Monday, June 11, 2012

“Baby Mama” Drama to “Nanny State” Trauma

Once, while I was meeting with a brilliant young man, the conversation turned to marriage and fatherhood.  To my surprise, the young man admitted that from his formative years through his young adulthood, the concept of marriage was nowhere on his radar screen.  The shocker was that just a few years ago, though he had committed his life to Christ and had become and active member of his church, marriage was still a completely alien concept to him.  He admitted to me that he assumed the only way he could ever be a father was to become a “baby daddy,” replete with the concomitant “baby mama” drama.

Fortunately for him and for society, a few years after his conversion he joined a different church where wise biblical teaching encouraged an atmosphere that valued marriage and family.  I’m pleased to report that he did not become a “baby daddy.”  He is now happily married, and he and his wife share the joys of parenthood together.

The family is the foundation of any civilization or people group; lose the family and you will eventually lose the people and the society.  As the family disintegrates, dysfunctionality accelerates.  As fewer functions are performed by the family, other institutions are compelled to step into the gap. 

For example, when it comes to providing for our children, the schools have often become the alternative institution of choice.  At one time, parents were full partners with the schools in their children’s education, but in recent years education has been increasingly ceded to schools alone.

Next came the school lunch programs – a good idea in light of the long distances some students had to travel to school, never mind whatever happened to the idea of the lunch box.  Then came the breakfast feeding programs – a compassionate effort in light of poor academic performance of many of our kids due to morning malnourishment. 

Following that was school based counseling on matters of sexuality and contraceptives distribution – certainly an understandable response in light of the explosion of STDs and out of wedlock births, etc.  Is it any surprise that we are faced with so many bloated school budgets, forcing cutbacks in essential programs such as Physical Education and the Arts?

My wife, having been an educator at different levels, observes that our media report story after story of incompetent teachers who have no business in education.  However, she also believes that for every one of these, there remain scores of unsung, high-achieving educators who take their charge so seriously that they will go above and beyond to provide quality tutelage for the children of both responsible and irresponsible parents.  She notes that the responsible parents appreciate these efforts, while the ambivalent ones often exploit these teachers’ high work ethic in the absence of their own.  This leads to exhaustion and burnout of our best and brightest teachers, a commodity we can no longer afford to squander.  The cycle has indeed become vicious.

Clearly, the problem is not solely with schools stepping up to fill the gap; it also lies with many of our parents stepping down.  Of course, I realize that there are always extenuating circumstances buried within all statistics.  For example, both parents having to work outside the home to make ends meet, working single parents, etc.  However, it would not harm our culture to rethink the status quo.

In the case of a two-parent family, is the diminished nurturing presence of a parental caregiver (mother or father) worth the extra earnings?  Does a second income really result in a net increase after covering the increased related expenses (daycare, transportation higher tax bracket, etc.)?

Further, we must make delineation between the circumstances behind single parenthood; like all complexities of life, finding one’s self in this position happens for a variety of reasons.  Some are single parents due to unfortunate circumstances such as abuse, death or abandonment.  Of those who choose single parenthood, some adopt children to give them a better life than an institution can provide.  The Bible finds nobility in these kinds of compassion.

However, from Hollywood to the suburbs to the city streets, the willful disengagement from parental responsibility and the traditional family no longer knows social, cultural or ethnic bounds.  Yet this social phenomenon seems to disproportionately affect the African American community in a most profound way.

On the most extreme end of the spectrum we find men (or should I say “males”) who choose to be absolutely irresponsible fathers (or should I say “studs”).  Consider the skirtchaser in Knoxville, Tennessee who sired 30 babies by 11 different “baby mamas,” expecting the taxpayers to foot the bill to make up for his lack of sufficient income (parceled out in a check for $1.49 per month to each woman).  The math alone demands that some women must have had more than one child by this male; to return to the same empty well time and again shows these women severely lack wisdom.  If left unaddressed on the cultural level, this kind of willful disregard for the privilege of parenting will only increase as the government continues to fund negligence and foolishness.

Certainly, the community should lend a helping hand to all children in dire straights.  In the midst of this, however, we also have a responsibility to challenge the value system that leads to irresponsible ‘studship.’  Failing to do so adds irresponsible citizenship to the charge, and insult to injury.  Like the church community that changed my young friend’s entire outlook on marriage, we must be dissatisfied enough with the status quo to model and instill a value system that will empower young adults to rise above being “at risk.”

Undoubtedly, we are trending toward a society where other institutions fill the void left behind by apathy and foolishness.  If trends like these continue, we may well end up with a ‘nanny state’ where all children are regarded as property of the government.  If it is still true that “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” what will this ‘nanny’ demand of our children, and their children’s children?

These cultural concerns are far beyond the imposition of “healthy food choices in our public schools” – with regard to the oppression of a ‘nanny state,’ we are missing the point.  In such a situation, parents will be reduced to mere “breeders” – a derogatory slur used by some who carry an anti-“straight” and an anti-family agenda, and ironically a dehumanizing designation used by those who trafficked in the illicit African slave trade.

This is the tide that threatens to carry us away.  We are allowing ourselves to come under a system where we will no longer have control over the stability, quality and future of our families.  The difference today is that this time, unlike under the slave system of old which robbed us of the privileges of marriage and family, we are giving our privileges away willingly. 

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr., theological anthropologist, and Karen Angela Ellis, performing artist and educator. Follow them on Twitter: @CarlEllisJr, @KarAngEllis


  1. Replies
    1. I greatly appreciate the encouragement. Just to clarify my comment regarding those who are “anti-straight” and “anti-family,” note that to avoid painting with a broad brush, I used the word "some" - which would include straights and homosexuals, and exclude those of both persuasions who are pro-family and pro-straight.

      I have encountered folks in both categories who are anti-straight and/or anti-family. I know of people in many camps – gay, straight, anti-family, pro-family, what have you – who understand the historical background of the term ‘breeder’ and appropriately find the term offensive.

  2. "...responsible parents appreciate these efforts, while the ambivalent ones often exploit these teachers’ high work ethic in the absence of their own. This leads to exhaustion and burnout of our best and brightest teachers, a commodity we can no longer afford to squander. The cycle has indeed become vicious."

    As as former teacher and principal I can say, "Amen" from a first-hand perspective. Reading this post connected in a new way for me the link between the dissolution of the family unit and the extraordinary lengths we had to go to as educators in the Mississippi/Arkansas Delta.

    1. Glad you found the post helpful, Jemar. My husband and I salute educators like you. Thanks for all you've sacrificed to open new worlds to our kids. -KE

    2. A brief and cogent explanation as to who, how and what has helped to exacerbate the present social conditions that exist in the African American community. Kudos to Carl F. and Karen Ellis.


  3. Dr. Ellis, thank you for your insightful analysis. As someone looking to church plant in an African-American context, how do you currently see the African-American church speaking to/ "stepping up to fill the gap" of this epidemic (specifically, black male promiscuity)? What ways do you envision the church doing a better job of stepping up? I ask this because my observation has been that the issue of male promiscuity is not often addressed head on with young males (...and old ones) in our churches.

  4. First, I must say that it is so good to hear that your voice has not been silenced. You are still speaking truth to those who will listen. Congratulations to you and Karen.

    The writing about family decline has been on the wall for many years. I, too, saw it as an educator back when I started out in 1972 and saw its' remarkable and frightening escalation up to my retirement last year.

    Hope arises as more and more churches develop ministries geared to addressing the problem. They are attempting to pick up the slack by appointing youth ministers and establishing Rites of Passage programs, single-parent support groups, extensive (required) marriage counseling, One Choice, One Voice Abstinence Programs and male and female leadership programs.

    The Greater Allen Cathedral in Jamaica, NY, pastored by the Reverends Floyd and Elaine Flake for example, has separate youth and young adult ministries, where young people are consistently trained, in their own flavors, styles and spoken word to take on responsible leadership and lifestyles. I can only hope that this model is replicated, and expanded on, all across our country because cries for help from our youth have certainly already gone out. Pastors need help. They cannot do it all, any more than teachers could. When they entrust these areas to younger, more relatable ministers, they show wisdom and vision.