Our American domestic difficulties result in part from an inadequate emphasis before marriage upon probable parenthood, and a relative lack of stress upon and preparation for its responsibilities when it comes. We seem to assume constantly that marriage is for two (or really one plus one), and the complicating fact is that it is so – for a while. But for a while only. Then, normally, the term marriage gives way to that of the family, which is for three or more.
So many, too many, of our young people stumble, as it were, upon parenthood, which is, after all, the core and essence of family life. It is only after parenthood has come that they “discover” that they have given, as a lifelong hostage, a part of themselves to another person and another family strain.
The relative lack of emphasis upon parenthood involves the whole question of what the purpose of education for marriage and family living should be.
Should it deal primarily with topics and questions with which young people are concerned at the moment – such as dating, petting, premarital sex liberties, and the like – or should it strike more serious notes, dealing with ultimate problems and voicing the verdict of experience on matters which experience has shown to be of prior importance? Should preparation for marriage be designed to please the students by repeating current shibboleths or should it look ahead to such primary problems as those of parenthood?
Attitudes Toward Parenthood Are Complex
One of the pleasing fictions of our culture is that each child comes into the world as a bundle of joy to eagerly waiting married lovers, and that the mere fact of becoming parents confers all the insights and skills which parenthood demands. Obviously this is far from the truth. What does go to the heart of the matter are the attitudes of the couple toward the new arrival, whatever those attitudes may be. The importance of such attitudes for child development has long been recognized: our emphasis here is that they are equally significant for husband-and-wife relationships.
The attitude toward parenthood, like all attitudes, is very complex. It is important to stress this fact because much discussion of recent years, both in popular and so-called scientific circles, has assumed it to be a very simple thing. Thus one is told, in a sort of rubber-stamping, machine-classifying sort of way, that all children are either wanted or unwanted, just as though one’s feelings about such an important thing as bringing another human being into the world could be neatly packaged in a single adjective.
The attitude toward parenthood is a complex compounded out of many emotional ingredients. Its roots penetrate far back into the parents’ own life experiences – their lives as children, the kind of parents they had, the whole range of their experiences and values. One’s whole religious philosophy is involved, for, from the beginning, religion has assumed dominion over sex and reproduction. For many years these two were inseparable.
It is only in recent years that contraceptive sophistication has added overtones of decision to the conditioning influence of other factors. In this, as in other connections, one’s religious philosophy exists independent of church connections or overt confessions of faith. We recall, from one of our research projects, the case of a man, profane beyond most men, who spoke earnestly of man’s duty to God, whose name he constantly took in vain, to “multiply and replenish the earth.”
There seem to be marked differences in many cases between the attitudes toward parenthood of men and women. On the whole, men tend to be more practical, women to be more emotional. Men are concerned with the costs of parenthood – financial and otherwise; women are more optimistic, even when as practical, believing that they can manage somehow. Obviously there are exceptions to these general statements. In either event, it is important to remember that the attitude toward parenthood is an individual, not a family or group, matter. This fact, too, often seems to be lost in the easy assumptions about wanted or unwanted children.
Thus it would seem imperative that young people be given a proper understanding not only of dating and marriage, but of the problems associated with parenthood too.
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