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A Parent's Most Basic Responsibility is to Feed Their Children
Grayson, our granddaughter, eating a Georgia  peach and enjoying every bite.
Photo by Bruce Tuten

There's been a lot of talk over my post last week criticizing the 3 meals a day, 365 days a year feeding program Michelle Obama is attempting to expand. I said it was terrible, because government was taking over a parent's job.

In the comments, some agreed, some didn't, and some were noncommittal. The issue for many was, what else are we going to do? We can't remove kids from their homes, and we have to feed them.

I agree, but I want to step backwards for a moment to see why this is the wrong thing to do.

First, I think this idea--that poor people can't feed their kids--is extremely insulting to poor people. My mother was abandoned when I was 2 years old. She had to get an apartment, get a job, and work her way up the ladder. It was tough. One month she didn't have enough money for rent. The church found out and lent her some. The next month she paid it back. She refused to accept charity, and she wanted me to know that she raised me herself.

She grew up in a house with no running water--even well into the 1960s. And yet she did well for herself, as did her sisters. Her parents coped.

There are readers of this blog who are on food stamps. I know some of their stories. One month one woman was desperate because the food stamps arrived late and she was worried. But it never occurred to her to not feed her kids. She visited a food bank temporarily, and then all was well again. They're getting back on their feet after a period of unemployment.

I have another friend who is in subsidized housing with her five children. Her money is extremely tight. But she cooks from scratch and they never, ever go hungry. They may not have cable, but they have food.

Many studies have shown, too, that those with the least disposable income are not those on welfare or at the bottom of the income scale. It's the "working poor", those who don't qualify for welfare, and thus don't qualify for Medicare in the US or the drug/dental plan in Canada. They don't have the government income supports, so they have to pay for everything. And they end up with less in their pockets than many who have such subsidies. But they press on because they want to raise their children themselves.

To say that the poor, who have access to welfare, food stamps, food banks, and churches, cannot feed their kids is excusing the poor from a basic responsibility. Our main responsibility, as parents, is to feed our kids first. And the income supports and charities are there, if one is motivated enough to find them. To not feed your kids is to not do one's most basic responsibility. It is not a problem of poverty; it is a problem of culture.
I am reminded of some of the prophecies in Isaiah, where Isaiah repeatedly says that the famine will be so bad in the city that people will eat their own children. When I was a child myself and a teen reading that, I thought, "Oh, my goodness! How could anyone ever be that poor?" You see, I thought the passages were a description of their economic hardship.

What I only realized later, once I became a mother, was that those passages were not meant to describe how poor they were but how depraved they were. Honestly, would you ever be poor enough to eat your children? Nope. Inconceivable. If they were, the problem was not their poverty but their culture (which is probably why they were being judged by God in the first place).

We are in the same situation now. The problem is not income but culture. People would rather let the government feed their kids because then they have money for other things that they want more. And the more this happens, the more it becomes ingrained, "I do not have to do basic parenting functions. That is up to the government."

If people stop doing some basic parenting functions, what makes you think they won't stop doing more? Once you stop thinking of yourself as primarily responsible for your kids, and think that the schools are, or the government is, then you will stop doing all kinds of things that kids need you to do.

Being poor is not a crime. Most people who live in poverty do care for their children, and to say that the poor can't feed their kids is an insult to the very hard-working and proud people throughout our continent who are struggling in this horrible economic time, but who are not giving up on their role as parents.

The culture is the problem. And by doing these feeding programs, we are only ingraining a culture that says, "somebody else should raise my kids." How is that good for children?

If government stopped, people would be forced to feed their children again and take over some basic responsibilities. And if they didn't do that, then yes, I think government should step in and take those kids.

Perhaps that's stupid of me to say, because I know there aren't enough foster homes, and I know many foster homes are horrible (although all the foster parents I know, and I know quite a few, do such a great job that the kids want to stay). But until there are consequences to not doing a basic job as a parent, we are not going to see the culture change.

A better idea, I've always thought, is to stop giving money in welfare cheques to single/teen moms, and instead set up homes where women live in community, with social workers. Say 10-15 rooms, with a woman and a baby in each, where they learn to cook together, balance the budget together, and play with their kids together. They would get some job training, too, and then after a few years they would be expected to fend for themselves.

To give a 17-year-old a welfare cheque that allows her to live in her own apartment if she gets pregnant is just stupid. If a 17-year-old knew that if she were pregnant, she'd have to go live in a home and actually work, maybe we'd see fewer kids becoming single mothers.

But that's just my idea, and perhaps that's naive, too. I don't know what the solution is. But I do know there is something sick in our culture when the government thinks it has to feed 2,000,000 children 3 meals a day because parents can't/won't do it. That's not a poverty issue. It's a cultural issue. And we must, we simply must, change that culture.

UPDATE: A reader sent along this link for a volunteer group that's not just running a soup kitchen; they're teaching lower income people how to prepare produce, to help learn healthy eating. I think this is a far better model (private charity) than government help, and if someone were to individually want to help, this is a great place to start. I just don't think government should have a role in it.

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At 8:00 AM , Blogger Katy-Anne said…

We wouldn't see less teens getting pregnant, we'd just have more abortions.


At 9:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Well said!


At 10:00 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks, Anonymous!

And Katy-Anne, I know what you're saying. But I think the assumption behind it is that most pregnancies among teens are accidents. I'm not sure that's true. The teens I know of personally who have given birth in the last few years have planned it. They came from bad home lives, and they wanted a baby to love and a way to escape a bad home life and start over. Having a baby was their ticket out, into a fantasy dreamland (which won't stay fantasy for long).

I know other kids who are currently in the foster system who say that their goal is to have a baby at 16 or 17 so that they can raise that baby better than their mother raised them. So having a baby really is seen as a ticket to a better life for many teens in bad situations. If it weren't presented that way (have a baby and you can grow up immediately, get an apartment, and live on your own), then maybe we'd see fewer kids getting pregnant.

I'd love to see a study on that.


At 10:01 AM , Anonymous Katie said…

I'm with you, Sheila!


At 11:11 AM , Anonymous lynn woes said…

"Many studies have shown, too, that those with the least disposable income are not those on welfare or at the bottom of the income scale."

As someone who has been near the bottom of the income scale and is currently receiving WIC and Food Stamps I 100% agree with this. I look forward to us getting off assistance but I expect it to be harder before its easier!


At 11:20 AM , Blogger Mary R. said…

I understand what you are saying, but what about the children? Yes, parents SHOULD feed their children, but what about when they WON'T because they're drug-addicted or whatever and oblivious. I think the State came in to fill a vacuum. Probably, like you said, these children should be removed from the home.

I don't think that stopping welfare programs will all of a sudden make these deadbeat parents sit up and start taking on their responsibilities. You have to think about the children here. What will happen to them?

As for the teen pregnancies being deliberate for the most part, I do agree with that. Schools are filled with teachers doing their best to tell girls not to get pregnant out of wedlock and are mystified when they do anyway, but the teachers are middle-class people for whom an unwed pregnancy would ruin their lives; whereas for poor girls, it is a way out, as you say.


At 11:28 AM , Blogger Sheila said…


Way to go! I love your attitude. It is rough, though, isn't it?

Mary, I think your last paragraph is spot on. I remember being flabbergasted when a girl I knew became pregnant. But, like you said, for me that would ruin my life. For her it was a leg up. I just didn't see that.

I don't know what we should do. I really don't. And I certainly don't think we should STOP welfare programs. My problem with this particular feeding program is that it is in addition to income supports and food stamps which would already allow people to feed their kids. We're already handing them the money and the means; they're still not doing it.

That's why I'd like to see welfare programs seriously revamped, so it's not as attractive, and is more of a training program, as in the 12-bed home or something like that. But I know that's not realistic.

I would just like SOMEBODY to come up with an answer that is better than the one we have now!


At 12:35 PM , Anonymous Eve said…

I think the "commune" idea is a good one. Work for what you need.

I think home economics should be a compulsory subject that is taken from grade one all the way through. I have some friends who honestly don't seem to understand the difference between eating to be full and eating for health and growth.

Responsibilty (along with common sense) seems to be out-dated and unfashionable.


At 4:38 PM , Blogger Renee said…

Really good thoughts, Sheila, although I don't have any answers!


At 7:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I do believe you mean Medicaid as opposed to Medicare (which is for folks over 65 regardless of income and the disabled).

Nurse Bee


At 7:15 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Nurse Bee, you're right! This Canadian has a hard time keeping it all straight sometimes!

And Renee, I don't have the answers, either. Sigh.

Thanks, Eve! Now we just need to get other people to embrace the idea...


At 8:14 PM , Blogger Sandpiper said…

I completely agree with you!!


At 8:57 PM , Blogger Pickle said…

I really think that instead of showing up with pre packaged food, give more $$ in food benefits(food stamps) I would imagine most people that are going to qualify for this program may already be receiving or are eligible to receive them. THEN make them attend a healthy meals class and teach them HOW to make a healthy meal on a budget.

And while they are at it stop letting junk food qualify as food benefits. Cut the soda, sugary cereals, candy, sugar juices, name it.

I am 27 years old and I am JUST NOW learning how to cook and buy healthy. My mom did not teach me. I can only imagine what little most of the people know. Education should be the weapon of choice here. Not hand outs. These kids will never learn how to do it if their parents don't teach them. Its a horrible cycle that is going to get started with a program like this.


At 9:49 PM , Anonymous Sheila Jaworski known as Ladydarksky on facebook said…

thank you sheila i'm one of the small percent of the poor, i fed my kids but that's not what this state i live in see's with there eyes, this state see's people with large amounts of money as people who should raise children not the poor even if there loved fed, clothed have a roof over there head. my fiaunce's mom is struggling too she works and cant get food stamps but we eat we'll go without things for ourselves just to get for our children and yet here we are told that is wrong.

i have to say this state is wrong children come first in our homes and if they dont like it tough cookies, our kids our, our lives not there's my kids had everything and i had nothing and that was wrong, no what is wrong is them telling me i have to dress up, wear makeup do my hair wear fancy clothes, that what i look like is what makes me a good parent, bull i'm 33 and i will wear what i please if i want to walk around in house rags just so my kids have everything i will! no way will i let this state try and drop kick me for doing something i was raised to do, it's to bad the ones who always want stupid stuff like that and tell us what to do have no kids.

lets see them raise one on minimum wage or on disability for 18 years and then they can tell us what we can and cant do.

i even had the gall to tell one when you pay my bills and buy me clothes then you can tell me what to do until then butt out.


At 11:24 AM , Blogger Mary R. said…

Yes, Sheila, I had an epiphany when I realized some of this is a "class" thing. Teachers are usually middle-class people, whereas 3/4 of the children in public school are working or lower class (I sent my children to public school, and that was how I saw it; I grew up in a working class family). It is hard for middle class people to understand the ways of the lower classes (I'm not trying to be a snob...just realistic). I had my children in private school at first until we could no longer afford it -- the first thing I noticed in public school was the difference in the families, not the teachers or the curriculum, and the schools have to work with "what IS".

What would ruin the life of one would be a step up for the other -- therein lies the disconnect. For middle or working class girls, an unwed pregnancy would ruin their lives; for lower class girls, it is a different story.

I wish there were some way to help them get a step up without a teen pregnancy.

I don't think a group home would go over well, but it might be one answer, I don't know.

Getting an education would be an answer, but college/trade school is not cheap, and it is not easy to get grants (they are very small) and terrible to have to start life with racked-up loans (that parents have to sign for). It would be nice to see welfare money given for some sort of trade school rather than use it to encourage unwed pregnancies.


At 5:27 PM , Blogger Johanna said…

Check out Liberty Godparent Home in Lynchburg, VA. If only there were more places like this where we as the church stepped up instead of standing by while our government dispenses social programs with no long-range plan for the future of those they're "helping".


At 6:13 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

There are lots of faith based charities like this. I don't think that that is what the average unbelieving girl who has gotten pregnant deliberately out of wedlock is looking for. They want their own place and to raise their own child. That has been what I have seen. The ones I know do not consider themselves "in trouble." It is bad that our government enables this, though. Our whole society has broken down.


At 8:48 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

If it is wrong for the government to enable this (deliberate unwed pregnancies to be able to get your own place, etc.), then it is wrong for the church to enable it, too. If you don't want your tax money going for this, you do not want your tithe money going for it. (I'm not talking about unfortunate girls who have found themselves in trouble; faith-based organizations have always existed to help these kinds of unfortunate girls. Usually, they have rules, though -- you must live there, comply with the regulations, not have your boyfriend in there living with you, same as with a similar government run institution. Girls who are deliberately pregnant would not want to comply with these stipulations.) Sorry for the multiple comments.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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