I am somewhat amazed that my column about the positive effect of having an entire community vested in the healthy upbringing of its children raised such a creative uproar from people who feel that a village raising a child is a liberal plot to destroy the nuclear family. I have only two words for those who think that raising a family in isolation from a larger community is a good idea… Papa Pilgrim.
The objections, if I understood them correctly, seemed to stem from the idea that a community’s interest in the rearing of its children takes away the responsibility of the parents to raise their offspring. But that is actually the exact opposite of what it does. Because when the whole community understands its vested interest in children being raised to be productive adults, the pressure is put on the parents to make that happen.
A community can impose standards for its residents and punish transgressions. But it relies on parents in a nuclear family setting to raise children to understand those standards. If parents don’t impart those standards to their offspring and impose sanctions when those standards are violated, then the children will never learn what is or isn’t acceptable. Eventually, the community will ostracize or isolate the offending member. And the parents will be blamed for the way they reared their child.
When I grew up, my entire neighborhood knew who I was and who my parents were. Neighbors did not feel responsible when I did something wrong. But they sure as heck knew who was and had no problem expressing to my parents which of my actions had offended them. My parents were not only troubled by their child’s transgression, they were also embarrassed by the public opprobrium brought on the family. The cumulative effect of that double whammy was usually visited upon me in such a fashion that I knew exactly what I should never do again.
My parents took their responsibility to raise my brother and sister and I very seriously. That’s why my mom sought the advice of every friend and relative she respected before taking any drastic actions with her children. She wanted to make sure she got it right. How that can be viewed as some liberal plot to destroy the concept of personal responsibility is beyond me.
So I continue to wonder what there is about the concept of a community’s involvement in the proper behavior of its youngest residents that seems to freak some people out so badly that they view it as a liberal plot to destroy the fabric of our country. After all, the greatly idealized small town America that so many conservatives view through rose-colored glasses is a prime example of this type of communal child rearing.
Think back to those TV shows we all remember with such fond nostalgia for a place and time in America that may or may not have ever actually existed. Opie in Mayberry was watched by every neighbor, teacher, barber and deputy in the town and his dad knew immediately when he’d somehow violated their standards. You don’t have to go to an African village to find examples of communal child rearing.
We need to go back to the mindset of that time and place, even if it only existed so perfectly in our imaginations. Our communities must become neighborhoods that accept their role in creating a environment where life is safe and children know what the expectations are. We need to have the courage to face those who would let their children grow up to be less than acceptable community members because their abandonment of their parental responsibility leaves us with large bills for prisons and courts. We need to recommit to being communities invested in our common future.
For those still horrified by what they view as Hillary Clinton’s concept of a village raising a child, let me point one thing out. The dreaded Hillary and Bill Clinton raised a daughter who finished high school, finished college, didn’t get involved in drugs or drinking, got a job, supported herself and is now engaged to be married – before she has any children.
I’d say that’s not a bad track record for someone raised by a village.