National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  August 29, 2003

Jesuit Fr. Tom Allender
-- NCR Photo/A. Jones
Hard times for families, couples, kids

Jesuit Fr. Tom Allender has a clear perspective on family issues from the perspective of his ministry to single-parent families.

“One end of the problem is the divorces and their effect,” said Allender. “At the other end, we’ve gone from being family-centered to being kid-centered.” As for divorce, he said, “adults are finding it’s easier to be a parent than a spouse.”

Continued Allender, whose workshop focused on single-parent families, “We don’t put the emphasis on marriage, on the family unit any more. We put the emphasis on the kids. Yet the greatest gift the parents could give their kids is their love for each other.”

He described a two-fold scenario.

Even the families that hold firm are stressed, Allender said. Pressured parents both work. Then on weekends “one parent takes one set of kids, the other parent takes the other, and they go from activity to activity to activity. It’s insanity,” he said. “People know it’s insanity. But they’re afraid that if their kid isn’t in everything they’re going to lose their competitive edge.”

What the kids are really losing, he said, is their ability to get along with others. “When a family spends a day as a unit, goes hiking, visits grandparents, everyone gives and takes. Instead of that we create a generation of kids who think the world centers on them,” said Allender.

Then comes the result: hyper-self-centered kids: “You take two kids who have had everything centered on them, and they get married. Think the marriage is going to work? No way,” Allender said. “Each person is going to expect the other person to center on them. Then they have kids.

“But in many cases it doesn’t hold, divorce follows because the adult prefers, tough though it is, to be a parent rather than a spouse.

“It’s a vicious cycle and it’s a crisis in this country,” the Jesuit priest said, “because if the family falls apart, everything else falls apart.”

More than that, Allender believes “we’ve taken the fun out of being a kid. I think we’re using our children’s childhood to prepare them for the economic system. We’re making them so thoroughly competitive. A little kid, fourth grade, strikes out before 200 people. He disappoints 200 people. Right? I played in fourth grade, but you know what? It was only a game. We’ve taken the fun out of it. It was only a game.”

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, August 29, 2003

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