Raising Worthy Citizens

Raising Worthy Citizens

As I write this it is my youngest granddaughter Fiona’s 16th birthday, the flautist and piper at my late wife’s funeral. It only seems yesterday when she was born. My focus is on my successors, especially my grandchildren, and hopefully they will be worthy citizens. I have eleven of them: seven grandsons and four granddaughters: I write with some experience. We have so little time with them during their formative years.

To this end I recall two well know sayings or proverbs. The first which is attributed to African cultures is “It takes a village to raise a child”, that is, a child has the best ability to become a healthy well balanced adult if the entire community takes and active role in rearing the child, including grandfathers like me. The second is the saying attributed to Aristotle, although the Jesuits have a claim, that “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. The first offers a group approach and the second an individual, therefore one need to ask whether they are in conflict or complementary: I would like to think that they are mutually supportive with the individual seeing the need for the support of others.

I am forever amazed at how perceptive young children are in appreciating the political dynamics in their families, the weaknesses and strengths in their parents and their search for knowledge, values and direction. They search for role-models and if they are not offered by their parents they will usually look elsewhere hence the village approach. Their “village” in a traditional family will include their aunts and uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, nephews and their connections. Possibly their grandparents too will have a unique role, “blood being thicker than water” referring to kin relationships, in caring but not usually being involved in the day-to-day role of child care. Hopefully they will see how conflict resolution takes place without the need for anger and aggression; how men should treat women and women treat their men. How values and principles, which hopefully embrace the Judeo-Christian culture which has been the foundation of our society, should negate the need for rules and authority and become the guiding principles for their lives – these are the things that a parent should teach and inculcate rather than “the village”.

“The village”, beginning from the traditional extended family, provides the best environment for the socialisation of the child. For this to occur, the child needs to feel safe and have trust in those around him or her. Some need it more than others. Some may have a medical disability. The child will learn what has or should be done or not done to be accepted in that society. It must be a society where its members share the common values and principles that have been absorbed by the child.

For all this to work parents and other adults must be able to “engage” with the child from their earliest years, that is to get on the same “wave length” as the child and win their trust and confidence. It has to be done face-to-face: TEXT messages will not work and phone calls are not much better. It is all sounds pretty easy, really, but if it is not done properly during a child’s formative years the results can be disastrous for both the child and society as a whole. We see it when children as they grow, become radicalised, and are misfits in our society. Grandfathers like me have a role but the main responsibility to raise worthy citizens rests with the child’s parents who should recognise the role of “the village”.

This is partly a confession. Believe me I have made some serious mistakes: for example, not cutting losses sufficiently early and making life look all too easy. However, it is easier to do it properly in the little time available during the formative years than to live with the consequences of a poor effort.

Yours fraternally,