Communal child-rearing

Recently, a friend and I were discussing having children.  I’ve always been a little on the fence about them.  I think about them to a certain extent the way I think about pets.  Sure, they’re nice to have around, but they’re expensive, messy, take up tons of time, and are a big responsibility.  For the moment, I prefer to play with other people’s and give them back when I get tired, regardless of whether or not I might one day want them.

At the same time, even though I enjoy children, I will never be one of those people who comes up to a child (or a pet, for that matter) and makes gurgly sounds and cute faces at them.  It’s demeaning and I find it offensive in others.  That doesn’t mean I won’t play with a child, or that I won’t enjoy doing so.  If I play, I’m going to really play though.  I’m going to take the games seriously (even though all of us are condescending occasionally, even to each other).  While I may impose some of my own rules for safety’s sake, for the most part I’m willing to let the kid determine what we do, and how.  I’m certainly not going to force myself on some innocent child if they are having a perfectly good time playing by themselves.  I don’t want to impose, I want to share.  Maybe a part of that comes from my own upbringing, from my value of alone-time in a five person household, and from my understanding of how to spend time with others from a young age.

With the slowing number of children being born into each household, I think all of us are aware of the only child syndrome. Those who grow up alone are often more spoiled, more selfish, more demanding, less socially adjusted, and generally less able to deal with the world around them. I am speaking in generalizations, and there are exceptions, but usually those exceptions are the result of interaction rather than deliberate character change. An only child who spends most of childhood with cousins, or with the neighborhood kids, or in an environment of many, is more likely to be well socialized than a stubborn adult who was raised alone but wants to better himself by will into something more socially attuned.

What does this all mean for my own life?  Well, if I’m going to have one, I might as well have two.  And if I’m going to have two, I’m still going to need to raise them in a real community.  Does that mean I end up living close to my sisters and their children?  Does that mean I end up in a large rambling house with friends, their spouses, and their children?  Does that mean I expect the community (whether neighborhoods, churches, or other organizations and groups) to have a strong role in the life of my children?  Of course it does.  The infant mind is designed to be expansive.  It’s designed to take everything in, to assimilate, and to eventually categorize and even choose.  Because of the design, to be fair to my child, I’m going to throw as much community experience as time permits.

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