Keeping Parents Away From Children

It is a basic assumption of our sentimentalised nuclear-family society that children should be brought up by their parents; which is not to say that this is inevitable, natural or sensible. Throughout the history of the world, vast numbers of children have been brought up by someone other than their parents. In some communities, children are held almost collectively, and are socialised by the sum total of all the interactions in and around the longhouse; in other societies, children are brought up by slaves or nursemaids, with weekly formal presentations to their parents. Elsewhere again, they are the charges of their grandparents; and in some cases they bring themselves up in feral packs, as in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and certain of our inner-city schools.

There are no intrinsic reasons why the parents should be the best individuals to bring their own child up. They may be barely out of childhood themselves, and struggling to make their way in the world. Their sexual life may have been killed off by crying babies nine months after it commenced, making them cranky. Unless they had many much younger siblings, they will not have much direct experience of child development, whereas their grandparents will have seen how doing this-and-that with infants tends to produce the idiots with whom they are now stuck as grown children. It is to be hoped that grandparents will have realised the folly of trying to recreate one’s own precious self or endeavouring to cast a brass key to fit some worldly lock.

A perfectly stable social pattern might instead be created, whereby anybody under 40 is forbidden to have any dealings with children, except to give suck, and, if required, to protect from violence. After being weaned, the children are handed over to the grandparents for upbringing. The parents would then live their lives, watching and learning from the grandparents’ actions – not least from their benevolent inaction – and perhaps be assigned very limited roles under strict supervision. By the time the parents reach their forties, they may have acquired enough sense to be entrusted with human lives – but now those of their own grandchildren.

Obstacles to such a system include the notions that the child is the “property” of the parents, and that the maternal and paternal instincts are all that the parents need. We may wonder whether the whole notion of children as property is derived from the chattels and real estate that mankind acquired at a very late stage in his historical development, and which some thinkers have decried as theft and tyranny. As for instincts, observation suggests that there are indeed hardwired biological maternal behaviours, and of course an instinct for protection; but as in all other things, we are liable to mistake for instinct what are actually cultural messages, some of which may be exceedingly foolish.

Posted on April 14, 2009 at 09:04 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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