children

Recently during one of our regular morning conversations before we get up and start our day, my sweetheart and I talked fondly about our childhood memories, we both feel blessed to have experienced a somewhat idyllic childhood. We’re Baby Boomers  to give you a reference on when we grew up, and we’re white so that certainly played into the equation, but this isn’t going to be about race, it’s going to be about the safety and security of our parents and why I wasn’t able to provide that to my children.

As a kid during summer vacation in Quebec my friends and I would wake up, swallow something edible for breakfast walk out the front door, screen banging behind us, “Don’t slam the screen.......” fading in the background. At the end of our walkway I would look both ways down the street to see if anyone else was already out, then decide who to join, barefoot of course. We held contests to see who had the dirtiest feet before our parents would compel us to wash them. We wandered freely in and out of each other’s homes, pocketing snacks and drinks to take with us on a journey to the park, the next kid’s back yard or basement or “The Woods’. The community park in our neighborhood was large, well, at least in my memory it is, in fact it’s HUGE! There was a playground, a pool, a baseball field, a hockey rink and a community center where the teens hung out.

park

We left our homes in the morning, came in around lunch and dinner time to graze, left again and were out ‘until the street lights came on’; that was the general rule for most families in the neighborhood during summer. Sometimes my friends and I would walk to Woolworth’s which was about 6 blocks away and we had to cross a busy street to get there. Alone. Unsupervised by adults. We were about 10. “The Woods” was an area also unsupervised that we frequented to catch tadpoles, pick trilliums and wander and tell stories. The tadpoles occasionally grew legs but not once were we successful in having one grow to full adult frog. Poor tadpoles. In the winter this park had a hockey rink and a separate skating rink plus a great hill for sledding. The boys would play hockey in the street and yell in unison, “Car!” followed by moving their goal to the side to allow the car to pass through.

Yet, I did not allow my children the same freedoms that I had as a child. Why? Because I was afraid. I was afraid of kidnappers, rapists in woods, molesters at the swim center and bullies at the local store. Are my memories jaded or do we live in a different world? Sadly, I think we live in a different world. As we discussed the difference in our childhood experience versus our children’s experience we both arrived at the same conclusion- that world doesn’t exist anymore. The question is what happened?

protect

This is the theory that we developed; because people don’t have stability anymore and with stability comes security. When we were kids the homes on our street were filled with similar families with fathers who had stable jobs and sometimes working moms with stable jobs. We weren't rich but stable. We and our neighbors lived in our homes for a long time and we became familiar with everyone- we knew who lived in each house. Our teachers lived in our neighborhood and our doctors and our nurses and our mechanic- they were familiar and they knew us. If we stepped out of line we knew that by the time we got home our parents would already have been called. Our friend’s parents felt comfortable enough to tell us, “Behave yourself.” and we did. We called our parents friend’s Mr. and Mrs.

Our parents also knew that if they did their best at their jobs they could look forward to retiring from those companies with a pension. The word ‘lay-off’ didn’t really exist for our parents. Some of our parents learned a trade, some went to college, and they all knew they would get a good paying job that they could depend on. Not so for my generation and definitely not so for my children’s generation. I hate to think of what is in store for my grandchildren’s generation. When my friends and I graduated or left trade school we struggled to find work and many of us had to take lower paying jobs and then work our way up and then came the familiar pattern of, closed conference room doors, followed by announcements of how many would be laid off. This pattern would repeat many times over the years. In my circle of friends and acquaintances I only know of 1 person who has never experienced a lay off. Just one. My children have already been through the layoff grind before they were 30. Job worry makes it hard to feel secure. It makes it hard to plan for your future. Job worry makes it hard to decide where to live or whether to buy a home if you can afford it.

job stress

Without job security and with layoffs being a part of a normal career life the need to move and change locations creates less stability for ourselves and our children. Our neighbors are experiencing the same. My family has moved 16 times and at least half of those times were directly related to job loss. If we aren’t living in the same home for long periods of time, neither are our neighbors so we don’t take time to get to know them. Thus we don’t trust our neighborhoods the way our parents could. As Taylor Clark says in an article about stress: “Stress in American Life”, one reason is “America's increasing loss of community.”

We have withdrawn into our homes and replaced outside time with TV or Internet time and what does the media tell us? “The world is a very dangerous place!” It has become a circle of worry, we think the world is dangerous and unsafe with no stability so we withdraw more. Steven Pinker provides a wealth of data in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature to support that the world in many ways is actually safer but our gut still tells us no. As Eric Dietrich Ph.D. describes in his article, ‘Is the World More Dangerous Now Than Ever?’ we love fear.  And our media and our personal experience keep us afraid. “we tend to think that all the bad news is the whole truth. But it’s only a small part of truth......So the world is today significantly less dangerous than it used to be. Most of us will die of old age, not in a hail of bullets. But try telling our psyches that.

finger bite

When we reminisce about pleasant times we are usually thinking of times when we felt safe and secure, which for most of us, was childhood. My childhood was different from the childhood of my children. I never, ever doubted that my mother or father would lose their job at any moment. My parents could plan for their future because they could depend on some things being stable. I could not, so my children learned that sometimes Mommy and Daddy could afford to buy them new shoes or take them to Disneyland but just as easily they knew that Mommy and Daddy would be wondering how to continue to pay for the roof over their head.

Add to the worry of job loss those that have jobs are compelled to spend more and more time involved with their job, even when they come home they are still tied to their boss via email or text message. How can we raise secure children if we aren’t fully engaged with them in the few hours we have at home unencumbered with our job? Tell your boss home time is your time? You just added your name to the next layoff list. “Employees work more today than they did 25 years ago -- the equivalent of a 13th month every year. Staff are getting downsized but the work remains, so workloads are getting upsized."

This year a new instability has been added to our lives- health care, just as many of us were finally starting to feel the positive effects of the ACA, (and yes, it is not perfect and yes it does need to be modified) that safety net is about to ripped out from under us. Another reason to hole up in hour home and not venture outside, more burden to be added and less to hope for. All of the rights and advantages that the middle class has worked for since the birth of our nation are being dissolved away in front of our eyes. It’s hard to plan a safe and secure for your children if you don’t know where you will be working or living within a few years.

middle class

So why didn’t I let my kids ride their bikes all over town or go to the park unattended? Because I was worried. I didn’t know my neighbors. I didn’t trust my neighborhood. I didn’t have much but at least I had my kids and I didn’t want anything to happen to them. We all long for some past time that we remember as safe and happy and it can be different for each person. If we all want the same sense of security then why aren’t we demanding it of our leaders? Why are we allowing them to take away our benefits and rights and opportunities? Many are fighting to hold on to them but so many others seem to be eagerly offering up to a wealthy few as if they care about us at all. We threw off the shackles of royalty for a reason, why would we give ourselves back up to a few who repeatedly prove they don’t care? For a brief epoch we were on the right track, job growth, civil and gender rights were improving. A strong, secure and stable middle class is healthy for us all, even the wealthy.

Economists and business leaders alike point to the lack of demand in the economy as the central challenge. And where does demand come from? Mostly from the spending money of middle-class consumers. And where does the spending money of middle-class consumers come from? From middle-class incomes. And what’s happening to middle-class incomes? They’re on the downturn—raises are few and far between, new workers are getting lower salaries than those of the workers they are replacing in the workforce, and the unemployed, of course, just have their paltry unemployment insurance (if they qualify).”  Michael Ettlinger

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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