Children raising children

A recent expose’ by the New York Times examines the fallout from the heroin fad in America; children being raised by grandparents. (  This is an example of what used to be normal now being news.

For most of human history, children have not been raised by their parents, I believe.  The primary child raising was done by the elders of the group, including grandparents, aunts, cousins, and even good friends.  Parents were too busy working in support of the group, as they were the most able-bodied, skilled people.  With help from the older children, even immobile elders could supervise the nurturing of the youngest children.  There were always people with time on their hands who could look after the kids, because carrying water, finding fuel, gathering, harvesting, sowing, fishing, preparing clothing, all these and more were the province of the parents.

One of the reasons that I am convinced of this is that humans seem to have evolved in such a way that child rearing is very important to an older, elderly person, yet people of child-bearing age often are more interested in their own lives.  Also, very young children have been shown to be anxious to please elderly, frail people.  But the maturity to put aside one’s own tasks in order to address a child’s needs  comes slowly.  When we can no longer set tasks for ourselves, or must limit our tasks to just a few, then we find the time for the children, for the future.  Could this be a survival trait, evolution programming us for the roles we play as we age?  I think so.

For very young children, I am convinced that close interactions with elders are essential to the child developing a sense of self-worth.  Young parents can unknowingly damage a child’s self-esteem by repeatedly denying the child attention and affirmation.  “I’m busy”, or “In a little bit”, comes too easily to a parents voice, especially considering that the young child lives in the ‘now’, where ‘later’ is meaningless.  Our elder years are not meant to be focused on ourselves, consumed with finding ‘something to do’.  Spending time with the children is our reward for the sacrifices and toil that we have invested in the welfare of the group.




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