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The Big Answer


To link to this article from your blog or webpage, copy and paste the url below into your blog or homepage.

Trusting Families to Help Themselves

an article in The New York Times by David Bornstein

(our site's article review)

The Family Independence Initiative (F.I.I.) is an organization that encourages low-income families to define their own goals and also to work toward these goals in mutual support groups. They also carefully document their successes. So far, the few hundred families that F.I.I. has worked with have shown nice gains in areas like income and savings, debt reduction, skills training, and improvements in children’s grades and health care.

Note that the families and their situations are not seen in the context of what they lack, but in the context of what resources they can bring to the table. Such a perspective is perfect for the future of welfare, since neither states nor the federal government has extra money lying around that they're eager to apply to social safety net repair or funding more social programs. The Family Independence Initiative results in community bonds that allow people to motivate and help one another. This self-empowerment and community empowerment paradigm has become the new philosophical approach for social programs in the U.S. and it's getting results. And it's better for the pride and self-esteem of the individuals it's helping, so it's a win-win all around.

The old tax and spend method was put aside as low-income families were taught to work toward common goals in mutual support groups
The old tax and spend method was put aside as low-income families were taught to work toward common goals in mutual support groups

It took sociologists longer than it should have to hit on this empowerment method, but better late than never. The liberals would probably have preferred that the old tax and spend method was used instead, but when they saw that there wasn't the political will or the federal or state funds to create more budget busting social programs or even fund the existing ones, they were forced to get real. Hence the empowerment attitude of wanting to help them do it for themselves rather than simply doing it for them. Even God only helps him who helps himself.

Interestingly enough, this Family Independence Initiative isn't so much a new idea as a reverting to the historical norm. Most societies have worked toward common goals in mutual support groups for thousands of years, in the form of small, close-knit communities—cooperating families organized around the pragmatic social context of what resources each can bring to the table to improve life for all. It was the abandonment of this historical norm in the 1950s that started up all the social maladies.

What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped

In The Way We Really Are, Stephanie Coontz looks at the demographics which show that the 1950s family was “not an expression of some long-standing tradition,” but “experimentation with the possibilities of a new kind of family.” (The new kind of family was the isolated nuclear family. The society had experienced both isolation and nuclear families before, but never before had adults purposely tried to create an isolated refuge in which they could escape from interference from parents, kin, neighbors, in-laws, maiden aunts, needy siblings, the nuclear age and even the Cold War.)

Elder care
Elder care

The families involved in the Family Independence Initiative discover their individual and collective strengths and act upon them, with the focus always on the strengths rather than the weaknesses. A superb example of families forming mutual support groups and working toward their common goals while using individual and collective strengths, relying on community bonds that allow people to motivate and help one another is the MC movement. See Why Register for an MC?.

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

Note that MCs work with middle-income families, low-income families, and even high-income families, and do not focus much on areas like income and savings, debt reduction, skills training, and improvements in children’s grades and health care, but instead on relationships and childcare and improving parenting, all of which are a great boon to increasing income and savings and to debt reduction, because in MCs there are no childcare or elder care costs.

Good relationships and childcare and improved parenting are what MCs provide
Good relationships and childcare and improved parenting are what MCs provide

The focus is on communication, parenting, caring for each other, childcare scheduling, friendship, learning, self-actualization and autonomy. Most non-MC U.S. families are composed of just a few people who spend a bit of time with each other but parents are usually outwardly focused on careers while kids are usually outwardly focused on peers and texting and social networks and chatting and blogging and watching/playing media like TV, videos, and games or listening to music on iPods.

Modern non-MC parents are too busy to truly focus on their kids, so kids focus on texting and social networks and chatting and blogging and watching or playing media with computers or TVs
Modern non-MC parents are too busy to truly focus on their kids, so kids focus on texting and social networks and chatting and blogging and watching or playing media with computers or TVs

MCs are people who do these same things, but also focus more inwardly on the people in their families and those next door as well, since it's a microcommunity. Their best friends—of both the parents and the kids—are a few steps away. They needn't focus much attention on cyberfriends, since much closer and more genuine IRL friends are right next door. They needn't waste time looking for and paying for childcare help, since that is also found in their family or, again, right next door. And they needn't argue over parenting ideas, since they all learned even before they formed their MC that there are quite a few acceptable authoritative parenting methods that will work just fine to ensure their kids are well parented.