“…the children are so hungry for attention that a clutch of 5-year-olds begins to chant in Spanish: “A visit! A visit!” In a nearby bungalow for girls 4 to 6 years old the kids jump into the arms of their visitors, total strangers. Five minutes later, when we attempt to leave, they hold on even tighter, until they are pried off.” – Writer Kerry A. Dolan, for Forbes Magazine on February 12.
“The most important thing in the life of a child is a person. Not a toy. Not a building… We can give the children that.” – Karen Gordon, founder of Whole Child International
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 20:11
Most people use this verse to encourage parents to raise their children well, and so they should. But I believe there is more to it, and it is brought to my mind whenever I hear about child-rearing studies. They’re all over the place anymore… putting your kid in daycare hurts his future academic performance… allowing your kid too much tv watching damages cognitive abilities… giving your kid too much sugar ensures obesity.
And the most pertinent one to my point in this blog… the studies that show how kids are programmed early on to determine what kind of adults they’ll be. It’s as if destiny is in the balance in the first two years. (No pressure though, right parents?)
One earth-shattering conclusion that can be drawn from this (and from Proverbs 20:11), is that a baby’s needs are really no different from those of an adult… they are programmed from infancy to learn what to expect out of life.
I know what you’re saying… “duh.” But stay with me, here. When you have a baby, you naturally want to give it a lot of attention. You hold it, kiss it, cuddle it, talk to it, feed it and change it lovingly. You know that a baby needs to feel loved, and your touches and vocalizations go a long way to meeting that need.
But then we “grow out of it”. We don’t want to be touched… or bothered. We withdraw and become independent… self-sufficient. We don’t need people anymore!
Recently I learned about the ground-breaking work of Whole Child International, which was founded by Karen Gordon in 2003 (watch Good Morning America’s story.) The problem she saw was this: millions of children around the world are living in orphanages set up to care for their physical needs… period. And even if they are successful at that (which often they are not,) they have only done half the job. They have, quite literally, raised half-people.
Gordon told an interviewer, “If we can shift this one piece, of relationship, for these particular children, the change in their development and the change in their long-term outcomes could be staggering.” So Whole Child is working with orphanages all over the world to provide the emotional necessities for these children.
For anyone with a heart, it is devastating to think of children living in child-rearing factories… being fed and changed in assembly-line fashion. No community. No communication. No connection. No love.
So open your eyes just a little bit wider now. Look at the society you live in yourself. Is it engineered to bring people closer together, or simply to help us meet our material needs?
Whole Child is teaching care-workers to talk to the children as they feed them. Do you take advantage of your meal-times to converse with people?
Whole Child is making sure that care-workers can stay with the same children for as long as possible. Do you have permanent friends? Or just temporary ones?
It is no mystery that our desires for autonomy and material success have, by definition, separated us from the most important thing about being human… relationships. We were created to connect with God, and with each other. To use things and love people, not to use people and love things.
I often dream about a return to the types of cultural and architectural norms that made authentic community as natural as water to a fish. This may be realistic, or it may be a pipe dream. Either way, I know that each one of us can take a step in that direction in our own lives, right now. Just decide that you will not be afraid of people anymore. Trust more easily, listen more closely, hug more readily.
In other words, be a whole person.