Responsibilities Towards Children (3)

Rev. Koole is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.

We have been considering the factors that have contributed most heavily to the breakdown of the home and family in 20th century society, and in particular those things which have affected children and young people most adversely. 

That the youth have been the primary "victims" of the crumbling home-structure is indisputable. Even worldly society speaks of the youth in terms of alienation and rebellion. Those who have to deal with today's youth on a regular basis, the school teachers (whether in public or private schools), see the adverse effects most clearly. They see firsthand the bitterness, the insecurity, the resentment building up in the youth, all of which displays itself in various disturbing ways, such as challenging those in authority, or in increasing abandonment of self to immorality and drugs, or again, in growing numbers, to suicide itself, the ultimate statement of bitter despair. 

In many instances they (the teachers) themselves become the recipients of this pent-up anger and resentment as it comes to expression in the classroom. Witness the number of news reports of bodily assaults upon those who teach. 

Frustration characterizes every group dealing with the increasingly dissatisfied youth. "Just what is it that you want?" we ask. 

Without their realizing it, or wanting even to admit it, what the youth "want" is the attention of love, and adult approval and guidance as well. 

You ask, 'Why don't they say this, then?' It is quite simple. They too have their pride. And to admit this need is to admit being dependent in some way upon the very ones with whom they are angry and who are neglecting them. To admit this is to make oneself vulnerable. Who wants to have to do that? Do you and I . . . when we have differences with our spouses? No. We are more inclined to say, "Well, who needs you anyway? I can live without you." But we can not. Not in any "happy," secure way. And neither can children and youth, without our attention of love. Do not expect them to tell you that. Did you tell your parents that? Be wise enough to know that. 

Society, in its foolishness, asks concerning its alienated youth, what has gone wrong? It does not much care for Scripture's answer, but we will give it anyway. 

We have suggested four factors that have shaken the home foundations: first, the refusal to keep the vows of marriage (which means the bitter warfare of divorce, children being the primary casualties); second, the refusal to correct disobedience in the home by discipline ('We love them too much to cause them pain!"); third, mothers working out of the home (and longer and longer hours all the time); and last but not least, the intrusion of television (and videos) into our homes. 

We have dealt with the first two. It remains for us to look briefly at these last two. And keep in mind as we do, that our main thesis is that children are not receiving enough parental attention today (which belongs to the very heart of love, especially COVENANTAL love), but are being left to raise themselves, and with disastrous results.

We turn first to this matter of mothers working outside the home. I say "outside" the home, because what mothers do within the home is also certainly "work" and very demanding. There are those making good money performing for others exactly those services that mothers provide in their own homes for "free." Those who tend to the home-fires certainly are "working-mothers." That must be readily acknowledged first of all. 

In the second place, I recognize that we deal here with a sensitive issue with complicating factors. The circumstances of families can vary so widely; some are well off, some struggling. And the bills for living in an adequate home, for paying tuition, and for supporting all the kingdom causes besides, have become staggering. A second income seems necessary just to make ends meet. 

Will it do simply to state an absolute law here, "If you are a mother with school-age children or younger, thou shalt not work at all outside the home for wages"? What about the unmarried mother of a child? Should she work or rely entirely upon relatives and the church? What about the wife whose husband has left her and provides inadequate alimony (if any at all)? Or the woman whose husband is simply a lazy lug who shows little ambition to support the family? Or he is incapacitated? Or temporarily laid off? What is the wife to do in such circumstances, if for her some work is available whereby she can keep the family solvent and help pay basic bills? 

And how old must the children be before the mother may leave the home with a good conscience and take on some kind of job? And how many hours is permissible? One work day? Two? Only if the hours run from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, or during the night when children are in bed?

And what about the mother who earns no wage working outside the home, but who nonetheless is gone just as much or even more than a "working mother" because she is either gadding about, or perhaps is even donating many hours to "good causes"? Still, the mother is not home when the children come through the door. The one is permissible, the other not? Says who? 

And so it goes. Who in the world can lay down enough laws to cover all the circumstances? Giving the answer that addresses every situation is impossible, nor do I intend to try to do so. 

Nonetheless, as this matter confronts our homes and threatens our families and we must make wise, spiritual decisions, there are things that must be kept in mind. 

First of all, what John W. Whitehead says in his book, The Stealing of America, is pertinent. He states that

. . . the sharp, sustained increase of employment of married women over the past [four] decades is one of the most profound changes in American family patterns. The statistics tell us the story. In 1890 less than 5 percent of all American wives worked outside the home for wages and salaries. By 1940 this figure had increased to 17 percent, but the most dramatic increases followed World War II. In 1947, 20 percent or one out of every five married women was employed in the labor force. The proportion rose to one in four (25 percent) by 1950, one in three (32 percent) by 1960, to one out of two (48 percent) by 1980 (p. 63).

He goes on to say that it was forecast that by 1990, two out of three (67 percent) of all wives would be in the labor force. 

These statistics are instructive. Surely it can escape no one's attention that this sharp upswing in married women joining the work force coincides ominously with the sharp increase of juvenile delinquency and crime in our society, as well as of blatant immorality. These things are not unrelated. Whitehead is surely correct when he states that of all the changes in contemporary family patterns the growing number of married women becoming employed is one of the most profound, which is to say, having consequences most far reaching. 

Now it is not that our society is unaware of what has been happening. It is. Today they have even coined a phrase to describe children whose parents are both off working. They are called "latchkey" children. They are expected to be independent enough to unlock the door when they come home from school and supervise their own lives for a few hours without parental supervision. During this unsupervised period problems crop up, and the older the children become the more serious become the problems—drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and so on. It is not that modern day parents are not aware of this. They are. Painfully so. They simply refuse to cut back and go back to the old ways. Two incomes are essential. The woman is not going to be tied down like her grandmother. It is the price the family is going to have to pay. 

We are certainly very foolish if we do not observe what is happening to the children and homes of our latchkey society, evaluate the problems, assess the reasons and the consequences, and order our own lives, homes, and priorities accordingly. We are not immune. 

Society may appear bewildered as to what the solution is to this problem. Scripture is not. It gives us clear, fundamental principles. 

You have a passage such as Psalm 128:3. "Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table." Notice, the wife is tied in with the house, it is her proper sphere. There she proves a fruitful vine; not simply in having children, but in nurturing her children, so they, like olive plants, blossom and bear godly fruit. 

There is I Timothy 2:15. "Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing...." And certainly the apostle includes childrearing with child-bearing. This is a matter central to the spiritual life and development not only of her children, but of the believing woman herself. This is the way in which she is SAVED, no less.

In I Timothy 5:14 we read, "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house...." How much plainer can the Apostle and Scripture be? In Titus 2:4, 5 the Apostle declares that younger women are to be taught to be "keepers at home." In other words, they are not to be gadding about, but homemakers, making the home their first priority. To this they give their attention. This is how they show their love to husband and children. For this their (your) Lord Jesus will praise them. This they are to consider spiritually fulfilling. 

Further, keep in mind what is happening to the latchkey generation and the mess it is in. Is it any wonder? 

The children come home day after day to an empty house. There are no arms to welcome them home, no ears to hear what is most immediately on their minds, no wise voice settling their disputes or consoling them because things did not go well, or eyes to supervise their behavior. They are on their own. And when mother and father come home, time is short. Mother, who has been gone all day, must do the washing, ironing, meal-fixing yet too (with father's assistance, perhaps -but then again he may have church work, school obligations, and a business to attend to). Common sense tells us nerves are going to be frayed, and we short. And so even when mother and father have come home, there can be precious little time to give the family and the children the attention they need and crave. And we expect tranquility will rule the home as we all rush madly about hurting for time? Or we wonder why our older children will not listen to our advice and instruction? What, when they have been making all their own decisions in our absence?! Let us not be naive. 

In this whole sensitive issue of mother-working as a source of second income, let us keep something in mind, namely, children do NOT WANT to raise themselves; children CAN NOT raise themselves (properly); the Lord God DID NOT INTEND for children to raise themselves. If He did, He would not have made them so helpless to begin with, and ordained that they remain so dependent for such a long period of time, much longer than nearly every other creature. 

The development of the human offspring is amazingly slow. The wolf cub is already beginning to catch its own game when the human "cub" is just starting to stand up by holding on to furniture to the applause of his admiring parents. This is how the Lord God made "man." Physically, psychologically, spiritually a child is a dependent, communal creature. Children need their parents through their formative years, which runs into the later teens. 

For all man's intended majesty amongst created things, his dependency when young is striking. And this itself ought to speak to us about God's whole purpose and will in raising the children given us. They are not ours to neglect or to unload on others, they are ours to raise. As it is true that "it is not good that man should be alone," wherefore, the Lord made a helper suited for him, namely, woman, so it is true that it is not good that our children should be alone; and therefore the Lord provided for them parents, and one in particular, mother, whose greatest assets are her love and patience and arms that embrace and hold. 

Staying at home may well involve sacrifices. It is such wives, however, whose children (and husband) will rise up and call blessed. "She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her" (Prov. 31:27, 28). And remember,Proverbs 31 is the "last" word on wisdom.