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The Big Answer


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Children First: What Society Must Do—and is Not Doing—for Children Today

a book by Penelope Leach

(our site's book review)

If our society made better choices about how it chose to take care of and support its children, it would improve life for everybody, she states. She’s a strong advocate for better parenting, which in her opinion has a lot to do with how much the society supports better parenting getting done. She’s a strong supporter of flat-gradient nurturance and for “it takes a village to raise a child.”

She notes that in much of the world, past and present, parents have expected and gotten the help of those around them in supporting the care of children, and that the current attitudes of some post-industrial Western countries is an historical anomaly. Mothers as individuals isolated from other people—especially from other mothers with which they share child care—is one of Western civilizations worst inventions ever. The idea—mostly held by conservative males and radical fundamentalists—that women can build a complete, satisfying life around a baby or two is perversely naïve. For nonworking mothers, only those who have great neighborhoods or villages, active communities, cooperating childcare trading, and many women friends can find satisfaction in such a life. An isolated mother doesn’t have a prayer at finding it satisfying.

In most parts of the world, infants go where mothers go—attached to their bodies
In most parts of the world, infants go where mothers go—attached to their bodies

She says that “In most parts of the world, young infants go where mothers go attached to their bodies, and mobile children are partially cared for by several people simultaneously, while all those people also work. Groups of women who are working together may pool the care of all their children. . . . There are always women—often but not necessarily including the mother—available to every child, but only rarely and briefly will one adult be involved with one child to the exclusion of all other activities. . . . Discipline that is achieved by the exercise of power can never be as effective as self-discipline achieved through influence.”

She’s a strong believer in examples to emulate, which includes allowing children to experience the world of work enough so that they can pick up good values of honesty, dedication, hard work and courtesy—such values are sorely needed to compete with the narcissistic consumer values kids get from TV and peers.

What kids will turn into when older if their main influences are narcissistic consumer values from TV and peers
What kids will turn into when older if their main influences are narcissistic consumer values from TV and peers

She condemns the conventional wisdom that is still being propagated about children bringing couples closer together in marriage, when in fact it adds tremendous stresses to the relationship, sometimes spelling the beginning of the end. Many men find that babies aren’t satisfying or cute as much as they are frustrating because they compete for their wife’s attention and always win. Many men aren’t emotionally ready for kids, because they married in the first place to get themselves a mother who would concentrate on their needs.

Leach condemns the conventional wisdom that is still being propagated about children bringing couples closer together in marriage, when in fact it adds tremendous stresses to the relationship
Leach condemns the conventional wisdom that is still being propagated about children bringing couples closer together in marriage, when in fact it adds tremendous stresses to the relationship

She says “Whoever it is who cares for infants, they need to have permanence, continuity, and parentlike commitment that is difficult to find or meet outside the vested interests and social expectations of family roles and cannot be adequately replaced by professionalism.” [Think MC. So you can see why MCs are so much preferable to centers and baby-sitters, as well as steep-gradient mother-only care, if you’ve read and understood all of this.]

The best care available for purchase for infants is not baby-sitters or day-care center care, but “other family” care, where a mother is usually caring for one or more of her own as well as neighborhood kids, according to Leach. This is the most like an extended family, and is closest to tried-and-true historical precedents of flat-gradient nurturance and local cooperative childcare.

She criticizes spanking and authoritarian parenting and punishment as based on the doctrine of original sin, where virtue must be pounded into people to keep them good. Spanked kids get no message so clear as the one that violence solves problems.

Spanked kids get no message so clear as the one that violence solves problems
Spanked kids get no message so clear as the one that violence solves problems

Like every wise childcare advocate, she encourages parents to set up safe ways for kids to “adventure"—find out for themselves through experimentation what the world is like. Choosing what to do and learning from the natural consequences of their actions is critical. They need to learn competence and self-control and in all safe areas they need to learn from experience, not from other’s words. Attempts to teach three- and four-year-old kids by making them do something (or making them listen while they are shown and told things) are doomed, because of their age. Kids showing an interest in music shouldn’t be sent off to lessons unless they want them, and shouldn’t ever be made to practice, since what good will come of it if they start resenting it? Such things should be controlled by child desires, not adult ambitions.

“Can schools serve as children’s main source of socialization as well as of academic learning, guardians of their physical and moral as well as intellectual growth, principle agents of each generation’s acculturation? Perhaps some can and do, but most clearly cannot, do not and should not be expected to.” She’s right that schools often represent the only social support group a kid has besides his family, and families often expect them to make up for all the groups the kid isn’t part of, and all the learning the kid needs, including moral and social as well as academic. (This is another one of those areas where MC life can help immeasurably. A subcommunity of peers and friends that are of all ages and both sexes give ample opportunity for the lessons one needs to learn as a social being. Such opportunities would support positive human values and creativity, not blind conformity to other-directed peer pressures, as in schools.)

MCs would support positive human values and creativity, not blind conformity to other-directed peer pressures, as in schools
MCs would support positive human values and creativity, not blind conformity to other-directed peer pressures, as in schools

Parenting education and child development education should be a required part of everyone’s education. Those who say parenting is instinctive don’t have their heads screwed on straight. If people could do good parenting via instincts, they would be doing so, but statistics show that no such thing is happening, and many totally discredited practices, such as spanking, authoritarianism, permissivism and steep-gradient nurturing are the rule, not the exception. In truth, the only thing one can expect an untrained person to do once s/he becomes a parent is to make all the same mistakes his/her parents made with him/her.

From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 26% to 13% in centers
From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 26% to 13% in centers; MCs' caregiving costs (free) and gas for transportation (minimal) represent minimized economic expenditures which will be particularly appreciated as childcare costs rise and yet childcare center quality decreases

She recommends that multi-generation households do shared childcare as a partial solution, but even better, she recommends that families move to apartment buildings where several other compatible families live and do shared childcare with these neighbors/friends. She also recommends that shared housing or co-housing for small families and especially single parents could do a lot better than day care from people who don’t care as much about the kids and that parents often cannot afford. She also advocates a special child-place in each subcommunity which all could use for childcare, including elders. Childcare centers should house friends, relatives, elders and kids—not strangers and high-turnover workers of questionable competence.

Childcare centers should house friends, relatives, elders and kids—not strangers and high-turnover workers of questionable competence
Childcare centers should house friends, relatives, elders and kids—not strangers and high-turnover workers of questionable competence


An elder without function is wrong when there are so many kids needing care, and childcare centers should welcome them
An elder without function is wrong when there are so many kids needing care, and childcare centers should welcome them

Her child-place idea is good, but is likely to be too commercial, too far from home to walk to conveniently, and too often staffed with people that other people don’t really feel compatible with. It could be quite vulnerable to local or state or national social engineers who want to stick their regulations on it. It could be too expensive for those who need it most so it would need programs and policies and taxes so those who needed to get their costs subsidized could do so. And having it out of the neighborhood for many if not most really makes this idea weaker than it needs to be.

(Why go 1/3 of the way toward what could be not just a good idea but a great grassroots social innovation without any social engineering and with ways to fill—in the best possible way—the needs of all concerned without any costs or drawbacks? MCs are a much more comprehensive and viable solution, here, especially when you think of the fact that even if you have childcare needs as a common denominator, that doesn’t make you compatible with any of the others at the “child-place.” See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match