The Vanishing Parent

Do you remember the soccer moms of 25 years ago, back in 1996? Married, suburban, middle-class mothers with school-age children were seen as a key voting constituency favoring Bill Clinton over Bob Dole.

Fast-forward to the ZOOM moms of 2021.  Married, suburban, middle-class mothers with school-age children are being seen as a key voting constituency who led to the victory of Glenn Youngkin over Terry McAuliffe.

Whether they are making correct or incorrect judgments, parents care about their children and their children’s future. Who would’ve thought?

Perhaps those of us who still read and revere the words from the beginning of Genesis might have figured this out. God doesn’t command, instruct, or recommend that humans have children. God instead blesses humans to have children*. (Genesis 1:28) Is it possible that the Creator understood that the humans He was creating would live more successful and more fulfilling lives if their vision extended forward beyond themselves and the immediate present?

This makes two trends affecting young people particularly troubling. The 1970s saw toga parties and streaking sweep across college campuses. These may have played into immaturity and even rebelliousness but they were temporary immaturities. If you were caught up in a wave of experimenting with drugs, you might have faced long-term and  more serious consequences.

Today’s leanings make those of the Sixties and Seventies seem tame. They include not just saying that you don’t want children, but surgically ensuring that you can’t have them. The numbers may not be great, but the trend-line is moving. And that should worry all of us. It is not irrelevant that dogs outnumber children in San Francisco. It is not irrelevant that young people are an increasingly anxious, lonely and depressed demographic.   It is not irrelevant that at 1.63 America’s fertility rate is lower than ever in its history.

Many parents discovered unsavory details of their children’s education as a result of COVID. Unnecessary school closings and watching what their children were being taught led to a wake-up call that traveled into the ballot box this week. Meanwhile, the next generation is being heavily indoctrinated against marriage and children. Where exactly does that leave us down the road?

Acknowledging that some parents can be incredibly selfish and self-centered does not negate the larger picture that, in general, having children promotes the best aspects of human nature. Children force us to give beyond what we thought we could, they expand our preconceived notions, and they push us to rid ourselves of childish habits and thinking. Is that automatic? No. We watch nature videos in awe as a mother bear protects her cub. Humans don’t necessarily have that irrepressible instinct. We get to choose whether to have offspring in the first place and we get to choose to be responsible and loving parents or not. However, those are not random choices, but ones that are heavily affected by our culture.

Can each individual decide whether or not to have children? Certainly. But a society that encourages childlessness (and having children outside of marriage) and even rewards it, and an educational system that promotes fear and pessimism as well as the idea of making life-altering decisions when one is only at the cusp of adulthood is a society that will be overwhelmingly unhealthy for those same individuals and those affected by them.

What will our elections look like in 25 years?  Perhaps it depends upon what our schools look like today.

*God also blesses some animals in what sounds like similar terms. If you wish to explore what the original Hebrew actually says, check out Scrolling through Scripture Unit 1.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments on this Susan’s Musing article.
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Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real Life ‘Ask the Rabbi’ Questions

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