Parenting – a calling and a priority

Fascinating article in this week’s Economist.  If – like grumpy old me – you thought that today’s young people were all drugs, sex and rock and roll,  then think again.   It seems that they are becoming more responsible, disciplined and even more sober.

Something seems to be happening in the Western world.  Whatever social indicator we use, generally speaking – and to our surprise – the trends seem to be going in the right direction.  This will, no doubt, come as a huge shock to the readers of the Daily Mail.

Take drink, for example. “In 2002 just 13% of German teenagers had never had an alcoholic drink; by 2012, that figure had risen to 30%. Among 18 to 25-year-olds, the proportion drinking at least once a week has fallen by a third since the early 1990s.” No doubt this Sunday’s match will skew this observation.

Maybe in the UK as well.  I recall listening to a programme on Radio 4, last year I think, trying to explain the rapid decline in student union bars.  Not all the young people of West Lancs lie legless on the pavements  of Ormskirk town centre in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Of course, statistics can misrepresent.  But here the sharp fall over the last seven years of young people aged between 10 and 17 being convicted or given a police caution for a first offence, from 110,000 to just 28,000, has to be significant.

“Perhaps most remarkably,” the article continues:  “Britain’s notoriously surly youths are getting more polite: according to one government survey, those born in the early 1990s are less rude and noisy in public places than previous cohorts were at the same age.”

Who would have thought.  But why?

The Economist suggests several social trends at play.  Today’s young people are growing up in older societies – they are no longer the majority.  Growing gender equality seems to be a factor.  The still-recent increases in binge-drinking and drug-taking were driven more by young women rather than men. But now the rise of ladettes has petered out.

Changes in the job market, the growing importance of education and the cost of higher education must play some part.

However, the main reason – according to the Economist – is better parenting.   It seems that the amount of time parents devote to child care has increased significantly.  Today, working mothers spend almost as much time on child care as stay-at-home mothers did a generation before.

Here I quote:  “Data from the Multinational Time Use Study—a collection of surveys from 20 countries—shows that in 1974, mothers without jobs typically spent just 77 minutes with their young children each day, while employed mothers spent about 25 minutes. By 2000 that had risen to 161 minutes and 74 minutes respectively.”

The article concludes that there is a greater awareness of the need for better parenting, as shown in the television series “Supernanny” and the vertical rise of helicopter parents. (Google, if you don’t understand the term).

You didn’t have a choice about the parents you inherited,” Marian Edelman points out, “ but you do have a choice about the kind of parent you will be.”

As it happens one of the conclusions of our 2020 consultation two years ago was the need for lifestyle training and especially in parenting skills. And we have run one course to date – but clearly this has to be a priority not just for parents but for society at large.

But where do we begin, what is the starting point?  Very simply, children are a gift from God;  he entrusts them to us. So we read in Psalm 127

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?

(As I write this, I am doing my best to hold my concentration in a vicarage seemingly teeming with children – actually there’s just four, it just seems more. More to the point, it looks as if I am going to miss my self-imposed deadline)

The point is that children are not ours, either as parents or grandparents. They belong to God – they are a gift from the Lord.

But he entrusts us with the awesome responsibility of raising them, from compete dependence  (like nine week old baby Jack, who thankfully sleeps through the night) to become individuals in their own right, even if they do pinch my phone charger.

For children are not to be a drain on our resources or a check to our personal ambition.  And we are to avoid the temptation of living our lives through them.

No, God calls us to raise our children to attain their full potential as free-standing individuals.  But again this vocation is not just as parents or grandparents but for the whole community.  As Hillary Clinton points out “It takes a village.”

There can be no higher calling.