Industrial revolution: a revolution of the family

In her recent blog post, A liturgical downer, Brenda linked to the blog of a Benedictine sister: Monastic Musings Too. In her post, Millions of Holy Innocents today, she writes:

Elizabeth Marquardt raised the fundamental question in the title of her ground-breaking report, The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Parents’ Rights and Children’s Needs. Most homilies preached in Catholic Churches today will focus on abortion, in which the lives of millions of children are sacrificed for the needs – and legal rights – of adults. Marquardt’s 44-page monograph provides a larger context which helps to illuminate the political struggles around the issue. She studies the needs of the children in opposition to the desires and rights of parents. How did this opposition come about?

Social scientists place the heart of that change in the Industrial Revolution. Until that time, children were often part of the domestic economy – whether on the farm or in a craft or service occupation or business. From an early age, children participated in the work of the family, both contributing to the family’s livelihood and the learning the myriads of skills they would need as adults. The children of cooks learned to cook; of farmers learned to farm. Children were contributors to the family, and valued.

While I have lately become familiar with the Industrial Revolution as the start of unskilled, unsatisfying work, and also the beginning of consumer debt, I had not yet read anything about this … and it makes so. much. sense. It saddens me that this is the kind of thing that is missing in my life with my children. Since I don’t really have ‘work’, and Brad works in an office, Gwen is bored. There is only so much she can help me with at home – only so many sinks of dishes, only so many times I can make muffins, only so much sweeping to do. Yes, Gwen has toys, and yes she is often content to play with them, but I can just imagine how much more full her life would be if both Brad and I had practical, hands-on, skilled work to do in which she could participate joyfully!

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The tribe: normal for human development

I was reading this article today and came across this phenomenal quote:

… [I]t never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives.

You can scroll down to the second interview to find the quote in context.

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A break in the continuum …

I remarked to my husband, Brad, a few weeks ago, and to a very good friend a few days ago, that it’s easy to ignore how wrong it is to live only in nuclear families – easy, that is, until you have kids.

Then it becomes painfully clear that the way we Westerners live is not quite right.

My friend and I were discussing how much easier it is when there’s even just ONE extra set of hands around. That if we lived in tribal communities, there would be not only a number of adults available all day and night, but also a large number of children of different ages – people for the young ones to play with and follow around. Mom would never be a lone caregiver.

Someone to hold the baby while you bathe or use the bathroom.

Someone to entertain the toddler while you’re nursing.

Someone to make dinner with – or to make dinner for you.

Western culture seems to value independence above all things. I believe that, while it’s important to be independent, it’s even more important to be interdependent. Relying on others isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength – of knowing and respecting your limits.

So I challenge you, readers: Support a new mom in your life!

What can you do to ease the burden? I’ve compiled a list of things that others have done for me (thanks, mom, friends, community and church women!) and things that I’d LOVE if people would do …

  • Cook dinner for her family
  • Bake cookies or muffins
  • Listen to her complain about the sleep deprivation
  • Do her dishes or clean her kitchen
  • Sweep her house
  • Clean her bathroom (man, if you can do this, you’re a superstar!)
  • Take her other kid(s) to the park/for a walk for an hour so she can have time with the baby – and maybe even have a nap!
  • Hold the baby while she spends some one-on-one time with her other kid(s)
  • Pick up some groceries for her
  • Mow her lawn or do some yardwork/gardening (in the winter, this would be replaced by shoveling)
  • Listen to her brag about her children
  • If you’re able, hold a FUSSY/CRYING baby while she takes a walk around the block
  • Go over to her house and visit – but bring the snacks! Honestly, just having another person around makes the time pass easier :)

So, readers, what will you do for a new mom in your life?

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Trusting kids: sleep

It’s interesting. I never thought I’d ever be thinking this ‘radically’.

With my recent research into home-schooling/unschooling and the ideas floating in my mind and beliefs forming about trusting our kids more completely, we’ve come up against something:


When did I make the shift from fully trusting in Gwen’s newborn sleep intuition to trying to dictate when and where she sleeps? Does this even make sense? Does anyone tell me when to sleep?

When Gwen was first born, I trusted her to sleep when she was tired and wake when she was rested – or, more often than not, hungry! I also trusted her to sleep where she felt safe, which generally meant in my or Brad’s arms. We brought her to bed when we went to bed and she slept snuggled up beside me all night.

It flowed so naturally. There were no struggles – except when she was fighting sleep and wouldn’t give in. But even then it was her struggling with herself, not with us. Read the rest of this entry »

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More thoughts on trusting kids …

In response to my last post, Jen asked:

I just read and wonder, can parents who choose to traditionally school their kids still adopt some of the philosophy here? For us, I don’t think that we would feel comfortable choosing unschooling for our kids, but could we not also create a balanced outlook/life for them by letting our kids learn through experiences, trusting them, letting them see how things happen for themselves and encouraging them to pursue what really interests them? And I guess my other question is (being rather unknowledgable about unschooling)…how does that affect their ability to move on to other schooling if they wanted to (e.g. highschool, college, trade school, university)?

In response to the first part, I think parents who traditionally school their kids could definitely adopt a similar philosophy at home, and I think that’s a fantastic idea! I know one mom who sends her kid to school that doesn’t allow her daughter to read her report cards and talks with her about whether she’s learning, how she’s enjoying her subjects, and how grades don’t really test what you’re learning – and I think that’s fabulous! The major problem I see with that, though, is that kids spend, generally, more waking hours at school than they do at home … so I wonder at how quickly the trust would become overcome.

As for the second issue, there is a great post called 7 Ways to Get into University Without a High School Diploma. Apparently it’s actually more difficult to enroll in a college or trade school than into university, but that can be accomplished by taking a few university credits and transferring in. There are also, apparently, ways in which life experience can be transferred into high school credits, although I’m not entirely familiar with them – I figure I’ve got a ways to go before I have to figure this all out!

My sister Jenny said:

I had no idea you struggled with this because, honestly, you give off the impression you could really care less what anyone else thinks and you’ve always done exactly what you wanted whether or not anyone agreed with you.

Also is unschooling the same as home schooling in that you would keep them home and teach them? I couldn’t figure it out by reading your link.

I’m glad that I appear not to have an issue with this! Generally speaking, by the time that I’ve made a decision I have, pardon my language, researched the CRAP out of it and feel good about it and it’s true – by that point, I don’t care what people think. That doesn’t, however, mean that I’m not agonizing about making the decision or worried about whether the parents will approve. It’s odd – I don’t mind at all whether or not people respectfully disagree or want to discuss a decision – it’s the thought of letting someone down that bothers me. Maybe that’s why I don’t care what people think … if I can’t “let them down”, they don’t need to agree with me – and there’s only a few people who I feel like I could “let down”. Wow. That really sounds pathetic of me.

As for your question on unschooling, someone once defined it to me as homeschooling without a curriculum. Now that I have been researching it, that seems like a very shallow definition. Unschooling is allowing children the freedom to engage in self-directed learning – a method of learning which is highly supported by literature to be one of the most effective ways for people to learn. Why would I do this? I enjoy the following quote from John Holt’s article, The Right to Control One’s Learning:

Young people should have the right to control and direct their own learning; that is, to decide what they want to learn, and when, where, how, how much, how fast, and with what help they want to learn it. To be still more specific, I want them to have the right to decide if, when, how much, and by whom they want to be taught and the right to decide whether they want to learn in a school and if so which one and for how much of the time.

No human right, except the right to life itself, is more fundamental than this. A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.

That about sums it up. I want my kids to learn because they love learning (we are biologically driven to learn!) and I want them to learn about the world through play, through exploring their interests, by experiencing life, by interacting with people of all different ages, by doing “real world” tasks … all on a daily basis. For an interesting discussion of child-directed learning, check out Dr. Peter Gray’s article, The Wisdom of Hunter-Gatherers. Here’s an excerpt:

The freedom that hunter-gatherer children enjoy to pursue their own interests comes partly from the adults’ understanding that such pursuits are the surest path to education. It also comes from the general spirit of egalitarianism and personal autonomy that pervades hunter-gatherer cultures and applies as much to children as to adults. Hunter-gatherer adults view children as complete individuals, with rights comparable to those of adults. Their assumption is that children will, of their own accord, begin contributing to the economy of the band when they are developmentally ready to do so. There is no need to make children or anyone else do what they don’t want to do.

I love this concept and it is this view – the view of my children as a social, autonomous individuals – that is what is motivating me to educate outside the mainstream. I want to preserve their autonomy and trust them to learn everything they need to know to survive in our culture without being forced, coerced, or manipulated.

Keep the questions coming, people! Answering your questions helps me to put into words what I’m thinking and feeling – an exercise I find most useful!

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Manifesto of the idle parent

This passage made me smile today as I found it over @ Peaceful Parenting – totally my new favourite blog. If this is what parenting is all about, BRING IT ON!

Manifesto of the idle parent

We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work
We pledge to leave our children alone
That should mean that they leave us alone, too
We reject the rampant consumerism that invades children from the moment they are born
We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals
We drink alcohol without guilt
We reject the inner Puritan
We fill the house with music and laughter
We don’t waste money on family days out and holidays
We lie in bed for as long as possible
We try not to interfere
We push them into the garden and shut the door so that we can clean the house
We both work as little as possible, particularly when the kids are small
Time is more important than money
Happy mess is better than miserable tidiness
Down with school

We fill the house with music and merriment

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Extinction – a comic …

If you don’t frequent Hathor the Cow Goddess‘ comic site, check out the comic Extinction!

I love her comics … although this one’s a little bit scary!

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The Continuum Concept: A Book Review

Wow. Can I say wow?

The Continuum Concept, by Jean Liedloff, is in my opinion, largely a social commentary. The writer spent a great deal of time living with and observing Native South Americans in their tribal communities and contrasts their methods of child-raising to our very different North American methods.

Basically, Liedloff postulates that these tribal humans live much closer to the natural human state (the ‘continuum’) than we “civilized” humans – a postulation with which I’m sure none of us would disagree. However, she also asserts that as such, their children (and adults!) are happier, more well adjusted, and enjoy a higher quality of life than do their Western counterparts. She stresses that we have come to rely so much on our intellect and so little on our inborn instincts that we miss out on much of the truly human experience. Read the rest of this entry »