Today in a conversation with a homeschooling mom at the YMCA I presented her with this idea that has been dancing in my head about CHILDREN. I believe they are understood as one more product to posses and show off in this consumerist world we live in. The story of childhood, from the origins of that concept to the views of children by different societies in the history of mankind surely must be one of the most fascinating ways of understanding all of us as well as many other aspects of our life.
I am speaking by heart when I say that in China in the past, children were not given names (or was only the girls and women for their lack of importance to their society?). Not only in China but across the world, children died soon, many never made it into adulthood, so why bother even with thinking about a name? Children (and women) in China were “child number one”, “first wife”, and so on. In Europe in the Middle Ages parents did not expect many of their children to survive the harsh epidemics that swept entire cities and decimated their inhabitants, the famines, or just a more precarious babyhood or childhood. It seems that children were happily ignored or harshly exploited. For years in different places children and women were considered to not possess a soul.
There is yet another explanation to the treatment dispensed to children I have heard about. It explains IGNORING as a mechanism of defense, since the more attached the more difficult the loss, and knowing your baby has few chances to make it ended in these heartless measures toward infants. A societal norm that denies your love for your offspring will then help or reflect the low expectations with which childhood was regarded. And that means NOT that cruelty has not been really present (and will continue to be) in many societies applied to children in particular.
It is undeniable that children have and are being exploited by many without scrupulous. This week I have been reading the first chapters of Oliver Twist, and even if Dickens narrative is considered hyperbolic, it can’t shadow the fact that orphans and children in poverty were not much more than animals to many of their care givers.
With hardened conditions it comes the hardening of souls, because only a heart of stone can dispatch that lack of respect to children. However, I don’t excuse it. The story of Perfect the Pig
has that double reading to me. It is a story that captivate my girls. They can see the injustice of others exploiting a talent you have and disrespecting you.
We also need to remember that adolescence did not exist in a not so distant past as we know it now. Reading Sherlock Holmes, which was written around 1875, you see how girls of fourteen were apt to cook and clean and manage a household. Men of that age enrolled in the army, women of that age worked as teachers or nurses, and that if they were not even married already. We cringe, but they would have deemed us crazy for marrying and having children at thirty, even forty. I always remember the most penetrating idea from John Taylor Gatto to me as that of teenagers having a lot of energy, creativity, and working capacity. He writes about how a few of those deemed as trouble maker young men, under his tutelage tackled a project of rebuilding an area that was abandoned. How they (and we) could be perfectly able to build our own homes. And all that will, by the way, make them the more interested in intellectual matters. They were hungry to debate, read, share opinions, and cultivate their minds and souls. (And what a lack of that cultivating of the mind that it exists nowadays in the public system of education, not to mention the prohibition of even thinking about the need of cultivating the soul.)
At times children have been considered to be soulless, as well as women. They have been sold as slaves and put to work at a tender age and asking beyond human limits. We know that, probably it will be very easy to dismiss this abuse as something of the past. But now fast forward to today´s view of children. We know more about children and their behavior, psychology, development, nutrition, abilities, than ever before (or so we claim). Rivers of ink have been written on parenting books. Now we have children books, children clothes, children activities, children oriented everything. Are children treated with more dignity? My answer is a rotund NO. We can have tons of information and be ignorant. And that is our very problem.
While writing this post, I read in a Spanish blog how parents USE their children as mere objects of clownish, grotesque and obscene beauty. They turn them into what their inner and perverted desires dictate, making them objects of their pride of frustration on a mercantile and extrinsic value, depriving them of the right they have to be kids, to connect and discover their inner beauty, how precious they are to their God who created them, how priceless their moves, their thoughts, their laughter…If think you can stomach the unjust fate of many infants, click on Toddlers and Tiaras
. I simply can’t phantom that over thirty families in Spain are being in different parts of a process with the law just because they educate their children at home. And that these other families are in TLC and live these life with impunity makes me want to do I don’t know what.
Reading about that controversy with Amy Chua’s book and excerpt from her book The Tiger Mother, I kept thinking the core of the issue resides in that vision of children as objects. In Amy Chua’s opinion, children OWE everything to their parents. Many parents from different cultures, believes, and ideology, fall into that materialistic thinking that considers children their possession. Hiding behind the thought of giving their children the best, they are putting a pressure in childhood that is equitable to abuse. That is what Carl Honoré describes in his book UNDER PRESSURE
. Parents demand performance, grades, success, beauty, strength, value shown tangibly through won contests, trophies, recognitions, titles. From the time they are babies, we keep adding notches to our parenthood belts, and children are suffering in silence, growing into crippled adults that are meant to stay children, to repeat this model, or to fight it with hard work and faith, if they can find it in a small crack left in the wall of their infancy by their all controlling parents.
And no, I do not think I am that type of parent, indifferent, exploiter, abuser, but in honesty I have many leaks to attend, much pressure to defeat, and lots of noise to ignore. If I look to God I will understand with clarity that my daughters are His. Knowing this I should always trust Him and not me, my husband, or any expert. Given that we homeschool, we need to remember why we do this, and do it accordingly. When I say that their spiritual future is what matters the most, I need to mean it. And that doesn’t imply there is allowance to leave their minds and bodies unattended. I’m still responsible for doing my best on all those areas. When others do good, I need to remember to REJOICE, when others struggle, LISTEN, and if asked, I can always try to give a word of ENCOURAGEMENT. Lastly, I can “throw” all parenting books, all methodologies, stop reading blogs or listening to others WHEN and IF I’m going to do all that in doubt, and smitten by a worldly view of my children, childhood, and ultimately LIFE. All those have their place, but if they fill your heart and mind, they will take His place.
And now I am going to my daughters, to practice what I preach :))