Commentary: Child Raising, or Child Rearing?

The expression "rearing children" is an anachronism. Today it's just plain easier to "buy it done" as they used to say. And I'm not talking about day care; I'm talking about certain exposures to life that we've disposed of leaving children more or less in a blister pack existence.

When my parents were reared, there was something called an atmosphere of discomfort constantly hanging in the balance of life. If a child did something wrong, there was punishment due sin and it hurt. If it was cold outside, chances are the child was cold. If it was hot, the child was hot; if a meal was served, it was either eaten or the child went hungry. If a child was hurt, it hurt. If he was ill, it also hurt and was scary.

In conclusion, the child of the 1920s felt the feelings of guilt, hurt, cold, heat, hunger, hurt and fear. These things attributed to something called formation, and although these things were sometimes hard, they taught powerful lessons about being alive.

When I was reared in the 1950s, there remained an atmosphere of discomfort, but not nearly what my parents suffered. Children still suffered guilt, because there was still sin, but the rise in the acquisition of goods made broken things more easily replaced and these things didn't have the same meaning as things thirty years earlier. Rules were bent because the pace of life was getting faster and absolutes were beginning to fray at the edges.

Cold was solved by better clothes and smaller houses. Air conditioning solved horrible hot days, and hunger was solved by more and better and more available food. Hurt still hurt, but real illness was rare, and medicine didn't hurt quite as much.

Today, fifty years later, my children are raising children - rearing stopped and the "raising" of children has taken on the common verbiage applied to vegetables in my day. Along with words, the whole atmosphere of bringing up baby has dramatically changed. There are two kinds of families: modern permissive families where no discomfort exists, and traditional families who cling to older methods. There is a real battle going on among the children, and that battle exists in the classroom.

For the modern child, there is no guilt because modern parents never say "no" to a child. A modern child never makes a mistake, never breaks anything that is more important than his will to break it. He never does anything that can't be explained away or ignored by his modern parent. The will of the child has come to supersede the will of the family and even at times the community.

The consequence of correction of past eras had the effect of teaching social skills and values, but values today are better seen in relative good and relative truth.  Today's modern child has no idea that he has hurt someone or broken something important or even broken a rule. He is unwilling to say he is sorry, admit he was wrong or even think his actions might deprive him of extras and rewards.

Clothes are disposable, abundant, taken for granted and easily used as a "right" rather than a luxury. Parents will go into dept to buy a child clothes that the child in turn treats carelessly. Cold is solved by turning up the heat because little Lord Fauntleroy can't stand wearing a sweater.

Children don't play outside anymore because it's too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Instead we take them to expensive play places where they whine and snivel if they have to wait in line or don't get what they want immediately.

And there is no such thing as hurt or hunger. The slightest "boo boo" is treated much like my parents treated mumps and my grand parents treated scarlet fever. Meals have become instant gratification with little attention to cost, work, nutrition and health.

When will the pendulum swing back? When we discover that the luxury of 'no guilt' lives causes too great a percentage of children to be unhappy. When the refusal to deal with nature causes an epidemic of chronic illness, and when we breed a generation of children who have less endurance or are as healthy as their sixty year old grandparents.

The human being was meant to grow strong and achieve and that can't be done in a vacuum of luxury and delight. By depriving children of the natural responses to life like hurt and hunger and cold and hot and especially guilt, we are rearing a nation of weak people.