The University Record, December 21, 1998

Parenting marginalized by society

By Kerry Colligan

Cornel West (right) and Sylvia Ann Hewlett (center) signed copies of their book, The War Against Parents, following their lecture at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

"Only America doesn't see those magical first weeks of life as a place where you need to make that social investment," said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the National Parenting Association.

It is vital, she told audience members at the Dec. 10 program "The War Against Parents," "that kids do the bonding and have the nurturing that makes such a huge difference just a few years down the road."

Cornel West, professor of philosophy of religion and African American studies at Harvard University, joined Hewlett in writing The War Against Parents and at the podium to lay the groundwork for a national movement to support parenting. The "war," West said is a set of forces that push parenting aside to the margins of adult's lives.

"At the heart of our children's plight is a truly frightening erosion of the parental role," Hewlett and West write, "of the ability of moms and dads to come through for their children. . . . Big business, government, and the wider culture have waged a silent war against parents, undermining the work that they do."

In 1997, Levi Strauss laid off 6,700 workers, announcing on the same day a retirement package for their president valued at $125 million. In that environment, Hewlett said, it is not surprising that parents often struggle to make ends meet.

"We have learned to degrade and undermine those who struggle," she said. "Too many parents feel they are up against a wall." In recent years, she explained, the proliferation of small businesses and "trickle up" income has led to "a growing polarization of the marketplace, where nurturers are having a harder time having kids."

In response to this environment, Hewlett and West propose the adoption of a "Parents' Bill of Rights," under which parents are entitled to:

Time for their children through paid parenting leaves.

Economic security with a living wage and appropriate tax relief.

A pro-family electoral system under which parents would be given the power to vote on behalf of their children.

A pro-family legal structure that would make it more difficult for parents to divorce when there are children involved.

A supportive external environment, including an extended school day and family health coverage.

Creation of a sense of "public morality" that accords parents the honor and dignity due them. These rights, they contend, will help relieve the economic and time-related pressures parents feel.

"Parenting affects each one of us, whether we are biological parents or not, traditional or non-traditional parents," West said.

The program was part of the Work/Life/Family series organized by the Center for the Education of Women and the Family Care Resources Program. Co-sponsors included: the offices of the Provost, Vice President for Student Affairs, and Human Resources and Affirmative Action; the schools of Business Administration, Dentistry, Nursing, Public Health, Social Work and Education; the Graduate, Law and Medical schools; the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies; the Institute for Research on Women and Gender; and the Women's Studies Program.

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