The subject is parenting? Oh, wonderful! Just what could/should an old bachelor have to say on that subject? True, it is a subject that we seem to be obsessed about. And true, having dated many ladies with children of various ages I have been exposed, from the outside, to many different parenting styles. Not too surprisingly, the experience has given me some notions of my own on the subject. But it has also shown me how poorly the views from the bleachers are usually received.
However, Don Quixote would not be daunted by the fact that one is most likely to be wrong and, if right, will be roundly damned for it. So let me venture forth upon the pontificate bridge (not to be confused with a plank).
Thesis: Our society finds itself caught in one of those horrible times when the old solution no longer works and the new one has not yet been developed.
Children are not, quaint fables to the contrary, wondrous tabulae rosa for the well educated and well intentioned parent to write upon. From the egg, children have their own natures and drives, which can lead them to places their parents would fear to go. True, children are things of beauty who can be open, loving and full of wonder. They are also small barbarians who can be selfish, greedy and quite unbelievably cruel.
Once upon a time, our society had a system developed over the ages that presented a child with a vast, balanced set of elders and contemporaries that served to train/constrain while giving the maximum amount of freedom to develop in your own way. No matter which way you turned, there was someone to help/hinder your path. Your direct family had uncles, aunts, cousins, parents, grandparents in an (apparently) unending stream. Each of them formed a part of your world, served as one of your teachers and was a facet of a great, extended parent. But, in a larger sense, even strangers were assumed to form part of the extended parent/family. You were supposed to respect and obey any adult. The older kids (related and unrelated) were presumed to be responsible for the younger. If you got lost, you could always ask a policeman to take you home.
With no particular intent, we have broken that time-shaped system to pieces. For a while, we talked as if the nuclear family could replace it. Now we recognize that inadequate substitute is an endangered species. Today, our paradigm has been reduced to two overloaded components of the old system: the biological parents and the same-age peer group.
Not surprisingly, as a system for raising children, remnants don’t do too well.
The parent(s) seem to end either giving up completely or feeling responsible for doing it all. As a result, the poor kids are either left to their own devices or ferociously over-parented, endlessly watched over by the same one or two tired adults. If they are lucky and not effectively abandoned, they are stuck with hearing the same boring, old-fashioned ideas from loving people they are eternally unable to satisfy.
In either case, their only alternative for support and structure is their own peer group. Unfortunately, it likely to be full of kids with exactly the same background and just as adrift. What structure they find there is likely to be either the arbitrary dictatorship of peer fashion or the even more brutal regime of the teenaged gang.
Personally, I am unwilling to blame the parents, the kids, the society, poverty or the decline of religion. Once upon a time we had a system where the weakness or failure of any component of the extended parenting structure was automatically balanced by rest. Now, there is no rest.
If we are to survive and thrive, the system we have lost will in time be replaced by another. We simply have the misfortune to live in these Middle Ages, a blurred, landmark-less time between eras.
Perhaps we should find what satisfaction we can in knowing that future social science students will find it as hard to retain anything specific about our time as we did about those other Middle Ages. Nothing much will seem to have happened. They will be bored by it all and flunk their tests, just as we did.