The New Millennium

(An excerpt from a research paper written in 2009 investigating Poverty and Saving the Children)

When I was growing up, a child of the 60’s, every family I knew had a Mother, a Father and often Grandparents, all within a short distance of the family home. Having all of those role models around to guide us, imprint their morals upon us and to teach us the difference between right and wrong, my siblings, my peers and I grew up with a clear sense of what was proper and appropriate behaviour. We, as children, had the opportunity to actually see our role models and heroes living up to the challenges of real life and if we erred, they were there to guide us back on to the “straight and narrow”. There were always several adults around when we arrived home at the end of the day and the smell of good food cooking in the kitchen. Supper (served at 5:30 or 6:00pm) was a family affair with a great deal of laughter and teasing and everyone helped to clean up when we were done. After the grandparents had gone home, we were tucked into our beds, read a bedtime story and at 7:30 pm the lights went out.

Before the 1970’s, the single parent was almost unheard of and when you did hear of it, the news was cause for great compassion and pity because it meant that Mommy or Daddy had died and that a family was suffering “ (Lochhead, 1992). Things have changed.

According to The Vanier Institute, “In 1996 of the 1.1 million single parent families enumerated83 percent of them were women”. Their research indicates that the incidence of single parenthood has “increased dramatically since the 1970’s: almost 250 percent between 1971 and 1996” (The Vanier Institute).”

In 2006, Canada Census data showed that 20.7 percent of families with children were living in female headed households and 32% of them were living below the LICO (low income cut offs). As the single parent has to work to maintain her ability to feed and house her children, this data suggests that the major significant role model for many of our nation’s children has been unable to assume her traditional role for quite some time. Children need their mother to teach them the core values that will help them grow in to adulthood but she just can’t be there anymore and no one else can or wants to replace her.

Something is very wrong when many women in some of the world’s most affluent societies cannot afford to breastfeed and mother their own babies. The economy is said to require their labour… But who has a greater claim on a mother’s presence than her own baby? “ (Cook, 2010)

Experts agree that children need their mother but our society does not encourage mothers to be “there and present” to raise their children. Programs aimed at reducing child poverty neglect to do anything to help the parents that raise them and statistics show that children raised by single parents in poverty stricken homes are unlikely to escape poverty themselves” (Child Charity Report: Child Poverty in Canada). Statistics also show the far- reaching consequence of the disparity between what we know to be right and proper and what we allow and support in reality.

In 1975, the Minnesota Longitudinal Studies – a long term profile of over 250 children born in 1975 that continues to this day – shows that, while peer and family experiences, appear to make distinctive contributions to future close relationships, the quality of early attachment experiences have particular importance with regard to intimacy, trust and other emotional aspects of teenage and adult relationships, as well as the capacity for successful partnerships in adult life. Moreover, children and teens with secure attachment histories excel in social and emotional health, leadership skills, morality, social behaviour, self reliance, self control and resiliency, as appropriate in each stage of development. (Cook, 2010)”

I know from my own experience and that of many acquaintances that a female single parent today is rarely able to support herself and her children without working at least one other full time job where she is expected to offer the same productivity as co workers who do not have children.

Typically, mom rises at 5 or 6:00 am to get herself ready for her day, wake her children, prepare their lunches, and hurry them out the door to the school bus or to the school and then proceeds directly to work. By 9am, this single parent has already been on the job for three hours. She rushes out of the office at 5pm, to collect her children from whoever she has found to “watch over” them from the end of the school day until she can pick them up. Sometimes she is fortunate and homework is complete, but more often, she will arrive home at 6 or 6:30 and immediately begin to direct and instruct the children to complete those chores. While the children are doing their homework, Mom often throws together a meal that her grandmother would have shuddered at (Kraft dinner and grilled cheese or some other fifteen minute fix) while planning lunches and clothing for the next day.

Most days, dinner will be on the table by at 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. Mother doesn’t linger over her meal because the house work and laundry is urgently demanding her attention. Once the meal is over and homework complete, she rushes the children to their beds. It is already past their bedtime and she still has a million other things to do before she can even think of resting herself. Finally at about 10:30 or 11:00pm (after seventeen hours of duty), she falls into bed, too exhausted to sleep. She usually ends her day riddled by guilt for all the things that she failed to complete today and probably will not find time for tomorrow.

The consequence of this routine is that the person most qualified and capable of loving and nurturing her children cannot be there physically or emotionally because the demands are so great. No matter how much she loves her children or how desperately she tries to find quality time for them, she does not feel capable, in a few hours in the evening, of giving her children the opportunity for close attachment and role modelling that they need to develop into strong self-sufficient adults. For those children growing up in single parent households who also suffer from poverty, the failure to form strong attachments at a young age translates to a prescription for continued poverty (Cook, 2010).

According to a Wikipedia article called Cycle of Poverty – Effects on Children, “Children are most at the mercy of the cycle of poverty. Because a child is dependent on his or her guardian, if a child’s guardian is in poverty, then they will be also. It is almost impossible for a child to pull him or herself out of the cycle (Cycle of Poverty – Wikepedia).”

Social and economic reforms aimed at fighting child poverty have had little effect because they have failed to recognize that “when children do not have the benefit of regular and present parental guidance and attachment early in life, they grow up lacking many of the skills required to be good parents themselves.” (French, 2000). Human beings are needful creatures and we require the guidance of a mother to help us to form our basic opinions about life and our place in it.

Attachment is a process made up of interactions between a child and his or her primary caregiver. This process begins at birth, helping the child develop intellectually, organize perceptions, think logically, develop a conscience, become self-reliant, develop coping mechanisms (for stress, frustration, fear, and worry), and form healthy and intimate relationships” (Effects of Attachment and Separation, 1997)

A study conducted by the Government of Canada in 2001 found that “Family structure played a role in behaviour outcomes in that children from single-parent families were more physically aggressive, hyperactive-inattentive, and anxious-emotional than children living with both biological parents”
(Romano, Boulerice, Swisher, & Tremblay, 2001)

Poverty stricken or not, children who do not have the benefit of the guidance of their mother, have an added challenge as they grow up to try to be good parents themselves. It would appear that one solution for this problem is to attend to teaching all children the skills that they need to grow into adults. The 2001, Government of Canada study made the following recommendations:

“Because there is good evidence of intergenerational transmission of behaviour problems from the present study, and from many other longitudinal studies, the best advice to policy makers and service providers for the prevention of behaviour problems is for them to take a long-term perspective. To prevent behaviour problems one probably needs to make long-term investments in early child development through support to adolescents and young adults who are and will be the next generation of parents of young children. From this perspective, although males are those with the highest levels of problems, females with problems, apparently less serious, could be a better investment in the long run, since they are the ones most involved in providing the early environment (pre- and post-natal), which appears to be of crucial importance for the development of a brain which will be in control of an individual’s behaviour.”(Romano, Boulerice, Swisher, & Tremblay, 2001)

Mothers have learned to live without the joy of being there and present to parent our children; but they are not learning to live without us. If there is a solution to the problem of poverty, it must be in educating the mother to make good decisions and then putting her in the position of being able to parent her own children while providing her with a system of easily accessible and affordable support. Best Selling author, J.D. Robb could offer current policy makers the world over, a lot of good advice on this subject. In her fictional, futuristic world of 2058 AD, the mother has assumed a place of dignity and importance in preparing and nurturing her children to take their place in the world. She may choose to occupy the professional role of Mother and parent her own children at the expense of the State. When her professional career ends, she may choose to retire.

I believe that hope for the children of the future lies in our ability to ascend beyond our societal greed and definition of riches to awareness of a greater treasure, which is that of mother. When we have restored dignity to the role of woman and mother, it is then that we will begin to heal the wounds of her children and perhaps finally see an end to poverty in the civilized world. When we have addressed the needs of the mother, she will attend to the needs of the child. That is, after all, the way that nature intended it.

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