Why the Feel-Good Generation Should Feel Rotten

December 1995By Zoe Deen

Zoe Deen is a writer in Lawrence, Kansas, and a mother and grandmother. She is the author of the much-acclaimed "Time of Reckoning for Women's Liberation" in our May 1995 issue.

Of the current American pastimes, few are more depressing than listening to the debates over "welfare." How can we persuade -- or make it possible for -- more people to find jobs and support themselves? How can we address the problem of children born to single mothers -- particularly very young mothers? Should we make a commitment to provide financial support to every child born? And is financial support alone enough to meet the needs of children? How much responsibility does the larger society have for the decisions individuals make for themselves? How much can the larger society really do? Is there a breaking point at which the number of unproductive members of society becomes so large that it is no longer possible for the rest of society to meet their needs? Are we nearing that point?

Some people argue passionately that we cannot abandon the children born to poor, often unwed, mothers. The children, they say, had no choice in the matter. Surely they should not be made to suffer. Others argue that by providing income to the young women who have these children we are encouraging the very behavior we want to discourage.

The argument goes on, seemingly endlessly. Why do young men and women, scarcely more than babies themselves, continue -- in increasing numbers -- to have children? Why is it that one third of the children born in this country are born to parents who are not married -- to parents who have made no real commitment to each other or to the child they are bringing into the world? Why is it that marriages are made and unmade so rapidly that the toaster that was a wedding gift for the bride's first marriage may still be in service when the third marriage fails? Why is it that increasing numbers of children are growing up in poverty in one of the wealthiest nations in the world?

Why is it that we can put together the information and resources to save the snail darter, but can't save our own children? Could it be that we have looked for solutions to the problems we face -- or fail to face -- in all the wrong places? Could it be that the answer to our problems is as near as our bathroom mirror? Could it be that we are the problem?

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