There’s no program for fixing rotten

The thing you run into, when you are in the business of saving the world from itself, is that there is no lever marked: “PULL HERE TO SAVE WORLD.”

It fascinates me to see intelligent thinkers reason out top-down solutions to symptoms caused by a soul-sickness that will not be fixed with federal programs or presidential initiatives or nanny-state regulations. Writing on the Psychology Today blog, for example, Jim Taylor gets the symptoms, at least, exactly right: many social ills are caused by bad parenting.

Understand how uncomfortable this observation makes many parents. It makes us uncomfortable for two reasons: first, because we can all name cases where a child, despite what appears to be the valiant efforts of his parents, simply “goes wrong.” Second, because we all have a propensity, when things go wrong, to identify the many factors that make it not really our fault. The truth is, however, that rotten adults tend to be a product of rotten parents.

As is often the case in educated but secularized circles, however, Taylor is hamstrung when it comes time to ponder solutions. Criminalization of bad parenting? Regulations? Mandatory parenting classes? An Obama-led good parenting initiative? A national child-care system? (I love the reasoning behind the last one — people will become better parents by virtue of finding more affordable means of being away from their children.)

This is the thing: people parent poorly because they themselves had bad parents, and because they are shot through with selfishness, anger, and sloth. You don’t neglect your child because you didn’t have a mandatory 20-hour parenting class. You neglect your child because you are bound up in your own pleasures and problems. At best, the class can beat into you that a good parent reads a story to his child at bedtime. So you read your child a story at bedtime, but continue to fail at instilling in him self-respect, self-discipline, and spiritual understanding.

There is no checklist, in other words, for the human soul. This is why a civilized society is dependent on norms and values and faith about which educated elites are embarrassed to speak. Which leaves us with the laughable sight of experts grasping about for any solution except the ones which might have a chance, such as churches returning to the business of spiritual discipline, teachers and leaders speaking a language of virtue and duty, and all of us living more thoroughly in community and communion, which means coming alongside one another, encouraging, loving, and sometimes simply telling the person we care for: “You’re being a lousy parent and I want to help you fix that.”


  1. Jordana

    Of course, some bad parenting involves not ignoring the kids, but hovering too heavily, considering the perfecting of Junior to be an extension of our own egos.

    I suspect you’d agree that throwing the kids out back to wandering, play and merely be is actually an important part of good parenting lacking in the helicopter, over-scheduled parenting crowd.

  2. Marie

    All the solutions suggested in the article gave me the creeps. Requiring parenting licenses and prospective parents to pass a parenting test (how could that possibly be a reliable assessment?) feel to me like government fingers stretching into every empty cranny of our lives until nothing is free. shudder. I wholeheartedly agree with you… suggesting such measures does nothing to fix the problems. Humility and daily repentence and crying out to God for wisdom are the best paths to becoming a good parent I know of.

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  4. Kerri

    A basketball team is only as good as its weakest player who actually plays in the game. Policies which are destined to thrive upon parents’ disengagement and to create bench warmers instead of mommies and daddies generating their own “offense” only serve to magnify our social problems, not fix them. Who wants to rock another’s cradle? Scares me these days to answer that question. Good post.

  5. dusty

    Not bad parenting so much as poor parenting and no parenting. Although I don’t have the link handy, multiple epidemiology studies consistently show the strongest correlations between comission of violent crimes and not having two parents. Depending on how the study is worded, that’s either parents not married or parents not living together.

    Being raised by a single mom, or a single grandmother, is the strongest predictor of future criminal activity.

    Bush was eager to push stronger family initiatives before 9/11, then he re-focused.

    Obama doesn’t need to push mandatory parenting classes; what are needed are re-working school curriculums to be delete the anti-abstinence, anti-marriage, anti-work, welfare-prep , and crime-prep focus they have now.

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