Monday, June 22, 2009

Iris Evans Personal Comments Sparks a Public Debate About the Complexities of Raising Children - I Say Good For Her!

I have followed the debate sparked by the recent remarks of Iris Evans, Alberta’s Finance Minister about her view that the “proper” way to raise children is for one parent to stay at home. I am so pleased that the debate has been brought to the fore. It is a very important issue that deals with the responsibility we owe to children as parents, individuals, community and as government.

My bottom line politically is to value the fact that Iris Evan spoke her mind, clearly and with personal conviction. There is no other current Alberta politician who has done more for the plight of women and children, especially those at risk, than Iris Evans. She championed the project to raise awareness and work on prevention and treatment from domestic violence and bullying. She did this without the usual partisan political posturing. She focused on the issues and gathered the best people together to deal with the concerns – including men as victims of violence. I know because, full disclosure, I lead that portion of the project.

This issue of parenting and caring concerns are far from resolved and are at the basis for many conflicting personal values and societal duties. The trade offs of our various duties to children and to families and the conflicting needs of both parents to work t adequately provide for those children.

I don’t know the current numbers but there has been a significant increase in female participation in the workforce since the 50’s. The net result I recall in the decade 1979-1989 was a dramatic increase in females working outside the home but the net increase in household prosperity of those families merely increased 1% in that decade. Women’s workplace participation may have been personally and professionally satisfying but it did not do much to enhance the economic well being of the family. The increased taxes, inflation, cost of borrowing and other cost like childcare and transportation seems to have eaten up all the “additional” income.

I am not picking sides in the debate mostly because it is very personal and it is up to everyone have to make their own decisions about what is proper and practical. We all have a stake in this question of the care and nurturing, teaching and training of the children in our society too.

Is the Iris Evans approach the right one? I don’t think anyone would disagree – in a perfect world. However the word today is far from perfect. I am not wishing for the halcyon days of my youth when my stay at home mom and I could be supported comfortably on the wages of my Journeyman Electrician father – who almost always had a job in town and was home from work almost every night with the family.

I spent a couple of hours with Wallis Kendall from iHuman on Saturday on the Gun Sculpture Project we are working on together. He is the most engaged front line street level worker with the most dangerous and disadvantaged kids in our society. In discussion about Iris’ comments Wallis said, I work with lots of stay-at-home moms. The parent group he talked about is teenagers with children who were single parents, addicted but working on getting clean. They are uneducated, in poverty and mostly unemployable, especially in this recession because the jobs they are capable of doing simply disappear. But they are "stay at home" moms but hardly the optimal way to raise a family.

Wallis tells me they get their rent paid and they used to have to live on $600 per month to feed, cloth, diaper and deal with all transportation and other the care needs of themselves and their child, and find the hope and support to get past their addictions. Wallis tells me formula and diapers take up $230.00 a month. The Alberta support rates have being going down. Wallis told me now a mom in this situation with responsibility to provide care for two infants and herself now only receives $471 per month.

I tried to confirm these numbers online but without success so I rely on Wallis's knowledge of the supports situation. A proper way to raise a child may be for one parent to stay at home but that implies a whole bunch of other context and available family and community resources to make that a positive situation. The cost of living and the purchasing power of wages are way out of whack for the average family for this to be practical today.

Not only that we are squandering and becoming derelict in our duty to the next generation I the present way we deal with vulnerable and at risk kids, we are also chewing up the environment we will leave in the name of a false sense of short term progress and prosperity. We are also giving away our resource rents in a ridiculously low royalty rate and energy industry subsidies that perpetuate past sins that fragment the forest, destroy habitat, misuse water, spew unconscionable amounts of GHG into the atmosphere and fails to reclaim and restore old well sites, roadways and seismic lines. The lack of concern for inter generational equity in our current energy and economic policy is horrendous.

The energy sector is not the only problem. We all are in how we sprawl our cities, build our buildings and mindlessly use energy and pamper ourselves in our methods and modes of transportation. I think I have illustrated already the insufficient concern we show as a society for the weakest, most vulnerable and least capable in our society. We blame the government as if we are somehow not responsible for the consequences of how we voted or if we did not vote.

All these things tie together and inter-relate. One thing for sure, on a dais giving a speech at the Empire Club in Toronto, one Alberta Minister let her personal views and values about how to properly raise a family show clearly and concisely. Agree or disagree with her as you will but at least we have a politician expressing a personal opinion about a serious social public policy matter in a way that gets people thinking and talking. That does not happen enough in mature and pathetically passive democracies like Alberta.

Criticize her position if you choose. But at least for a few moments, seriously consider the concern, the context and the consequences of her comments. Then come to your own considered opinion based on your values and capabilities to do the right thing for your children, your family and yes – your community too. When it comes to raising kids “properly” it takes at least a viable village and a viable family with capable parents. We are all in this together; alone!