Archbishop John Dew reflects on the children and families around New Zealand who live in poverty this Children’s Day.
The annual celebration of Children’s day (2 March) comes around once again just as we have heard the news that official government figures have underestimated the number of New Zealand children living in poverty. As we reflect on children within our wider society, I am reminded of the sentiment that crops up time and again when we discuss children living within poorer families in our community, “don’t have children if you can’t afford them!”
It’s a sentiment that saddens me whenever I hear it or when it is echoed in the discussion about how we might address families who are struggling to provide their children with what they need to grow, develop, flourish and reach their full potential.
In my role as Archbishop I’m privileged to get to know many families of varying walks of life, ages and stages, through our schools, parishes, as well as other faith communities and in the wider society. For all their diversity, the common thread is the desire to do the very best by their children, to give them all that they need, and some of what they want, but ultimately to raise them into people that contribute to society in the future, in a way that they can be proud as parents of the adults they become.
Our whole community benefits when children are nurtured, welcomed and loved. Our whole community is weakened when children are neglected, resented or unsupported. Our whole community has a responsibility to care for and protect children and support their parents, caregivers and families to raise them.
Our Christian tradition is based on welcoming a child born into a poor family, in humble circumstances. Bearing children is the hope of all humanity, they are both the symbol and the existence of hope. Children are the gift that allows us to continue, to bring about future generations. Children should not be seen as a commodity to be bought or a luxury reserved only for the very wealthy.
The reality is that for the majority of families the very fact that they have children means living with a higher level of financial hardship than for couples on the same income without children. As a society we rely on these acts of financial sacrifice from parents, as they raise New Zealand’s future workers and taxpayers who will care for present day adults in our old-age.
All families, no matter their circumstances deserve the support and security within a community that supports them to raise the next generation of New Zealanders. This is not limited to financial support, though this is important. But it also includes changing our attitudes towards the challenging yet vital role of raising a family.
This Children’s Day, let’s move from blaming parents for the poverty experienced by their children, to taking simple actions that show we recognise and value the vocation of parenthood. Simple things like words of encouragement to new parents, practical help given to sleep-deprived or stressed parents, and flexibility around work to support family commitments can make all the difference in showing we truly welcome and value our children.
These are some ways to show we recognise that children are a blessing not a burden to our society. This attitude is slowly but surely eroded if we permit the sentiment to grow that children are only for the rich.
What kind of society do we want to live in? What legacy to want to pass on to our children?