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Jewish World Review June 18, 1999 /4 Tamuz 5759

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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On Father's Day, a few words about mothers --
ON THIS FATHER'S DAY, it's probably as appropriate a time as any to make an observation about mothers. A warning beforehand:

What follows is likely to be more controversial than if I were to suggest that raw sewage be dumped into the nation's drinking-water supply; than if I were to advocate a 50 percent sales tax in an effort to lower the national debt.

Here goes:

America was a much better place for children when mothers stayed at home.

See? I can already feel the fury rising among many who are reading these words.

In an effort to defuse the anger over the
for-children theory, I would first like to point out two things:

1. I owe a debt of gratitude to Tom Richards of the Appleton, Wis., Post-Crescent, who wrote tellingly on this topic before I did, and who also seemed to understand that expressing the idea was enough to cause rioting in the streets.

2. The theory is right. It's accurate. And nothing anyone will say can change that.

This is not, by the way, any kind of a know-nothing knock on women who work. The U.S. has turned into a society where women go off to work every day not just because they want to for their own fulfillment, but because they have to to help support their families. All of this has to do with the economy, and it has to do with a world in which more and more husbands and wives split up -- it has to do with a lot of things, many of them seemingly unavoidable.

And this is not some dreamy wish for a return to the make-believe America of June Cleaver and Donna Reed, an America that existed only on television screens. A "Leave it to Beaver" America is no longer possible, if it ever really was.

But the replacement -- a leave-it-to-the-kid-who-comes-home-every-afternoon-to-an-empty-house America -- is worse than what came before. There is a compelling case to be made for a house with a mom in it all the time -- a house where, a child always knows, his or her mother is waiting. Just in case.

Why? Serenity. Safety. Security. A sense of things being centered. A mom being home in the house may not be the solution to every tragedy involving young people that enters the news -- but it would be a solution to a lot of them. No, a mom in the house is not a guarantee that things won't go wrong. But when things, small or big, do go wrong for a child, there is nothing in the world -- no social program, no after-school activity, no "support group" -- that is more comforting than the knowledge that he or she can go home, and that his or her mom will be there, full-time, to listen.

That kind of house was once the rule in America; now, more and more, it seems to be the exception. Putting economic and divorce-rate statistics aside for a second, was the stay-at-home mom as fulfilled a person as the woman who goes off to make her living in an office every day? Then there's the fact that the child who comes home to an empty house is not as fulfilled as the child who comes home to a mom who is waiting to listen, to talk, to help --- sometimes just to be present.

Society has come up with all kinds of terms to put into cold context the lives of the children whose homes are empty when they come home in the afternoon (and in some cases when they leave home in the morning) -- "latchkey kids" is probably the phrase most used. It's not just a phrase, though; a latchkey kid is a child who goes through his or her childhood years knowing that an empty house is not a once-in-a-while thing, it is the standard. And putting aside the obvious -- that children can get themselves in a lot of trouble when there's no parent in the house -- we must also face the fact that even for children who don't get themselves in trouble, a routinely empty house almost inevitably leads to something else: loneliness.

Children may not talk about it -- especially if they've never known any other way, they may not say a word out loud. But they sense it; they know that things could be different. It's not a matter of blaming -- no one, except the current-day world itself, is to blame here -- and it's not a matter of yearning for times gone by. It's simply a fact: Moms matter. Especially when they're not there. Why bring this up on Father's Day? Aren't fathers expected to do their best, too?

Of course. But on Father's Day, as on every other day, the good fathers -- especially the fathers who try their hardest, and most especially the fathers who have to raise their children alone -- know that a dad is not a mom. It would be nice if the two were interchangeable. But they aren't.

Moms matter. Moms being there matter. Always have. Always will.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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