However, children don't get to pick their parents. They are stuck with what they get, and all too often a child is deprived of one parent by divorce—an event over which children have no control.
Sometimes it is helpful to look at situations from different perspectives to gain a deeper understanding. Some call this thinking outside the box. How about joining me for a few minutes in contemplating issues that would matter to children if they could select their parents?
Perhaps you wonder why I'm focusing on a child's perspective. The answer is simple. It is because God's Word teaches us we should be concerned for other people (1 Corinthians 10:24; 12:25), and other people include children.
Jesus Christ loved children (Matthew 19:14). Parents should follow the biblical injunctions to love their children and teach them God's ways (Titus 2:4; Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Since children have needs and God expects us to properly teach our kids and treat them with respect and love, let's consider the traits children might wish for in their parents.
They Want, and Need, Both Parents
First, children want both of their parents, Mom and Dad, living with them under the same roof. Since God says He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), God obviously agrees with kids on this point. He intends that children live with both of their parents in the same household. Regrettably, "nearly 40 percent of American children currently do not live with their biological fathers" ("The Lost Art of Fatherhood," Dan Fost, American Demographics, March 1996, pp. 15-17).
Researchers continue to find that two-parent households are best for youths. According to one source, children from single-parent homes are 20 to 40 percent more likely to suffer health problems than those living with both parents ("Physician and Pastor: Co-laborers," Hilton Terrell, Journal of Biblical Ethics in Medicine, Spring 1993, pp. 31-42).
Children in fatherless homes are more likely to drop out of school, abuse alcohol and drugs and break the law ("Father's Greatest Gift," Ken Canfield, New Man, July-August 1994, pp. 54-60).
As teens in the United States grow older, studies predict they will be "less likely to engage in [sexual] intercourse if they live with their natural fathers than if they do not" ("Father's Restraints," Family in America, March 1993, pp. 2NR-3NR).
Divorce so devastates children that the popular notion that children are better off when their parents end a bad marriage is shown, in many cases, to be wishful thinking.
What About Child Care?
Closely related to both parents living in the same home is parents not sending their children off to day care. Wise children would select parents who would care for them as infants in their own homes and not place them in outside facilities. Too often debates rage over whether a woman's place is in the home or in the workplace, all the while neglecting the children's perspective. When we consider which place is best for the children, the issue takes on much greater clarity.
"Daycare workers are among the lowest-paid and poorest qualified in any industry in America, yet they are being entrusted with the nurturing of our most precious resource—our children. The younger the child when placed in a nine-to-five routine of day care, the less likely he is to become a well-adjusted adult" (Current Thoughts and Trends review of Children of the Universe, Amitai Etzioni, Utne Reader, May-June 1993, pp. 52-61). Child-care facilities with large numbers of children are simply unable to provide the sustained, personal, one-on-one attention so necessary for the healthy development of children.
Economic needs are commonly cited as the reason for placing children in day-care facilities. The reality, however, is that many times most of the money the second parent earns ends up spent on day care itself and restaurants or fast food because no one stays home to prepare a meal.
Although two-income households can achieve financial gains, a commendable number of parents are giving their children's needs the highest priority and are choosing a lower standard of living so they can maintain higher family standards. When they do this they find they achieve a much more rewarding home life. Although some mothers remain at home with their children to accomplish this, others are finding part-time work when their husbands stay at home with the children or take on jobs that can be done from home.
Wise children would no doubt select parents who would place their welfare ahead of financial gain.
The Value of Quality Time
The next item on a child's shopping list for good parents would likely be finding a mother and father who would spend time with them. The popular notion that spending "quality time" with children makes up for lack of attention at other times gets failing grades from their point of view. To them the quantity of time is more important than its supposed quality.
Sociologist Mark Warr of the University of Texas confirmed that recent studies "raise serious questions about the emphasis on quality time so prevalent today. Although quality time is surely desirable, the quantity of time spent with the family is not irrelevant. Contemporary arguments notwithstanding, small amounts of quality time may not be sufficient to offset the criminogenic aspects of peer culture to which adolescents are commonly exposed" (Family in America, February 1994).
In other words, children need regular and frequent time with their parents to help offset the growing exposure to negative influences outside (and many times inside, via television and music) the home.
Ideally, children should spend enough time with their parents to see them working about the house as well as enjoying the "quality time" of special occasions. By being with their parents, youths learn how to work. By doing a good deed for someone with their parents, youths learn how to give.
When kids see Dad give Mom an affectionate kiss and observe them treating each other with respect, they learn how a happy marriage works. Although some adults may not rate these sorts of things as quality time, they are essential for the healthy development of socially mature children.
The Power of Encouragement
A fourth item on a child's wish list for parents would probably be an encouraging environment. Children would like to have parents who take a strong personal interest in helping them develop their skills and find their way in life.
Since children tend to live up to their parents' expectations, they are best served by a mom and dad who assure them they can succeed. Sadly, most homes are filled with negativism. "Psychologist Larry Kubiak says that the average amount of time parents spend communicating with their teenage children is only 14 minutes per day. Of that time, 12 minutes is negative, one minute is neutral, and one minute is positive" (Youthworker Update, November 1993).
Being good parents means putting our children's needs ahead of our desires. If you have children, why not give them what they need as well as what they want: a positive, encouraging home with both parents living together in peace? Their future, and that of our communities and ultimately our nations, depends on it. GN