Family

It Takes A Community To Raise A Child

May 14, 2020 by

Recently the Voices Blog editor returned this piece I had submitted in my pre-Covid life, and asked if I wanted to re-work it, considering the enormous challenges that families have been through in the last months. While I didn’t make material changes, I want to say here that my heart goes out to all families who have been so resourceful and amazing through these weeks of prescribed home school/work/recreation. As I read through it and switched up a few words, I reflected again on the great blessing of community wisdom. So here it is.

Most of us who live in intentional communities are familiar with Acts 2 and 4, and Christians across the centuries have discovered unique and beautiful ways that the idea of community becomes practical reality. I’ve lived in communal discipleship my whole life, in one form or another, but the longer I live in it, the more I marvel at the miracle that it is. There are the obvious ways in which “sharing all things in common,” “meeting together in the temple courts,” and “breaking bread in their homes” become part of the fabric of daily life, and each community group has discovered its own culture. The outward aspects are not hard to identify.

The intangibles are, perhaps, layered a little more deeply and not as immediately obvious to the observer. They may not even be immediately obvious to the practitioner, for that matter. Let me give you an example.

children playing

Earlier this year I listened to a Freakonomics Radio interview on the merits and weaknesses of the last decades of parenting advice. Titled “The data-driven guide to sane parenting,” the interview delved into many of the most-discussed (and contentious) topics of parenting, including best practices during pregnancy, bottle versus breast and whether or not that affects I.Q., crying-it-out versus immediate attention, and the big ones: screen-time, vaccines, and discipline. As in, does our love for our children mean we want them to be happy all the time, or are we willing to teach – and have them learn the hard way, if necessary? As I listened, I thought back on the help and advice I received in the years when our children were small – help and advice that came from a very different source than what I was hearing: a conversation based on data sets and documented outcomes.

For my husband and me, as new parents, raising five children was at times overwhelming. The years in which they were making simultaneous demands on us are now somewhat of a blur. (They all remember more of it than I do.) But what made it possible was that we didn’t do it alone. Well, of course, we did it ourselves, but we were surrounded by individuals who provided not data-driven advice, but rather experience-based wisdom and loving concern.

The advice we received ranged from that regarding newborn care and feeding, to settling and sleep habits, when to anticipate developmental milestones, when to worry and when not, how to feel for a fever, and how to handle food and eating issues; whether to intervene when a child exhibited a propensity toward being left-handed. (In this case, for the southpaw in our ranks, the tip to teach right-handed scissor use paid off. I never had to keep that extra pair of lefty scissors around, and she turned out to be the artistic one. It might sound trivial, but I would not have thought of that detail myself.) Another, much deeper-going piece of advice I received was the following: Don’t let your child give in to his or her moods. Teach your children to rise above how they feel or what they feel like; much is required of each of us. How profoundly true that was/is, and it is something I remind myself of still now. I still remember who told me that, and I love her for it. A basic premise in all the advice that we received was this: resist creating a crusade out of any one issue.

Those who counseled, besides my own incredibly sensible mother and mother-in-law, were men and women who had raised large families (post–World War II Boomer era), others in my community who were clinicians or educators, and, of course, our family doctor and pediatrician, himself the father of a large family. Occasionally, an evening gathering of the adults in the community would include the topic of parenting and education, providing a forum for support and judgement-free sharing.

cows

Of course, we always used our own gut feelings to discern how to follow (or not follow) the advice we received. But it filled out the picture and enabled us to keep the whole child in view, not just the immediate moment or issue we were in with that child, which, as every parent knows, can really skew things some days!

What’s more, some of the Bruderhof’s earliest members came right out of the still-celebrated Froebel ideology that founded kindergartens. These ideas and sensibilities are still vigorously applied in our own early-childhood programs, and my children are among hundreds of direct beneficiaries. Indeed, Christoph Arnold, who was senior pastor of the Bruderhof for many years, wrote several education and parenting books stemming from this heritage, and we returned to these books regularly when raising our children.

As a couple, we were also guided toward a healthy balance between meeting the needs of our children and our own needs for sanity and self-care. I learned it was OK to let the kids discover that their parents were not super-people and that Mom sometimes just did need to sit down and read a book and be undisturbed for 30 minutes.

So I listened to the Freakonomics Radio program, which covered many of these same topics. I recognized the confusion that can emerge when ideas shift. I also acknowledged the unfortunate phenomenon that how you raise your child can so quickly become politically charged. Wow, I thought, how lucky I was. Being the advisee is not always fun, especially when it involves one’s children, and a certain amount of humility is needed – a virtue that doesn’t come super-easily to most of us. But this built-in support group for new parents in our community is something that I wish many families could benefit from. Time-tested and sensible, and much of it from an era when life was less complex than it is now, it still holds water, and I am sure that it is still good advice, exhibiting care and communal concern for the good of all.

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About the author

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey and her husband Stephen live at the Mount Community in New York State.

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