The Biggest Stress In Today's Families

As a parent I try to advocate for the well being of my fellow parents and our children. This newspaper is dedicated to that mission as well. Articles appear that help us to cope with the stresses in our lives. We get tips on being better parents, and we are able to connect to various community resources which can enrich our lives.

My personal mission in this column has been to model fathering as a priority in men's lives. I have attempted to address cultural issues men and women face in relation to parenting. And I have tried to help both mothers and fathers reflect upon the poignancy of their role, to strengthen the sense of meaning we derive from our daily care-giving. Many times, however, the problems parents experience are much greater than can be truly addressed by any advice even the best parent educator can offer. How do you give battling siblings the individual attention they each need when you come home from work exhausted and have only enough time to make dinner, clean up, and get them to bed? On the weekends, how do you take care of everything you need to do AND give the kids quality time AND have some time to yourself AND get some intimate time together with your partner? How do you buy a house with enough space AND save for your retirement AND save for college tuitions AND not stay up late worrying about money?

Our economic system is hugely unjust, and it is time to recognize that 80% of our families, not just the poor, are suffering. Consider the following statistics. The top one percent of our population owns 40% of the nation's wealth. That's up from 20% twenty years ago. The top ten percent own 70% of the wealth. That leaves 30 % for the other 90% of us. 45% of US households have less than three months of financial reserves. 50% of US households have seen their real income (adjusted for inflation) stagnate or decline since 1980. Meanwhile, the incomes of the top one percent (over 330 K/year) have doubled. In the papers we read of economic boom times, but this boom is almost all going to the wealthy.

The consequences of these gross inequities are far reaching. They extend into our family life on a daily basis. In many families parents who would love to spend more time at home both have to work full time. When only one parent has a job, it often demands such long hours that the working parent barely sees the kids, and the care-giving parent never gets a break. Families who need help caring for their children can't afford to pay child care workers decent wages. Many good child care workers, consequently, can't afford to stay in the field.

At the same time that we try to provide for a family we must also be saving for retirement. Few trust that as elderly people we will not live in poverty if we haven't saved a large sum of money. Thus we must make choices daily to invest in our own future security instead of provide for our children the way we would like to.

When my daughter wants to be a teacher, or an artist, or gardener, do I tell her to follow her bliss? Or do I say, "Well you know, if you ever want to own your own house you had better pick your career on the basis of how much money you can make, not what you like to do, or who you would like to help".

People often experience these economic stresses their personal failure. They think there is something wrong with them for not having anything to invest in this really cool stock market. Or they feel like a loser because they still rent, or because their house payment takes half their paycheck. The reality is that hard work at a worthwhile task that benefits the community no longer guarantees anyone a decent living for their family. The only ways to really make money are to have a lot of it to begin with or to pursue wealth for it's own sake, without being hindered by other values. Something is very wrong with this picture.

What can we do to make it better? We can stop blaming ourselves and start changing the injustices of our system. Campaign finance reform is a good start. For five dollars a person we could publicly finance all campaigns and end our current system of legal bribery. Then we could return to having the wealthy pay their share of our taxes. Instead of a flat tax or a national sales tax (proposals which shift the tax burden even further onto the shoulders of working families), we could ask those with incomes over 200 thousand to use their profits to strengthen the social security system (without privatizing it).

How would it affect your family if you could focus more on raising your children and less on wondering if you will ever be able to retire? That would be a good start.

© 2008, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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