Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Parents spending more time with kids - and less time elsewhere

A New York Times article reports, "Despite the surge of women into the work force, mothers are spending at least as much time with their children today as they did 40 years ago, and the amount of child care and housework performed by fathers has sharply increased." The article continues:

At first, the authors say, “it seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined” since 1965, when 60 percent of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother. Only about 30 percent of children now live in such families. With more mothers in paid jobs, many policy makers have assumed that parents must have less time to interact with their children.

But, the researchers say, the conventional wisdom is not borne out by the data they collected from families asked to account for their time. The researchers found, to their surprise, that married and single parents spent more time teaching, playing with and caring for their children than parents did 40 years ago.

For married mothers, the time spent on child care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965. For married fathers, the time spent on child care more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week, from 2.6 hours. Single mothers reported spending 11.8 hours a week on child care, up from 7.5 hours in 1965.

On the one hand this is a good sign. But where is the time coming from, that parents have more time with kids? It's not that folks are cutting back on work;Americans are not working less. The NY Times article doesn't mention this, but other studies have argued that the time that adults are carving out for family has been taken away not only from housework (due to advances in technology and efficiency), but also from leisure activities and adult friendships. So parents are spending more time with their kids, but at the expense of larger community and church involvement. We focus on our nuclear families so much that we no longer have time for volunteer work or community service.

The article notes that families are getting smaller and incomes have risen over the past 35 years, so more time and money is devoted to fewer kids. Suburban Christians should beware of the tendency of turning inward to focus on children to the exclusion of outside concerns and ministry. One suburban pastor I talked to told me that the biggest challenge he faces in his suburban church is "the idolatry of children," of suburban parents focusing so much on their kids that kids' activities and development take priority over all other concerns, including church, ministry, witness, etc. Better, probably, to find creative ways of helping our kids join in ministry and mission to and from the suburbs, so that they don't just become self-absorbed and instead learn to focus externally on loving their neighbors as well.

8 comments:

Craver VII said...

One suburban pastor I talked to told me that the biggest challenge he faces in his suburban church is "the idolatry of children," of suburban parents focusing so much on their kids that kids' activities and development take priority over all other concerns, including church, ministry, witness, etc.

WHAT?!! This o’l boy better get his nose out of the extrabiblical church growth books and burrow in God’s Word till he gets his thinking straight! I can’t believe this! Nevermind; I CAN believe it because it’s too common for people to trade the first order of things for the second and then sacrifice both.

(Sometimes I kid and write things that are intended to come across as playful banter. Such is not the case right now; this is for real.)

The family is the basic building block of society, and it is given to the fathers, to train up their children in the way they should go. This job does not belong to television, daycare, school, or any other government programs…not even church programs. Christians, know your role and get back to your first priority! Many fathers abdicate their role here, and we’re trying to put a band-aid on the consequences, but that’s not going to fix anything. It would be wrong to forsake our children and substitute ministry in its place. Don’t skip church, but Dads, when you go, try sitting together with your kids instead of splitting up the family. If you have to decide whether to go to evening service (and age-segregate the family) or stay at home for family discipleship, remember that YOU are primarily held accountable for Junior, not the youth pastor.

Our kids need our time--lots of it. Compare Hebrew and Greek societies, and notice the fruits of each system.

Let's not call it "the idolatry of children" when we abandon our most important mission for not-as-important church stuff. I'll call that "idolatry of ministry."

Al Hsu said...

Undoubtedly many pastors and folks who work in church ministry spend too much time doing church stuff and not enough time with their kids. I knew plenty of pastor's kids at college who were neglected by their folks, and Craver's exhortations to not neglect their families are well-purposed for those kinds of families. But the flip side is probably true for many laypeople, and too many Christians only focus on their own concerns and don't look beyond their own nuclear families. I'm not at all saying that Christians should ignore their families. I'm just saying that Christians should not make their nuclear families an idol.

Rodney Clapp's Families at the Crossroads is a fantastic book and argues that many American evangelicals have fallen into the trap of believing that the family is the most significant component of society. Clapp points out that ecclesiologically, according to Jesus, the most significant "family" is not the biological family or the nuclear family, but the church family. Ironically, much contemporary "focus on the family" is more like Old Testament Judaism than New Testament Christianity. The church is the first family, and the biological family is the second family.

Ultimately, being good Christians means that we are attentive to our families, but we should remember that our Christian identity takes precedence over our identities as parents or spouses. And being Christians first will propel us and our families not inward into navel-gazing cocoonity, but outward into community service and ministry to others.

Craver VII said...

I love you, Bro. I really do. And if you want to delete this comment from your blog and do personal emails, instead, I won’t be offended.

Yes, our triune God is higher than His creation. Matthew 10 tells us that if we put our family before Jesus, we’re in trouble. I have not read Clapp’s book, but my adrenaline is nearing critical when I hear that many “have fallen into the trap of believing that the family is the most significant component of society.” You said, “Clapp points out that ecclesiologically, according to Jesus, the most significant “family is not the biological family or the nuclear family, but the church family.” I’m compelled to challenge that; show me.

Our church family will be our family for eternity, while our biological family might only be with us a few years. We have been appointed as stewards, and our responsibility to them is here and now. We have been given orders to teach and train and raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. But are our kids hearing the gospel from us or from a volunteer in a church program because we’re too busy not being their parents?

Our Christian identity takes precedence over our identities as parents or spouses? No, that should read more like this: Our Christian identity rules and directs our identities as parents or spouses.

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

The only thing I would change would be the "idolatry of family time."

Now I believe that all parents (professional ministry or not) should pay adequate and regular attention to their children. These children are God's gift to these people...and they are to be regarded and reared as God's gift.

HOWEVER, many times the "gifts" become idols...i.e., we start "worshipping" at their shrine, whether we will admit it or not. We will put every activity that we possibly can in front of the line when it comes to balancing and doling out the time schedules. Far too many parents believe their "little darlings" have to be in every club, every athletic activity, and in every social activity within 50 miles of their house.

Why?

The "me-centered" generation is the monster that WE have created. We cannot blame the "liberal media" (if there really is such a thing), or the godless educational system, or anything else. We only have ourselves to blame.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I was raised to KNOW that "the world doesn't revolve" around me. How many parents teach their children such antiquated ideas nowadays?

Maybe more should take up the habit. Alot more.

Anonymous said...

Despite Craver's protests, Al and Rodney and Jesus are correct. Evangelicals tend to be far too child-centric. This is, as Rodney points out, is the result of Victorian values, not "traditional family values."

Craver, you need to read the Rodster's book. Then your blood will really boil.

Craver VII said...

I don’t know Rodney, but I started an Internet search, and I have already (Yes, I actually already) acquired a copy of Mr. Clapp’s book. And if he presents logically, and his writing conforms solidly to Biblical truth, would't it make more sense for craver to recant, rather than for my blood to boil?

I respect Al enough to listen to what he says, realizing that if I silently disagree with him, no one learns anything, but everyone who knows the two of us, knows that he is much smarter. But I already knew that when I left the comment. Therefore, I speak, and if I sound foolish, at least I have the hope of learning something.

Now, do you think that I am protesting Jesus? May it never be. My heart's desire is that I am always ready, willing and able to make course adjustments as scripture sheds light on my erroneous ways, regardless of my tradition, feelings, or affiliations. I have been wrong before, and I’m sure to need correction again.

As for you, my invisible critic, please do not hide behind anonymous comments. Do the noble thing and lift your visor that I may see who challenges me. If this had been a paper exchange, I would have crumpled it up without reading it. I only answer for the benefit of anyone else who may be reading this.

Al Hsu said...

Craver - I really appreciate the dialogue here, and yes, maybe "takes precedence" wasn't the right phrase for me to use for describing how Christian identity shapes our roles as parents. It's certainly not an either/or, that we pit the church against the family or whatnot. It needs to be a both/and, where we affirm that being a good Christian means that we're faithful parents and committed church members/ministers/servants.

And Rodney's book was really quite formative for me in my ecclesiology. I read it about a decade ago, while in grad school, and it influenced me so much that I wrote Singles at the Crossroads as something of a sequel and homage to it. He says things much better than I do, so I'll just defer to his book! (Not that you have to agree with everything he says at every point, but his overall framework and historical background is just very, very helpful.)

Kristi said...

Hear, hear, Al! Great post, and I agree completely.