My Children are Not Community Property

Photo courtesy of SanShoot

There was a time in America when rugged individualism was praised, when personal responsibility and independence were considered positive character traits, when financially independent, successful individuals were held up as an inspiration to others on their road to achieving the “American Dream”. It would seem the sun is setting–or attempting to set–on this philosophy of individualism. The idea of collectivism, of shared ownership and responsibility–the “It Takes a Village” mindset, if you will–is on the rise in America these days. It needs to stop.

Just last week, MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry appeared in a “Lean Forward” promo for the network. In the spot, Harris-Perry stated: “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children.   Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘these are our children’. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”

Photo courtesy of MR38

To quote tennis legend John McEnroe, you cannot be serious. I am a parent of two children; as a mother, I bristle at anyone trying to tell me that MY children aren’t mine. Of course they are. Their father and I share the responsibility and great honor of raising our children. We decide what food they eat, what clothing they wear, where they go to school, in which extra-curricular activities they can participate. When they are sick, we are the ones who sit with them and nurture them, the ones who take them to the doctor and buy them medicine. My children go to church with me every week and we read the Bible in our home, because that is how I have chosen to pass on my faith and values to them. Until such time as they are grown and living independently, my children are my (and their father’s) responsibility. Last time I checked, my children’s birth certificates list their parents as their mother and father–not the government; not society as a whole.

While I do want my children to grow up being members of a productive, caring and involved community, I do not want them to be owned by that community. For me, as both a parent and an educator, deciding that children belong to us as teachers, medical professionals, and other community workers is a precarious position to hold. There was a time when schools taught children academic skills, focusing on literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, physical fitness, and the arts. Now schools have become medicine dispensers, health teachers, behavior police, and values-instillers–while still being responsible for teaching all of the academic areas they have always taught, along with incorporating rapidly-changing technology into the curriculum. That’s a lot to pack into a school day.

Photo courtesy of 'bestlibrarian'

Involved parents are the key to successful students

Through years teaching at-risk and special needs children, teaching at a charter school in the inner city, and working in various states across the country with kids of low socio-economic status, I see this as a double-edged sword. For some of our kids, if we didn’t provide free breakfast and backpacks full of food for the weekend, they wouldn’t get those meals. For some, if we didn’t teach them that they have to take turns, that they need to be polite, that they can’t hit or kick or scream or flip over tables and bookshelves when they are upset, they wouldn’t get that guidance anywhere else. But isn’t that part of the problem? The more that schools, health centers and communities do for parents, the less some parents/families feel they have to step up and do themselves. That’s the unintended outcome of all of our best intentions. There are many parents who are doing the best they can with what they have; there are also parents who are happy to let someone else take responsibility and provide for their kids.

Last night the Omaha news did a feature story on sleep deprivation. Apparently many parents are referring children to area schools and doctors with concerns of attention deficit disorder, only to find out that their children are actually sleep deprived. Lack of boundaries, discipline and structure at home can lead to behavior, attention, and learning problems at school and in the community. Is the right answer really to take the onus of responsibility off of families and say, “Relax, it’s not your job to raise your child, it is the job of the community”? Do we want parents, when told that their children are disruptive, disrespectful, or lacking initiative, to simply throw up their hands and say, “Hey, they’re your kids, not mine, you figure it out”? Of course not.

Image courtesy of Tomas Sobek

Ultimately, this is just one ingredient in the “collective” stew that is simmering across America. President Obama’s new budget proposal includes a cap that would limit the amount people could save in tax-preferred retirement accounts. The White House stated: “Under current rules, some wealthy individuals are able to accumulate many millions of dollars in these accounts, substantially more than is needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement saving.” So now your retirement savings isn’t really yours, either. At a certain point, you’ve just saved up too much money. How dare you be so prudent in saving for your retirement so you do not have to depend on others? Is it really so far-fetched to think we could have a Cyprus moment in this country when you are no longer allowed to manage your own savings the way you choose?

Enough is enough. This is America, people. My children are mine. My savings account is mine. My retirement funds are mine. My guns, should I own any, are mine. What I said before about raising children is true in these other areas as well: personal ownership and accountability is an honor and a privilege that comes with the expectation that I hold up my end. It is my job to take care of my things the way I feel is best. Mine. Not “ours”.