Jewish World Review May 12, 2000 /7 Iyar, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE OTHER DAY, 9-year-old Sally called my radio program with the kind of dilemma that is typical of the risky environment the "I'm OK, you're OK" attitude has created for our kids. Her parents were divorced, and her stepmom was insisting that the child call her "Mommy." The big problem is that this child already has a mommy. It's the woman who gave birth to her. And the birth mommy, understandably, is not thrilled with the idea that her daughter call someone else by that treasured name.
Sally is caught in the middle. She does not want to call her father's new wife "Mommy." She doesn't feel at all comfortable doing that. Nor does she want to upset her real mommy. Typically in these stepfamily situations, the dads want to keep the new wife happy, so they put pressure on the child. Yikes!
Here's the kind of call I used to get from children. "Kids tease me in school because I'm fat." Or, "Johnny used to be my friend but he became friends with Billy, and they pick on me." Now, these are devastating enough for children, who are inexperienced in human relations and very vulnerable. But they pale beside the decisions many of today's children are forced to make among their multiple families and some parents' game of musical beds.
Sally's dilemma reminded me of another heart-wrenching call from a 12-year-old girl several months ago. This child didn't know how to tell her mother that she wanted to stay home, do her homework and sleep in her own bed at night, rather than get schlepped by the mother over to the mother's boyfriend's house to do her homework and sleep on the couch, while the mother slept with you-know-who. I had the irrational desire to get the kid's address, go there and lie in wait for her ditzy, self-involved mother.
These types of calls are the ones I stay up nights worrying about. While I am appalled and saddened by what adults do to each other and to themselves, I am enraged at what they do to their own children, whom they are obligated to nurture, defend and protect, to say nothing of setting a good example of morally sound human beings.
This anger led me to write my new book, "Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them If You Don't Want to Raise Them." I needed all 280 pages to vent! In writing the book, I realized that I probably interact -- one-on-one -- by phone, fax and letters with more mothers, fathers and children than any other person in America on my live radio program 15 hours a week.
That's how I learned about the 10 stupid things men and women do to mess up their lives -- they told me! And the children have told me how dire the parenting situation is in America.
The single most pervasive form of child abuse today is neglect -- the emotional and spiritual neglect of children by their self-obsessed parents. Institutionalized child care and at-home nannies will never be as invested in the outcome of a child's development as their parents will be. Maybe these surrogates can teach children to read and keep their bottoms clean, but there's a lot more to parenting than hygiene and storytime. (Although, based on many laudatory newspaper stories about dual-career couples I used in the book, some poor kids would probably settle for that.)
When kids are surveyed about what they want, the results are always the same -- "more time with my parents." But of course, time is the one thing that success-driven parents just don't have. Imagine saying to your boss, "I'm only going to be in the office for a few hours each day. But don't worry, I'm going to be giving you quality time." How well do you think that would fly? Yet parents are trying to sell their kids this shoddy story.
Children must be their parents' top priority. Careers have to fit around family, not the other way around. And children of divorce must also remain their parents' top priority. In order to fulfill parental obligations, mom and dad's lovers and new mates cannot take precedence over the child's needs and desires.
Today's unsafe, unstable and unsatisfactory situation for children is, I believe, a direct result of the moral laxity that has infected American society since the 1960s. Absolutes, right and wrong, sacrifice and obligation have been abandoned in the name of personal freedom and "rights." Our children are paying the price. Too many of them are calling me, because they don't have a parent at home they can