“Yes, but both of you grew up in a family that had both a mother and a father.” That was the explanation that Bob and I were given when we were talking about today’s youth, and the problems some of them are having growing up. Somehow, the way this explanation was given implied that, failing a two-parent family, there was no solution.
It is true that in the 1950s and 1960s I grew up in a family with both a mother and a father. Also, each house on the street had a stay-at-home mother in it. My parents taught me much of what I know today, but not everything. A neighbor, Mrs. Kilpatrick, helped me cross the street on the way home from Kindergarten. I had my first cooking lesson from Mrs. Goodman, next door. Aunt Margie, down the street, provided supplies for many of my science assignments. (She wasn’t really my Aunt but she didn’t want to be called Mrs. Penn and no child in that era addressed an adult by their first name.) If I had a problem with a class at school, I could simply stay after school and go to the classroom and ask the teacher for help. Several times in high school a group of us went back to our elementary school for help from Miss Milks, our first grade teacher. On one occasion, she assisted on a report about the then new learning-to-read concept. My brother-in-law Bill is the one who forbade me to wear hot pants to high school and strongly disapproved of my thoughts of joining the Navy ROTC program. Although my relatives did not live in the town that I grew up in, they still had influence. My Uncle Sam is the one who suggested the college that I attended and My Uncle Alan repeatedly requested that I take a Calculus course in college, until I finally did. In college, it was my Grandmother’s admonition that made me be careful when crossing the busy street between my dorm and the campus. Mrs. Goodman helped later in life, when I was going through the emotions that come along with adopting a child. She knew from her own experience just what to write to me and at just the right time. As Hillary Clinton explains in her book, it takes a village to raise a child. So it was not just that I had a good mother and father but that I was surrounded by people who were watching out for me and guiding me.
Children in the 1950s and 1960s may have had an easier time growing up, but that doesn’t mean that everyone was perfectly happy. The mothers of two of my classmates, who were also members of families consisting of one mother and one father, committed suicide. This was not that uncommon at that time. Also, just because you have two parents at home does not necessarily mean that they are raising you well. When I met my future husband, Bob, his parents had so little interest in his future that he was thinking about dropping out of college and hitchhiking across the country. (My village scooped him up and talked him out of the trip.)
Let’s compare the 1950s and 1960s village to today. Most current sources state that 20-33% of the children today are in single parent homes. Also, most of the families with two parents have both parents working. This means that most neighborhoods don’t have a mother in each house all day long, ready to help raise other people’s children. Dropping in on a teacher after school is often problematic these days, as, teachers have a specific number of contact hours in their union contracts. At least when my children were in public school, most of the teachers were not hanging around their classrooms before and after school, as Miss Milks was in my youth.
It would seem then that, instead of the problem with today’s youth being that they don’t have two parents at home, it is that village that was created around a child in the 1950s and 1960s has disappeared. Even two parents cannot hope to raise a child alone. So, the question that I put to you is not “How are we going to get each child to have two parents,” but rather, “How are we going to create a new form of village around each child to help handle the situations particular to the 21st century?”
© 2014 by Ruth Haag