Once, while I was meeting with a brilliant young man, the conversation turned to marriage and fatherhood. To my surprise, the young man admitted that from his formative years through his young adulthood, the concept of marriage was nowhere on his radar screen. The shocker was that though he had committed his life to Christ just a few years ago and had become an active member of his church, marriage was still a completely alien concept to him. He admitted to me that he assumed the only way he could ever be a father was to become a “baby daddy,” replete with the concomitant “baby mama” drama.
Fortunately for him and for society, a few years after his conversion, he joined a different church where wise biblical teaching encouraged an atmosphere that valued marriage and family. I’m pleased to report that he did not become a “baby daddy.” He is now happily married, and he and his wife share the joys of parenthood together.
The family is the foundation of any civilization or people group; lose the family, and you will eventually lose the people and the society. As the family disintegrates, dysfunction accelerates. As fewer functions are performed by the family, other institutions are compelled to step into the gap.
“The family is the foundation of any civilization or people group; lose the family, and you will eventually lose the people and the society.”—Carl Ellis
For example, when it comes to providing for our children, schools have often become the alternative institution of choice. At one time, parents were full partners with schools in their children’s education, but in recent years education has been increasingly ceded to schools alone.
Next came the school lunch programs—a good idea considering the long distances some students had to travel to school. Then came the breakfast feeding programs—a compassionate effort considering the poor academic performance of many of our kids due to morning malnourishment.
Following that was school-based counseling on matters of sexuality and contraceptive distribution—certainly an understandable response in light of the explosion of STDs and births out of wedlock. Is it any surprise that we are faced with so many bloated school budgets, forcing cutbacks in essential programs such as Physical Education and the Arts?
My wife, who has taught at different levels of education, observes that our media report story after story of incompetent teachers who have no business in education. However, she also believes that, for every one of these, there remain scores of unsung, high-achieving educators who take their charge so seriously that they will go above and beyond to provide quality tutelage for children of both responsible and irresponsible parents. She notes that the responsible parents appreciate these efforts, while the ambivalent parents often exploit these teachers’ high work ethic in the absence of their own investment in their children. This leads to the exhaustion and burnout of our best and brightest teachers, a commodity we can no longer afford to squander. The cycle is vicious.
Clearly, the problem is not solely with schools stepping up to fill the gap; it also lies with many of our parents stepping down. Of course, I realize that there are always extenuating circumstances buried within all statistics (e.g., both parents having to work outside the home to make ends meet, working single parents, etc.). However, it would not harm our culture to rethink the status quo. In the case of a two-parent family, is the diminished nurturing presence of a parental caregiver worth the extra earnings? Does a second income really result in a net increase after covering the increased related expenses (e.g., daycare, transportation, higher tax bracket, etc.)?
Further, we must delineate the different circumstances behind single parenthood. Like all complexities of life, finding oneself in this position happens for a variety of reasons. Some are single parents due to unfortunate circumstances such as abuse, death, or abandonment. Of those who choose single parenthood, some adopt children to give them a better life than an institution can provide. The Bible finds nobility in this kind of compassion (James 1:27).
However, from Hollywood to the suburbs to the city streets, the willful disregard for parental responsibilities and the abandonment of the traditional family structure no longer know any social, cultural, or ethnic bounds. Yet this social phenomenon seems to disproportionately affect the African American community in a profound way. If left unaddressed on the cultural level, this kind of willful disregard for the privilege of parenting will only increase as the government continues to fund negligence and foolishness.
Certainly, the community should lend a helping hand to all children in dire straits. In the midst of this, however, we also have a responsibility to challenge the value system that leads to irresponsible parenting. Failing to do so adds irresponsible citizenship to the charge and insult to injury. Like the church community that changed my young friend’s entire outlook on marriage, we must be dissatisfied enough with the status quo to model and instill a value system that will empower young adults to rise above being “at risk.”
Undoubtedly, we are trending toward a society where other institutions fill the void left behind by apathy and foolishness. If trends like these continue, we may well end up with a nanny state where all children are regarded as the property of the government. If this is true, then what will this new “nanny” demand of our children and their children’s children?
This is the tide that threatens to carry us away. We are allowing ourselves to come under a system where we will no longer have control over the stability, quality, and future of our families. The difference today is that this time, unlike under the slave system of old, which robbed us of the privileges of marriage and family, we are giving our privileges away willingly.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on June 11, 2012, on Dr. Ellis’s personal blog.