Parents' Presence Makes the Difference

Author: Elizabeth Foss

Parents' Presence Makes the Difference

by Elizabeth Foss

When I first heard the title "It Takes a Village," it conjured up an image of tree-lined streets of neatly kept houses where bicycles and basketball hoops shouted that children lived there. Back doors were always open for children who gathered with their friends in the kitchen to drink lemonade and chat with mom. I imagined fathers playing catch with their sons and daughters and neighboring children being invited to join them. I imagined neighbors reminding the child next door to put on his helmet as he takes off on his bike. My village was one were individual families cared about those children whose lives touched theirs and who lived in such a way that they conveyed to those children that they were of great importance. Of course, that isn't exactly what Hillary Clinton has envisioned. But what if it were?

My vision has nothing to do with programs and institutions and everything to do with committed individuals creating family-centered cultures. In his book, , best-selling author Stephen R. Covey suggests "adopting" the friends of your children. He writes:

"For instance, we adopted several of (our sons') football teammates. We videotaped all of the games and invited everyone to our home after each game to see those films. This helped create a kind of family/team culture.

"Individual champions are often part of championship teams. That's why we invest so much in the teams and clubs, schools and classes our children belong to. When family, friends, school and church are all aligned, it makes a powerful training system. Any time something gets out of alignment, when there's a problem with a peer, for example we just adopt the peer. It's better than getting them to drop the peer."

Covey's suggestion is simple. He and his wife prevent most problems by their interest and their physical presence in their children's lives. The problems that do crop up don't necessitate the intervention of social workers, guidance counselors and government programs. They simply call for additional parental supervision and concern. His idea is proactive and demanding. It demands involvement on the part of the parents. It demands that children live up to their potential within the culture of the family. They are not allowed to run free from one institution to another. Instead, they are centered at home and they are accountable to mom and dad.

I have seen this idea at work. The Little League program in my town is one of the most well-run organizations I have ever encountered. Everyone , groundskeeper, concession worker, coach, umpire and director is a volunteer. They are concerned parents who give a tremendous amount of time and energy to their children, and to their neighbor's children. And it's not all about fun and games. There are real lessons learned on ball fields everyday. These children are building character, learning about such things as fortitude, perseverance, cooperation and humility.

My neighbor assures me that Scouting is much the same. Parents volunteer at all levels to create an environment where children learn much about how to live. They sacrifice weekends to sleep in buggy tents on soggy sleeping bags, but they are weekends spent with their children and their children's peers. They are present, and that's what matters.

Volunteers to be the adult leader for Scouts, sports, and clubs is important. Those organizations are entirely driven by parents of the children they serve. Volunteering in schools is vital. School-aged children spend the majority of their waking hours becoming lost in the crowd. Parents know the history and the present of their children. They also have the keenest interest in the future. Involvement is not only the formal commitments, though. It is also the daily willingness to let our homes and hearts be open to a child who is not our own.

When I change my perspective and "adopt" my children's friends, then the child who always wants a snack when she comes to play with my son isn't nearly the nuisance that she was when she was "someone else's kid." It is a fairly easy change in perspective. These peers, who spend so much time with our children, are going to be part of our family simply because their influence on our children will be felt. It makes sense to include them, to pull up a chair at the dinner table occasionally, and make them one of the gang.

Foss is a freelance writer living in the Springfield area.

This article appeared in the June 20, 1996 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377- 0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN