Family Breakdown in Developed Societies
by Kazu MATSUI
Child-rearing, in particular raising children in their early childhood, has as its first objective, how the human qualities of the nurturer are cultivated, and how the hearts and minds of those who are raising the children can become as one. Raising children gives rise to the morals and order of human society.
When we forget the fact that how patience, kindness and the measure of happiness of the teachers are fostered, is more important than what is learned by those who are being taught, the activities of human society starts to become distorted.
When the nurturers’ view of happiness ceases to develop on the part of the parents, this leads to abandoning the family, and compulsory education in itself becomes unviable. (Welfare can also further the problem of family breakdown, eventually making it financially unviable.)
When I was 20 years old, I lived for several months in the countryside of India, and then I moved to the United States in 1975. I asked a younger female cousin who was in the fifth grade, what sort of things she talks about with her friends at school.
She said, “There’s a lot of talk about, ‘my new father this time…,’ and ‘my new mother this time…’ ”
Has there ever been such a time as this in human history?
Some nursery teachers in Japan also got a foretaste of the breakdown of the family, characteristic of societies of developed countries that I had seen. The more cases I heard about, of what was taking place in the field, the more I realized that the “loss of parental feelings” had already started to grow in Japan as well.
View of Children Under a Year Old
I give talks on the title, “Why did the universe give us children under a year old?” There is meaning in the fact that a zero year old is a zero year old.
“The universe gives us human beings, children under a year old, saying, ‘You should experience inconvenience, and you should be happy.’ Without the babies taking away our freedom, and if there were no happiness in offering our freedom, humankind would have been destroyed long ago.”
In a country where education is widespread, sometimes people can be bound by the ‘word’ or concept of ‘freedom.’ In my talks, I try to explain the role of little children to parents, who, by being conscious of this concept of freedom feel ‘inconvenienced’ [the Japanese word for this, fu-jiyuu, is written with characters meaning, ‘without freedom’] and discontented.
Human beings have originally felt happy about being a little inconvenienced. This is what I call a ‘bond’ between human beings.
At times, we feel that having a bond is bothersome. Yet, originally, people feel happiness in depending on each other, trusting each other, creating bonds and becoming one in heart. If we feel that inconvenience is not good, for example, it would be difficult to marry at all. Marriage is to voluntarily choose to become ‘inconvenienced.’
When we become anxious or worried, whether there is someone who will help, or that we can confide in, is what gives us the “strength to live.” There is not one person in this world who is totally independent. Even a person who appears to be very independent had to be helpless when he or she was a baby.
To give birth to a child means to become even more inconvenienced [or, ‘without freedom’] than in marriage. The reason why we are able to be alive here today is because most of our parents felt happy to be inconvenienced by us, and felt happy to offer their freedom to raise us up.
The Happiness of Not Having a Choice
In raising a child, there is no choice as to what kind of child we will have, or what kind of parents we have. People have felt happy indeed by the fact that there was no choice. If there is no choice, all we can do is to raise each other up, and grow together with each other. I believe that human beings like to work out each other’s roles as if putting a puzzle together. It is as if we have this mutual, relative, developmental disorder so that we can confirm the fact that humans cannot live alone by themselves. This is particularly so, between a man and a woman. Because we are not complete, and have shortcomings, we truly need each other.
To build relationships with infants of 0 to 2 years old, is to become good at putting puzzles together. When we get to know such babies, most people, after a year, begin to realize that there is meaning in, for instance, the existence of a bedridden grandpa, and society as a whole begins to realize that without such people, the puzzle cannot be completed. Getting to know a 1 to 2-year-old baby, is like being with someone who has a developmental disorder, as well as a mental disability, in terms of behavior patterns. Most people spend an amazing and wonderful couple of years with babies, and realize that there is a role to play for people with disabilities also, and that human beings are meant to raise each other up mutually. Thus, everyone settles into their roles. However, when we stop dealing with babies, we tend to lose touch with how to put puzzles together. It is easy to compartmentalize our thinking, so that the bedridden go here, the demented go there, the disabled go here, and babies go there. Yet, social welfare is not able to supplement what is missing. It is then that human society can begin to fall into disrepair.
The First Smile
When a baby grows to about three months old, he or she smiles for the first time. People who see a baby laugh, feel joy. They feel happy also, realizing that they themselves are good human beings. They experience the goodness of their own human nature. And the people who watch the baby laugh together, can become one in heart.
To raise a baby is to try to understand daily, how he or she feels, which the baby cannot teach you or tell you in words. Humankind has found peace, not in understanding, but in trying to understand others.
If I am sitting alone in a park, I could be seen as a strange man. But, if I’m sitting together with a two- year-old child, it is easy to see me as a “good man.” Just by sitting next to me, the child, within the relativity of this universe, makes me a “good man.” There aren’t too many people who can do this for you. This is not the will of the two-year-old, but we see the intent of the universe here.
Children Bring Out One’s Goodness
Why do people have to observe children in order to live?
I’ve decided that the most complete human being in my opinion, is a four-year-old. This is because they trust completely, rely completely, and on top of it, they seem very happy! This is the ideal state of a human being that religion seeks for. If you watch children in the playground of a kindergarten or nursery, you can understand what I mean. People who look at these children and feel envious, I believe, have not yet lost sight of their life goal.
Perhaps the word ‘complete,’ is not the most appropriate. I should probably describe it as a state of a human being, or a state of mind, that we should aspire to as a goal.
Young children trust completely, depend completely, and bring out ‘good human nature,’ or the ‘goodness of man’ in different kinds of people. They come together and play, easily express their joys, and teach us that happiness is not something that we take away, or gain by winning, but they teach us that “it is how you hold the measure, the yardstick.” Children playing in a sandbox teach us adults, “You can be happy with the sand. If you can just hold a yardstick as we do, people can always become happy.” As long as human beings watch playing children, they will not lose sight of the way. They will be fine.
In the past, to look at young children, was to see Buddha, to see God, it was to look at oneself.
The ‘strength to live,’ is not to aim for the independence of the individual, but it is the strength to build ‘bonds.’ To trust in each other, and rely on each other, is the ‘strength to live.’
All you can do in raising children is to do your best, and for the rest of the time, to pray. If you have someone who will pray with you, people will be fine.
“Empathy” is a Gift from Children
Until not long ago, human society was quite full of parental feelings. You could say that society was full of good human nature, which was brought out by the weak and vulnerable, and with experiences in which people felt happy about being kind and generous. The great Mahatma Gandhi of India (1869-1948) advocated nonviolence, and tried to appeal to the goodness of others, by showing with dignity how weak one was, to an opponent. His approach to social reform was in accordance with the laws of a parental heart, the laws of childrearing, the laws of the universe.
The role of the wonderful environment of a nursery, or a kindergarten, is to let the children fulfill their role of “bringing out the goodness in people.” It would be good to have a parent see children playing together, repeatedly, and also play together with them. I would recommend that an adult have this experience, one person at a time. He or she can be asked, for example, to pull weeds, while being surrounded by children, or to take care of their toys. He could even enjoy a little drink …or whatever activity is possible.
I have witnessed the life of parents change by playing games like ‘Let’s Pretend’ with two-year-olds, following the policy of a nursery. I have seen, for instance, a father who was hardened by competition relax, and his face soften with an indescribable smile. When we are reminded of the yardstick of happiness that was forgotten, and realize the goodness within ourselves, parents actually feel relieved. I know of many good nurseries like this, that “nurture the parental heart.”
Currently, we are promoting a “one-day nursery staff experience.” Parents come one by one to a kindergarten or a nursery and spend the day surrounded by young children. Some cities and prefectures are now beginning to adopt this approach.
Spread of Compulsory Education and Breakdown of the Family
In the United States, it is reported that one out of three children are born from unwed mothers (40% in the UK, 50% in France). The burden of childrearing on women has grown abnormally, and opportunities for the father to be in contact with the children are rapidly and abruptly dwindling. Kindness and patience seem to be disappearing from society. When morals and order that were being maintained with parent-child relationships as the pillar of society begin to disappear, education, police, or the law become powerless. It is reported that 40% of the parents in the US are divorced by the time a child reaches the age of 18. Children are no longer the link between parents, as the saying goes; however, childrearing used to be the link between the parents. For a man and a woman (husband and wife), the smallest unit of a society, to raise a child is to confirm that each of them is a “good person.” This is the starting point of trusting relationships within human society.
In 1984, the American government identified the issue of children’s education as the most urgent and important task in the survival of a nation, and this was big news for about a year.
During this year, an unprecedented report in American history was made, that the average education level of the children had become lower than that of their parents. The high school graduation rate of 35 years ago in the parents’ generation, which was at 50%, had increased to 72%. This should mean, of course, that the academic ability of that generation should be greater. The concrete goal of the spread of compulsory education as a system was being achieved, but the content of the investigation unfortunately showed the opposite result. More than 20% of high school graduates could not read and write adequately enough to work in society.
Our eyes then turned to the family behind the schools. I wondered if 20% of parents in the U.S. perhaps had too little interest in the future of their children, as this illiteracy rate of 20% was found among “high school graduates.” Although education was compulsory, 28% of the children that year did not graduate from high school. When these figures are added, I wondered if it meant that nearly 40% of the parents were indifferent about their children?
When a system of education becomes widespread and established over a period of about 50 years, the parents naturally become dependent on the educational institutions to raise their children. And when time spent with children decreases greatly, the human relations between parents and children suffer and weaken. Some parents can become detached from their children. As the breakdown of the family advances, order and morals rooted in a view of happiness, that is learned through ‘childrearing,’ begins to disappear. It is impossible for new systems or concepts such as the law, welfare, school or feelings of happiness gained from power games, to replace the order or morals rooted in a view of happiness, that is learned through ‘childrearing.’
It is good for human beings to be trusted by children, to be grateful for the time they are trusted, and to live, longing for children.
When we are confused by the progress of technology or systems, we start failing to recognize that overly rapid progress atrophies human sensitivity, which is something that has been nurtured over thousands of years. I believe it is good to affirm once again, that people are born to believe in each other, by parents observing children in the nursery or educational environment.
To bear and raise a child is the most precious task that human beings have been granted by the universe. This act is to dialogue with the universe, and to experience oneself. It is a way to feel deeply one’s living self, and also a way to understand the meaning of life. People are satisfied by coming to know their own value in life.
What is even more valuable, is that the children raise up the parents. This is the course of the universe itself, and it is to substantiate oneself. It is to declare that one cannot live by himself or herself, and to show the way of real altruism. It is to heal those who have realized that, to know is to seek.
A human being’s instinct and will are what lead parents to raise a child.
We see the will and the image of the universe, in a child, raising up the parent.