Here we are in 2012, possibly the last year of human civilization (if you believe in the hoopla surrounding the end of the Mayan calendar). More personally it is the year my first child will be born, which naturally causes me to ask a whole host of questions previously unasked, the most broad of which being “how will we raise this child?” We’ve danced around that answer quite a bit, but in short, I’d like to raise a child in the ways of graciousness, thriftiness, manners, compassion, creativity, freedom, mindfulness and most of all love. No small order, but, by no means impossible, right?
In thinking about the question of raising a child, and of living my own life worthy of the bounty and beauty with which we have been blessed, I’ve found it difficult to come to grips with the route to raising a child in with the above characteristics. It is not a lack of want on our part, but it takes a village, subdivision or at minimum a family to support a child’s development. I could use the word culture, but the connotations for the word can also surmise a “culture of excellence” in a business or a “culture of compassion” in a church, neither of which tend to be fulfilled.
Can a child be raised to be thrifty while at their school school where most celebrated items are iPads? Can that child be mindful? Playful? Can we raise a child to be compassionate when we teach our young to do anything for economic gain? What about creativity? If it does indeed take a culture to raise a child, what can be done when one does not buy into the values of the culture?
To explore one small sliver of our culture, let’s look at debt. As Americans, most of us middle class, we are born into an inherited culture of debt. As of this writing the total United States debt has reached $15,596,480,126,091. My own personal debt from going to college is well over $50,000. If I am to buy a home or car, it is more debt, more payments. It seems like even “home-buyers” have given up on the idea of being “home-owners,” as it is acceptable to move across the country as many times as necessary, buying and selling homes, and in essence never really owning anything. Most lives go something like this: We are born into a middle class family in a hospital, we go to school as early as possible and do “work” as expressed through homework and class-work, we get good grades through high school because the only way to be happy is to go to college, so we go to college at a four year university and incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt, we graduate into a stale job, we’re told we’ve “made it” when we buy more than we can reasonably afford (cars, houses, TV’s, lawn equipment, clothes, etc), we are then encouraged to be good consumers and continue to buy and go further in debt, and finally we then encourage our children to follow a similar pattern. This is to say nothing of the emotional, social and psychological reasons for our indebtedness and rampant consumerism, which would take and entire essay to express, but to take a shot at it in one sentence: We live in total emptiness, in total irreverence for ourselves, total isolation from the physical world, and in total destruction of all that is living, all for a standard we didn’t create or choose.
But, this essay is not about debt, this essay is concerned with raising children. The above exercise is meant merely to persuade one to see the culture we bring our children into, the same culture in which we ourselves were brought into, and to show that it takes more than parental ideals to raise a child. The best intentioned parents will rarely be able to out-muscle our culture, it is simply too strong.
There is a real frustration to bring a child into a toxic culture. As an adult I can handle (to varying degrees) the pressures of society, but a child cannot. A child cannot understand why one boy has something and that child does not. This is not a fault of the child, but the reasoning of children. Again, to drive home the point, these are children.
And so we must imagine a culture in which the above characteristics (graciousness, thriftiness, manners, compassion, creativity, freedom, mindfulness, love) are as intrinsic as a trip to the mall. Can we even imagine such a culture? I believe we must.