". We could easily fill 40 of the 24 hours in a day with "good things". The problem is that if we don’t make time for the "best things", those "good things", while meaningful on their own, crowd out the most important things we should be doing. This may mean having to give up some of your hobbies or passions in order to get these core functions done.
Is that frustrating? Sure. Is it necessary? Absolutely. You may recall the famous quote by President McKay who said that "no other success can compensate for failure in the home." Let’s remember that the time we dedicate to our families is one of the "best things"; we would do well not to neglect it.