Comment on a Newsweek article by Anna Quindlen, April 27 edition: A Teachable Moment; Being a parent is easy and intuitive, correct? Well, no—it's just customary to pretend that that's the case.
Nice to see someone confront the gorilla in the modern parenting room head on. I'm no parenting expert, although I might be an 'uncle expert' (not sure that counts for much...). At the core of today's parenting issues (and so much more) is the way human nature tends to make us feel that however we've modeled our society's culture at the moment is 'natural,' 'normal' and best for us all, from relationships to child-rearing. I thought Anna's most insightful quote was from Koplewicz "Parenting is a much more separate, solitary activity than it used to be," and "there isn't a village any more." What is glaringly apparent to me is that parenting is not, and never has been intuitive, it is managed best by a group that includes elders with experience and influence. It really does take a village (tribe, actually) to raise a child, and it always has.
In the realm of social anthropology it’s commonly accepted that all human society used to be centred around a small number of families living in a tribal group, the principle work of parenting being shared by the elder women AND men, while the more able-bodied women and men were working on daily tasks to support the nomadic or semi-nomadic group. (The notion of the isolated 'pioneer' family emerged with America and Australia's colonization of their vast interiors -- pre-"civilized" humans simply did not have sufficient technology to exist in isolated families, they needed the support of their tribe.) Interestingly, most so-called "primitive societies" (fascinating, our tendency to denigrate 'otherness') studied around the world during the past century share the notion of 'serial monogamy': the kids grow up in the group's 'daycare,' knowing who their biological parents are, who those parents were currently 'committed to' and what their relationships to their step-siblings and cousins are. In the evenings, both mothers and fathers (and aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers) gather together to share a meal and their parenting experience and advice. EVERYONE in the group had influence upon how the tribe's kids were brought up.
So parenting, in our most natural societal state, was vastly different than what our current culture commonly insists is 'ideal': stay-at-home MOM's (apologies to single-parent dads!) isolated in their single-family suburban homes, driving their brood around in mini-vans, being exposed to different kids/mothers/fathers in playgrounds at a variety of scheduled times. What this suggests is that moms AND dads who drop their kids off at daycare centres where a variety of 'early childhood education experts' of varying experience levels 'parent' kids of different ages mixed together all day long, have hit upon the closest approximation of what we humans need in order to grow up in the most emotionally/experientially healthy way. (Gasps of horror! Yes, we hate to have our preconceived notions turned upside down. We HATE change and crave what, in our most natural state of nomadic seasonal treks, we didn’t have: constancy, stability and certainty.)
This also suggests that the most appropriate way to bring stability to underprivileged/disadvantaged and single parent families is to de-isolate them from spending evenings alone at home and ensure the parents AND the kids spend as much time as possible in a situation similar to the daycare I describe above, in the company of a mixed group of other adults with varying levels of parenting experience who influence the upbringing of all the kids and help educate the parents. Providing and encouraging the latter kind of social interaction situation would likely result in a radical change upon the future of African-American (and other) kids growing up without participating fathers.
The 'group-think' we humans are prone to runs VERY deep, however. Once we've collectively agreed upon what is currently going to be 'normal and acceptable', it is extremely difficult to change our collective notions, like the idea that parenting is intuitive. If the latter is the case, then it is the inviolate right of every parent to do whatever they want with their kids in isolation (think religious cults), regardless of how damaging their inexperience and their naturally unique, individual eccentricities might be upon their innocent children who are incapable of speaking up in their own best interests. (Michael Jackson, a known pedophile, 'purchased' 3 kids who do not share any of his own DNA -- look at the photos -- and were forced to sleep in his bed every night -- his admission -- and live in total isolation, yet our society continues to revere him and takes a "we can't interfere" stance because "parenting is intuitive" and therefore is an individual "human right" of each adult involved -- a criminal idea from the innocents' point of view.)
The point is that kids grow up to become members/participants of the tribe/society. Expecting naturally flawed individuals, or even couples, to do the intricate job of turning kids (all naturally flawed individuals themselves), into ideal tribe members all on their own, largely in isolation, is not realistic. The human brain is simply too complex to expect the effort to come out in a balanced way, let alone ideally.
A radical, simple notion, but unacceptable in our politically correct, narcissistic modern culture.