Lifting the Burdens of Parenting

For many people, “parenting” is a word describing a burden. Usually, they’re correct because they’re carrying an unprecedented load, heaped on their backs throughout the twentieth century.

First, many modern married couples were slowly detached from supporting relationships. They live long distances from their relatives. They no longer attend a religious organization. They live in a neighborhood where they know only a few people well enough to even say hello. They’re isolated and have no one to turn to who will share the raising of their children.

As a consequence, many seek relief by paying people to take on most of the child-raising functions. This process requires them to produce more money and enter the world of consumerhood.

With no time to raise their children and no village to help, parents must now be “child managers.” 

The trade-off is no time to raise their children and no village to help raise the child. However, a new function becomes necessary. Parents must now organize, manage, and transport children. The result is probably positive because as a “child manager,” they are modeling for their children how to be managed as well as how to manage. In an institutionalized society, this managed childhood is good preparation for those who aspire to reach the top of managed systems.

For many Americans, it is difficult to imagine what “unmanaged” children would be like. Who would program and protect them? If they weren’t managed, wouldn’t they grow up wild?

Anyone interested in what an unmanaged childhood is like could talk to his or her grandparents. Most lived at a time when parents didn’t manage their children’s lives. So ask your grandparents how they played when there were no recreational programs, childproof playgrounds, or Little League? How did they overcome the boredom when no one guided them in their play?

Who were the adults they spent time with if the adults around them weren’t paid to be there? Did the neighbors on the block know them? Teach them? Discipline them? Or did they run wild?

How did they go anywhere if their parents weren’t driving them? Did they have to walk? Wasn’t that unsafe?

What did they eat if there was no supermarket or McDonald’s? Wasn’t it unhealthy? What about gardens? Did people have them?

We are surrounded by elders who know how children played, learned, moved, and ate before they were managed. So, why not check out our senior wisdom. It is one way to begin to unburden ourselves of the worst of parenting. Most seniors know that in their own childhoods they were neither managed nor wild. In fact, they may well observe that compared to their unmanaged youth, children today seem pretty wild. And that may be because today’s children know that they live mainly among adults who are paid to service them, no villagers who really care enough to join in raising them, and parents too busy and too tired to enjoy them.

~ John ~

Home page photo: Natu

About the Lead Author

John McKnight
John McKnight
John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

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