A news item caught my attention a few days ago. It was about a father who killed the mother and then committed suicide leaving 7 orphans, the oldest being 20 years old. The item was followed by an interview with a mother of a foster family with 7 other children, orphaned in some other tragic event. She was asked about the way the extended family of the children copes with the situation and she explained how she keeps the family ties between the children and the other family members.
Why doesn't the extended family take care of the orphans? Some families do, they even 'fight' for the right of raising the orphans. Why doesn't the oldest sibling assume the role of head of the family and act as mother or father of the young ones?
In the not so distant past, about 60-70 years ago, it wasn't unheard of that a mother died, say during the childbirth of her 8th child and the father abandoned the children to start a new family or brought a step mother for the young children who treated the first wife's children badly. This was the life story of my husband's grandmother. Her mother died at the age of 44 in a disease and the father abandoned them to start a new family. She (the oldest sibling) assumed parental responsibility and raised her ten younger brothers and sisters, then got married and raised her own three children.
Nowadays, fathers in the Western world are much more involved in raising their children as the boundaries between the traditional parental roles are blurred. They take an active part in pregnancy and childbirth, feed the baby, change diapers, wash them, play with the children, tell them bed time stories and spend quality time with them. They are equal parents and sometimes beyond. When widowed, they don't feel as helpless as their grandfathers or great grandfathers. They are attached to their children and try to do what's best for them, physically and mentally. Society and second wife candidates condemn abandoning fathers. Improved morality indeed.
But young people in their twenties faced by such tragedies don't rush to give up their dreams, change plans and 'get stuck' or 'ruin their lives' by raising younger siblings. While it is true that life is more complicated now and you need to prepare for them longer, I suspect this is not the sole reason for such selfish behavior. Perhaps their parents spoiled them and did not ask them to take any responsibility. They are here to enjoy life and reach self-fulfillment (the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid.) They don't seem to be grateful for peaceful life and never contemplate sudden changes brought by illness, accidents or war, as I frequently do.
Another relative of ours, a father of two, who lost his wife to cancer and raised his children single handedly, became ill with cancer a few years ago. Naturally, he was worried about the future of his children if treatment fails. I had no doubt about raising to the challenge, being fully aware about the consequences on my own life and the life of my family. Thanks to modern medicine and his endless willpower, he was cured and so my choice was not put to test. There are moments you simply 'have to do the right thing', whatever the cost, in family life, public affairs, or in the battlefield.
Sadly, I am revisiting my previous post about the next generation. Yes, they are smarter, more sophisticated than our generation, but more selfish. Not all of them, of course. Keep posing good examples and they won't be.