On June 1 the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations hosted an event entitled “The Importance of Motherhood and Fatherhood” in observance of the fourth commemoration of the Global Day of Parents, which the UN General Assembly initiated in 2012 to shine light on and celebrate the role of parents in the family and society.
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza noted the Holy Father’s exhortation The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), published last month, and quoted Pope Francis, “The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world.”
Archbishop Auza called the family the “grammar school of human existence” of which parents are co-educators to the children who benefit from their “complementary teamwork.”
Thomas Walsh, President of the Universal Peace Federation, the organization that co-sponsored the event, said parenthood and families are the foundation of a more peaceful world.
“The family is the school of love,” he said. “Is love imperative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? I think so.”
Brad Wilcox, sociologist and Director of the National Marriage Project, said family demographics are changing in much of the world, citing falling fertility and marriage rates and higher instances of cohabitation and single parenting.
Wilcox, who was raised by a single mother, said there are many cases in which children grow up to lead healthy and successful lives in different circumstances, but research points to the best success in homes headed by a mother and father, noting the significant role a father plays in the lives of both sons and daughters. He said children need safe and stable familial structures, citing research that shows boys are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated when their fathers are not present, and women are six times less likely to become pregnant as teenagers when their fathers are present.
He also said his research for the World Family Map Project show a connection between child health and the stability of families, noting children in stable, two-parent homes are less likely to struggle with depression, obesity, drug abuse, and gastro-intestinal issues.
“Families matter,” Wilcox said. “Parents matter.”
Brian Caufield, editor of The Fathers for Good website, an initiative of the Knights of Columbus to empower dads and their families, said for several decades the media portrayal of the “doofus dad” has contributed to a perception that fathers are expendable.
“We all know heroic single moms raising kids on their own,” he said. “There is a huge ache of father absence at the heart of our society.”
He advocated for a cultural shift to keep fathers with their family.
Cheryl Wetzstein, the manager of Special Sections at The Washington Times, where she wrote on national family and social issues for 30 years, spoke of the importance of motherhood for children, and combatted the “mommy brain” myth that women are less alert after becoming mothers. She said the lack of sleep associated with raising young children is to blame, but research shows after childbirth, women’s brains are “baby boosted,” with greater sensory perception, attentiveness and resourcefulness, as well as developing skills in flexibility and resolving conflict.
“Mothers bring these skill sets into their communities, their work places and to the whole world,” Wetzstein said, noting several mothers who have used their creativity and resourcefulness to contribute to inventions from the cotton gin to modern Bluetooth technology.
“Mothers teach their children how to be bold and confident and cultivate compassion and love for others,” she said, also noting the many physical sacrifices women naturally make to develop healthy children.
Meg Meeker, a popular author who has 30 years experience as a pediatrician, said there is a large need for parental connectedness for the health of their children between the parent and the child and between the mother and father.
Meeker also said there is a grave disparity between the average eight hours children spend in front of a screen each day and the average 34 minutes they spend with their parents.
Deborah MacNamara, a Vancouver- based clinical counselor who works with many parents who seek her help with issues that arise with their children and technology, said adults have a critical role to play in creating the conditions for young children to flourish, noting the benefits and challenges of parenting in the digital age. MacNamara said children need a healthy attachment to their parents and family, which an unhealthy attachment to technology often impairs.
She said new technology can shift authority in households since new generations are “digital natives” and their parents are “digital immigrants,” but she encouraged parents to keep their hands on the reins and serve as a buffer to the digital world for their children.
“Maturity is the prerequisite for true digital citizenship and to this end, parents are still the best ‘devices,’” she said.