Our Child, Not Mine: The Community As Parent

Tremendous responsibility lies in the arms of those who raise children. We are not only responsible for our children, but for the kind of people they will be and therefore the kind of world we will have. As parents, we are the ones who are literally raising the future of our planet, a staggering idea if you really think about it. The initiatives of environmentalists, politicians, activists for social change, human rights and animal rights, though essential, are completely at the mercy of the kind of people we raise. As I once told a group of environmental activists, "You can save a forest today, but if we don't raise children to feel loved and emotionally healthy, that forest will be cut down tomorrow."

From this perspective we see that the well being of children sits at the root of every endeavor. Most parents know this. Our desire to be good parents stems not only from wanting to love our own children, but also from an intuitive recognition of the global significance of good parenting.We are the guardians of the human legacy. And yet, with this tremendous task, we find ourselves in an economic culture directly at odds with our endeavors.

A powerful body of research grounded in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, biology and genetics points us towards the importance of the early years and how bonding, or the lack of it, strongly influences a child's sense of his relationship to the world and himself. We as parents literally have in our hands, the ability to create a violent culture or a peaceful one.

The term Attachment Parenting was created to describe a method of parenting based on the theory that recognizes bonding as the cornerstone to child development and children's ability to reach their fullest potential as loving, peaceful, intelligent, intuitive beings. It is also loosely known as natural parenting, empathic parenting or simply bonding. Full-term breastfeeding (two years), co-sleeping, baby-wearing and lots of parental availability are just some of the practices endorsed by the AP model. The various practices create a continuum of neurological imprinting that begins at conception and continues throughout childhood. That continuum gives infants a sense of connection to his universe (love). If the continuum is broken, say for example by bottle-feeding, then a sense of disconnection is introduced (fear). At the fulcrum of love and fear we, as parents, sit.

Unfortunately, these practices fly in the face of the cultural norm, as care of children is being increasingly outsourced. Yet this norm is largely driven by unseen economical forces, and has little to do with optimal wellbeing. Indigenous cultures, used often to illustrate the AP practices, as in Jeanne Liedloff's groundbreaking book The Continuum Concept, are tribal, not nuclear. Social and psychological effects of the nuclear family, formed as a result of globalization and poor economic policy, can best be illustrated by the Ladakhi culture. According to Helena Norberg-Hodge, author of Ancient Futures, prior to industrialization, the children in a Ladahki community addressed all men old enough to be a father, as abba — meaning father. Caring for children was the job of the entire village. They did not differentiate between who was supposed to take care of the children and who was not.

But as the village becomes increasingly industrialized, roles become polarized and the nuclear family is created. Men work in factories, women reside in the apartment, and materialism is valued over community, land and family. Working men are the only ones valued in the GDP while farmers and women are listed as "non workers." This shapes the public attitude which, combined with the isolating nuclear structure, has a deep psychological impact on the women and children. Depression, once non-existent is now rampant.

The mother/infant bond cannot be seen in a vacuum and must be addressed not only as a family issue, but also as a community issue if we are to support parents to create a peaceful society. Multiple intimate attachments for children (extended family and community), not only support the mother/infant bond, but also have their own important role in a child’s development. An available community is compulsory to the definition of optimal parenting.

Parents, and especially mothers, take a lot of heat when children show symptoms of a society in crisis. We are blamed for school shootings, obesity, suicides, bullying and eating disorders. The public jeers on the Supernanny sidelines. Yet no one will take responsibility for a culture filled with violent media, corporate social manipulation, processed foods or skinny models in magazines. Robin Grille, author and Sydney-based psychologist states that the fragmentation of families, and the outsourcing of parenting through childcare is perhaps the biggest threat to the social-evolutionary gains we have created in the last five decades. Thanks to globalization, he says, while world income increased by 2.5% percent annually in the last decade of the 20th century, an extra 100 million people plunged into poverty (Stiglitz, 2002). We are working harder to get less. This fact plays directly into our ability to consciously parent or not.

But as Norberg Hodge says, it is not our greed or some innate evil tendency that pull us away from supportive nurturing communal environments where conscious parenting can happen. The most fundamental cause of social degradation is economic policy. This is good news, because changing policy is much easier than changing human nature! This is a very important and empowering point.

It is worth knowing that we are, as a community, capable and willing to make conscious choices for our children if given the means through supportive social and economic policy. We can unite and recognize that mother/infant bonding is just the beginning of a complex web of vital attachments necessary for every child and every member of the human family if we are to survive. And in this recognition, cast our eyes above the family dilemma and into the increased understanding of how the global market divides us from one another. Parenting for a peaceful world then, becomes a communal and political issue, not just an isolated parenting choice.

Kali Wendorf is a writer, public speaker and social ecologist. She is the founder and editor of byronchild, the national Australian family life magazine. Born and raised in New Mexico, USA, Kali lives with her two children and husband in Australia. For subscription and information go to http://www.byronchild.com.