June 24, 1994


Mother is the dead heart of the family, spending father's earnings on consumer goods to enhance the environment in which he eats, sleeps, and watches television.

Germaine Greer

The tradition of virtually every social system that has managed to survive is that the next generation is the most important job of most members of that society.

In agrarian societies, in the days before the industrial revolution, the unwritten contract between men and women was that the woman, the mother, took care of the children, maintained the house. Whatever else she did was done, where possible, without neglecting job number one --the children. The father did whatever had to be done outside of the house: taking care of the stock, hunting, farming. In short, he did whatever he could to take care of his wife and children. In a pinch, each would assume the duties of the other Both often worked from sunrise to sunset. The same thing applied to many city dwellers; a marriage was a partnership whose prime function was raising children. Most people considered a good husband or a good wife as people who would fulfill their responsibility to each other and to their children.

It was so difficult for one person to take care of children that the death of one spouse meant that the survivor needed a new spouse to help to raise the children. That was the way that it was. For many people, this is still true. The effect of divorce is similar.

The advent of the growth of cities, the industrial revolution and later the affluent society that exists in America today, changed much of that. It is now tacitly assumed that both partners in a marriage will work outside of the home, and that single parents should also work.This virtually doubles the size of the labor pool, which makes labor cheaper and pleases the industrialists who have to purchase that commodity. The work ethic seems to have been changed to the job ethic --which is by no means synonymous with the work ethic. People can work hard for all of their lives without ever having held a job.

It is as if, almost overnight, most members of the population have become wealthy; except that they are not wealthy enough to hire servants and nannies to do the work of raising the kids. Where does that leave the children?

Many talented and ambitious women in the past century, who thought that rearing children was important, have compromised by doing things that could be done at home, such as writing. Others have left their jobs during that period when their kids were small, returning to work after the kids were in school.

Women who were full-time homemakers often faced a crisis when the last kid left home. Some developed a new life, some vegetated and a few just fell apart.

People to whom the home and children did not come first have always existed. Most were men, and a few were women. These people put their careers first. Some career women just didn't have children. Some were independently wealthy. The wealthy ones who had children could hire a nanny to do the child rearing.

There have always been women raising children without men. The widow was respectable; the unwed mother was a pariah. As a consequence, many unwed mothers moved to another town and passed themselves off as widows, or acquired husbands, or both.

I think that an unwed mother who wasn't independently wealthy was taking on an extremely difficult, if not impossible, job. It was something to be avoided at all cost. Some women didn't realize how difficult it was until they were faced with the problems of both working and rearing children.

Now we have AFDC(Aid to Families With Dependent Children), which has changed our whole social structure. Has it changed it for the better or for worse? Now some people have proposed abolishing or radically changing AFDC. Will those changes make things better or worse for the people who matter the most: the children? And what about in the long haul?

When AFDC originated, no one really knew what the consequences would be because it had never been tried before on such a large scale. Aside from the glaring abuses of the program, does anyone really know what the effects have been on the children? What kind of kids are welfare mothers producing? No one really knows what changing AFDC will do, because that, too, has never been tried before. It might be a good idea to find out what has really happened before taking another perilous step. Social experiments are like other experiments in that some succeed and most fail. The consequences for our society are too great to proceed hastily or on un-thought-out assumptions. If we ran our airlines like we run our society, we might expect that more than half of the planes would crash during their first month in the air.

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