Commentator Bill Schubart has recently become a grandfather. He worries
that the fears we project onto our children – as well as our efforts to
remove all risk from their young lives – may prevent them from dealing
with the often harsh inequities life will impose on them.
There are many events in our lives that forge us as human beings, but
in general, childhood play, early work, and exposure to death are among
the most important.
As a new grandfather, I’ve been thinking a
lot about child-rearing, how it has changed and professionalized in a
way that leaves many of our young adults pasteurized and ill-prepared
for the germ warfare that is life on earth.
We are prepared for
life not so much by how we are raised, but by the examples our parents
set for us, and by the risks we are encouraged to manage ourselves.
professionalization of child-rearing: the blogs, the books, the
child-proofing specialists all ensure that our children will survive
childhood, but what do they teach our children about survival?
remember my father sending us off into the nearby pasture with a
hammer, a glass jar of nails and some boards so we could dam up the
brook and make a wading pool. We were a motley collection of
neighborhood kids from six to ten, joining about thirty Jersey cows in
Mr. Farr’s pasture. We hit our thumbs with the hammer, Vick cut himself
when he tripped and the glass jar broke. We had manure on our sneakers
and we splashed in the muddy puddle we had made with the boards. We took
risks, we got hurt and we learned practical things. We were home by
My first real job at 18 was on a chainsaw crew cutting
survey lines through evergreen forests in Island Pond. I had to be at
work at seven. We took breaks when the boss said to and we quit when the
boss said. Not even the two experienced men in our crew ever suggested
we quit for the day in a downpour or a cloud of blackflies. When told to
do something, I knew I could ask how, but not why. I knew that my
"better idea" was best kept to myself. Like the grown men who taught me
so much, I was expected to do what I was told when I was told to do it. I
got cut up and bitten and had a few near misses with the chainsaw, but I
survived and learned.
As recently as fifty years ago, people
died precipitously for the most part. Lingering deaths were the
exception. Deaths were an intimate affair peopled by family, close
friends and neighbors. We were not protected from death and dying like
many children today. We saw people near death and after death. We saw
open caskets. It took much of the fear of death away and helped us
understand that death, too, is part of life.
I worry that by
insulating our children from all life’s physical and emotional risks,
making decisions for them, scheduling their lives, and screening their
acquaintances, we make it harder for them to deal with life’s essential
Now, don’t I sound just like a first-time grandfather… "Well, when I was a kid…"
(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Bill Schubart at VPR-dot-net.