Finding the time to be a parent may mean making the workplace take second place.

David Ross, 38, is a typical American dad. Sort of.

According to a recent story in Newsweek, the Los Angeles lawyer is trying to put his family above his career. At the office a lot when his first child, now six, was an infant, Ross does not want to repeat that pattern with eight-month-old Alexandra. He tries to spend more time with his children, but it isn’t easy.

Juggling office hours to spend “quality time” with kids is the new American pastime, especially as the nation sees more and more two-career families. And because career and family often collide, parents are looking for solutions.

One of those answers has attracted notice. A leading expert on career women recently proposed what has become known in the media as “The Mommy Track.” Felice Schwartz, the president of a women’s business-research group, has argued that women executives who have children are different from their male counterparts because they leave or cut back on work commitments while the children are young. Companies, says Schwartz, need to offer career options for women who cannot, or will not, work 60-to 70-hour work weeks.

While Schwartz targeted working women, her proposal raises larger questions about the place of parenting—and the role of fathers. With Father’s Day approaching, there may be no better time for Christian dads to ask what position their families should take in their lineup of priorities. To put it in stronger terms, fathers have no business opting for a “career track” when doing so will compromise relationships with spouse and children.

Maybe we need to start thinking about a “Daddy Track,” challenging dads to place home and family above career success, especially when the fast track leaves fathers too exhausted for wife and kids. Neglecting family needs may be more societally acceptable for males, but it still leaves its mark on children.

Kids Need Dads

Studies bear this out. Babies are more aware of their fathers than previously thought. Fathers tend to be more playful and physical than mothers, traits children need to see. And even in homes where the mother does not work, fathers have an indispensable role to play in modeling, disciplining, and building a child’s self-esteem. The controversy in evangelical circles about working moms sometimes misses this more subtle, but equally important, angle on healthy family functioning.

Perhaps the time-honored wisdom of Scripture includes a much-needed message on contemporary parenting. The Israelites—mothers and fathers—were commanded to take God’s words and “teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 11:19). Such training and molding took time and commitment.

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It still does. There is no substitute for regularly scheduled (and unscheduled) spaces of high-quality relating. That cannot happen if Dad’s best insights and energies are always reserved for the job, and when all he brings home are the emotional leftovers.

In the Newsweek story on fathering, another dad told the reporter that when he takes care of his kids on the weekend, his friends sometimes say, “Oh, you’re babysitting.” “No, I’m not,” he replies. “I’m being their father.”

By Timothy K. Jones.

The vice-president of a Florida savings and loan, and his wife, a private-school administrator, were recently convicted of third-degree murder and child abuse following the death of their seven-year-old daughter for whom they sought the help of a Christian Science practitioner rather than conventional medical care. The case of William and Christine Hermanson is just the first of six current cases where parents are facing criminal charges after avoiding conventional medicine for religious reasons.

The issues surrounding these cases are many: including religious freedom, parental responsibilities, children’s “rights,” the unquestioned value of medical science, and the point at which the courts may intervene in family affairs. Apparently the questions will be with us as long as we acknowledge the freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses (who refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds) and Christian Scientists in our society. (Christian Scientists are not prohibited from seeking medical care, but church teaching does encourage them to prefer spiritual healing at the hands of a Christian Science practitioner.)

The Hermanson case has focused attention specifically on one legal issue: the exceptions some states have included in their child-abuse laws that exempt parents from being considered “abusive or neglectful” if for religious reasons alone they do not provide medical care for a child. Despite the Florida exemption, the Hermansons were prosecuted and convicted.

One foe of such exemptions is Dr. Norman Fost, chairman of the Committee on Bioethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Fost is quoted as saying, “I feel badly for parents, acting in good conscience, but good motives don’t justify preventable death.”

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At first, that comment sounds reasonable. Yet it is horrifyingly utilitarian, demanding that a good outcome is the only thing that can justify a course of action. As Christians we believe that the first criterion of our behavior is faithfulness, and only relatively late does effectiveness enter into ethical decision making.

Another of Fost’s remarks was attractive at first blush. Accusing the Hermansons and others of “unfairly imposing their choice on their children,” he opined: “Religion is something that is chosen, not born into.”

Evangelicals, of course, have always championed choice in religion—the “hour of decision,” if you will. A religion that is not at some point made one’s own by conscious choice and deep personal commitment is at best empty. But evangelicals have also emphasized religious training in childhood. We know it is simply silly to allow children to grow up as little pagans without the benefit of biblical knowledge or the example of informed piety—and then to expect them to make an intelligent choice among the many religions and world views in our pluralistic society. Yet training children in the doctrine and practice of religion could be seen as “unfairly imposing [parental] choice on … children,” especially if one is willing radically to subordinate the spiritual responsibilities of family life to the rampant individualism of our age. For example, when children of unregistered Baptist believers in the Soviet Union are denied access to good schools and career paths, do we claim that the parents are being unfair to their children? No, we recognize that the spiritual solidarity of the family means that both blessing and tragedy will be shared by all as the parents take the lead in spiritual nurture.

Although we wish the Hermansons had sought conventional treatment for their child, we are more disturbed by their critics. Those who would charge them with child abuse or criticize them for living out their religion as a family understand neither the nature of the family nor of religion.

By David Neff.

In San Mateo County in California, the Planned Parenthood Association is paying a select group of teenage women ten dollars a week not to become pregnant.

Surprised? We shouldn’t be. Today honor, morality, and the Protestant work ethic are fast becoming part of a lost language for many Americans. More and more, money is seen as the only recognized arbiter of success, happiness, and even life itself. Now more than ever, money talks.

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In another era, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford got their money the old-fashioned way: long hours, hard work, and vision. Today, junk-bond trader Michael Milken parlayed dishonesty into a multi-billion dollar fortune, but he is viewed by many as a genius. He, like those teens who will cash in on successful birth control, have learned the language of money.

As Christians, we know that there has not been some kind of golden age when people were somehow better. Industry barons and teenage girls have not changed—but the discourse of culture has. People are simply following the rules the culture at large sets out before them. And in that culture the ethereal motivations of morality, honor, and justice are being replaced with the Pavlovian reinforcements of hard cash.

Our leading congressman, the speaker of the House, cannot understand why civic duty should deprive him of acquiring additional assets. Closer to home, leading ministers find it easier to explain the “perks” that have become commonplace for the more successful servants of Christ.

Even former President Ronald Reagan saw the pursuit of money as a national mandate: “What I want to see above all is that this remains a country where someone can always get rich.”

Is it any surprise, then, that some choose the heady rewards of dealing crack over sobering poverty?

In a world before the advent of capitalism or communism, or even advertising, the apostle Paul saw the love of money as “the root of all evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus saw it in stark terms: either you served God or you served money (Matt. 6:24).

It is our mission as Christians to teach our neighbors another language.

By Michael G. Maudlin.

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