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Embracing his daughters, walking hand-in-hand to a Halloween party, attending parent-teacher conferences, soccer games and dance recitals -- these are the images of President Barack Obama that have most captured my heart and imagination. I confess, this mom has a sentimental side. But, the real reason these pictures resonate so deeply for me is that they hold the promise of what a nation that invests in parenting could achieve.

Back in 1994, then President Clinton signed into law a resolution establishing the fourth Sunday of every July as Parents' Day. While it hasn't gotten the "Hallmark" status afforded Mother's or Father's Day, this largely symbolic gesture was significant because it put the topic of parenting on the national agenda.

Now, 15 years later, we have a new father in the White House who is using the presidential pulpit to call on America's parents to take a more active role in their children's lives and education. He has vowed to lead a dialogue on this subject and I can't think of a more important domestic priority (or better spokespeople than our Parents in Chief, the Obamas). But, to be effective, I believe we will need to have a different kind of conversation than we've had in the past -- one that addresses the failure of our society to fully invest in parenting rather than blaming parents for not adequately fulfilling our responsibilities.

Because the truth is that despite how negatively we may be portrayed in the headlines, most parents are not shirking their duties. Rather, we are working hard -- sometimes holding down two or three jobs -- and making extraordinary sacrifices to give our children the best possible life. And, when it comes to community service, the hours we spend volunteering in our children's schools, houses of worship and neighborhood organizations are too numerous to count.

Yet, even with all that we somehow manage to squeeze into our 24-7 schedules, far too many us are struggling to find the time it takes to be the kind of mother or father we want to be. From the very moment we enter the ranks of parenthood, we are confronted with the harsh reality that the work of raising children lacks the support it deserves. Consider the fact that the U.S. is one of only a few industrialized nations that does not guarantee parents the right to paid leave so they can provide the care that every newborn, adopted or foster child needs for a healthy start. And, this is just one of countless ways in which our institutions and policies are undermining the ability of parents to meet the dual demands of work and family.

Both common sense and research tell us that parental involvement is crucial to child development and solving some of the most pressing problems facing us here at home -- from closing the academic achievement gap to stemming the tide of violence in our communities. However, if we want more parents to step up to the plate, then we have to begin by removing the obstacles that stand in their way.

America's parents are desperate for relief from the economic pressures that are robbing us of time to care for our families and placing undue strain on our health and marriages. The day has come to provide us with the resources we need to successfully nurture the citizens and workers of tomorrow. It's an ambitious goal that will require an unprecedented public/private partnership, but it's a down payment on our future that we simply can't afford not to make.

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