Article Overview:   What is the family circle of vigilance?  Find out!


Wednesday--April 30, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 595
 The Family Circle Of Vigilance
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZER0, NEW YORK, NY--There is one safe place for a child these troubled days of Terrorism.  It's in the center of the Family Circle of Vigilance.


A century of advice on raising  children

   I was searching this morning for news to spark a story when I came across a story in the Christian Science Monitor by Marilyn Gardner with the subtitle:  "After 100 years, experts still can't agree on the best way to raise children."   Her story was motivated by a book, "Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children" by Ann Hulbert (Knopf $27.50)  in which the history of conflicting approaches to child rearing are detailed.

       The big argument is that most child rearing experts the public have embraced are men such as the famous Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose 1946 book, "Baby And Child Care," launched a thirst for parents to follow third-party professional child rearing advice.  Since then, the camps have been split into two poles, the soft and hard line of child rearing:  Bottle or breast feeding?  Leniency or discipline?  Schedules or spontaneity?
As family experts marched through the decades, the names changed, ranging from Luther Emmett Holt and G. Stanley Hall to Arnold Gesell, Bruno Bettelheim, T. Berry Brazelton, Penelope Leach, and John Rosemond.  While the names have changed, the contrasting points of view about raising a child with the "soft" or "hard" viewpoint hasn't.
       Author Hulbert poses the big question:  "How come so many men advocate systems for raising children?"

BRINGING UP BABY: Early in the 20th century, most child care was seen as a mother's job. But by the 1950s, classes in 'family life' were being taught to boys in schools.

       Part of the answer was the woman's role in the home during the first half of the 20th Century, and only recently, within the past three decades, has the two parent-working family been a dominant force in American family culture.
       Child rearing has also taken on a "bastardization" forum in recent years, especially with the Jerry Springer type television shows where people's "dirty laundry" are cast to millions of viewers as rifts between mothers and daughters, sons and mothers, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and are splayed out in television studios.  Headlines of such programming include:  "My daughter dresses like a slut!"  And, "My son is sleeping with my daughter!"
       The world of parenting is uncertain at best for young adults seeking advice on how to raise a child, in part because of the lack of modeling by parents in the past.  Divorce rates of more than half of all marriages suggest an underpinning of instability in family units, plus an emphasis on economic survival tends to drive parenting from issues challenging the child to how to make the checkbook balance.
       Hulbert suggests men who write child rearing books have little credibility in their own lives to be the spokesperson for managing healthy children.    She suggests most authors come from families with nurturing mothers and distant fathers, an imbalance that favors the mother as the main source of love and affection for the child.  Alienation by default of the father's role is almost always evident.
       This brings up the Vigilant Question:  "Who is in charge of raising a child?"

Family Circle of Love

       Historically, the role of child rearing belonged to the "tribe" or the "village."   A child belonged to everyone, and everyone had a duty to insure the child's safety, security and well-being.  Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins as well as parents formed a Circle Of Love around the child, welcoming and guiding the child through a varied set of affections and wisdoms.    The child was "part of" the community, a treasured asset of the group

Family unity was divided

      As Americans became more mobile and the thirst to achieve drove them away from family roots to towns and cities where opportunity called, the bond between the family unit was broken.  Grandparents occasioned visits on airplanes, and relations with uncles, aunts and other relatives waned to birthday and Christmas cards.   Divorce ripped the threads of family unity further, dividing the family into step-parents, step grandparents, step uncles.  Dilution watered down any close bond, and often created huge rifts, walls, and great opportunity for abuse of children because of the genetic distance between the child rearing adults and the infant.

Television has ripped parenting from the parents

       Of course, the great Beast of Terror in child raising can't be denied his due--Television.   Perhaps no single force in modern child rearing has ripped the duty of parenting from the hands of a mother and father than Cartoon Network, or the host of children's programs on the "tube," starting out with TeleBabies to Sesame Street, to Mr. Rogers, et al.
        Many programs for kids seek to supplant what they don't have in reality.   Fred Rogers made the most earnest attempt, but then he was separated by the television screen from the child.   The ability to hug the child, or for the child to be hugged, was halted by the reality of a glass screen.   And, then there was Pee Wee Herman, prior to his exposure as having personal sexual dilemmas.   Before his downfall, he and his bike were "best friends" with millions.

        'Latchkey kids,' those who went to empty homes and waited for their parents to come home, were left abandoned.    The idea of family unity could not be farther from their thoughts, there were no books written of any acclaim heralding how to raise a child who was instructed to lock the door and not let anyone in until "mommy" or "daddy" came home.

       It should be no wonder that child rearing today is confusing, to say the least, considering the ruptures in family chemistry.    Besides the divisions within family units, cleaved by divorce and drug and alcohol abuse, there is a societal block that keeps children distant from mentors.
       This involves the area of sexual abuse delivered by members of the church, or by teachers.   Walls of suspicion are built between the child and former authority figures, forcing the child into a deeper retreat away from rather than closer to the link to wisdoms that provide all children a safety net to deal with life and its many challenges.
       That's why the Circle of Vigilance is a vital source for renewing family integrity, and reinforcing the values of the community.
       In raising our children, my wife and I found that when issues of any size or shape came about, we would sit in a circle with our children and open discussions on the issue.
      As parents, we shed our authority as the "rule keepers" during the Circle of Vigilance, and all sat on the floor, legs crossed.  Each person would speak on the issue.  Usually, my wife or I would lead off the talk, telling about our Fears, Intimidations and Complacencies on the issue.   To achieve credibility with our children, we needed to show them our vulnerability, our concerns that loomed in our minds.
      Once the children saw we weren't afraid to express our concerns, they were more inclined to be honest with us in their feelings.
      The goal of the Circle of Vigilance was honesty.    Sometimes family issues are nothing more than bigotry and prejudices from one generation to another, usually underscored by a lack of faith and trust in a child's ability to make decisions.
       Our Circle of Vigilance was always launched with the common rule--that every person must make his or her own choices in life, and that the duty of the individual was not to follow the crowd, not to seek acceptance by others as the goal, but rather to think about what was right and wrong, to think about the results of any action, and then to make a choice.

The family Circle of Vigilance reminds the child he or she is responsible for his or her behavior

         "You are in school not to learn," I often said to my own two daughters, "but to learn to think.  If you can think, if you can make sound decisions you've thought through, and take full responsibility for them without blaming anyone else, then you've reached maturity."
       We found the age of the children was not a vital factor in this kind of communication.  Even when the children were small, learning to speak, we spoke to them as though they understood what we were saying, and brought forth the question in different forms:  "You're job is to learn what is right and wrong, and to make those decisions."
        I suppose the problem I have with those 'experts' who try and tell others how to raise a child is the audacity of such an approach.   It assumes the child doesn't know what is right or wrong, and must be taught by people who don't know how themselves.
       In many cases, ala Dr. Spock whose own family was dysfunctional, experts only appear that way in print, and often fail miserably on the firing line.
       But the Family Circle of Vigilance is not about telling anyone anything.
       The Family Circle of Vigilance is about reminding the child that he or she is responsible for his or her behavior, and must answer not to some higher or external authority, but to himself or herself.  When one puts the duty of decision upon the self, it removes escape routes, and excuses.
       This implies, of course, the child has some moral foundation about what is right and wrong.  And, that foundation is formed by how the child is treated.  If a parent abuses a child, then the child may quickly think it is the moral right of the "strong" to dominate the "weak."
        Herein, lies the rub.

The Circle of Vigilance works if people admit their weaknesses as human beings

        The Circle of Vigilance works only if the people within it are willing to admit their weakness as human beings, and to admit their faults.    I'm a bellicose guy, full of opinions, and I often had to check myself and remind my children I was a mere product of my environment, and what I thought and believed may not be what they should think and believe.   I reinforced their right and their duty to shape their own opinions, and to not take anything I said or believed to be any gospel, for it was nothing more than the sum of my personal experiences, my inclinations toward, or declinations away from, certain things.   How they chose to believe was their business, and they should take what they wanted from their mother and father and discard all they didn't.
        Both did.
        Our daughters are diametrically politically opposed, one on the far right, one on the far left, yet both agree on the other's ability to be different.   One carries a gun and is in law enforcement, and the other is a peace advocate who carries a cross and opposes all forms of violence.  Yet, they are close as sisters can be.
        Finally, there is one other factor about the Circle of Vigilance I think is critical.  My wife and I agreed to not disagree on parental management issues.   We never had different fundamental ways of raising the children.  We agreed on the fact our children could not come to daddy and get one story, and mommy for another.   We formed a solid parental wall, one that the children could not circumvent because we agreed to agree on our policy before they could try and undermine it.

       Children are great negotiators, and when they find a weakness, the will attack it with a passion, especially a difference in opinion between mommy and daddy.  To play into this difference offers the child a chance to make one parent the "good guy" and the other "the bad guy."
        It seems to me the Beast of Terror finds his way into the living rooms of America's 100 million households only when the Family Circle of Vigilance doesn't exist.
        If you want to keep the Beast at bay, form a ring with your family in the living room, all sitting cross legged, and just start talking about your Fears, your Intimidations and Complacencies.  Watch your children's eyes light up.  They will see you in a different light, as a friend and mentor.
       But don't forget.   First turn off the television.


April 29--Saddam's Birth-Death Day Celebrated

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