Monday, July 1, 2013

Boy to Man

One of the spoils of our trip back to North America was a stack of back issues of the New Yorker from my mom.  Once piece, in particular, caught my attention - in the house style, it was a review of several books treating the same topic.  In this case, the topic was why American children (to generalize) grow up without learning to do anything useful for themselves or their parents, and then go through a protracted period of immaturity in their 20s and sometimes (god forbid) beyond.

The piece struck a chord with me - particularly because it opened with a description of how self-possessed, able, and mature a particular six-year-old from a particular traditional society (the Matsigenka of Amazonian Peru) might be.  This is something that I've noticed many times while traveling - how the  children of some societies are so much more capable and mature than the children of our own.  And when I (figuratively) looked up from the magazine, I saw our own six-year-old, who was apparently not able to pour himself a bowl of cereal.  And the piece resonated even more when I thought of my own back story.  I was raised by wonderful, loving parents (shout-out!) in a suburban American setting where kids did little meaningful work.  And I went through a spectacular period of aimlessness in my early 20s - guess who's hitchhiked the Alaska Highway three times?

So we're on a kick to change that part of child-rearing on Galactic that has to do with how much work is expected from six-year-olds.  No more paying Elias to do little tasks.  And being six, we (I) have decided, means being old enough to take some of the load of daily tasks - none of the typical American BS family choreography about kids tasks - "chore lists" that are monitored and rewarded by the parents, and the like.  Our attitude is that a kid should just help, and getting that help shouldn't mean more work for the adults.

I'm happy to report that, if nothing else, Elias can now fix himself a bowl of cereal.

We'll see how this experiment in parenting goes.  We have, if nothing else, plenty of work to share around in the family.  And it would really be a delight if Elias could, for instance, cook breakfast for the family, or run to the beach in the dinghy to pick someone up.  And it would be even more of a delight if he could do these things within the next year, while he's seven.  But I'm also, as always, cognizant of how difficult it is to escape the constraints and expectations of your own culture.  We had been thinking about the right way to start getting Elias to help out for quite a while before I read this particular magazine piece.  But that's just the point - in a traditional society, we wouldn't think about that at all - our role in teaching a kid to work, and the kid's role in learning to work, would be ingrained in the daily lives of everyone around us.

Stay tuned.


  1. I remember that article - and sizing up my own parenting skills against the NYer's critique, just as you have. Trouble is, my job is done. Love the way you are so aware of and are able to describe so eloquently the slight but critical wind shifts in your family's course. Just as important to me, your reader, as weather patterns etc.

    1. yes...hearing from my mom about trying to get my lazy 10-year-old butt do anything useful made me think that part of the problem we have in western societies is that we can't or won't hand off really important jobs to the kids - jobs that the family fortunes really depend on, to some degree at least. We'll see how it goes with out boys!