Those of you who know me in the real world know that I think of myself as an advocate for the basic human rights of adolescents, which I believe are in almost all cultures grossly violated. And that includes the United States. The most salient and destructive manner in which their rights are violated is in the unnatural way in which we rear them. That’s right, unnatural way. I believe this not only because research is beginning to overwhelmingly support this view, but because it has been a suspicion of mine for a long time based on many disparate pieces of information I’ve absorbed over the years.
The unnatural manner in which we rear our children, I believe, is the use of the traditional institution of marriage, which I believe is probably a fraud foisted on humanity a long time ago in the societies that would later be associated with “western” culture. Even today, the traditional mode of parenting can still be found in societies that were not influenced by this western mindset. And what one finds is instructive.
But a better way to start this discussion might be to ask why do I believe that the “basic human rights” of adolescents are being disfurnished because of traditional marriage? The answer is research; combined with a healthy dose of observation and common sense.
In 1989-90 a study was performed by Daniel Greenberg who surveyed 219 intentional communities and visited 25 communities around the United States for his doctoral dissertation in Child Psychology. More recent research appears to be coalescing with the findings of Greenberg’s study into a pattern and consensus, making this study’s results a useful way of illustrating what has been hidden from most people’s view for hundreds of years, back to whenever this repressive institution was created. Similar patterns have been identified as marriage relates to women’s issues as well, but this is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Greenberg found a number of significant differences in children’s lives from their traditional counterparts. Key findings of this study were that children in communal rearing environments had:
- an “extended family-like atmosphere”
- compared to their traditional counterparts, much closer, more nurturing relationships with community members of all ages.
- had far more adult role models outside their consanguinity or teachers (or any adults in an authority role)
- developed friendships with many more unrelated adults than conventionally reared children do
- an enviable emotional development pattern in which they were considerably more mature for their age than their traditional counterparts
- an precocious understanding of adult life, related to a large degree to the former observation
- were not inhibited by generational or age differences and had a far broader group of children of different ages they played with than what is seen in traditional marriage contexts. I believe this is in fact indicative of the current system being abusive by denying children the developmentally necessary step of learning how to socialize with “others” who are “different”; as can be observed in public schools were children are age segregated.
Now, to be clear, what I propose is not a Kibbutz, which I think goes a bit too far. Rather, I propose a scheme based on what I think is most natural, that which I think came before the repressive institution of marriage. And we can look at indigenous populations today as a guide for that.
In this scheme biological parents are still the primary caregivers, but the voluntarily assigned community assists in rearing the children. And since it is an association made with others based on a voluntary choice of with whom to associate, the exact nature of the community can be defined case by case. But the advantage such an arrangement offers can only be realized if the ratio of children to adults, and the ratio of related to unrelated, is fixed within some ideal range. Other than that, little else needs to be defined. Additional advantages of this kind of rearing include:
- Greater skill set for parents to pool from in all matters related to rearing children
- More help for overburdened parents, especially mothers
- Greater accountability vis-a-vis unhealthy or inappropriate behavior that can occur in the narrowly defined, insular traditional marriage family “unit”. This feature has the complementary advantage of allowing less of the now acknowledged harmful, intrusive behavior on the part of society at large; such as courts and family services agencies.
- The re-introduction of the traditional, extended family social support network that used to act effectively in the stead of government family services.
- Economies of scale in domestic expenses can be had for communities with that agenda in mind; potentially dramatically reducing the cost of rearing children and removing a growing, massive economic burden on society.
- Stress levels that can lead to abusive relations are reduced as children are not forced to remain in the company of one or a small number of individuals at all times, and they are free to cohabitate with other persons of their choosing; or just spend more time with them.
- Children receive a broader, more balanced world view in their formative years, preparing them to exercise their rights upon adolescence as more informed, more balanced, more emotionally stable and generally more mature adults
It goes without saying that proposing the deliberate abolition of the traditional family is controversial, to say the least, but I truly think it is the right thing to do. I’m curious what you think.
More information can be obtained from http://www.ic.org/
1. Greenberg, Daniel, “Children in Community,” in Directory of Intentional Communities (Langley, WA: Fellowship for Intentional Community, 1990), 328 pp. (out of print). A more detailed overview of Daniel Greenberg’s research. Greenberg, Daniel, “People Start as Children” in One Earth: The Findhorn Foundation & Community Magazine (Summer 1993). An overview of his dissertation research. Send $4.50 to: One Earth, Ltd., The Park, Findhorn, Forres IV36 0TZ, Scotland. (0309) 691641. Greenberg, Daniel, “Children in Community and Their Education,” audiotaped lecture from Celebration of Community conference, August ’93, 120 minutes. Send $9.50 to: FIC Tapes, POB 814, Langley, WA 98260. (206) 221-3064.