The Vanishing Parent

Have you seen these talking toys they have nowadays? They’re supposedly really educational and intriguing to a toddler, although to a beleaguered parent they’re also the cause of many a headache. They say ABCs and 123s, they sing songs (over and over and over again), and they say things like, “Let’s play again!” and “Woohooo!”

Okay, so maybe now it’s pretty clear how much I like these toys, but I want to talk about something more important than whether I enjoy them or not. I have a legitimate, non-annoyance-related complaint.

(Although it is true that the voice box in my son’s toy trucks “mysteriously” stopped working after two weeks, and the one for his obnoxious talking ball is “lost.”)

For his first birthday, my son was given a toy which, frankly, baffles me. It’s a talking book. It has a voice box attached, so there’s only room for two pages, and it has a sensor that lets it know when they open, so it can read them out loud. Then there’s a neat little button to push when you want the hyperactive lady in the box to tell you about the pictures. “There are three cows! Can you count to three? One, two, three! Good job!” Okay, so … do you see anything weird about this scenario?

Is it just me, or was this toy invented simply to erase the parent from the picture? 

And if you look at all my son’s other talking toys, the same concept applies, if not so obviously. The toy talks to the child so that he feels as if he’s being interacted with, so that he hears language in practice, so that he’s introduced to concepts like colors and counting. Which could be (and undoubtedly often is) completely harmless.

But here’s a scenario which freaks me out less: when my husband and I sit down with our son and a set of wooden blocks which have letters, numbers, words and pictures on them, and point to pictures and say things like, “Look at this blue fish.” My son loves the word “bish” and he could have learned it from a recording, but he didn’t. He learned it from humans.

I worry about this phenomenon, the vanishing parent. I believe it’s rampant in our culture. Most children spend most of their time away from their parents, at school, in daycare, playing sports. In Sunday School.

Now, I don’t have a problem with working parents or public school. A single mother fighting to pay the bills has no choice but to leave her children with a sitter so that she can feed them. Marriage doesn’t necessarily secure a family against that trouble, either, and I’m by no means a homeschool evangelist. But how many mothers who have the possibility wide open to them to stay home and invest in their children are taking advantage of it? I for one think of it as a monumental blessing.

Let’s turn to Sunday School, since that’s the one that freaks me out the most. Sunday School is great. It’s a great opportunity for kids to be around other kids their age, to learn about God, and to have a great time. Here’s my problem. Of the kids in an average Sunday School class, what percent do you think also learn about God from their parents?

Have you watched any sitcoms lately? (I hope not, but I won’t hold it against you.) There was a time when sitcoms featured children making mistakes and learning lessons, and a critical part of that lesson usually came from their parents’ wisdom. Remember Boy Meets World? Cory’s parents were amazing! Nowadays, sitcom parents are learning as many life lessons as their children. Oftentimes, they’re painted as bumbling morons who don’t know anything about the modern world.

Now, their kids, they know what’s up. They know what’s going on because they haven’t been “out of it” for so long. They know that premarital sex is the new norm, that everyone sneaks out of the house, that there isn’t a real truth or a standard to which they can fairly be held. Those rules their parents want enforced? They’re just the stubborn remnants of a dead belief system, irrelevant to the real world.

Our society doesn’t just undervalue parents. It devalues them. It seeks to take our children from us and make them its own.

Parents: Don’t let yourselves be erased. Fight for your children!

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