Obama: Parenting is a public service

Photo of President Obama, wife and family as he takes the oath of office. Photo by Chicago Tribune, Terrence Antonio James, January 20, 2009.

President Obama described parenting as a public service in his inaugural address yesterday. Here is the full quote in context.

“As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.”

“For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”

If I correctly understand, he’s saying good parenting is essential for the health of our country. Raise productive, educated and emotionally stable children to adulthood, otherwise the film Idiocracy becomes reality. Or something like that. I’m obviously extrapolating out what he meant by nurture.

It’s the concept of parenting as a public service, a willingness to find meaning in something greater than yourself, that intrigues me.

Think about it. Literally, local governments often levy taxes on property owners who are located near schools (‘benefit assessment districts’) to help fund those schools. The root idea is that schools serve the good of your whole community, parents and non-parents alike. Okay, so Obama’s idea isn’t so strange.

Who then was he referring to when he addressed a parent’s willingness to nurture a child? It’s easy to point fingers at the worst parents, our stereotyped views of parents in trouble with the law who then raise uneducated hoodlums.

I’d like to raise the bar a little, keeping in mind that my older child will be entering kindergarten next fall and my role as educator is about to go into hyperdrive. Obama was referring to all parents, not just the obvious screw-ups.

My concept of a nurturing parent is one who isn’t simply loving and supportive at home, but who is involved in his child’s out-of-home organized activities. That means school fundraisers, providing guidance in homework and (most especially) supplementing their education outside of school. Everyday moments are teaching moments. It’s about being engaged with what is happening with your child every day.

Did you catch Obama’s call to parents when you heard it? What’s your definition or reaction?

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4 Responses to “Obama: Parenting is a public service”

  1. RobMonroe says:

    I did catch his (many) Call(s) to Action. I live just outside of DC, so we’ve been hearing even more than folks outside the region over the last week. He put his money where his mouth is over the weekend by showing up to do volunteer work at several sites.

    Going further – he has indicated that he would like an addition to the current laws about wages/time off that parents of school-aged children be given at least 24 hours per year of time off explicitly to attend school functions, whether they are sporting or parent teacher conference or whatever gets the parent involved. I’m luckly in that I work in a place that gives me that time when I need it already, but I can see where it will have value for others.

    January 21st, 2009 at 5:14 am

  2. Stephanie says:

    I work in DC but live closer to Baltimore. Right near my commuter train is a huge sign that says “Take time to be a Dad today” with a photo of an African-American dad and child. It drives my husband crazy because he’s a work from home dad and is with our daughter all day. We agree that we are parents 24 hours a day with all the parts that come with it.

    But the image is a stab at the dads that aren’t as involved as they should be. My husband is offended by the fact that there’s an assumption that dads aren’t good parents. There aren’t any “be a Mom today” billboards around. I think it also bothers us that people thought parenting was an option. Once you have a child, you are committed to raising and educating that child. I guess Obama felt that he needed to remind people of that too. How did we get so off track that we need a reminder to BE parents?

    January 21st, 2009 at 6:38 am

  3. Joe says:

    I absolutely love “Idiocracy”. Everyone should see it, IMHO, as sort of a “Scared Straight” program for adults… if we don’t pay attention to what our family is ingesting (in every way, not just food), we shouldn’t be surprised when our society devolves to what we see in this film. In fact, we are already there in many ways.

    January 21st, 2009 at 1:02 pm

  4. Margaret says:

    And I am so excited to see a grandma who takes her role seriously as well. She once said, If anyone is going to take care of the girls it will be me. I say “Amen.”

    January 22nd, 2009 at 10:47 am

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