Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

kids these days

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 19, 2005

Check out F. Carolyn Graglia's powerful review of a powerful book, Mary Eberstadt's Home Alone America. Eberstadt argues, first, that many of the ills that afflict American children are due to the absence of their parents, and second, that the real cause has been largely ignored because of ideological and psychological reluctance to confront the failure of "separationism" -- the belief "that women's freedom to work in the paid marketplace justifies separation from their children." Some interesting observations:

Eberstadt makes a powerful case that [juvenile behavioral] disorders are overdiagnosed and that the psychotropic drugs used to treat them -- which are so hard on the children, who are their harshest critics -- are overprescribed. ... The reason, says Eberstadt, is that the too busy parents and teachers want to make children easier to deal with; "yesterday's children -- which is to say today's adults -- enjoyed the luxury of being considered 'normal' in ways that today's children increasingly do not." The parents of yesterday had a wider experience with their children and thus "a more expansive idea of child normality." Parents who spend less time with their children "find their behavior more problematic and in need of alteration." And so, encouraged by a psychiatric profession that refuses to consider a child's environment and believes that antisocial behavior stems only from an underlying disorder, parents acquiesce in what Eberstadt calls "the pharmaceutical outsourcing of childhood."

To this I might add that decreasing family size could compound the problem. Parents of large families tend to hang loose to transient goofiness more than one-child parents, who often bring out the tranquilizer dart gun at the first signs of fidgety behavior. And the flip side of the coin is the paradox that off-the-chart frenzy may be the normal response to what are naturally abnormal surroundings:

Pervading Eberstadt's analysis is her acute insight that our culture's embrace of the separationist ideology and women's acceptance of daily separation from their children has desensitized adults to what babies and children need. Adult moral sensibility has been coarsened, says Eberstadt, and parents refuse even to consider that their disorderly children "might actually have authentic reasons for doing what they do [and] might be responding rationally to arrangements that look irrational, wrong, or stressful from their point of view." Some of their actions may be "the normal reactions of youngsters to the arguably inhuman rhythms of their days." Perhaps "some babies and toddlers just aren't cut out for spending most of their tiny lives in a room filled with unrelated children and unrelated adults."

This bit strikes me as painfully true:

[Eberstadt] recognizes that her book violates a major taboo today about any discussion of "whether and just how much children need their parents -- especially their mothers." This taboo seeks to protect working mothers from feeling guilty, and Eberstadt sensibly concludes her book by observing that those who "cannot choose otherwise," such as single parents, "have nothing to feel guilty about." As for those who do have a choice, perhaps the "continuing complaints about the guilt felt by absent mothers" may be "further proof of a social experiment run amok."

The 19th century historian John Morely made the sardonic observation, "Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat." In the present context, the truism means that the feminist dogma of interchangeable gender roles (abetted by male selfishness only too glad to shed the irksome responsibilities of fatherhood) has forbidden honest and objective study of the social reality -- especially the harms caused by absentee parenting. If Eberstadt were a grad student whose book had been submitted as a dissertation at an American university, she'd end up being burned as a heretic (by the academic dean) in the parking lot of the faculty day-care facility. One learns that some questions are too sensitive to raise, much less to answer. It's gratifying that someone has the personal freedom and intellectual gutsiness to break the silence.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.