Parental Priorities Lead to Poverty

There is no greater gift a parent can give their children than a good solid education, especially when faced with overwhelming poverty.  And yet, in some of the poorest countries in the world, parents are neglecting their children’s futures by falling behind on school tuition, not just because they are poor but also, in many cases, because the fathers — who generally control the finances — spend an inordinate amount of the family’s limited resources on alcohol, cigarettes, and even cellphones.

Nicholas Kristof has written a piece for the New York Times about his experiences in central Africa where he encountered numerous examples of parents making poor lifestyle choices.  “I’ve seen too many children dying of malaria for want of a bed net that the father tells me is unaffordable,” says Kristof, “even as he spends larger sums on liquor.”  These sorts of twisted priorities are not limited to the poorest countries; I’ve seen the exact same sort of behavior here at home.

Rachel Grilley, a first grade teacher in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, says parents tell her that they don’t have time to read to their kids at home.  They do have, however, plenty of time to watch television.  “I have some parents who say they can’t afford $8 to join the PTA but their kids come to school in expensive brand-name running shoes.”

I’ve always believed that if you’re going to have children, you have to be prepared and willing to never see a movie, attend a concert, or enjoy any other adult activities until the kids are grown and on their own.  Of course, there are ways that parents can get around this responsibly — grandparents, dad’s and mom’s nights out, DVDs after bedtime — but parents need to be ready to make that sacrifice — or they shouldn’t have kids.

Mind you, I’m certainly no angel.  I have a propensity to buy more CDs than I really ought to and I know I spend more time on the internet than I should.  But my kids have what they need and we have a lot of good times together; they’re in no danger of being kicked out of school or losing their home because I can’t give up booze and smokes (or music and Facebook).  I think I’m doing okay, overall.  How about you?  Have you ever let your priorities get out of whack?  Ever put your own needs before your kids in a way that you regretted later?  Or, do you know anyone like that?

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