Working parents urged to rethink attitude to children: Warning sounded over legacy of neglect in two-career families

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The Independent Online
Children have been sacrificed on the golden pedestal of careers and of 'making it' a leading American sociologist said yesterday, adding that the time is due for a radical rethink.

Calling for a raft of measures to reduce 'the parenting deficit', Amitai Etzioni, Professor of Sociology at George Washington University and President of the American Sociological Association, said parents and society had to accept that they could no longer 'have it all'. Two generations of 'celebrating greed' in two-career households with child care delegated to others had produced 'a generation of neglected children', he said in a pamphlet for the independent think- tank Demos.

'Now that we have seen the result of decades of neglect of children, the time has come for both parents to revalue children and for the community to support and recognise their efforts.'

Professor Etzioni said: 'Over the last 25 years we have seen the future, and it is not a wholesome one. With poor and ineffective community child care and with ever more harried parents, it will not suffice to tell their graduates to 'just say no' and expect them to resist all temptations, to forgo illegal drugs and alcohol and to postpone sexual activity. If we fervently wish them to grow up in a civilised society, and if we seek to live in one, we need to face facts: it will not happen unless we dedicate more of ourselves to our children.'

Over the past 20 years, he said, millions of mothers have sharply curtailed their work in the 'parenting industry' by moving to work outside the home while many fewer, and often poorly-paid people, have taken on child care in their absence. 'If this were any other business, say, shoemaking, and more than half of the labour force had been lost and replaced with fewer, less-qualified hands and we still asked the shoemakers to produce the same number of shoes of the same quality . . . we would be considered crazy. But this is what is happening to parenting.'

Talk of 'quality time' was 'a lame excuse for parental absence', he said, insisting his attack was not on women going out to work. 'Few who advocated equal rights for women favoured a society in which sexual equality would mean that all adults would act like men, who in the past were relatively inattentive to children.' But 'the freedoms won in recent decades carry a heavy cost and there is now a need to shift the balance back from rights and freedoms towards a stronger sense of the responsibilities on which any stable community depends'.

That required more part-time and flexible working, more generous child allowances, much better paid and unpaid leave for both fathers and mothers after a child was born and tougher divorce terms for couples with children, along with better preparation for marriage in schools. Society needed 'to develop positive economic incentives, through taxes and benefits, to make it easier for families to dedicate themselves to children and to make parents, mainly fathers, less inclined to walk out'.