The Case for Two Parents, Extended Families and the Village
Affectionately known as “the Boys”, Tristan and Chase were born tragically, almost fatally premature. Products of a difficult pregnancy, Tristan weighed a pound and a half at birth, Chase a scant 14 ounces. Each breath was a struggle.
For months no one knew who Chase favored, his features obscured by a squid like breathing apparatus, his heart beating frantically, his lungs gasping for breath under skin as thin as paper. Tristan almost perished from an infection. With a tiny body bloated by retained fluids, his internal organs began to fail, heralding a slow but inevitable march towards death. It is moments like these which remind us of life’s fragility, its uncertainty.
But by the Grace of God, the prayers of many, modern science and their own will to live, the Boys survived. And through it all the family stood tall. The Boy’s father was away in Iraq and Afghanistan serving his third tour of duty.
So each day, months before the blessed event, family visited their mother in the hospital to keep her spirits up and to ensure her proper care. When the time came grandmother insisted on being in the delivery room. She would have it no other way.
After the Boys arrival, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews and cousins visited or called, concerned about mother and children. They talked to doctors and nurses, they checked on the status of the patients and they asked questions; lots of questions.
When the hospital called and notified the family of Tristan’s near fatal condition, his granny snatched the phone and yelled, “operate”, a procedure which saved his life.
After the operation, Grand dad stood over the Boys in the natal intensive care unit and made a solemn vow. “Father” he prayed, touching the plastic womb that encased them. “If you spare them, all that I have, all that I will ever have is theirs. If you help them what little strength and wisdom I possess I give to them. Father, if you just let them live we will do the rest and raise them in a way that makes you proud”.
From then to now and well into the future, the family will keep their promise. When their mother has to work late and can’t pick up the Boys from school, Grand mother does. If their father can’t make baseball practice because of his National Guard duty, Grand dad is there. If they need to be watched for any reason, their uncle does the watching.
Each holiday as family and friends gather for “que”, ham, turkey and German Chocolate cake to die for, the Boys are there. Never alone, always sure of their worth, Tristan and Chase are cocooned by those who love and nurture them.
Now imagine the Boys or any other child born to and raised by a single mother, absent a father, without an extended family. How could either they or their mother survive? Who would watch them when their mom is at work? Who would make sure they did their homework, that they knew their numbers, their colors? Who would take them on adventures in the woods, to the park, the playground, the library or the comic book store? With whom would they argue about their favorite superhero? And when if ever would their mother have a simple moment to herself; to breathe; to relax?
This is not to cast aspersions upon single mothers or their children. We realize the ever-changing nature of American society and that everyone is not as fortunate as the Boys. We further understand that stuff happens. People get divorced and parents die, some well before their time. Marriage is anything but easy. Hell, at times it’s barely tolerable. And no one should stay in an abusive relationship.
What’s more, child rearing is demanding even under the best of circumstances. Whether by intentional design or some quirk of nature, children cause parents to fret and worry. It is however this very insecurity, the profound chaos of life that makes the case for child rearing by two-parents and an extended family.
Equally as significant, while it is the primary responsibility of parents to raise their children, it is not an exclusive obligation. The Village does indeed play a substantial role in raising our children, whether we like it or not. It is a role played by teachers, ministers and priests, coaches, camp leaders, day care providers, recreation supervisors, mentors, police officers, cultural icons, friends, institutions and neighborhoods.
If we raise our children well, society produces responsible adults. If not, then the obscenity of the internet and social media, the violence of the streets and the moral bankruptcy of the dire wolf otherwise known as the criminal justice system will do it for us and none too kindly. Hence, we are all obligated to help raise the young, even those who are not our own. The failure to do so is often heartbreaking.
On January 9, 2014, a young couple in Illinois was arrested. Their crime was starving to death one of their seven month old twin daughters. Instead of feeding the child mothers milk or infant formula, they substituted cereal, water and an occasional glob of baby food. Rather than keeping the children in the warm upstairs room where they slept, they confined the girls to the basement warmed by only a space heater during the cold Chicago winter. When the authorities arrived the child was lying on the kitchen table, already deceased.
This tale of woe as depressing as it may be hardly unique. We are experiencing an epidemic of child abuse and infanticide, much of which is committed by parents and family such as these. It matters not whether the parents were evil, ignorant as to appropriate child care, trifling or just overwhelmed. A child is dead, two young people are bound for prison and a family is splintered in large part because the extended family and Village failed to intervene.
We therefore call upon society to reinforce the two-parent and extended family model as the preferred method of child rearing. However, we must avoid punishment and scorn; criticism and thoughtlessness. No child is illegitimate, regardless of the circumstances of birth. No single parent should be ostracized, their questionable judgment or conduct notwithstanding.
Rather, praise should be given to those who raise children within the context of marriage or at least a committed relationship. And when necessary, we must support with appropriate resources, those individuals and organizations who step into the breach, to stand in “loco parentis” to children who lack a loving supportive environment.
As to the Boys, while blessed beyond measure, they nevertheless have their challenges. Chase is intelligent, even insightful, but smaller than his brother and physically delayed. His challenge is now; to keep up and not be left behind. Tristan is a born leader. But he does not understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. His test lies in the future, to resist being made bitter or beat down by the burdens of leadership.
But despite their trials and tribulations the Boys will be fine. Their success is all but assured by their mother, their father, the extended family and the Village which embraces them. If only all children could be so fortunate.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO, Blackacre Policy Forum