Healing the Generation Gap
By Richard Kieninger
We talk of the communication gap between parents and children as the “generation gap.” We speak of it as a matter of course, as something which inevitably occurs between the generations and as though nothing can be done about it, supposedly being a fact of life.
However, this is not so, even though it is pervasive in the culture of the United States and is becoming so in countries which are imitating our mercantilistic way of life.
Children who are home schooled tend not to suffer the generation-gap complex. Nor do most youngsters who grow up in intentional communities.
Japan (a highly industrialized country) and most European nations have not been much troubled by this breach of communications between the generations. Why? Because there was generally a pattern of at least one parent staying home with their offspring while the other went out to earn the living. Economic pressures induced by banking and industrial moguls have made it seem necessary to the aspirants to the American Dream that both parents must go out to work, placing their children in the care of others—sitters, day-care providers, nannies, relatives, or neighbors. Sometimes there must even be after-school or after-day-care providers to keep youngsters off the streets until their parents pick them up.
The two generations may talk in the car en route to school or day care, and to home afterwards. Arriving home, however, it’s every man for himself. Mom heads for the kitchen and laundry, the children are urged to go out to play or to watch television in order to allow Mom the space to do her work. Dad (if there is a dad) drags in later and wants a chance to put his feet up and read the newspaper or watch TV in order to relax.
Children who are not so fortunate as these walk home from school or care center, let themselves in with their own key, and “fuzz out” before the television for perhaps hours before any responsible adult gets home.
The point is, parents and children spend very few hours per day in contiguous space (same house or car), and only minutes a day directly communicating—and this direct communication is likely stressed and fretful, as all parties concerned are under tremendous pressures. The pressure derives from the fact that not one of the parties involved is getting even his minimal needs met. Not enough time to get the housework done, not enough time to spend much “quality time” with each other, or to see that homework gets done, or to even have regular marital sex. Twenty years ago, marital partners were said to have had coitus about twice a week. A recent study showed that about once a month is now the norm.
The breakdown of family life is discussed with concern on TV, in books and magazines, in schools and churches. We hear much about deteriorating “family values” these days and that academic skill levels are plummeting. Little wonder that crime is escalating geometrically. Now, for many children, gangs are providing missing parental guidance with their own distorted ethics. Everywhere there is fragmentation, frustration, irritation, pressures. Pleasure tends to come through drugs and things we may buy-cars, TV’s, boats, clothes, food, movies, video games and toys—rather than from loving associations in the home and elsewhere.
You already know all this; so what, then, does it take to rear a child to become a fulfilled, happy, brilliant, contributing human being?
One thing for sure, it doesn’t happen by magic. To the contrary, it takes years of happy interactions that are as close to one-on-one as possible for the older generation to pass on the best that it has to offer to the succeeding one, and for the younger generation to receive, integrate, and put into daily practice that which it has been given.
How can a country’s life improve if family life is degenerating? How can we make the world a better place than we found it if there is little true happiness in the homes of the nation and if the older generation is not passing on to the next the best that it has in it?
Contemporary parents vastly underestimate the time, attention, love, patience and follow-through that is required to rear a baby to vital, contributing adulthood. Modern parents know they “ought to be spending more time” with their children, feel guilty that they aren’t, and feel they have to let it go at that. This is especially true if the parent involved does not have a partner with whom to share the work. Rearing children is a lot of work—albeit fulfilling work.
What one notices is that parents are killing themselves with stress and work just to get a bigger house and fancier goods with their two-wage income. How much more valuable it might be for their own peace of mind and family life if they would stay in a moderate house, letting one parent remain at home to cultivate their children’s intelligence, care for the household’s needs at a more leisurely pace, and cook healthier food for the their family.
The greatest gift parents can give their offspring is the gift of their time! This is a gift of themselves. Nothing can take the place of it. I have seen children of rich families, who buy their youngsters everything they could possibly want, beg their father and mother to forget the materialistic stuff and just stay home to play games with them or help them build a birdhouse, etc. That is, fulfill some of their basic human needs to just be together and share themselves with each other and be family to one another. There would probably be more incentive to change our ways if we could see our present way of life in sufficient perspective to realize that we are losing our health, our peace of mind, and our children.
That is what a generation gap is: parents losing their children! They may still fulfill the responsibility of feeding, clothing, and educating them, but the children shun the parents, are recalcitrant and contrary, rebutting and disputing whatever the parents say or want of their offspring. The children do not “get” the parents, and the parents do not “get” the children. Neither understands or connects with the other. Neither is willing to yield to the other’s wishes. They do not enjoy each other’s company. They do not share with each other the feelings, thoughts and wishes of deepest value. That which is essentially the fundamental person has been put aside and thwarted for so long there is nothing left but the pattern of rebuffing, repelling, turning away.
What is the point of having children if we are not going to do the job of being parents and primary caregivers to them? What is the point of not allowing ourselves to truly take delight in them, teach them, love them? TIME EQUALS LOVE. Fulfilling needs equals love. Feeding the mind and spirit as well as the body equals love. We need to evaluate and prioritize how we spend our time when we have children. If we do not, we end up with a “product” we did not really mean to create.
For, let us face it, we are our children’s creators. Of course, The Creator gave us the raw materials, but we mold the clay by every thought about the child, word, act, gesture, belief, gift, desire, intention—or negligence of these. Therefore, we need to ask if we are rearing children by negligence or by intention. If we put our children out to day care, we are neglecting them. Joseph Chilean Pierce shows that giving the child to others to rear unconsciously computes in the child’s mind as abandonment. After a time of being taken to daycare, a child often adopts an attitude of contrariness in his interactions with his parents.
A youngster I knew was the only small child who came to a special private school without her mother. In this school, the mothers brought their young children every day and worked with them at individual tables, using the resource people and materials of the learning center. This child, who felt somewhat left out when all the other students had full-time attention from their moms, flipped the situation and haughtily insinuated to her peers that she didn’t need a mother and was therefore smarter than they.
To be abandoned by Mother is painful. The child must find a way to rationalize why he does not need his parent. Actually, he fears that his parent does not want him.
Usually, when a child is put out to day care, the initial adjustment is difficult, The child cries and begs to go home with Mommy. It is hard on Mom, too, but she know she must steel herself and walk away. Once the child finally realizes that his feelings do not matter, and that he will be given to strangers to rear, he often adopts an attitude toward the parent such as: “O.K., you did not pay attention to me, so I will not pay attention to you.” Or, “What I wanted did not count with you; therefore, what you want of me will not count with me.” And there will arise a combativeness which goes on for years. Whatever Mom wants, the child will reject. Mom gives her youngster gifts to show her love, since she cannot show it in a more personal, time-consuming way. These things may be repelled—or soon broken or forgotten.
Joseph Chilton Pierce in Magical Child: Rediscovering Nature’s Plan For Our Children (New York, E.P. Dutton Publishing Company, 1977), gives an example of an indigenous African tribal culture which had wonderful birthing and ways of early child care. The small children of the tribe became happy, brilliantly intelligent, and full of life. They developed physically with unheard-of capabilities. They were never seen to cry, and smiled very soon after birth.
The tribe accomplished this by sensitive and natural childbirth means, and then the baby was strapped to the front of the mother’s chest by a sling so that they were in physical contact at all times. The two became bonded to such a degree that there was what we would call an extrasensory connection. The mother intuited when the child needed to urinate or defecate, and she would remove him to the bushes to handle it. No diapers were used, yet the youngsters were clean at all times.
Because of the sling which cradled the infant, the mother and child were in visual contact at all times. When this phenomenon was studied, it was found that the babies spent up to 80% of their waking time gazing into their mother’s face and eyes. Pierce points out that important research on this matter showed that this looking deeply into each other’s eyes in the early period of the infant’s life is one of the most critical bases for the development of intelligence which nature has provided us. Establishing this bond between mother and baby creates the loving relationship which will support and sustain the child throughout childhood and complete the lacing together of the lives of parent and offspring for life.
Unfortunately, the Ugandan tribal children mentioned above who become so intelligent, physically excellent, and happy suffer a sad turn of events upon reaching the age of four. At this point the cultural taboos require that the mother sever the profound and intimate bond with the child. He is then sent to another village to be reared by relatives. These children, who had so much potential, suffer such depression from the abandonment of their mother that they become very ordinary, some of them remaining depressed throughout their lives.
We have set up a similar dynamic in this country. Separation of infant and mother, starting with hospital birthing practices and keeping the baby in the nursery rather than on the mother’s person, and then being farmed out to sitters or day care in early childhood, cause children to be alienated from parents and vice versa. Pierce points out that in our culture we then tend to bond to material things (teddy bears, blankets, toys) rather than to our parents since our basic mental, physical, and spiritual needs were neglected in our infancy and childhood.
Not that anyone meant to omit important ingredients in our rearing; it is in the cultural patterns which have developed through the pressures of business and industry. We are blind to these because they have surrounded us from birth, as water so surrounds a fish that it may not see the transparent liquid. We have become inured to the exigencies of the business world and have endowed it with a certain omnipotence. We thus excuse any infringement on the environment, on our children’s upbringings, on our own lives and personal need for time for ourselves. Increasingly, as the economy declines, business and industry seem to be given greater and greater domain; so it becomes a boss’ “right” to demand longer and longer hours from workers. We notice that this has made stress-related diseases epidemic in industrial countries. We notice that for all our health care in this country, we are very low on the scale of healthfulness when compared to less-industrialized nations.
So what is to be done?
It’s too large an issue for an individual or a single family to change the whole society. It seems that all a couple can do is to decide what it will do in its own case. And many families in this culture are looking for options. Some are joining intentional communities where they have the support of like-minded people. These may be found in cities as well as in rural areas. Many do home-birthing and home-schooling. Some move to smaller towns where pressures are not so extensive, where neighbors know each other, perhaps where they can be with family. In addition to personal satisfactions, they see they can close the generation gap. Certainly they will look for ways to set up their lives so that parents and children may spend long periods of time daily with each other—happy, relaxed time with each other.
Home-schooling is possibly the best means of accomplishing this lifestyle. And if parents don’t have a college degree, they learn right along with the children. They may exchange services with others who have certain skills to teach their youngsters. They may lean heavily on the public library. There are maybe as many ways of “doing” home-schooling as there are parents doing it. There are now many networks of home-schooling families. They tour museums as a group, get training on some particular subject as a group, yet work at home with their own offspring most of the time.
Usually local school districts want to test home-schooled children to be sure they are up to minimal standards. What usually happens is that these students are shown to be much more advanced academically and stable emotionally than their public-school counterparts. School districts are often jealous of the state funding they will lose for each home-schooled child, and they have been known to harass families who work with their children at home. However, there have been cases where the school officials ended up congratulating the home-schooling parents for the outstanding education their children were receiving in home.
Home-schooled youngsters are comparatively strong individuals with a certain centeredness and aplomb, which few children who attend public school can duplicate. Those schooled at home tend to be vastly more creative and self-reliant than others. They tend to be thoughtful, able to be with themselves, able to be focused and quiet. They are accustomed to working with their parents rather than discharging so much energy in opposing their elders. That is, a generation gap doesn’t occur in these families.
The children are benefiting in those families who have had the courage and vision to not succumb to the cultural norms. To those who are in the process of deciding to seek healthier and happier options for the development of their own family, be assured that you will be amply rewarded for your efforts! No one knows your child better than you do; no one knows what your child needs better than you.