My perspective as a grandmother, former Montessori teacher, and student of evolution is this: If we look at hunter gather societies and those early agricultural villages, what did the children have. They had access to… More
I have four children myself, now all grown with their own children. Here’s my two cents on making this decision: We live in a time and place where most every family is so isolated that two opposing unreconcilable forces are created–the first is the difficulty in raising even one child in our isolated families. We currently do not have the Haudenasaunee long house filled with grandmother and aunts and uncles and cousins or any of the other systems that non-industrial peoples figured out to raise children together. So having even one child is often an overwhelming and sometimes unworkable possibility.
The other force, also stemming from the isolation, but pushing us in the opposite direction, is our longing to be part of a supportive community. We want to create our own little society by having as many children as we can possibly manage without going mad.
I have a tentative theory as to why our society has moved in this direction. Most native american cultures did not correct, criticize, or hit their children. They were appalled at the way europeans did. I wonder if our culture’s habits along those lines caused the development of this isolated life style. We “chose” isolation over attack.
Of course I would not send any of mine back. I love them dearly; now, forty years later, we provide support for each other, but that’s different from the reality of the forces that shape our decision to have a child.
So my thought is, if you have one child, consider how to build community with other families and take your time in making the decision.
People talk about going back to real values. Where do people want to go back to? robber baron capitalism and child labor? slavery? feudalism? I’m inclined to go back to hunter-gatherer times in some regards, perhaps making me the real reactionary. Let’s take the Haudenosaunee [Iroquois]. They relied both on agriculture and hunting and gathering but they are the group I am most familiar with.
They were matriarchal; a man came to the woman’s long house on marriage and went back to his group if divorced. Only men served on the governing counsel but the elder women chose the men, and removed them if they were not satisfied. Resources were shared; no one lived in poverty. All decisions were made considering its impact on the next seven generations, which would remove most of the energy choices we’ve made in the last 60 years.
The Haudenosaunee did not hit their children –they were appalled when they observed the Europeans beating their own young people–and the children were educated by all members of the group.
Less lovely aspects of their society existed but all in all I think I’ll take what they had.
#1: Don’t criticize. It’s hard. Most of us who are old enough to have adult children were raised with plenty of it. It’s our default modus operandi.
Here’s the motivation to make an effort to break the habit:
–Think of times when you were able to shift a less than stellar behavior; what caused the shift? a caring friend? AA? a book? a class? a good teacher? Mostly, if not 100%, it wasn’t from even accurate criticism. Our parents and less exemplary teachers’ habits of attack are not the treasured traditions we should feel compelled to follow.
And here’s some suggestions on how to break the habit:
–I’ve got a friend who writes down every critical thought that comes to mind and then burns it.
–When I first started practicing this when my children were young, a wise parent educator told us to cry when we wanted to yell at our children. It’s a good idea for several reasons. Our crying doesn’t undermine our children’s self-esteem (as long as we’re careful to let them know it has nothing to do with them) and it unloads the actual feelings that pull us to attack.
–call a friend who will not confuse your critical feelings with the defect of the young people and will just listen.
I’m calling myself an expert here as three of my four adult children chose to live very close to me and their father with their families and the fourth WISHES she did. There may have been a few other factors but I am convinced this one is the deal breaker.
The short answer is to ensure that every child’s needs are filled. And THAT means supporting the families they’re nurtured in. Here’s why. There is nothing wrong with anyone’s brain. Our brains are a result of millions of years of evolution. No one is hardwired to “need” drugs, alcohol [or psychiatric meds for that matter; that’s another article]. What human children need is physical closeness at birth and on, good food, relaxed and loving families and good education. Its lack pulls people toward chemical fixes. If we do the following we’ll come a long way towards ending the endless, fruitless war on drugs.
- Make sure every family has a minimum income that can sustain a life of dignity. People have written about this for centuries [Abu Bakr in the years shortly after Mohammed’s life, instituted a minimum income to all families under his reign]. Several countries are taking stabs at it right now. There’s plenty of substantiating evidence connecting poverty to bad outcomes for children.
- Make sure every child has access to a great school. Finland is a good model of a country whose priority in education is equity; the U.S. is not. The public schools in NYC, one of the richest cities on earth, has a school system that middle class families don’t use. A huge outpouring of resource is needed to fix that problem but probably not as much as currently required to support, imprison, and heal the adults who grow up without that strong education.
We’ve easily got the resource. A small portion of our military spending [https://ourworldindata.org/military-spending/] or a slight adjustment to the unequal distribution of wealth could provide it. Of course ending racism and the unholy devotion to accumulating wealth our economic system encourages might be a prerequisite. This is not a complex problem; it just requires some human solutions.
which is that there is no bad or at least meaningless behavior. Every annoying, uncooperative, rebellious, mean thing a child does is done for a purpose. Nothing a child does deserves our blame. And we parents are not to blame either for our confusion, exhaustion and exasperation when we have to handle the behavior.
I think there are two principles at work. One is the right of a child to dislike what we want them to do.
I remember expecting my children to like my rules. Understandable considering. But wrong. Not only do they have the right to not like them, [second principle coming up] they have the right to SHOW that they don’t like them. That’s the part I regret the most: not allowing my children to show their feelings. It doesn’t mean we need to change the rule or limit if it’s reasonable [as a matter of fact, it’s usually important NOT to change when the child has feelings], it only requires us to listen respectfully.
Now listening effectively means different things for different children at different ages. For small children, it’s to allow and accompany them as they tantrum or cry. For some children, it means preventing them from hurting stuff, you, or themselves. Whatever is required, it means not blaming them. And not distracting them. Both methods prevent young people from unloading the disappointment, fear, rage the limit brought up.
And furthermore, it’s so much easier not to have to force children to feel different from the way they feel. An impossible task anyway. Give it a try if you haven’t already.
I just watched the movie “Bully” on Netflix [strongly recommend it] and am thinking about the phenomenon of standing up and how to nurture this quality in our young people. So many of us do nothing when we see bullying. I think this lack of courage is at least in part a result of punishing young people when they stand up to adults.
I remember my mom hitting my older brother when I was about five. I ran over to my mom and started hitting her and telling her to stop. She and everyone else in the family then switched targets and yelled at me. It took a long time and I mean decades before I figured out how to stand up for people. Likewise for my expectations of anyone standing up for me.
I think they missed an opportunity. When children take a step towards taking on an injustice, however flawed that step, we need to support it. Even when that step is in stopping us when we’re acting in ways that are less than stellar.
Before I discovered Patty Wipfler and that lot, I yelled at my children. One day, as I was yelling at my son, my husband came over to me, hugged me saying, “You’re a good mother.” I just cried. I didn’t want to act like that; I was just ineffectively trying to unload some old unaware feelings. My husband stopped the behavior without in any way making me feel defensive or ashamed and I got to let go of some of that tension without harming the young people.
Some years ago (who knows when, the years all seem pretty indistinguishable at this point), I made a commitment to always do something to interrupt parents acting oppressively to children. One day, while shopping, I heard a child’s loud cries and its parents panicked and harsh efforts to stop it. I walked over and said, “I want you know that I don’t mind that your child is crying. It’s a natural and healthy thing for a child to do.” Their three other children looked at me in wide eyed wonder and I added, “It’s really hard for parents and children at grocery stores. The children want so much and the parents can’t pay for it all. Hard for everyone.” They profusely thanked me and even chased me down as I was leaving to thank me again, saying that usually people get angry at them when their children make any noise.
On another occasion, as I was walking to the library, I approached a large man and a young, maybe seven year old child. She was walking along a brick wall while he bellowed, “What don’t you understand about the word no!!” I went over, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, “I’m an elder mom and I know it’s hard for parents and children.” (Do you detect a theme here?) And he almost started to cry and told me how he didn’t want to yell but sometimes couldn’t help it. Boy, did I understand.
Not all my attempts were that good, or even successful, but I think it’s worth the try.
Got some examples of your own?
I just came back from a meeting downtown to launch our “community read” of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. It’s subtitled, “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and we began by talking in groups on what “colorblindness” means in a racist society.
I guess it was a step up from blatant racism to move to colorblindness, but it allows us to ignore the ways in which some of these “colors” face obstacles that some others of us can’t imagine.
In the book the author traces the lineage of the present prison system from the creation of slavery which required the invention of racism to justify that level of bald faced exploitation of an entire group of humans, to Jim Crow laws which enabled the use of nearly free labor from that same group, to the current system of arrests and imprisonment which so heavily impacts the African-American community.
As has been widely reported, the “War on Drugs” is mostly fought in black communities. The widespread use of drugs on college campuses and in middle class communities is mostly ignored. I remember a friend’s child was caught selling cocaine and was given a suspended sentence.
On the other hand, African Americans are incarcerated at 10 times the rate as whites for non violent drug offenses although 5 times as many whites use drugs than African Americans.
African Americans serve about as much time in prison for a drug offense as whites do for a violent offense according to the NAACP website.
The Washington Post has a great analysis of the arrests of African Americans compared to whites for marijuana use:
Many of us know of the racial bias of the courts [though I didn’t know the extent], but Michelle Alexander’s service is this analysis that helps us see this, not as random stupidity, but a well functioning system to keep a people down to maintain a familiar and profitable system.
Martin Luther King said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
This book can help us avoid a bit of that fate and pass on a little less of it to our children.