Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Parents

Sometimes a family endures events that cause a change in the roles everyone plays. Sometimes the mom is really the one who needs to be taken care of by the children. Sometimes it is Dad. The issues behind this may be addiction, illness, mental illness and mental retardation. Some of it is just fallout from being a very overworked single parent who has to rely on the oldest child to do the parenting because they are too exhausted to be effective. Whatever the reason, there are thousands of kids in every city of size that have been robbed of a childhood in favor of an early dose of responsibility. Children as young as 10 take on such roles as shopping, cooking, paying bills, and making sure the other kids are clean, dressed and fed. Children who have a parent who is suffering from untreated or under treated mental health issues must take care of not only the rest of the kids but the parent as well. They have to be sure mom takes her meds like she is supposed to. She must be sure that she knows who to call if mom gets a little too scary for her to handle. Someone who is safe and won't call CPS to take them all away. It is easy to spot a child that grew up way too early. They are extremely mature, rarely have time for frivolous things like laughing and playing and are always keeping the family secret. They tend to be very secretive, won't talk too much to adults and are very watchful of what the younger kids say. They carry a great deal of responsibility along with a good dose of fear. The fear is that someone will discover the truth. The ever present fear of someone taking them away from their home looms at every interaction with family members. Any time a child gets sick, an adult needs to be contacted. This is another opportunity for the truth to come out. The kids who are holding down the fort go to extreme lengths to avoid outside involvement. They rarely are involved in extra curricular activities, rarely are seen with a group of friends and never have children over to their house after school. There are probably several of these kids in your child's school. So how do we rescue these kiddos? Is it our responsibility to even try? Most adults today wonder "what is wrong with these kids today?" One thing that differs from how kids are raised now versus when we were young is the idea of community. In "the good old days" neighbors were as involved in caring for someone Else's child as they were their own. Every adult parented children. They were all role models, they pitched in to help out when a parent was ill, away for a few hours or a few days and supported the family in times of crisis. Now, families are isolated. There is no extended family to help. Neighbors "mind their own business" and our kids are left in a vacuum. We all need to step up and try to help the families that are struggling. Kids need a community they can trust and rely upon when things get tough. Find a single mom, or dad, that could use some support and offer to help. They may say no at first. But keep trying. Eventually they'll let you in and they kids will have a chance to experience a little bit of childhood. It truly does take a village to raise a child. Let's try to create a village together. Let me hear about the villages in your life.

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